When the game changed.

writtenbyQ4u By writtenbyQ4u, 12th Oct 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/hwut4f90/
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Short Stories

An experience fighter faces a crossroads in his career as love and a conversation with a person he respects and admires forces him to look at where he is in his life.

Where does an old fighter go?

The noises crept into my darkness. Muffled at first, then getting louder. It was crowd noise; people cheering, shouting, laughing. There were voices closer, chatter and a sharper more direct noise. My name being called.
"Hey! Bobby! You okay? Bobby?!" I opened my eyes slowly. There was a face bent close to mine, staring intently at me. I wanted to get up. It was all coming back to me. I needed to get up.
" Stay where you are! Take it easy man."
There were more people around now, all looking at me it seemed. That was not true. Not everyone was looking at me. A lot of people were looking at another man. The other man. The man who was walking around hugging people, people hugging him, slapping his back. He punched the air with a clenched fist, a crescendo of cheers greeting the gesture. A winning gesture. I pushed myself up to a sitting position. Was I okay? Was I sure? I just wanted to get off the floor. The canvas. I stood up and approached the victor. A thank you, a "you fought well", an exit. An exit that is just not quick enough, or low-key enough.
Then the silence. The few supporters who have accompanied you; trainer, training partners, friends; they go their own way. Partner, girlfriend, spouse? They don't understand, not if they don't fight; don't compete. It just you and your thoughts. And the internal, point-of-view, recollections of fight night. The questions. What could I have done better? What did I do wrong? If only..., if I had....next time.
A week had passed, I returned to training. At the dojo nothing was different. A few "unlucky mate" s, a few jibes from the other fighters; how's it feel to kiss canvas? His fist could not take much more; did it hurt when he bent you over and fucked you up the arse? They're colourful guys.
On the mat it's business as usual. In training I'm good, but I had recently got beat up, so a few of the novices are feeling brave, thinking they can take down the washed up fighter. Wrong. I handed out beatings like a nineteen fifties working class parent. I had kids tapping out like they were looking to join a bongo troupe. It's good times. Nothing like beating on people and getting beat on to clear the head.
Back at home the thoughts creeped in. The fight replayed in my head. I needed another fight. I needed to fight again and soon. I pushed the thought from my head. It was immediately replaced by another less vexing thought, but equally as complex; Isobel.
"Are you going to keep fighting?" she would ask, her beautiful face staring up at me, imploring me to stop. She would never actually ask me to stop, but I knew she wanted me to stop. I should stop. What the fuck was a thirty-five year old man doing fighting? I don't know. I did it because I was good at it. Not exceptional. Good.
"Doesn't it hurt?" Isobel was not really into the fighting, but she was curious. I met her through a friend. I told her it didn't, which was true. It didn't hurt...too much. I always felt it more in training; the over enthusiastic training partner, hitting or trapping as though he had something to prove; the newbie who does not realise how much force or effort they are exerting, even the seasoned campaigner, showing off a little to an attractive newbie, they can put some hurt on. In the ring, the octagon, the most hurt, the sharpest pain comes from losing. I did not tell her that part. Some think of an admission of pain as a weakness in the fight game. That's stupid. We are in the hurting game. We know what we do hurts. Sustain a few injuries over the years and pain becomes so normal, you worry if you don't feel an ache. The pain of losing is different. It's a pain you don't want to admit to; a pain that you don't want to get used to or accept. You never want to become the fighter that people take on to pad out their record. You never want to be the fighter everyone expects to lose. That's a pain that tells you you're slowing down; getting old maybe, no longer a fighter at the peak of his powers. That's real pain, that's pain that you don't even tell yourself about.
Isobel was a beauty. To tell the truth, I always felt I was punching above my weight when I got with her. My friend Derrick had asked me along to a house warming he and his girlfriend were having.
Derrick ran the dojo, an old school warrior; judo, boxing, a bit of karate. Over forty years of fight experience, he was a grizzled, gruff and a take no prisoners sort of man. I liked him. So when, some five years back, he invited me to come over to his new place, I was surprised and flattered. Derrick was not a person who went out of his way to be nice to people. If he liked you, he liked you. Not that that would stop him handing you an ass whooping. I had taken a few over the years.
