Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them–a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have last-minute stamina, they have to be a little faster. They have to have the skill and the will, but the will must be stronger than the skill. Muhammed Ali
There’s rain dripping in through the roof of the marquee, mixing with the sweat pouring from my whole body and diluting the blood from the cut under my left eye. I can hear voices around me but they’re drowned out by the sound of my lungs noisily pulling in as much air as they can. There’s a sharp pain with every breath which tells me some ribs are busted. My hands hurt, my legs feel disconnected from the rest of my body and my eye is almost swollen shut. End of the thirteenth, two to go. My eye stings as my corner man goes to work on it. I eye the crowd baying for more blood, my blood. The man in the opposite corner is theirs, their local boy, their hero and their champion.
The referee nods to me and I stand, still wobbling from the brutality of the last thirty nine minutes. The stool is taken out the ring and the little man in the white shirt beckons me into centre ring to duel with my tormentor for three more minutes.
The bell rings and I back up as the champion stalks towards me with a menacing smile on his face. He throws two quick jabs which I feel pass by cheek as I duck to my left, then a big right hand crashes into my already battered ribcage. I struggle to breathe and wrap my arms around his torso. As we break he catches my jaw with a flick of his left hand which wakes me up. I pull my gloves up in front of my face and head towards him, he’s still smiling as lands a jab on my guard, looking for an opening. I keep edging forward, throwing a left hand in return but getting one to the body for my trouble. He throws a jab again and this time I see it coming, moving my head just out of the way. I back off again but he doesn’t follow, just stays in the centre of the ring targeting me with occasional jabs but I manage to stay out of his range. He comes after me now and I manage to hit him with a couple to the body before throwing my right toward his chin. He weaves away and I see it coming, time slows down and I see this gloved hand heading for me but I’m powerless to do anything about it. Everything goes black as it lands on my jaw.
A surge of pain wakes me up but I’m not where I expected to be. I’m still standing and his punches are raining in. I stop them with my gloves, arms, shoulders, anything. I’m moving now as fast as I can, backing up and weaving, I just need to get out of there. With daylight between us I look through my guard at him and he’s not smiling now, he’s looking almost puzzled, turning to his corner questioning. Then I get it, he’s hit me with his best but I’m still here, still breathing. I’d better start fighting.
I knock my gloves together and beckon him. I look into his eyes as I slip my tongue over my broken jaw. Two quick jabs get through his guard and he steps back and I follow it up with a hook which breaks my knuckle as it lands, “ON ON ON!” something shouts to me from deep inside as I press forward throwing my left hand to his body. His guard drops to defend his midsection and there it is, an opening. I throw a massive overhand right which connects sweetly on his temple and down he goes. I go to the neutral corner to a chorus of boos and catcalls but it’s not over, at seven he gets to his feet, the referee continues to nine but is happy for this to carry on. I look into his now vacant eyes and study his face. Time will fade the cuts and scars he bears but he will remember me, the man who beat him, the man who took his title. He steps forward, I move to the left and strike to his face.