After one of my trainers told me to take the week off (except for running a few miles), I came into sparring on Friday night and felt incredibly rested and strong. I did rounds with everyone on the team, but had some especially interesting rounds with Ryan, who is notable partly because he is one of the few sparring partners I have who is close to my weight. (Of course, he’s half my age, but they all are.) I call him Harlem, since that’s where he’s from, with a boxing family legacy to boot. That’s us squaring off in the photo.
We went in easy, testing each other out. I spent a fair amount of the first two rounds flitting in and out of his range, seeing if he was going to let me land shots on him without taking serious collateral damage. Ryan has one of the longest reaches on the team, and I frequently lose on points with him because so many more of his punches land.
This night was different.
We were both playing it safe, landing mostly touches since I wasn’t willing to fight in close with him. I worked my ass off to stay out of range, but it was resulting in low-score rounds, and I knew it would take more energy than I had to dart in and out forever. I was boxing strong and wanted to trade punches; I wanted to see if I could outslug him before I got too tired to move my feet.
I started calling him out. “Bring it,” I told him. “I’m not feeling your jabs. Fire something, man.” He ignored me and we circled.
So I decided to move in. The coach wasn’t going to give us many more rounds like this, and we’d already had quite a few that night. Go ahead and spend what you have, I thought, and go out with guns blazing.
So I brought some heat. Straight down the pipe, gritting my teeth and pivoting out quickly to evade the inevitable reprisal. Another one, and a double. His head snapped back and I once again danced out scott-free. “I can take what you got,” I told him evenly, like it wasn’t costing me anything to chatter.
Harlem never talks to me in the ring. Not with words, anyway. But he’ll bring the heat if you dish it up yourself.
He rocked me one to the face, hard enough to make me grunt. “Hah!” I told him, biting down on my mouthguard and shoving my headgear back into place. “Nice one,” I commented, and unleashed my own fireworks. And we were on.
It was our last round, and we ripped into each other. I kept my guard tighter than Fort Knox because I was taking damage now. I leaned into my rights, punched through. There was no time between exchanges; the punches were flying nonstop. We were sucking for air and splattering sweat onto the canvas. We started to hear the calls and comments of our teammates ringside, who were getting into the spirit of our brawl.
Damn, it feels good to go all out once in a while.
Saturday morning my forearms were bruised all to hell (a sign of a tight guard), and scraped raw from the relentless pounding of leather against flesh. Next time I may coat them with Vaseline so that some of those monsters will slip better.
I smile every time I press my fingers against the bruises. Sometimes you just gotta do it.
Image by Ken Hall Photography (Thanks again, Ken!)