The message on my cell phone was quick and short, but it was more than enough to pique my interest and put my Monday-morning imagination into overdrive.
"It's Selene," the message said. "I hope you're free Friday night. I need some help ... need someone who can handle themselves and someone with some boxing skill for a little demonstration, and you're the first person I thought of. Give me a call when you can, stud."
The end of her message gave me a chuckle, but it didn't take long for me to start wondering what was going on. She was a friend ... we'd met through some boxing circles, we'd helped each other out on occasion, and it was never a bad thing to be in the company of a stunning redhead – especially one that could take care of herself in the ring like Selene could.
But we're part of different gyms, and our gyms couldn't be more different.
Mine is the epitome of "old school" ... in the basement of an older downtown building, the smell of locker rooms and sweat melded into leather hitting you in the face when you open the door, old workout equipment everywhere, the heavy bags and speed bags showing years of wear, as did the two old boxing rings with the canvas stained with sweat and blood. And the clientele was what you'd expect ... guys who mostly were there for the love of the sport. A few have the talent to perhaps seek the pro ranks – I, of course, not being one of that group. Maybe a handful of years ago, but not know.
Selene's gym, on the other hand, was the stuff of legends, and for most of the guys in my gym that's what it was since they'd never seen the inside. The posh suburban facility was exclusively for women, and the only way to join – or even step inside the doors – was by Selene's invitation.
I'd been lucky enough to be invited into the gym a couple of times. Twice it was to watch and for Selene to introduce me to friends who were also in the local boxing community, but once it was to actually get into the ring to work with one of her "prospects."
Both experiences were among my most memorable. Before I stepped through those doors, I'd never have believed how many attractive women were interested in lacing up the gloves and climbing through the ropes in various stages of dress/undress. And they weren't there for cardio-boxing or "foxy boxing" ... every woman I saw working out appeared to know what they were doing, and many looked like accomplished, high-level boxers. I knew Selene was good, but there were obviously many gym members who were her equal and more.
I was pretty much speechless for most of my visits there, taking in the surroundings, and I admit I was totally distracted on my entire last trip when I was supposed to be giving an assessment of her "prospect's" abilities. It didn't help that Felicity was a stunning blonde with a body that turned heads, and after a couple of sparring rounds, when Selene asked what I thought, all I remember was some incoherent babble.
I figured that's why I hadn't heard back from Selene in a while, knowing I didn't help much. That's why the phone message was unexpected ... but as I soon found out, she wanted to put someone in their place, maybe get a little revenge, and I was going to be the one to try to bring Nylisha under control. Either way, what was about to happen would make my previous gym visits pale in comparison.
It wasn't like Selene was hiding anything from me. When I called her back – after I composed myself enough to return her call, such was my excitement – our conversation lasted nearly a half-hour, and by the time we finished I was giddy from a combination of anticipation and trepidation. She'd told me enough to assure that Friday night was going to be a memorable one, for a lot of different reasons.
She'd run into a problem with a fighter visiting from another gym, one who had punished a couple of the top fighters from Selene's gym in her visits there. Apparently, Nylisha had no competition left in her own back-alley gym and came to Selene's facility looking for fights, and under normal circumstances that wouldn't have been a problem. Selene was always looking for the best boxers in her membership, to perpetuate her club's lofty status, and the more competition for the top fighters, the better.
But Nylisha was just an out-and-out bitch. She picked fights with other gym members outside the ring, went out of her way to berate everyone she met, ignored gym rules and enjoyed leaving whatever equipment she was using broken or in shambles. Her attitude was that the rest of the world owed her everything ... and unfortunately she was intimidating enough so that few challenged her.
That lack of challenge also extended into the ring. She'd won all her bouts in convincing fashion, all of them in quick order, and left a good number of her foes hurt and in pain on the canvas from her pounding. Officially, she was 6-0 with five first-round knockouts and the sixth bout being stopped in Round 2, but word was she'd also had several "unofficial" bouts ... and it was in those that she'd been even more brutal.
"She enjoys hurting people with her fists," Selene said on the phone. "Normally that's OK and some of our top girls are just like that. But she goes overboard with it ... she's not satisfied just knocking someone out. She wants to hear them scream."
That's apparently what had happened only a couple of nights earlier when Selene had set her up for a bout with the giantess Maria – the gym's biggest fighter and one of the strongest. Nylisha's rock-solid 5-foot-7, 180-pound frame was dwarfed by Maria, who had some skill to go with her size and hurt Nylisha with some early punches. But by the first few seconds of Round 2 Maria became an oversized punching bag and Nylisha destroyed her so badly she had to be rushed to a local emergency room.
"And she felt GOOD about that," Selene said. "We've got a lot of members who are afraid of her and what she'll do. She really needs to go up against someone she can't just punch around, someone who can give her an attitude adjustment. You up for that?"
Honestly, I was reluctant at first. I wasn't sure there was an upside for me, but it had been a while since I'd really challenged myself ... my gym work kept me in shape, but I wasn't regularly getting in the ring with people as good or better than I was for some intense sparring. And from what I gathered, Nylisha was going to be a formidable challenge.
But I also wasn't in the habit of telling Selene "no."
Selene gave me a little bit of her background. She'd apparently been working and fighting out of a seedy gym before she made her way over to challenge the best at Selene's gym. She was far from a polished fighter, but she'd learned enough boxing to be able to use that massive body-builder frame to generate power in both hands, and had moved past the free-swinging style that most newcomers use and had replaced that with solid combinations. She was also strong enough that she could take a punch pretty well. She was plenty aggressive, but her stamina was open to question since she'd never had to go many rounds.