I saw a different side of Derrick that night. He was not the taciturn, scowling, fighting machine that stalked the dojo. He was still commanding, but engaging. Chatting to the few guest he had invited and the few more his lovely girlfriend, Lynette, had also invited. He was an amiable host, making sure everybody felt welcome, keeping the drinks coming, it was nice.
As ever, with a gathering of fighting types, the conversation turned to combat. Somebody posed the question as to whether Mike Tyson could beat Steven Seagal. With the alcohol flowing, the debate got raucous.
"Tyson was the baddest man on the planet, no one could beat him!" "He got beat by that fat bum Buster Douglas!" " Yeah, but...," "and Seagal can kick!" "You ever see Seagal kick? Fucker can barely lift his leg!" "don't have to kick high to be effective" "but you have to be able to kick!" "would you fight Seagal?" "what?" "you wouldn't fight him!" "I'd kick the crap out of that fat fuck!"
"Jackie Chan or Jean Claude Van Damme?" "for what?" "best fighter?" "fucking film stars!" "Bruce Lee was a film star." A reverential silence. All martial arts respect Bruce. I was explaining to a worse for wear, non-fighter why Keanu Reeves would get killed by just about any mixed martial arts fighter he could think of, when Derrick saved me from a conversation which was looking more and more pointless; "yeah but in The Matrix he was like phenomenal!"
He wanted me to meet someone, life is not only fighting, he said. This from a man who practically lived in the dojo.
"This is Isobel." with those three words Derrick had a friend in me for life. Isobel and I clicked instantly, as though we had known one another all our lives. She was academic without being too brainiac, amusing without being a stand up. She was a classy woman. It was one of those encounters that stay with you for life.
The next evening on the mat I was sluggish and absent minded. My fellow combatants took full advantage of my lethargy and spanked me all over the mat. My mind was elsewhere. Still reliving the previous evening, Isobel's voice, her smile, mannerisms. I was happy to get beat up for one evening. I knew I had to see her again.
See her again I did. And again. And again after that. Five years on and we were still together and I was still fighting, losing more than I was winning. Telling myself every year that I would see how I felt after the next fight. The fact is I did not need to fight, not to live. I only did it as a hobby, albeit a very serious one. We had a comfortable life, a relationship which only seemed to be getting better and a real sense of future. Still the niggling feeling of just needing a win, a bit of luck, a decision; one more fight. Isobel accepted this all without complaint. Occasionally I would see the concern on her face when I would return aching from a particularly bruising training session. She would ask if I was okay, I would joke that the youngsters were killing me. She would frown a little, then smile. She smiled for me because she knew I would not, could not, carry on if I thought it really bothered her. For my part, I allowed myself to believe that it was okay, that she was not to worried about me.
Derrick was looking sterner than usual. He looked in my direction a few times, something was obviously on his mind. I was hitting the bag lazily, pawing and barging it with my shoulder, just roughhouse stuff. Derrick wandered over. I carried on; few elbows, low knees. Derrick stood by watching, waiting. The buzzer sounded for the end of the round and I stopped messing about on the bag. I acknowledged Derrick with out saying anything.
"Got a fight for you." I said okay. Did I want to take it? I looked at Derrick, he met my gaze. He had never asked me if I wanted to take a fight. It had never occurred to me that I had the option. To fight or not to fight. What he would normally do is come up and ask what I was doing on such and such a date. I would shrug, it's not like I had a jam-packed social calendar. He would say that I'm fighting. It was never an offer or an option to fight. It was a given that, barring any unforeseen circumstance, I would fight on a given date. I nodded my head; when was the fight? Derrick said it was in three weeks and then turned to walk away. He stopped and came back toward me. I stopped hitting the bag as he got closer. He wanted to tell me something he said. At this point he had my undivided attention. Derrick was not a person who was given to conversation. Not that he did not talk to people; he was running the dojo after all and it was his life and his calling to impart his many years of knowledge to those who would want learn. But that was as far as it went. There was never any talk of past glories or incidents of epic daring. Any tales of him spanking the poor sap, who tried to mug him, on his way home from the dojo one night, was hearsay. He