victory

Blood and Uppercuts

Last week I was in the ring with one of my trainers, Nassir, who will be making his pro boxing debut in the next month or so. Nas is blazingly fast and uses his considerable hand and foot speed as not only a physical but also a mental advantage over his opponents. Boxing with him can very quickly leave you with that upsetting “what in the hell just hit me?” feeling.

As I rolled under the ropes for our sparring session I noticed that Nas was not wearing a mouthpiece or headgear. Pros fight their official matches with mouthguards but no head protection, although most everyone spars with complete gear. He caught my questioning look and told me that he wasn’t going to gear up, but that I was still to box with my full power. He didn’t say anything as crass as “You’ll never land a thing on me,” but I grinned, and readied myself for a couple of hyperextended elbows: I knew he was going to show me the speed demon footwork. He was gonna make me work for the goods.

And the bell rang, and we were off. I saw my main trainer standing ringside with her arms crossed; she’s pretty strict about headgear in our gym but was willing to let this one ride for a bit.

Nas kept himself primarily on defense (he didn’t throw many punches), and restricted me to jabs only for the first round; he’s been helping me extend my punches to my full reach, and by forcing me to shoot the same left hand over and over I would eventually begin to burn in the muscle memory. This simple restriction also meant I could stop worrying about what shots were open or what combinations to work so that I could concentrate on my foot speed. I knew I’d have to run him down to land any shots.

It felt like a magic combination. My job was clear: shoot that jab like a machine gun and move my feet as quickly as I possibly could. Step, slide, pivot, double step, slip inside, whatever I had to do in order to land my jabs.

And midway through the first round, they began to land with some consistency. I felt a thrill of energy running up in me, and by the second round I was adding a periodic straight right to the jab just to help maintain my balance. Nas gave me the nod when the power hand began to land. “That’s the kind of extension I want to see,” he grunted, darting out of reach again.

I began to feel a new, sweet ache running up my left arm that told me I was burning the shot in; these were muscles I hadn’t been using correctly before and it felt painful and fantastic all at the same time. To save my aching arm I began adding hooks by the third round.

And I began to see something very juicy. Nas was repeatedly leaving himself open for an uppercut.

The four punches (left jab, straight right, left hook, right hook) I was throwing are the bread and butter of most amateur boxers. The last two standards are the left and right uppercut, and are the hardest to land with strength and power. You have to be in close, see an opening in your opponent’s guard, and react incredibly quickly. It’s a bit like standing by the railroad tracks and trying to pitch a strike through the open window of a speeding train as it passes you by.

I would see the opening, but not be close enough in or fast enough to try it on him. At the end of round three I said as much to Bonnie, watching ringside.

“I see that uppercut, I swear he’s teasing me with it,” I panted. “But I can’t get it in there. He’s too fast.”

My trainer raised her eyebrows at me. “You’re not ever gonna land an uppercut if you don’t start throwing some,” she commented dryly.

She was right, I wasn’t even trying for them. I ground my teeth in frustration and desire. The bell for round four was about to sound. I was gonna pitch every fastball I could muster at that train and if all I had to show for it was busted windows, well then at least I was pitching.

I pulled back to jabs to free my mind and kept my foot speed up. Nas swung down in front of me, swatting me now and then with a hook. Every time he ducked low I shot the uppercut, but nothing connected.

His guard was wide, too wide. I could easily fit my glove through that pipe he was showing me, I just had to stick to him like a burr and throw till I got it.

And damned if I didn’t get me one.

The instant I felt it land — solid leather to his face — I whooped with delight and leapt about the ring like a kid who has unexpectedly gotten her first win by knockout. I pumped both gloves in the air and yelled around my mouth guard, “I got it! I got it!”

Bonnie was working to keep from smiling, but I turned and saw Nas shaking his head and grinning. He slapped my glove in congratulation. “You got it,” he agreed, “now get back to work.

I bounced up and down a few times on the canvas; my tired legs were suddenly made of springs. I whacked my gloves together, gave Nas a glovetap and returned to my stance.

Which is when I saw the blood staining his teeth, and running into his mouth.

I whooped again, then my inner nice girl reigned it in. “Uh, Coach, you’re bleeding,” I mentioned, and tried not to cheer out loud. I had not only landed the uppercut on the fastest man alive, but I’d made him bleed!

Looking ringside to see who was watching, I pounded my gloves on my chest like Godzilla. Me, I was banging. That was me.

Bonnie gave Nas a quick glance then crossed her arms again. “I told you to gear up,” she said, with only the barest hint of a smile.

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7 Responses to Blood and Uppercuts

  1. Keith December 7, 2009 at 11:06 am #

    Atta’girl. Very cool story, keep them coming. Maybe he’ll gear up next time just in case. haha.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe December 7, 2009 at 11:25 am #

      It’s certainly going to give me plenty of opportunities for smack talking in the meantime. “Hey, Nas, I see you’re all geared up. Not feeling hungry for more of my uppercuts, huh?”

      Thanks for the encouragment, Keith!

  2. Bonnie December 7, 2009 at 11:58 am #

    Lisa,

    Great “True Story”! See if you just keep at it it will happen. Repetition and consistency will prevail if you let it. You sparring was great yesterday. I am headed to the gym in a few. Have to keep my eye on the prize!!!!

    See you at the gym.

    Your trainer/friend….Bonnie

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe December 7, 2009 at 12:11 pm #

      Bonnie, it means the world to me that you read this little bloggy blog. You rock, Queen B.

      AND, our sparring session yesterday brought a whole new set of lessons. I was never so stunned in my life as when you dropped guard and made me tear it up in there. That lesson needs its own post, for certes.

      I feel like everybody on our team has really been working so hard to push each other forward on the learning curve. I’m incredibly fortunate to have such a kick ass home gym.

      People: LA Boxing, Cary NC is tha JOINT.

  3. Jo December 20, 2009 at 1:15 pm #

    Awesome! Great story – I can feel the joy!
    .-= Jo´s last blog ..Training: Takedown Saturday =-.

  4. Hillari July 7, 2011 at 2:38 am #

    I practice uppercuts in the mirror and on the bags constantly, but I have yet to land one during sparring or in a regular bout. It’s frustrating. . .everybody’s taller than I, and it seems impossible to land any.

    Sometimes, when I spar with my coach, he doesn’t wear any headgear. I understand the “inner nice girl” thing. I turn into a mother hen while pointing that out to him, and he always says, “It’s fine”. I worry about hitting and hurting an old man (the coach is 60 years old).

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe July 8, 2011 at 10:40 am #

      I still can’t land many uppercuts. Part of my issue is that I’m very tall and I have a long reach — so I tend to stay outside. To land a good uppercut, you gotta get inside. With your smaller stature, Hillari, you might have an easier time of getting inside and landing an uppercut in on a taller opponent.

      Oh, and I wouldn’t worry about punching your coach. If he’s been boxing a long time, he’s used to it, even without headgear. If he has a good weight differential on you, your shots won’t be as heavy as he’s accustomed to taking. And anyway, when you’re sparring you’re not shooting to kill — we save that for an actual fight. I say give him your regular work and let him deal with it! He will let you know if you need to pull your heat.

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