"You'll love her," Selene said sarcastically. "She goes to the body like nobody you've ever seen ... kind of like you (she knew her flattery would get her everywhere). But she's predictable, she always just comes straight forward and bangs, and she doesn't jab enough to set anything else up. Mostly, I need someone to take her down a few notches ... someone to shut that mouth of hers."
What I found out later – what the phone call didn't tell me – was that Selene had tried that herself, had climbed through the ropes to teach Nylisha a lesson in civility and manners in one of those "unofficial" bouts, and had received a brutal beating for her efforts. Nylisha tried to make an example out of Selene, carrying her much longer than the bout needed to go just so she could inflict more pain and punishment, taunting her at every opportunity, not letting her go to the canvas even when Selene was out cold and continuing to beat her senseless. If outsiders hadn't jumped in the ring to separate them, it could have been much worse.
Selene told me she'd set up the gym for Friday night after hours, after everyone else was gone. The only people there were to be Nylisha and her coach, and Selene to get the gym and ring ready and work my corner. That way, she could keep it quiet from the rest of the gym members. "It wouldn't look good if they knew I'd called you," she said. "Besides, if she beats you up, she'll let everybody know."
The week before the bout seemed to last a year, and my anticipation grew each day. I was working out with a passion, and found myself asking some of the stronger guys in my gym to spar with me, some stockier than my 5-foot-9, 165-pound frame. None of them were great boxers, but getting used to their strength and to pushing and getting leaned on by more weight in the clinches couldn't hurt.
I couldn't help but e-mail Selene with some questions about the bout, but the only message I got back was that we'd go 10 rounds and we'd use 8-ounce gloves, which I knew increased the chances of a knockout ending. Other than that, she said to bring my equipment and come to the gym's back door around 9 p.m.
I'd been in a lot of fights, but rarely did I spend so much time thinking about one before the bout. I spent every free hour trying to concentrate on my opponent, even though I knew next to nothing about her. I didn't sleep a lot Thursday night and was useless most of the day on Friday until I started packing my gym bag. I grabbed my favorite trunks, the traditional black Everlasts with the big white waistband and white trim ... not the long kind that too many fighters are now wearing, but cut almost mid-thigh, the vain part of me thinking that they showed off my tan well. White boots, mouthpiece, towels, protector, tape, wraps ... it took a while to find some black 8-ounce since I hadn't used anything like that for a while
I figured I'd get to the gym early, partly in anticipation and partly to get some idea of what I'd gotten myself into. I got there around 8:30 and the place was deserted, the front door locked. But I walked to the back and saw Selene's Jeep and another tricked-out Cadillac pimp-mobile – had to be Nylisha and her coach, I was guessing. The back door was blocked open … naturally, with a glove … and I went inside, letting it lock behind me.
The gym was dark except for the fluorescent lights above one of the rings, which provided the effect of spotlighting that ring, and lights down one hallway. I made a point to walk past the ring, figuring that's where we'd be fighting, and for the first time I felt a twinge of nervousness replacing my feelings of anticipation. Just as I started walking down the hallway, my bag slung over my shoulder, I saw Selene stepping out of a door on one side. "Hey, stud," she said, a smile on her face. "Our visitors are already in our regular locker room. You're over here," she said as she stepped across the hall and unlocked another door. "Make yourself at home, get ready and I'll be back to check on you in a few minutes."
I walked in, noticing that Selene made sure to shut the door behind me, and started going about the process of getting my trunks on, loosening up and trying to concentrate on the fight. I had just pulled out the black gloves when Selene walked back in.
"Need some help?" she said, and quickly grabbed the wraps and tape and went to work on my hands. While she wrapped, she told me she'd just been in the other locker room with Nylisha and her coach, going over details. "What a fucking pair they are," she said. "I certainly wouldn't mind it if you just kicked her ass and made her know it. Thanks for doing this ... come on out when you're ready," she said as she finished and quickly headed out the door. She had a good idea I wouldn't be far behind.
When I walked out toward the ring, Nylisha was already in there, shadow-boxing and rolling her shoulders to stay loose. A guy I assumed was her coach was in the ring with her, holding his hands up like punching mitts as her arms shot out punches, but he didn't look like very many boxing coaches I'd seen. Few of them wore full three-piece loud-colored suits with a matching fedora and three-inch-heel shoes. He would have looked at home on a street-corner shilling for his coven of prostitutes ... and the thought crossed my mind that he was doing the same here, latching on to talent and hoping to cash in when she hit the professional big time.
My focus quickly switched to the fighter, and Nylisha was impressive even from a distance ... and got more impressive the closer I walked to the ring and saw her under the glaring lights.
For a second, all I saw was shining ebony skin and a nice pair of breasts bouncing as she shadowboxed with her coach, but as I got closer the rest of her musculature showed itself in all her glory. The wide shoulders, biceps that bulged every time she drew back from a punch, sets of abs and obliques that looked like they were sculpted from brown granite ... every inch of her and every move she made radiated power and strength, and I couldn't help but feel a little intimidated.
Her bright gold trunks and gold gloves set off her deep brown skin even more, and with the sheen of sweat she'd already built, Nylisha appeared to almost shimmer under the lights. And as I looked up and down her, the form-fit trunks and strong legs showed that her strength wasn't just in her upper body. Her gray shoes were tight on her muscular calves, and her dark gray waistband had the gold letters "ER" just below her solid abs. I knew that Maria wound up in the emergency room after Nylisha finished with her, but she couldn't be good enough to brag about that on her waistband ... could she?