never talked about his time working nightclub doors or his private security work. Derrick's fighting life was one of myth and mystery. So when he said he had something to tell me, I was listening for...I don't know, but I knew that it was a rare occasion so I had better listen. My ears really pricked up as he began to speak, relating that he had, over the years had what he would guess to be over three hundred fights. In a professional, competitive capacity, he had had about one forty; eighty plus boxing, twenty, twenty-five karate, the rest as judo bouts. The other fights he alluded to had been real fights; street fights. He reckoned he had won about ninety percent of his fights, if not more. On the streets the percentage was higher than in the competitive arena, but the stakes were usually higher too. He was good at fighting, very good, of that there was no doubt. He fixed me with a hard look and continued. Combat was not like other sports. In team sports when you lost, you lost as a collective. In a race if you came second or you came last, you could comfort yourself with the knowledge that you were not the only one not to come first. Even in individual sporting contest, nobody concentrates on the loser, that is unless they were expected to win. In combat; when you fight, if you lose it's like losing twice. Your opponent beats you and you beat you. And you feel the pain both times. People look at you, people you have just entertained by getting a beating, and they thank the Lord that it was not them. They look at you with a mild disdain, as if they could have done better. If it was a bad loss, first round knockout, one sided beating, they wonder what was the point of you training for so long just to get your ass handed to you. We know they think this, because we have thought the same thing when watching fights. The times I lost on the street it was usually unavoidable. I get jumped by two or more people, get blindsided, weapons involved, different things, unforeseeable things. In the ring, on the mat, it was sometimes poor discipline, tiredness, even a lucky punch, kick, lock or throw. Derrick paused and looked around the dojo. It was busy, at least thirty or forty people on the mats going through various techniques, chatting, sparring or watching. Derrick turned his attention back to me. Most of these people, he said to me, will never know the joy of competition or the lows of defeat. Of the ones who say they want to fight, may two, three at most could or should. Others are deluded. They have neither the talent, heart or determination to be fighters. Some have the talent but lack the commitment, the sheer will to apply themselves. Where as there are others who are the reverse. Every so often you get great fighters. Guys who are just gifted at hurting. Blessed with timing and reflexes, the sort of fighter that inspires others to raise their game. But you know what every great fighter needs to be considered a great fighter? To get an impressive fight record? To display their array of skills? They need good fighters, even very good fighters. Any competent fighter can beat up a bum. Great fighters need to beat good fighters. That's how they become great fighters. That's how they become names and transcend their sport. That does not happen to good fighters. People like us remember good fighters. We love the game, we care about the history. Most people don't. Bobby, you're a good fighter. He held my gaze a moment then turned and walked away. At that moment I felt very, very old. I looked at the bag, the buzzer went for the begin of the next round and my arms felt like sandbags. My session was done. I hit the showers and went home.
Isobel was at home listening to music and rushed to greet me when I came in, her face beaming. She started telling me about a surprise she had for me, pulling me toward the bedroom. I dropped my kit bag and allowed Isobel to lead me to the bedroom. In the bedroom Isobel excitedly showed me a pair of board shorts. I looked at her dumbfounded. She kept shaking the shorts at me. There was no change in my expression. She said, what would I use these for? Holding up the, frankly, garish board shorts. Unable to watch my blank, uncomprehending expression any longer, or maintain the suspense, she blurted out that we were going to Miami! She was taking me for my birthday. I was immediately consumed by guilt. This woman, who loved me so much, was taking me on holiday. It was a lovely thing to do. A really lovely thing to do. My news for her that night was not as joyous. The holiday was booked for the next month, I told her I'd be fighting the weekend before. Isobel put the board shorts down.
