I’m still in that slightly blurry stage of tired where I don’t seem to have much to say about losing my fight in Atlanta this week. Actually, I have plenty to say (it’s what I do, no?), but very little of it is about the fight itself. I think part of that is the fact that my 6 minutes of actual boxing were overwhelmed by all the other craziness involved in making this happen.
There’s this giant hairball which goes with boxing that can sometimes overwhelm the joy of the sport, and I think I’ve spent a lot of time experiencing the hairball (and poking, prodding, and trying to untangle the wretched, nasty thing) and my hairball vs. joy ratio is out of balance this time.
Am I disappointed that I lost? Fuck yeah. Who isn’t? But it’s also really okay in another sense. I had a marvelous opponent (of whom I made a new friend), got to hang out for a very little while in a sparkling firework of a town with a range of interesting people, and was privileged to fight in an extremely well put-together event.
I lost primarily for two reasons.
1. I was feeling incredibly cold and low-energy and didn’t move enough. She was pretty good with her feet. (All that pro tennis she used to play, if I had to guess.)
2. While I could work my defense pretty well by the second and third rounds, I absolutely failed to get inside her longer reach to build up my score. She had a long right cross that scored most of her points.
Really, that’s it. It wasn’t a horrible fight or anything; and if it had been sparring I would have asked for another 5 rounds and we both would have gotten some good work in. So, overall the actual fight — while I didn’t perform like I wanted to — was really okay. And I would LOVE to box with her again, truly.
But that 6 minutes counted for maybe 5% of the whole experience.
The rest was a giant, pulsing hairball of…doom. Or irritation, if I dial back the dramatic echo a bit.
And I can see you want to know more, more, more! So let me see if I can unpack some of the hairball for you, you lucky, lucky reader. If you’ve some experience of competitive boxing of your own, you already know much of this, but if not, you may be interested in seeing how the other 95% of training for and experiencing an actual match can sometimes be.
If you’re already fit, don’t do a long training camp
This is the first time I can ever remember where I simply got sick and tired of training. Training ate my life this time, and I crashed and burned, and (sort of) recovered. I didn’t enjoy this one the way I normally enjoy boxing training. It was just too much. Biggest lesson learned? Shorter training period! 6 weeks sounds good. More sounds like overkill.
The single best way to train for a fight is to spar
This was also the first time I have ever trained for a fight and had so little sparring. I was able to get weekly sparring up until Christmas, then only one sparring session in the month before the fight. Sessions were repeatedly cancelled, sparring partners were out of town, and other normal things.
So I didn’t get sparring. And I still believe that the single best way to get ready for a fight is to spar. Once a week, minimum; twice a week is better. At least 5 to 8 rounds each time. (Along with your other training, of course.)
It’s hard to hold weight steady when life is crazy
I was having trouble controlling my weight in the last few days before my fight. I wanted to weigh in at exactly 145, but two days before the fight I was 144, the day before I was 143, and somehow during the long drive to Atlanta I lost yet another couple of pounds.
I know those truckers thought I was nuts when I hauled my scale out onto the rest stop parking lots, kicked off my shoes, and weighed myself three or four times. If my weight dropped below 140 I could lose my fight, and I arrived at the hotel before weigh-ins at 141. During the drive down I’d been eating power bars, pouring water down my throat and trying not to pee. And most of all, I was twisting myself into a knot worrying about it.
In the end, it all worked out — I just barely tipped 144 at weigh-ins. And had the best pee of my life immediately afterwards. Still, no fun was had.
You want to be good at handling unexpected events
I hate surprises. I try to factor as many of them out in advance as I possibly can. It didn’t work out so well this time.
I was running close on time getting to my hotel, and because I couldn’t find a place to park anywhere to go check in, I got a little lost looking for a spot. Then I got lost, period. (No, I don’t have a GPS.)
When I slipped into a vacant slot on the street and got out of my car to go see the names of the next cross-street up, the meter guy came and started to ticket me. I ran back and stopped him but was too angry and in a hurry to ask him for directions. I got out of there, quickly, found another spot, and logged on someone’s unlocked internet access and checked Google Maps, keeping my engine idling and watching for overzealous meter ticketers.
Eventually I found my hotel again, discovered a metered parking slot after circling a few times, then the parking meter wouldn’t take my dollars. I put in the few coins I dug out of the bottom of my purse and bought just enough time to race into the hotel to check in and ask where their damn hotel parking was.
That was when I learned that downtown hotels don’t provide parking for guests. You pay a good bit extra for that ($25/day), and if you plan to use a parking garage rather than the hotel valet, you have to pay every time you come and go.
I raced over to two nearby garages, mindful of my meter time running out, and asked two very annoyed parking attendants for rates. I did some quick calculations and realized I’d have to pay the whole day rate more than once a day (due to coming and going), so I booked it back to the hotel and told the hotel valet where my car was parked and hoped he’d hurry, because my meter time was out.
And by the thundering waves of Poseidon, I had to pee.