As I climbed up on the ring apron, I heard the loud, "THAP, THAP, THAP!" of her 8-ounce gloves slamming into the hands of the pimp-dressed coach, and his constant chatter as he encouraged her.
"Cross 'em up .... double 'em up ... NIIIIIIICE," he repeated as her gloves pounded his hands. "You a machine, a lethal weapon ... ready to hurt someone ... white boy's gonna go down hard ... he got no chance."
I didn't realize I was standing and staring until I realized that Selene had joined me in the ring. Glad I warmed up in the locker room, since she was waving us out of our corners and to the middle of the ring. I saw Nylisha taking her time walking out, her coach just behind her shoulder, and she was sizing me up just like I'd been doing to her. Her brown eyes were lasered on me, and she had something between a grin and a sneer of contempt on her face.
Her brown cornrows rubbed her strong shoulders as she walked out, which naturally drew my eyes lower and to her deep brown areolas and nipples that jutted out like wine corks. Damn, I realized, she was really excited about this fight, and I felt an involuntary rumble inside my tight protector that covered the family jewels ... a rumble that didn't abate when she stepped in close, almost brushing those hard nipples against me.
"OK, you both know the rules," Selene said. "No ref, so it's up to you to keep it clean. Ten rounds or until someone can't continue. Any questions?"
"Yeah, where do I send the body after my girl finishes with this punk?" Coach Pimp piped up. "She's gonna kill this motherfucker," he added as he massaged Nylisha's shoulders ... but her gaze never left my eyes.
"We'll see," Selene said. "If there's nothing else, I'll set the timer. Come out fighting."
As she said that, Nylisha leaned in even closer, her nose almost touching mine. "I'm gonna hurt you bad, make you my bitch," she spat out, and turned her head away violently. The sharp head movement caused her long back cornrows to fly around her head, swatting me hard across the side of my face and cheek. I heard Nylisha laugh as she kept turning, heading back to her corner, and as I lunged at her, Selene jumped in front of me and grabbed me by the arms.
"Keep it cool," she whispered as she leaned against me, keeping me from pursuing my opponent to her corner. "She wants to get you flustered, get you mad. Don't let her get to you ... you'll be better off keeping your head."
I knew she was right, so I slowly walked backward until I was in my corner as Selene went over to set the automatic timer. Nylisha was already in her corner, and she never took her eyes from mine the entire time we waited for the timer to sound the warning buzzer. I tried to match that focus … my mind was swirling, but I kept a stone-cold face and matched her gaze. I had a couple of inches on her, but her frame and musculature were much more solid, and I decided then and there that it might not be a good idea to make this bout a test of strength.
Selene stuck my white mouthpiece between my lips as the 10-second warning buzzer sounded, and I bounced on my toes as she slipped through the ropes. I was still peering straight across the ring at the ebony powerhouse in the other corner when the timer chimed the start of Round 1.
I came out cautious and started circling left, planning to stay away from the big right hand that I was betting Nylisha boasted, but to my surprise she didn't look like she was in a hurry, either. I expected her, with her shortage of experience and her reputation, to come out flailing, but she was the picture of energy efficiency, striding purposely forward in a classic boxer's stance and trying to cut off the ring to negate my speed. Maybe she did want to improve as a boxer and do a little less brawling ...
When she got close, I threw a couple of jabs trying to snap them off her cheek, both of which she picked off with gloves that looked too small for her muscular arms – the 8-ounce gold Reyes that I knew were o popular in Selene's gym. She responded with two flicking left jabs of her own, both off my gloves, and I saw the muscles in her right arm twitch – a tell that she was loading up for a follow-up right.
I easily ducked under the punch – she was head-hunting early – and suddenly I saw the entire right side of her body wide open. I'd hoped for that, and pivoted for my bread-and-butter punch, an uppercut under the rib cage. It landed solidly, good enough to have put some of my gym fighters on the canvas gasping for breath, but all my opponent did was let out a "whoofff" and grab me in a clinch.
"That all you got, white boy," she hissed through her mouthpiece as both of us struggled to get punching room. "Got a lot more where that came from," I hissed back, but I was still surprised.
OK, she just took my best punch with little more than a shrug – and I'm pretty sure she knew that – and I could feel her twisting in the clinch and preparing to attack my body as she tried to muscle me back and take midring. Time to get out of range, I thought, and start sticking and moving, my original plan ... and as I backed off and started moving away, I could hear her coach already ... "Go get him! He's scared already! Go show him what you got!"
I bobbed in and out, keeping my head movement, Joe Frazier-like, to make it more difficult for her to pick up. My constant movement also helped me load up the jab, which I flicked out rapidly into my opponent's gloves, pushing them back into her face.
Moments later, Nylisha stepped into range, her right hand up around her face and her left hand down, and put her weight on her left foot, dipping to unleash a hook. I took a half-step back, and that quick motion unhinged her release, and she hesitated, knowing that her shot would either miss or land without much force. In that quick moment, I shot a lead right off her forehead and side-hopped right as she turned and reached for the hook that missed.
My speed advantage is already bothering her, I thought, and I couldn't help but grin slightly as I started shooting pin-pricking jabs aimed at Nylisha's forehead and eyes. I kept my right hand high to ward off her jabs and was starting to punish her with the left jab when she suddenly ducked aside one of those jabs, and swung a big left hook that slammed into my right side at the waistband, grunting loudly as it connected.
