Yes, it’s his “fight” name, but it seems like everyone calls him that. It’s a bit incongruous in light of his quick smile and the glossy black curls looping down over his eyes, but it makes sense once you match gloves with him a time or two. He has scary-fast power and he can hit like a cement mixer. In some ways, he reminds me of Bonnie — they both have that heavyweight I-throw-knockout-punches style, but Jay also specializes in tiny, fast body shifts that give him incredible angles from which to shoot. When he’s coming at you with a flurry of those angled, backed-by-bodyweight punches you want to cover up and pray for rescue.
I connected with him because of the incredible people in Atlanta; Jay trained for a number of years with Xavier Biggs at the Decatur Boxing Club, and also pitched in leading classes there as well. But about a year ago Jay gave up his job, his gym, and his fairly serious metal band when he moved up my way to care for his grandmother as she was dying.
Since her death, he’s been working again, and he has begun to establish himself as a leader in multiple off-the-radar fight-training groups.
He’s well-versed in Ju Jitsu, Tai Chi, and Ba Gua in addition to boxing, and I think part of the reason he rarely competes himself is because he’s forever getting other people ready to compete. But most of this happens in gravel lots and other mostly-unnoticed spaces where two or three or six people can gather to push themselves to advance in their arts. Once in a while he mentions having been asked to leave a particular area, which I find fascinating. Rarely would a group of people playing rugby or practicing BMX bike tricks be asked to leave a field, lot or park. But martial arts and fight training — no matter how controlled — outside of a clean, brightly-lit gym scares people.
Mostly our empty gravel lot has been a good place to work (I fell in love with the chickens we discovered there), although we’ve also trained on a quiet wooded slope, on a concrete slab in an unused picnic shelter, and once in a wide grassy space near an empty playground. We keep a weather eye out for official-looking people who might be approaching to ask us to leave, but it’s only happened one time so far.
Sometimes we’re accosted by curious passers-by, but Jay handles them with diplomacy. On our last hard sparring day a man who seemed to know Jay waited patiently until we were between rounds and asked him, “Hey, when’s your fight?”
I bit my lip to keep from grinning, and resolutely kept my mouth shut.
“Not my fight, man,” Jay responded equably. “Hers.”
I counted a couple of heartbeats before the man stammered out his reply. “What? Hers?”
“Yeah. Saturday night. In Atlanta.” Jay bounced lightly in his boxer’s shuffle as we waited on the bell for the next round.
“Wow, really? Huh.” And he politely tipped his head in my direction and settled himself on a concrete lot bumper to watch us work.
I kicked it up about three notches in my pride.
During one of the next few rounds I heard our viewer speak directly to me. “He’s dropping his left glove a lot. Give him a straight right.” I considered the last few combination exchanges, bided my time, and soon enough caught Jay with my right, straight over the glove. I heard a satisfied grunt from the sidelines.
These kinds of exchanges have made me incredibly happy, in ways that I think I would never have experienced inside a gym.
One man Jay and I were talking to asked me if people actually had to buy tickets to get in to see my upcoming fight. “Hell yeah,” I told him. “VIP seats are a hundred bucks apiece.”
Jay didn’t say a word. He just put on his best Hollywood smile.