HE'S BEEN PUTTING IN ten, twelve hours a day. His back’s gone, just completely fucked. And there’s absolutely no way he’ll ever get back to the top, but he’s trying.
I was watching him hit the bag, barehanded, no tape, gloves, nothing. His knuckles were getting so swollen and bloody he couldn’t open his palms up afterwards. Just two swollen fists, quivering at his sides, as he undressed.
I walked into the shower stall a ways down from his, and I can hear him crying as the soap rushes into the fresh wounds. I’ve felt that, but not the way he’s feeling it right then. I glance, just glance of course, from across the shower, and take his body in. It’s just a mess of scars at this point. Every surgery imaginable, what’s left of his hair dissected in swathes of old stitches, and a permanently dislocated shoulder that sits a few inches lower than the other one. The soap lets him open the hands. He breathes deeply as that happens, and I catch a smile.
I’ve got work the next two days, but when I manage to get back to the gym on the Friday, the trainer pulls me in. He grills me for a while about my dedication, if I want to be a pro anytime soon, yada yada, all that crap. Then he asks if I want to spar with him.
“I think you could learn a thing or two.”
“Well, sure. But, what’s he gonna get out of it?”
“He doesn’t need to get anything out of it. He’s not going anywhere.”
We both know that’s true but I get a little indignant anyways and tell him I’ll think about it. Instead of thinking about it I go out and hunt him down. He’s back on the bag, the big 100 pound one, with gloves this time. I stand there and watch him, thinking it would get him to talk to me, but he doesn’t, he’s just focused on the bag. It’s half an hour I’m standing there watching, but it’s not until he screams out as he breaks a knuckle, that he stops and takes notice of me.
“Trainer says you’re gonna spar with me?”
“I guess that’s the idea.”
So we go. But we don’t start standing up. That surprises me. He was always a striker, someone who could take your head off in one punch. I don’t think I’d ever seen him on the mat for longer than a few minutes. He pulls me down into his guard and says, “try to hit me.”
It’s harder than it looks, and after maybe fifteen minutes of it, I haven’t been able to hit him with one good shot. He weaves his neck to avoid hits, swings his arms wildly to block, keeps my hips so stationary I can’t get any power into the punches anyway. Finally I get frustrated and grab his arm with both of mine to try and wrench his shoulder into a submission. It’s like poetry watching him move, as he swings his body to the side, and reverses the move, yanking on my shoulder and planting my face into the mat. I tap, but he doesn’t let go. The pressure keeps building and I tap harder, right onto his back. He’s going to dislocate my shoulder. But he doesn’t, he lets go right before it pops.
I lie face down in the mat for a few seconds, until the pain recedes enough to get up. He’s gone, back at the bag, hitting the stuffing out of it. Bare-knuckled, again.