Bonnie’s ramping up for her title fight on December 10th, and as her sparring partner, I’m getting schooled (again).
To be in the ring with someone so much better than me is an incredible thrill and it stretches me, grows me, teaches me, and absolutely makes me work my ass off.
About 8 weeks before a major fight, most pro boxers begin their training camp. They shift up from maintenance mode training: they push up their cardio, increase their weight training, raise their punch counts, and begin creating a strategy for the specific opponent they’ll be facing in the ring.
Bonnie “Queen B” Mann (13-9-0, 6 KO) will be facing off with Carlette “The Truth” Ewell (14-7-0, 9 KOs), who is officially a light heavyweight, and has fought most of her career against heavyweights, including German champion boxer Natalia Ragozina (22-0-0, 13 KOs).
Heavyweights often move differently in the ring than lighter boxers do. You’ll see more walking, stalking, and knockout punches than you will dancing, circling and flurry combos. There may be a much lower punch count, but each punch is a cinderblock. Although Bonnie is ranked #2 in the world in the Light Heavyweight division, she has spent much of her career in the lighter weight categories, so she comfortably incorporates both types of boxing, although she tends to default to the heavyweight style.
Because I spar enough with her to know her tendencies, I generally count on being able to hold up well against her in the first four rounds while I’m fresh, and I know I’ll have to keep my guard and my defense incredibly tight in the later ones when her power comes to the fore.
But this training camp has been very different.
Before our latest sparring session we spent some time discussing styles with her trainer, Derrick Reed, a wiry New Jersey fighter who boxed in the army for 7 years before beginning to train fighters with US Olympic boxing coach Anthony Bradley. Reed was in Bonnie’s corner when she won her first championship fight and gained the World Boxing Empire title.
I alternately skipped rope and stretched while Coach Reed (Bonnie calls him Coach D) and Bonnie discussed the upcoming fight.
My interval sprint training has really helped with my cardio lately. I had the usual pre-ring anxiety, but my confidence has increased as I’ve sparred the last few weeks with Bonnie. I’m starting to know the people in her training camp, and understand what they are all working toward. I’m aware that training with these people is the highest honor of my boxing life; I’m doing my best to savor every tension-filled minute.
They discussed fighting style, potential strategies, and training plans as I listened in. It isn’t often that you get to hear a coach prepping his fighter for a title fight.
After 6 rounds of shadow boxing, I was restive and bouncing, anxious for the bell. Coach D leaned over the ropes in my corner and gently hooked a finger on my headgear to settle me down as he spoke quietly into my ear.
“You’re going to work your hardest tonight,” he said calmly. “You are not going to rest, and you’re not going to let Bonnie rest, either. I want you to to constantly attack. Move in on her and do not let her circle. Never stop your attack. Even if she tries to lead you, cut her off and make her engage.”
My heart rate skyrocketed as the thrill of the battle plan filled me. I felt I would do anything to please this coach. I could give Bonnie this, I could mimic the unrelenting forward pressure of a heavyweight, even if I didn’t have the bombs.
Bonnie had her own strategy. Normally she lets me open the session with my jabs and the first combination or two. She lets me test the waters, measure the distance between us. But this time she came out of the corner like a racehorse out of the gate; I threw one jab before she covered me up with a double salvo of combinations, hard.
Nothing like eight fast punches to the head and body to sober you up. We were ON.
I shook off the charge, pivoted out, then began my real work. I could see Coach D motioning from the corner: Come at her. Move forward. Advance.
And I did.
I mentally marked off the center of the ring as No Go zone. I would force Bonnie to stay on the outside, against the ropes and in the corners if possible. I would stay relentlessly in her face and push the attack.
Bonnie skipped lightly backwards as I came forward. We would exchange shots and she’d be gone, out the side door. Round after round went by with the same intensity; she worked the angles and I stuck on her, forced the play, did my best to prevent her from exiting the encounter. I’ve never seen her move so quickly, lightly, and constantly; our punch counts were double their usual numbers, or more.
We returned to our corners again and again, focused and dripping with sweat. The game never varied; it was the hardest I had ever worked. Several boxers watched us interestedly from below the ring. I lifted my chin in the boxer’s salute and was rewarded with smiles.
With such constant engagement, we found ourselves in a frequent clinch — a situation I hate with a passion but can’t avoid. I hate it because I can feel Bonnie’s uppercut wanting to destroy me from underneath, I feel her incredible power trying to shove me out of the ring, I know she’s going to demolish me on the exit with a bomb hook to my ear.
I listened, nodded, and cut my eyes toward Bonnie in the opposite corner. She grinned. The bell rang, and she taunted me, “C’mon Carlette, if you’re gonna fight,” she teased. I felt my own grin rise up.
I growled and charged, willing the weight of a Mack truck into each of my gloves. The original six rounds Coach D had called for were past; we were still gunning.
We clinched, I banged her ribs and head with my free fist. Coach D shouted encouragement. I was unable to throw off her weight, but I increased my speed on the exit and was rewarded with fewer head-ringing clouts to the ear.
I refused to stop fighting and stayed on her, in her range, and tried to keep my head moving to slip her shots even when I couldn’t throw any punches. I’d never boxed better.
By the eighth round Bonnie was on fire. I was winded but thrilled with my performance. In the corner Coach D asked me how I felt and I banged my gloves together. “I feel incredible,” I panted over my mouthguard. Sweat ran in rivulets down my arms and dripped off my elbows. He gave me water, slapped me lightly on the back of my headgear and smiled. “You’re doing great,” he affirmed. “Go finish it.”
Whatever I had left, I put into that eighth round. Smack talk flew, when we had breath. Our punch count was through the roof. The 30 second bell signaled and I knew the round was about to close. Bonnie charged me with a flurry that looked to last the entire rest of the round. I covered, retreated, stuck a jab in her face. She ducked under and launched her right to my liver.
Liver shots suck. You never see them coming because they’re only thrown when your opponent is deep inside and low. I was still in stance, left shoulder leading, and had just thrown a jab and was shifting to load a right. It was perfect timing.
Bonnie ducked and threw the low right hook upward, above the hip and under the short ribs, and the effect was devastating; I got an immediate surge of cold shock-sweat and a sickening wash of nausea. I hate liver shots!
I spiraled out, raised my gloves in surrender, and bellowed as I walked it off. “If you do nothing else in your fight,” I yelled, “you better deliver one of those to Carlette! Now gimme the rest of this round!” I spun and drove back to center, shaking off the effects.
“That is the rest of the round,” Bonnie laughed as the bell rang to cut off my charge. I leveled my glove at her. “Next time,” I threatened. “Next time you are mine.” And we banged our gloves together with the deep satisfaction of a fight well-fought.
Mark your calendars for December 10th, 2010: I’ll be posting news about the title fight, information about where you can get your tickets, and an exclusive interview with Bonnie!