Unnnnhhhh … had I not turned slightly just as the punch landed, that would have dug right into my abs and I would likely have been struggling for breath, if not on the canvas. As it was, the force of the blow knocked me two steps back against the ropes, and Nylisha was on me in a flash.
I kept my gloves at my temples and elbows pinched in from my sides as she loaded up and threw several punches that made big, banging "whack" sounds that echoed off the gym walls. I could feel their force –damn, those bulging arms aren't just for show, she's got some power. But they mostly hit on my arms and gloves, not doing much damage, and I was clinching and pinning her arms as we leaned against the ropes when the timer went off.
We broke, and as we did she spat out, "When you come back out, fight like a man, bitch," as she spun to her corner. I walked back to mine as Selene slipped in with the stool, taking out my mouthpiece while I tried hard to get my breathing under control. The dull pain from her big shot to my side quickly went away, and I was looking down at the canvas when Selene pulled my chin up and started toweling off the sweat that I was already pumping out.
"Not bad," she said as she worked the towel. "Your jab's as good as always ... she hasn't been in with a lot of people who can keep her off balance. Just got to watch for that hook … you pay too much attention to her right hand, and her left hook will send you to dreamland. It did me."
Seeing my eyes locking on hers in one big question mark, Selene picked up the water bottle and squirted into my mouth, following with the towel as the buzzer sounded. I watched her rear end slip through the ropes ... before I noticed the riveting gaze Nylisha had on me, one she kept the whole time even as she stood from the stool before the chime for the next round.
When the timer went off for round two, it was a sharp contrast to the slow start of the opening round. Both of us stepped forward and Nylisha began unloading big shots. I was able to duck under most of her looping head shots, a couple of times countering with a quick left-right to her body as a penalty for her missing me, before moving back out of range.
She was still controlling the mid-ring area, though, and started crowding forward and pushing to get under my guard. I was able to dip down and take most of her shots on my elbows, but her crowding with her shoulder kept nudging me off balance and making it difficult to jab my way out of trouble. She obviously was used to being able to muscle her opponents around, and as much as I hated to admit it, she was doing the same to me. Damn, she was strong.
Most of the round continued in that manner … Nylisha trying to bull her way forward and push me against the ropes, and me trying to bounce jabs off her head and eyes and circle away. That became a pattern … until she feinted another low push forward and I instinctively dropped my left hand toward her head. She ripped a roundhouse right over the top that clipped me right on the point of the chin, and I fell back directly on my butt near the ropes.
"YEAH!," I heard her yell. "Stay down if you don't wanna get hurt!"
Damn, I thought to myself, I got too complacent, and paid the price. Stunned more than anything, I started to get up when I noticed that Nylisha hadn't gone to a neutral corner with the knockdown, and in fact was looming over me, her gloves low and ready to do more damage. Remembering that no referee was on hand to interfere here, I half-scrambled away as I stood up, and Nylisha gave chase. But she was overanxious and I was able to pick off the lefts and rights she aimed at my head, and I connected with a couple of stiff left jabs and a following right cross that landed flush on her cheek right at the buzzer. The right caused Nylisha to blink and shake her head slightly as she turned to go to her corner.
I did the same and took a seat. The knockdown hadn't hurt, just a momentary stun, and I actually felt pretty good in the way I came back and got in some shots at the end. And it didn't take as long for me to catch my breath ... it came quick as Selene toweled off my chest and body with one hand and put a cold pack against my chin with the other.
"Maybe I was wrong about paying attention to her right," she said, a big grin on her face. "Nice advice," I said, forcing a grin.
"Just keep it up," she said. "She hasn't had any long fights, and I think you're more accustomed to longer bouts. Besides, you're in pretty good shape for an old, washed-up guy" – I couldn't help but notice she was paying special attention with the towel on my chest while she spoke – "Use those sexy legs and keep away from her for a while ... see how she reacts."
Selene stood up at the warning buzzer and slipped back through the ropes, and my eyes followed her for a few moments before I looked back toward the other corner. Nylisha's gaze hadn't wavered, a stare that continued when the buzzer sounded for the third round.
Nylisha came out quickly again and established herself at mid-ring. She does stick to a plan, I thought, and why not … she hurt me in the first round and had me down in the second, why not stick with what's working. But I still felt good coming into the round, and the nerves and the quivering of anticipation seemed to have finally disappeared and the surroundings seemed a lot more comfortable. It's a boxing ring, like all the rest I've been in, and I'm here for a fight.
Because of that comfort level, I decided to try something that I'd done a couple of times previously, and switched to a southpaw stance, pointing my right shoulder at Nylisha and making it harder for her left hook to find my body and chin. Still had to watch for the right hand, but at least I'd see it coming, and besides, I wanted to see how she'd handle it since she probably hadn't ever faced a lefty stance.
I started chopping out right-hand jabs, and they split Nylisha's gloves more often than not as she tried to solve my new stance. I got off first on just about every exchange for most of the round, almost every one with a right lead, one catching her square on the nose and a couple above her right eye. Most of her counters I either blocked with my gloves and arms or they thudded off my back as I was turned almost parallel to the solid and strong girl.
