The kid, the one I mentor, threw me in there. He just said, "Go." My regular boxing coach Luis wasn't there to supervise.
The kid put some vasoline on my head gear and on my face. He said, "You know why I'm putting this on there?"
"So - the punches glide off?"
I was overmatched. My opponent's been at it for 6 months. Me 2. He weighed 180. Me 135. He had a longer reach, meaning longer arms. I didn't know how to duck, weave, and slide yet. All of those are techniques that help you avoid the punches. I had a feeling, and still do, that I'm not built to take a beating like the other boxers are.
We went into the ring. I was geared up - gloves, headgear, and groin guard.
We were supposed to jab at first, lightly. I was up in round one. Jab. Boom. I looked like a fencer extending out his sword. Straight, aligned body. But short reach. I'm short. It was hard to get into him.
Whenever he came in with his jabs, I'd block with the right, step in, and knock his head with a jab. The punches - they weren't fun. My head would spring back like punching a jack-in-the-box head on a spring. Boom.
Then, I heard the kid in my corner scream, "Go at it."
When I heard that, I blocked each jab. Then stepped in: jab, jab, jab. Boom, boom, boom. He stepped back. I hunted him down and the bell rang. Ding.
The kid held the water bottle to my mouth. The soothing water quenched my thirst.
But I was tired now. My opponent looked angrier. He didn't like the flurry of jabs. And he was getting more aggressive. He tried to take off my head, one punch landed. Boom. My head sprang back. Ugh. That hurt. I went in. Again and again. He backed up.
But I was getting tired now. I was doing all the work. Always going in. Always pursuing. Always hunting. Always blocking and ducking. I also had an intense workout before the whole match. My conditioning, I felt sucked.
Then, I just kept blocking and being defensive. I just wanted the bell to ring. I thought, oh no, now you're a sitting duck. The jabs kept coming and they hurt. The bell rang and I threw in the towel.
It's not in my usual spirit to give up, but I knew I wasn't ready. Going back in, was only going to teach me one lesson: How to take a beating - Mexican style. I've seen that style at the gym, and I'm not into the endurance, taking-a-beating style of boxing. I don't think that's what Ali meant when he said, "Float like a butterfly. Sting like a bee."
Finally - everyone agreed. I'm glad, even now, I ended it earlier. The kid shouldn't have thrown me in there, but I was glad I learned where my weaknesses were. I had never come up with an opponent that had so much reach.
The next week at the gym, that's all I focused on - like a hyper-focused maniac. How to get into someone's space that has long arms. Over and over, again and again, I practiced the same drills. Duck. Slide. Punch upwards. Block. Step in. Counter with the backhand. Over and over. And I will, over and over.
Yesterday, my mother asked, "Where you going?"
I said, "You know. Boxing."
"Aye - stupid boy. I'm not going be there when you get your head knocked off. Stupid boy."