By the time I got up to my hotel room, I saw that my weight was perilously close to 140. Shit. And the only travel food I had left was an apple and (I’m going to admit this) a few Corn Nuts. I ate it all, and chugged water. I had to get to the weigh-ins, and I was pulled about as tight as a Joan Rivers facelift.
The giant hairball was gaining girth and momentum.
Beware of drinking, odd food, and sleepless nights
I hope I’m far too smart to screw up by drinking too much the night before a fight (I only had one much-enjoyed cocktail after weigh-ins), but I sometimes forget the many other factors that go into lowering your performance levels and increasing your stress.
I wish I had brought my own foods. I normally always do this, because I am such a weird eater. I love to talk about junk food, but the truth is that I eat extremely clean most of the time. Almost no fast food, no processed stuff, no fast carbs, no refined sugars. All of which is fine, until you go on a trip and eat whatever is available. Vending machine garbage, fried food, white bread and pasta, etc. After a (too) long training camp of stricter-than-usual eating, I didn’t realize how hard the crap food would hit me. BYOF, y’all.
Add to this mix a shortage of sleep. Is it hard for you to sleep in a strange place, too? I remembered to bring some over-the-counter sleeping pills, but they don’t always work. Feh. Bleary.
I walked downtown with a crazy friend (Hi, Amy) to Peachtree Center and had a great brunch on fight day though. Kale, grilled chicken, broccoli, mushrooms…real food at Cafe Momo.
Unfortunately, that was the last time I had a chance to eat before the fight. BYOF, as above.
Triple your estimate for the time you’ll spend WAITING
The hours of waiting feel endless, like sitting through the 1934 version of Les Miserables (running time 5 hours, 5 minutes) followed by 2012’s Rock of Ages (2 hours, but feels like 9).
This is possibly the single factor I hate the most about ANY official fight, and the reason why sparring is the real joy-filled heartbeat of boxing for me.
There are good reasons for all the waiting you’ll do. At weigh-ins, boxers not only weigh in and have their passbooks and gear checked, but they all have to go through a physical, usually with only a single physician in attendance. I’ve been at some fight nights where there were over 60 boxers, all of whom waited for 3 or 4 hours in order to be checked out. (Then they had to wait for their turn to fight.)
Fights are expensive to put on, almost nobody is paid, and it’s a logistical nightmare unless you have dozens of volunteers who already know the routine and can help everyone get where they need to be in an orderly or timely fashion. Even when you have enough volunteers, it’s a lot of thankless work, and it takes a lot of prep time to pull one off, even on the day of the event.
Fighters typically have to be at a venue at least a few hours in advance of start time; for this particular night the cab dropped me off around 4:30 pm, and the event was set for 7 pm. That was kind of a record for me, only having to be there 2 hours or so in advance, although of course then I had to wait another several hours to fight. At my last fight weigh-ins started at 9 am, and fights didn’t begin until that same evening.
In this case, I had six hours of waiting at the event for six minutes of ring time. That’s a suck burrito, baby.
The fancy is for the audience
Most amateur fight nights, you’ll be lucky to have a folding chair to sit on, whether you’re a boxer or not. But even the time I did an exhibition match at a big-arena pro fight where the arena was nice, the digs for the boxers were still pretty grim. Pretty much everyone was crammed into a tiny 8×10 room with ancient carpet and a grimy couch; hands were wrapped by coaches in the narrow hallway as fighters shadowboxed, and there was always a wait to use the sole bathroom.
Unlike most amateur fight nights, the venue for my recent match was gorgeous, with spotlights, a DJ, a three-piece jazz band, bartenders and caterers with spreads laid out on crisp white linens for fight attendees. Valets opened doors for women in sequined gowns and 4-inch heels, who strolled on the arms of their impeccably-dressed men down a red carpet (not kidding) to a brilliantly and professionally lit step-and-repeat for photo ops.
The fighters, however, were sequestered behind a filmy curtain in a long, narrow strip at the far edge of the main event room. For some reason, there seemed to be a shortage of chairs, and all of the 6 or 8 chairs that could be snagged were appropriated by coaches for hand-wrapping. Everyone else stood, sat, or laid down on the poured concrete floor, which was fiercely cold.
The doors to the venue were all kept open so that the crisp January breeze flowed through during the long hours of waiting before the official start time arrived, making that concrete floor particularly wicked. I spread my thin scarf out to keep something between me and that vicious concrete, and laid down like many of the other fighters with my head resting on my gear bag. I kept both my lightweight jacket and my heavier coat on until shortly before I walked out for my fight. I don’t know how all the women in cocktail dresses kept warm; it’s hard to imagine I was the only hothouse flower in the place.
By the time of my match I was feeling like someone had laid a sizzling-hot curling iron down the back of my throat. Even two days later my throat is still painfully sore. I’m pretty sure it was that damned cold concrete and chilly breeze.
But this is the sort of thing you simply ignore. It’s part of boxing. The fancy is for the audience, and if they were as tough as you, they’d be waiting to get in the ring while you sipped your third dirty martini and smiled for the camera.