When I saw she was waiting for another jab, I dipped my right shoulder, stepped inside and picked her up with a tight right uppercut and quickly followed with an arcing left hand over the top, directly into that right eye. Nylisha stepped back – the first time I'd backed her up – and I followed inside again leading with my right shoulder and dropped another quick left into her jaw. The short, snug southpaw slugging was working … I was able to smother much of her open attack and get in some short, choppy left hands. As long as I could avoid her right hand, it was okay to be in this close, and I couldn't help but answer her earlier taunt with one of my own. "Having fun yet?" I grunted on one close exchange.
But I also did my share of staying away, remembering the two big punches that she'd caught me with in the first two rounds, and continued to circle and flick out the jab. Nylisha also tried to jab and follow up with the right, but I was able to parry away the jabs with my right glove and step back from her right. She appeared really frustrated when the buzzer sounded to end the third round, and I could see a trickle of blood coming from her nose and her right eyebrow was puffy. "Now who's the bitch?" I said low, and I thought Nylisha was about to take a late swing at me before her coach grabbed her arms and pulled her back to her corner.
I almost danced to my corner, buoyed by my success, and Selene almost beat me there. She took the mouthpiece and toweled off my face and chest as I leaned back against the corner padding.
"Nice moves," she said. "You've got her pretty screwed up. Keep it up and from what I've seen she's going to get frustrated in a hurry." She squirted some of the water over my head and into my mouth, toweled off the worst, replaced the mouthpiece and climbed back out of the ring well before the buzzer.
I watched her slip through the ropes more closely this time, her flaming red hair tied back in a ponytail that swung as she walked. That wasn't her only movement I was watching, and again I felt that twinge down in my protector. Maybe sometime soon she'll invite me to join her in the ring, I thought, and that image ... damn, I had to snap out of this and get back to thinking about that ebony powerhouse in the other corner.
From a quick look before the warning buzzer, I could see Nylisha still breathing heavy, and I remembered she'd never had to come out for a fourth round since she joined the gym – she'd dispatched all of her opponents quickly. Maybe she's tiring quicker than expected, I thought, and my southpaw shift in the last round enabled my gloves to help wear her down some. I could hear her coach shouting out encouragement when the warning buzzer sounded.
Both of us were on our feet just after the warning buzzer and were already a couple of steps toward mid-ring when the buzzer for round four sounded.
The fourth round was fairly tame, me sticking with the southpaw stance and Nylisha still looking for an opening she could exploit. I was still having success with the right-hand lead, trying to pepper her nose and eyelid, but mostly they hissed off her gloves – apparently, either she or her coach has a little bit of ring tactician in them, and Nylisha was starting to negate my lefty advantage – and it was my turn to feel frustration in not being able to do more damage to my target. Still, I was slow-playing her enough to be effective, and had just dropped another hammering right jab to her nose and jerked it back to block what I thought was a left hook.
Instead, Nylisha had feinted the hook, pivoted and slammed a right cross into my solar plexus, which was pointed directly at her right in my southpaw look. It felt like the punch was going through me while it lifted me off the canvas, and I bent over with the impact and grabbed her right arm and around her waist as she clubbed my head with her free left hand.
Suddenly she backed off and started walking toward her corner. I hadn't even heard the buzzer sound, ending the round, and while I shuffled slowly back to my corner, she looked back over her shoulder and yelled, "Hurry back, motherfucker, and I'll beat that body some more." I sat quickly on the stool, one arm clutching my abdomen, and saw a malevolent grin from Nylisha as she sat in her corner.
I was already arching my back, looking up at the ceiling and trying to stretch out my abdominal muscles to relieve the pain. Damn, this girl can hit, I thought, and I had already convinced myself that I had to be more careful when Selene's face blocked out some of the overhead lights.
"Looks like you could use some help, sugar," she said as I looked up at her from my stool, and she toweled off my face and squirted the water bottle in my mouth and over my head, the cool water running down my body. The cool shock took my mind off the screaming pain in the pit of my stomach, but I was still breathing hard and noticed I was sweating heavily when the timer sounded for Round 5.
By the time I made it off the stool, Nylisha was halfway across the ring and still coming, trying to pick up where she left off. But her haste left her temporarily out of control, and as I side-stepped to the left and away from her advance I instinctively planted my right foot and launched a quick left hook over the top that crashed into her eyelid. Blood instantly spurted out, making a line on my black glove and sending a steady trickle down the side of her face.
"You got her hurt!" I heard Selene yell. "Go after her!"
Even though I figured she'd never been cut like that, Nylisha had been taught well and knew immediately to cover up and put her right glove up high and on her temple, trying to prevent further damage, while shooting out straight lefts in what was now a vain effort to continue her momentum. For my part, I stepped back, both to avoid her lefts and to assess the damage … and to figure out how to do more.
I had already decided to go back to an orthodox stance instead of the southpaw, mostly to prevent a repeat of Nylisha abusing my open body from the right side, but now that was even more important as I started pistoning left jabs to her head and immediately backing away.
Maybe it was the sight of her blood, or maybe it was knowing that her big right hand wasn't going to be nearly as dangerous since she had to protect the cut, but I felt a rush of energy and a feeling of empowerment. The pain in my abs had diminished and I felt much lighter on my feet. I kept the jabs working, but was now stepping in and chipping away with overhand right crosses that popped into Nylisha's left cheek and jaw whenever she tried to use her left.
The punches didn't hurt much, but I could tell they were enraging Nylisha. She'd never had to hold back and take care of an injury like that, and the madder she got the more likely she was to lash out and not cover. That she did a couple of times, and I easily dodged those and made her pay with quick left-right combos.
