Friday, June 27, 2008

Friend or Foe?

My bout Saturday went very well. I bussed out to my gym at 11 a.m. and carpooled to the host gym with my cornerman (a kid named Dante I had just met, but he knew his stuff) and a couple other training partners from my gym who were fighting. I don't know whether it was the smaller, more laid-back crowd and atmosphere or the fact that it felt like just another lazy Saturday afternoon at the gym, but my preparation immediately before my fight was much more relaxed and smooth than in my previous fight. Perhaps the most interesting pre-fight experience was talking with my opponent for over an hour immediately before we squared off.

I was scheduled to fight fairly late on the card, so I made myself comfortable in the auditorium and watched some of the early fights. It didn't take much small talk before I learned that the kid sitting next to me was my opponent. With the circumstances of our meeting out in the open, I knew that our conversation could go two radically different directions. So what do I do? I laughed at the irony and continued to chat with my fellow combatant. From recalling past bouts to commentating the fights in front of us to subtly scouting each other (I made sure he wasn't a friggen southpaw) we discussed each other's boxing careers and preferences as if we were old acquaintances. The only reason our conversation ended was because I had to leave to go get ready to, well, kick his ass.

Odd? I don't know, you tell me. A great way to stay relaxed (being nervous before a fight is, hands-down, the easiest way to needlessly waste a ton of energy before a fight) and pass the time before my bout? You betcha.

Learning from my mistakes in my previous fight, I intentionally shortened my warm-up, essentially cutting it in half. 2 rounds of jump rope, thorough stretching, 3 rounds of shadow boxing and 2 rounds of light mitt work was all I needed to have my blood pumping and muscles loose and enter the squared circle in my fightin' state-of-mind.

I doubled-up the fist-pounding with my opponent (friend?) in the center of the ring, once when we received the ref's instructions, and a second time during the opening seconds of the 1st round. The opening minutes went as expected - feeling each other out with prodding jabs and diving in and out for quick exchanges, but never completely committing or loading up on one punch. The kid moved very well though, and definitely had an advantage over me in terms of raw hand speed. Or at least, that's what it seemed like before I realized in the 2nd round that it was a matter of timing - he had figured me out between rounds and now wouldn't let me get any closer than jabbing distance without sticking a 1-2 in my face.

Despite losing round 2 on points (my corner confirmed my gut feeling by greeting me with "he didn't like you getting inside, so he didn't let you that round - you need to fix that" as soon as I was on the stool) I had landed enough clean power shots that I still felt good. I entered the 3rd round with my confidence up, plenty of gas in the tank and the assurance that I, too, was figuring my opponent out.

The 3rd round started with another touching of the gloves (love fest!) and passed quickly, a long cycle of circling in the middle -> quick exchange -> working into the corner -> big exchange -> off the ropes and back in the middle of the ring. I felt like I definitely caught up on points in the 3rd round, but the fight was an exhibition so there wasn't a decision. My corner man and teammates all said I looked really good, and I felt the same way. I fought a smart fight, picked my spots, didn't eat any big shots, wasn't marked up, and, had it been scored, kept it very, very close. In all likelihood my opponent might have eeked out the win by amateur scoring, but I truly believe that I would have won comfortably had it been scored like a pro bout - which, against a very experienced opponent in just my 2nd fight in over a year, is fine by me. It was an exhibition, and I exhibited skill, ability and athletic prowess. More importantly, I learned from the experience, so it's all good in my book.

In retrospect, I really think I lacked killer instinct in that bout. I don't think this can be attributed to me becoming acquainted with my opponent immediately before the fight (though that definitely didn't help) so much as the setting - the small crowd, rundown gym and afternoon event just put me in too much of a sparring session state of mind. Regardless, it was great experience, and I've piggybacked off the positives to have a phenomenal week of training. It's now embedded in my mind to stay hungry - train for the kill and don't hesitate to move in for it when you see the opportunity.

Momentum is building. Good things are happening and great things are on the horizon.

More to come soon.

Go Royals. God bless.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Short Notice

My amateur boxing career is officially getting interesting. I went to the gym with my sparring partner last Saturday and ran into my trainer, who asked about my availability for bouts on June 21 and/or 27. Having discussed my scheduling conflicts on Fridays with him before (my increasingly late nights in the office and lack of a car prevent me from participating in most Friday events from fear of missing my ride or even the fight itself) I began to say "no, I'd like to, but I can't commit to either of those dates." My trainer pointed out that the 21st is a Saturday (and that the bout isn't Friday the 20th like he had originally told me) and encouraged me to fight. And thus, for the first time, I took a bout on one week's notice.

While I am obviously not a world-class pro that needs 3-6 months notice to properly train for a title fight, my training schedule has been erratic since my last bout, and having more than 7 days notice would have been nice. I am by no means in better shape now than I was a month ago, but at the same time I have maintained my conditioning enough that I'm confident a regimented week will let me adequately prepare for a fight. And I think that's my only worry - that come Saturday I won't be fully mentally-prepared, won't completely trust my body and I'll end up hesitating too much during the bout and absorb some unnecessary punches.

But then again, is there a better way to build on a successful fight than jumping right back into the squared circle?