Whine if you must, but suck it up. You might not be able to make the hairball your friend, but it’s damn well gonna be your roomie.
Brace yourself for human drama cyclones
I took my iPod and earbuds, but there’s only so much you can do about the human drama happening all around you. Hell, even I turn into a human drama cyclone (albiet a smallish, boring one) in the 15 minutes or so before I roll under the ropes. Boxing calls up strong emotions in everyone, and when you’re in extremis, all your wretched, painful baggage comes barreling to the fore.
Worried about money? You’ll feel it strongly before your fight. Just split up with a boyfriend? You’ll be consumed with it before your fight. Shit going down at work, home, where ever… it’s all going to choke you like a mouthful of rancid, greasy flour and you’ll wish you could spit it out and get a clean breath of air and a double vodka to clear your head and dull your pain. Good luck with that.
You have nothing to do but wait, for hours and hours. You’re most likely going to be in uncomfortable spaces. You’ll do nearly anything to avoid having to obsess about your fight. So you’ll probably interact with the other boxers, hear their stories, and because emotions are so ungodly high, be buffeted about by their dramas.
And because every boxing match has a loser, you’ll see the women who are crushed by their loss, and the guys who had no idea they’d be taken down the way they were. There will be cursing, frustration, tears.
I do try to insulate myself emotionally from some of it, but the truth is I’m also compelled by it. I can’t help but want to hear the stories and be a part of the incredible, scary, wonderful, terrifying thing that is happening to all of us together.
But it’s also exhausting.
You may have to fight stone cold
I surfed the seas of human emotion for nearly the entire wait. I had a few minutes of joy shortly before fighting, followed by a miserable realization that I was feeling emotionally and physically tired, stiff, and absolutely freezing cold. Also my throat hurt like flaming hell. I asked someone to work pads with me for a few minutes and just that few minutes left me oddly weary. Trouble on the horizon.
I was so chilled down during my first round I couldn’t get my body to move. That warmed up a bit as we went, but 6 minutes does not give you much time; you gotta work your ass off or risk losing the fight. I was barely moving and it was all over before I ever felt warm. I certainly never broke a sweat.
This was the first time I considered that I may actually fight better in the heat than in the cold. But this was just one small tangle in the giant hairball, and not even a particularly unusual one. Most amateur events are held in gyms and community spaces that are drafty in winter and stifling in summer. For that matter, most boxing gyms don’t have reliable heating and cooling. Working HVAC is not something a boxer should need to function well.
Factor in the toll that travel takes
For me it wasn’t so much the 7 hours or so that it took to get to my fight location; it was more about the other hairball components, including getting around while in Atlanta. And getting home, which was a nightmare.
I don’t have a GPS, but I had run off a series of Google maps: How to get to my hotel downtown (noting one-way streets), how to get to and from the weigh-ins from my hotel (which was walking distance), and how to get to and from the fight venue from my hotel. All of my maps were essentially useless for various reasons, and in the end it felt like so much stress that I simply decided to hire a cab to get me where I needed to go. Which, of course, also drove up the cost of the trip (3 tanks of gas, 2 nights in a hotel, two nights of hotel parking, cab fares, tips, a couple of meals — around $300).
The real stressor in this case was getting home again the next day, as an ice storm moved in and forced me to change my travel route in order to try and stay ahead of the worst of the weather.
My slightly lengthier route helped me avoid the storm for the first 6 hours, then I crossed the NC state line and the sleet wall hit me like a sledgehammer. Traffic slowed to a crawl as we struggled to drive on sheets of packed ice, with more sleet falling hard. I passed at least 10 wrecks, including one pickup truck flipped over onto its cab. I drove between 15 and 30 miles an hour for the next three hours in low visibility and terrible conditions, finally arriving home as my wiper blades were failing and the right half of my windshield was entirely obscured by ice. I had to break a heavy layer of ice just to get my door open.
I hate winter.
And 3000 words later…
I’m ready for a break. I’m ready to recover the joy of boxing, which I find most in sparring. My next fight will damn sure be in-state, and if I can have TWO big wishes, during warm weather.
Meanwhile, I’ve vented a bit about the hairball of competitive boxing, and I can’t believe you actually read the whole gawdawful thing. I love you for that.
And I love boxing, I truly do. But it ain’t no bed of pink Bourbon roses, y’all.
Special high-fives to my worthy and powerful fight opponent Lisa Belcher, the incredible boxing women of Atlanta, and Terri Moss, promoter of Atlanta Corporate Fight Night. More fist bumps to Cheryl Smyth and Connie Gomez-Joines, NC boxing girlfriends who made the long trip to see the fights, loaned me boxing gloves at the last possible minute, bought me drinks, loved me despite my moodiness, served as my “entourage,” and who just may be on a future ACFN card.
And most of all to YOU. For cheering, listening, and continuing to push along with me on this crazy-ass journey of ours. You inspire and amaze me.
PS: I had my long-awaited Cinnabon cinnamon roll tonight, sore throat be damned. It was amazingly delicious.
Image by Action Fighter Media