Eventually, I stood flat-footed with my weight forward and was chopping with both hands to her head, watching her eyes blink with astonishment as her lighter foe was starting to punish her. I could almost see her strong shoulders start to sag, and she was again backing up and soon had her back against my own corner pad as I continued to ignore any defense and rain lefts and rights, all aimed at her head.
"Get out of there!" her coach yelled. "Don't let that fucker push you around!"
I couldn't see or hear Selene, but I figured that if this continued for very long, she'd be yelling for me to finish her off. Until then, though, since there wasn't a referee, I knew I better take advantage while I could, because with the power Nylisha possessed, one landed punch and we'd be changing positions.
She tried to swing back with a sailing left hook, but I saw it coming and leaned back as it sailed by. As my weight came back forward and Nylisha was still off balance and leaning away from the corner, I pivoted into a big right-hand counter that clipped her perfectly on the chin. She went crashing down on all fours right at my feet, and I could hear a loud moan as she went down.
I instinctively stepped back to go to a neutral corner, and in the emotion of the moment I yelled out, "Who's getting beaten up now, cunt?" before I stopped around mid-ring and watched her shake her head and try to regain her balance – and watch the blood steadily dripping from her face. Her coach was imploring for her to get up – "Don't let this little pussy hurt you like that!" – as the buzzer to end round five sounded while Nylisha was still trying to stand. She eventually used the ropes to stand up and lurch her was across the ring.
I waited for her to clear my corner and watched her walk unsteadily, and quickly her coach made it through the ropes, grabbed an arm and helped her to her corner. It took a few seconds for me to realize that I could sit down, and when I sat hard I realized how tired my arms were from all the punching in that round. I sort of let my arms dangle at my sides, shaking them, and was still doing that while Selene worked the towel and also kneaded my shoulders to try to work out the soreness.
"She's OK," Selene quickly said. "Don't you hold back ... she can take a punch, so don't stop."
The bell for the sixth round rang almost simultaneously as Selene finished her statement, so I was determined to do as she asked. I walked across the ring quickly – Nylisha only took a couple of steps out of the corner, but she had her arms up in a tight defensive stance – and was making a concerted effort to pound at her head some more. She was still taking some of them flush ... She was game, but defending her eye had negated part of her attack and I kept getting off first.
I was hammering home straight rights and leaning out to clip across some quick left hooks, one of which raked across her nose and reopened the blood flow there. My gloves were now a mixture of black and dull maroon from the sticky and drying blood, and I actually felt a sense of entitlement in punching that blood back into the big girl's face. I know I should have felt bad for doing this to her, a fairly inexperienced fighter ... but she would have done the same and more to me.
"DAMNIT, Ny, don't let him do that," her coach yelled. "You're better than he is!"
I fought back the urge to answer him with a sarcastic remark, but I didn't want to stop my momentum. Again I had Nylisha backed into the ropes – she could take a punch, but I could tell she wasn't used to backing up much, the way she sort of lumbered when she took a step back – and was in a punching pattern. Perhaps she picked up on that pattern, perhaps I got cocky or perhaps the blood flowing from two places made her desperate, but when I swung another straight right hand she leaned away, batted my punch away with her left glove and nailed me under the jaw with an uppercut with a right hand that must have started six inches off the canvas.
All I saw was the overhead lights of the ring and my sweat flying between the stars that Nylisha's punch created, and I staggered back with arms flailing until I hit the ropes. She was on top of me in a flash, her feet wide apart and putting her low to the ground, giving her a strong base and letting her dig hard lefts and rights under my ribcage along with occasional looping head shots as I desperately tried to cover.
Selene's comment about how she goes to the body danced through my mind as she dug those gold 8-ounce weapons into my fast-failing abs and obliques. I tried to clinch, but she used her beefy left forearm to push me back against the ropes and smashed my open abdomen with another right hand.
I doubled over and my head was about the height of her waist as she now beat a steady diet of punches around my head, and I could hear her grunting with the effort in between yelling, "YEAH, motherfucker, your ass is mine now!" It wasn't too much longer before I went down on my hip and side from the barrage. Out of one eye, I could see Nylisha from ground level ... she was pumped up and breathing hard, and she had her gloves and those huge arms over her head in a victory pose. She looked absolutely huge from this angle as she yelled, "GET UP, BITCH! I AIN'T DONE WITH YOU!"
My head was spinning and one glove was caught in the ropes, but I knew if I rolled onto my back I probably wouldn't be getting up for some time. Instead, I pushed myself to my knees, grabbed the ropes and instinctively pulled myself up … way too quickly, as it turned out, because Nylisha was right there and nailed my open face with a right hand that hit on my left eye as I went crashing back down hard, face first on the canvas.
With my head on the mat, I could feel a vibration, and I struggled to figure out it was Nylisha dancing on her toes as she towered over me. I figured she was still taunting me, although my head was too foggy to hear. I also felt a wetness running down my cheek and I knew my left eye had been cut open.
If there had been a referee, it would have been over because I was down for a lot more than 10 seconds. I'm not sure what helped me get back up – maybe there was a subconscious feeling that I didn't want to lose to this young girl, regardless of how strong she was – but I was able to get my bearings and work my feet back under me, still in a kneeling position not unlike a baseball catcher. I stayed that way for a few seconds, with Nylisha still close by, fists at the ready, before standing up.
Fortunately for me, that's when the buzzer sounded ending the sixth round, and I heard Nylisha mutter, "Shit!" under her breath before she walked back to her corner. I was in the process of limping back to mine when Selene grabbed my arm, put it over her shoulder and helped me back, pulling the stool out for me.