I took to the mat in a bad, bring-the-pain mindset the next evening. I had been grumpy all day at work. Not that cab driving brought out the fuzzy in me, but I would normally lean more toward conversational than taciturn. The previous evening's events were bouncing around my head. The image of Isobel's disappointed face; Derrick's look of pity. Or was that the other way around? My last fight kept coming back to me. Had I been too slow? Too weak? Too....old? The words, I was a "good fighter" kept haunting me. I wanted to be a great fighter. Of course I did. No one gets into combat for the beatings they take. Some might enjoy handing out beatings; to the irksome prat, who could afford all the best gear but had no idea what he was doing; the lumpen bully boy who picks on the smaller class members; the dabbler, tries every martial art for couple of weeks and then professes expertise. These sort of people were always fun to hit, but I did not enjoy hitting them. They were not competition, they were fodder. When I was in the ring, I believed I would win. Always. My fight record said otherwise. Forty nine fights: seventeen wins, twenty-nine losses, three draws. I had not had a win in eleven fights. Even a person with only a passing interest in the fight game knew what that meant. I was shot. I had no edge anymore. I could tell myself, lie to myself, that it was just a lull, that I would get it back, I could be like Rocky III and rediscover the eye of the tiger. The truth was that it was over for me. It was time to stop. Just one last fight.
Isobel had put the disappointment of me continuing to fight behind her. She asked how training had been and prepared dinner for us both as she told me about her day. The guilt in my gut made my meal difficult to digest. I could not keep fighting. The next fight would definitely be my last.
I could not really hear the crowd as I walked toward the octagon. This was it. The last fight. There would be no more after this, win, lose or draw, I was finished with the world of combat. The cage opening was in sharp focus in front of me suddenly, almost as if I had teleported in front of it. Derrick was my corner man for the night. He did not do corner work much anymore, but he had agreed to be in my corner for my final fight. I was grateful to him for that, it gave me confidence. He placed a hand on my shoulder, I looked around and he indicated to someone in the crowd; Isobel. I was not sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. She did not normally come to my fights, I could only recall her ever coming to two previous bouts. I smiled, gum shield exposed. It must have looked more like a grimace. Isobel smiled back, trying not to look worried, I turned my attention back to the octagon as I stepped in. My opponent was already there. He was younger and looked twitchy; eager. Fights can be and are lost sometimes even before the first bell sounds. Poor training, bad nights sleep, under estimating your opponent, all factors that have contributed to losses in side of octagons, rings and on mats. Fear. It can go either way. You can fight as though your life depended on it or you can surrender and go through the motions. You tell yourself you will fight, that it does not matter how your opponent looks, that you can see the hunger in his eyes, the barely restrained desire to inflict damage, you will fight your best fight. That is the best you can do. The bell sounded.
Four minutes and thirteen seconds. It was too hard. The boy had been like a gorilla. Savagely strong, fast, never backing up. Every punch hurt to my heels, every kick thudded against me with brick breaking power. He was relentless. I was panting inside the first minute, could feel the blood pumping in my ears. This was bad. He could see I was struggling, hurting. The cacophony was such that I could barely hear my own ragged breathing. He was coming in for the kill, a fighting machine doing his job. Too eager. The shock, mixed with pain and disbelief, on his face, was an image that would make me smile for a long time afterward. He had been careless; reckless. A caged and wounded animal is the most dangerous kind. At that moment I had been both. As he attacked, I had gone for a takedown. We wrestled on the floor a moment. He opted to go with power; punching, elbows, short knees. I got him in a leg lock. He knew he had lost. It was tap out or suffer ligament damage. He tapped out. I had won. I was elated and saddened. It was my last fight and I had got lucky. If I had met the kid five fights later in his career, with a little more experience behind him and a little less raw energy, he would have killed me. I would bow out a winner and for me that would be enough. I looked out to the crowd, finding Isobel's relieved face. It had been fun but it was time for the next stage of my life. I nodded to her, her beautiful face lighting up, smiling, happy. She understood. I could look forward to Miami next weekend. Happy birthday to me.


Cage, Competiton, Decision, Fighter, Kick, Love, Opponent, Punch, Wrestle

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author avatar writtenbyQ4u
I am a fitness instructor dreaming of being a film script writer. I tend to write - or rant! - about anything that takes my fancy.

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