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.
Image by anarchosyn