She splashed water all over me and was lightly slapping my chin, saying, "Hey, you all right? You OK?" I remember babbling something about getting the number of the truck that hit me, and I saw her smile just a little. "Take your time, you have time here," she said. "Try to breathe normally and focus your eyes on something." I focused on the ponytail of hair that fell on one shoulder as I slowly regained my senses.
By the time she had finished toweling me off and getting the ice pack on the cut over my eye, I was able to focus across the ring and saw Nylisha still breathing heavy but with that grin returned to her face. By the time the warning buzzer sounded I at least felt like standing up, but I knew I was in no shape to trade punches, especially with my eye, so it was time to get back on the bicycle for a while.
At the buzzer, I expected Nylisha to charge out, but she unhurriedly walked out, very much under control. Maybe she figured I was through and she wanted to take her time in taking me apart, maybe she was starting to wear down herself, or maybe she was just measuring my condition, but I was glad for the break and started circling to my right again, away from her right hand that was a weapon once again. But I could see that her cut was still a mess over her eye – mine was a little better by comparison, I was guessing – and her nose hadn't stopped bleeding.
I spent all of round seven stepping back from her punches, which were now noticeably slower than the start of the fight, and continuing to circle. A couple of times, Nylisha pressed forward, but I was able to use my gloves to push her shoulders away when she tried to bore in head first and back-pedaled away from her ... which started her yelling again. "Quit running and fight me, you fucking coward!" she screamed as she got through with some jabs and one time landed a right lead to the side of my head, but it glanced off my glove and didn't land with authority.
By the end of the round, I felt good enough to throw a couple of jabs of my own, and my head was almost clear when the round ended. I felt fortunate that the slowest round of the fight so far had some when I needed it as I walked back to my corner.
I kept telling myself that she couldn't have much left ... but I didn't have much room to talk since my body was tired and sore and my head was throbbing. I was already trying to control my breathing, pulling out my waistband and protector with the thumbs of my gloves in an effort to make breathing easier while Selene was tending to my face.
"Got something down there you want to show me?" she laughed. "You can't be that much out of it, huh?"
"Just trying to get some air," I said as I let my waistband settle back in on my abdomen, and I let my arms drop to my sides to try to get some energy and feeling back into them. Selene pulled out my trunks and protector herself for a few seconds while she toweled, and when she saw my heavy sigh when the warning buzzer sounded, she said under her breath, "She's tired, too."
Round eight wasn't much different from round seven, with me staying away and slowly getting back to form and back to plan, trying to flick the jab at Nylisha's swelling face, reddening nose and the widening gash above her right eye. Blood from that cut was now not only trickling down her cheek, but was also running down the middle of her eyebrow, flowing into her eye, and she was constantly blinking and rubbing her eye with the heel of her glove to try to clear her vision.
I could still feel my own blood, but it was only an occasional drop off the side of my face, and I knew most of the blood on my gloves and my trunks had come off my opponent.
To her credit, Nylisha continued to press inside, bulling her way in and trying to create open shots at my body and uppercuts toward my head, but I was able to parry most of them and smother her with clinches. Much of the round resembled a wrestling match, with arms locked and our chests pushed against each other – normally something that would have given me worlds of energy –, my head planted a lot of the time on her shoulder where she couldn't get at it, and both our arms punching against the other's sides. She was still struggling to control the inside movements, but those struggles didn't have the intensity of the earlier rounds.
I had a lot more experience than she did in grabbing and holding – I'm pretty sure she'd never had to do that before to make it through a bout, like I'd had to do a lot of times – and I knew how to do it and get leverage. As I held the clinch with my left, I was pounding Nylisha's left side with my right hand. It couldn't do much damage, but it did make it harder for her to breathe, and I could feel "whoofs" coming out of her mouthpiece as her head moved around mine. I could also feel her blood dropping on my shoulders and flowing down my back, and it almost felt like it came in spurts … every time I would hit her side with a right, I could feel a few more drops fall from either her nose or eye.
We were still clinched up when the buzzer went off ending round eight, and I felt good walking back to my corner. Selene was ahead of me with the stool and the water bottle.
"I know you're tired," she said as I plopped down on the stool, "but I need you to challenge her, really push her, these last two rounds. I'm betting she can't handle it when she's tired and she's put under pressure late in a fight. She's never been in that situation before."
I already knew she was tired ... if she'd had any energy left, she would have taken advantage of me the last two rounds. But she didn't. Maybe she was struggling more than I realized. Selene had already toweled me off and popped my mouthpiece back in when I decided to cut back on the back-pedaling and challenge Nylisha a little more, and I was ready for that to happen when the ninth-round buzzer sounded.
Nylisha again walked out slowly and in control, probably expecting me to again get on the bicycle and keep away, which I did for a moment. But quickly I went back to a southpaw stance, where I could more easily step inside, and was able to split her gloves with the first two lead rights I threw. Whether it was luck or fate, Nylisha shifted her head just when I threw the first right, and it crashed directly into her nose, smashing it flat, sending sweat flying and sending blood out of both nostrils. I could tell she was seeing stars, and as she shifted away, my second right pounded directly across her eyelid, hissing as it raked the skin, and the flow of blood there began anew and was washing into her eye.
Nylisha again brought her right hand directly in front of her face, both as a defense and to use the thumb to try to clear the blood, but that only added to her vision problem. Buoyed by that, I started jerking right uppercuts under her ribs and off her chin, and slicing left hands that tore at her swollen face. She started backing up again, but I kept the distance between us the same and continued a two-handed assault with tightly-grouped punches. I could feel the energy flowing out of her, and for the first time felt that she was set up for a knockout.
We were at mid-ring when I slipped her perceptibly-slower jab, and her follow right hand to my body hit home but didn't have much on it. I turned back to an orthodox stance to get my left side forward, and was able to body up and muscle Nylisha's bulk – not so much as earlier when she was sturdy and resistant to anything – to the ropes as we clinched. Once there, I pushed off and dug two left hooks into her right side – an open area since he had to keep her right hand high to protect the eye and nose. I could feel them sink into her brown skin … just like punching the heavy bag in the gym, I thought … and I followed by shifting my weight again and digging right hands to a body that was fast becoming a mass of red, black and blue.
Nylisha sat in the ropes and tried to huddle forward, but when she did I put my left arm under hers and stacked her back up high. Stackin' and packin', that's what they called it at the gym, and it opened up her body again for more lefts and rights, some to her abdomen and some just lower, right on the "ER" logo on her waistband. A couple of left-hand uppercuts landed directly under her rib cage – the same punch that had so little effect on her in the first few seconds of the first round. This time, I felt the convulsion in Nylisha's insides when they hammered home, and a third uppercut pounded in and drew a retching sound as the buzzer sounded to end the ninth.
Nylisha went to her hands and knees with that last body blow, and I was standing over her, yelling at her to stay down, when I felt something grab my arm. Her coach had bounded into the ring and was pulling me away, and I pushed him into the ropes and started walking toward my corner. I wasn't paying that much attention to him ... instead, I was looking back at Nylisha still on her hands and knees trying to breathe, and I didn't see her coach coming up to attack me from the back.
I also didn't see Selene step in between and snap a perfect right cross off Coach Pimp's cheek, snapping his head to the side and sending his hat flying as he went down in a heap next to the ropes, only a few feet away from his still-downed fighter. I turned around in time to see Selene bouncing on the balls of her feet a couple of feet away from him, looking ready to belt him again, and this time it was my turn to reach a glove around her arm and pull her back toward our corner.
Nylisha was half-crawling, half-walking to her own corner by the time her coach got back to his feet, rubbing his chin and obviously flustered. I looked at Selene, a big grin on my face matching hers.
"Damn, remind me to stay on your good side," I said to her, half-laughing, and all Selene did was smile and go back to work with the towel and squirt bottle. But the satisfied look on her face said volumes.
I didn't know if Nylisha was going to make it out for the 10th round, and I knew her coach wasn't going to be much help to her. I was just hoping that, if she did come out, I had enough strength to land just a couple more good shots to end it.
Selene had the ice pack on the cut on my eye just to make sure it didn't get any worse, and she didn't say anything until the warning buzzer sounded. "Finish this bitch off," she said under her breath as she slipped back through the ropes, grabbing the stool as I stood and pounded my gloves together.
I was as exhausted as I could ever remember in my life, but my heart was racing, and I was ready to get to mid-ring even before the buzzer sounded. Nylisha was still on her stool, leaning back against the corner pad with her eyes closed. Her coach was screaming profanely at her, but I tuned him out and kept watching her. I thought for a moment that's how it might end – and was actually a little disappointed if that's how it had, considering the nine-round war we'd had – but when the buzzer sounded to start the round she slowly rose and took a fighting stance, taking a couple of steps forward.
There's no give-up in her ... she's game, I'll give her that, I thought. But I had a job to do, and I quickly walked forward. Her face was a mess and would have been an easy target, but I wanted to end it with an attack on that stunning, impressive, muscular body, especially since that's where she had hurt me earlier. But instead of working the front and the waist where Nylisha's elbows were clinched to protect, I started pounding behind the elbows, hammering at the ribs and the liver. Sweat was pouring off me as I kept tensing and throwing punches, leaning into them with everything I had left. My gloves pounded and bounced off as Nylisha sat on the ropes, legs trembling and hands useless at her temples.
A referee would have stopped it by now, and I was wondering what was holding her up when suddenly my left hand wedged in between her hip and lower ribs and Nylisha lurched that way before crashing to the canvas, her nose and eye rubbing across the rough material and leaving a blood trail before she rolled on her back.
I didn't back up, using what little energy I had left to raise my arms up over my head in a victory stance, even though I half-expected Nylisha to rise once again as I stood over her, her face bloody and bruises already forming across the entire area between her chest and her waistband. That was before her coach jumped in between us, taking the mouthpiece from Nylisha's bloody lips and supporting her head. I stepped over and leaned heavily against the ropes while I watched her coach tend to her and help her to the stool in her corner, and watched Selene turn the timer off and slide through the ropes.
"Way to go, champ," she said, leaning in and planting a kiss on my cheek ... and suddenly all the pain and the effort was worth it.
I saw Nylisha's chest slowly get back to a regular breathing pattern, and satisfied that she would be all right I began slipping through the ropes and heading to the back to grab my stuff. I was already thinking about an hour-long hot shower as I started down the steps from the ring apron when I heard a low shout from behind me.
"Hey, white boy," Nylisha yelled out from her stool. "This isn't over ... not by a long shot. Your ass is still going to be mine, motherfucker."
All I could do was shake my head as I headed to the dressing room, figuring at some point I was going to have to do this all over again.
The message on my cell phone was quick and short, but it was more than enough to pique my interest and put my Monday-morning imagination into overdrive.