With an above-average physical base, my training schedule the week before this fight (no weight requirement) will look like this:

Saturday: 4 rounds sparring, cardio/leg circuit, plyometrics, abs
Sunday: Weights (high-rep upper body circuit) and 4-mile run with wind sprints
Monday: 20 minute jump-rope, 4 rounds double-end bag, 4 rounds hook bag, 6 rounds heavy bag all with aggressive pace, 3 rounds focus mitts, abs
Tuesday: 4-mile run with wind sprints, Celtics game (World Champs, baby!)
Wednesday: 6 rounds sparring, 3 rounds focus mitts, cardio/leg circuit, abs
Thursday: light plyometrics, short jog
Friday: rest
Saturday: kick ass

All of this worked around 9-11 hour workdays. Bleh.

I'm truly happy that my trainer is encouraging me to fight so often, but I just hope that this quick turnaround turns out to be a positive, confidence-boosting experience instead of a tough bout that leaves me stewing for the next couple of weeks.

All I need to do is make sure that it's me - and not my opponent - that dictates the outcome of the fight and how I proceed after.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Off and running

I feel bad for not posting the results of my fight in a more timely manner, but, well, you see the rate at which I update this. My hectic life aside, not only did it feel good (correction: great) to get back into the ring, but it felt...normal. And real.

I must admit, I'm a bit surprised that I don't have the motivation to write some elegant prose about my bout experience back on the big stage (fine, maybe not that big, but it was legitimately a packed house) but I feel like that would just be a bit too melodramatic. The bout really went that well, and it really did feel that normal.

I arrived at the gym about 6:30 on Fight Night, thinking I'd be the last one there since all the fighters were supposed to report by 6:00. (Work, again, getting in the way of boxing time, but I knew I was not fighting until late and I'd be OK.) Like any good boxing event, the first fight started about 45 minutes later than it was supposed to. I settled in with my Sports Illustrated, fruit and Powerbars, and tried to pass the time in as relaxed of a state as possible before it was my time to get loose.

I went through my normal pre-workout warm-up routine, wrapped my hands, shadowboxed, and worked 2 rounds of focus mitts with Hector during the last 2 rounds of the fight immediately before mine. I didn't particularly like how fast, hard and active he had me working to get ready (he seemed more pumped than I did) but I walked to the ring loose, in the zone, and well-prepared to crush some skulls.

After noticing that the kid was about 3-4 inches shorter than me but was built sturdy and thick, I decided that it would definitely be a good idea to use the 1st round as the proverbial "feel 'em out" round. I spent the duration of the 2 rounds moving, circling away from his right hand and peppering him with 1-2's after his lumbering power punches careened off of my arms. Besides a couple of cheap shots (and they were cheap, damn it) breaking from the clinch (kid wouldn't stay off of me!) I don't think he hit me cleanly the entire round.

I went back to my corner feeling confident. A guy who I had never seen before (nor have seen since) was in my corner, with a kid named Joe from the gym helping (pamper me) with the chair, towel and water. Suddenly, my old buddy James (remember him from my 1st good workout when I started training again?) hopped up on the apron and spouted some advice between F-bombs. The strategy was simple: abandon the jab, quit dancing so much, throw lead right hands, and take it to this kid.

And take it to him I did.

The 2nd round was an absolute slugfest, with me doing the slugging and the poor kid throwing an occasional straight right to push me off of him. Leaping in with a lead right, I would string 4,5,6,8,12, Lord knows how many power punches together before hopping back out of range. Somewhere along the way I caught a stiff right hand across my nose (kid hadn't hit me much at this point, but when he did, damn it was hard) and began bleeding out of it. But then again, I've had people fart in my general direction from a block away and my nose has started bleeding, so I wasn't worried.

After picking my opponent apart for 2 minutes, the bell sounded and I turned back towards my corner smiling (ear-to-ear, baby). It was as perfect of a round as anyone could ever ask for without knocking their opponent out.

The 2nd break went very similar to the 1st: lots of swearing, Irish accents, squirts of water, and a towel shoved up my nose to stop the bleeding.

The kid was slow to come out of his corner at the start of the 3rd round, but when he did, he threw a curveball that I never recovered from: he switched up and boxed southpaw.

And I HATE southpaws.

Between a little fatigue and a lot of hesitation/overanalyzing my opponent's newfound left-hand, I spent the 3rd round standing in front of the kid far too much and throwing far too few punches. A couple buddies in attendance would later swear that I still won the 3rd round ("you easily took the first 2 rounds, and you at least got a draw if not won the 3rd") but as I went back to my corner after the final bell - my nose an open spigot of blood - I was nothing short of pissed. A dominant performance squandered by a sub-par final round. After dropping a few F-bombs of my own, my cornerman stuck the blood towel in my face and laughed "wipe this off, you won that fight. You won that fight!"

And I did.

While I was far from perfect throughout the entire match, I truly could not have asked for a better performance in my first bout "back." I put on the fight of the night (ask the gym owner - who hugged me and told me "fight of the night!" - or the dozens of gym members and spectators who told me likewise) with a technical, well-rounded win. Perhaps most importantly, I also discovered a number of areas that I need to correct before I compete again, namely making sure I don't square up so much, I prepare to throw non-stop for 3 rounds (rather than box for 3 rounds, and there IS a difference) and make sure that I rig the draw so my opponent is NOT a friggen lefty.

I'm truly off and running now with my competitive boxing career. I was back in the gym the next day, and while work and Celtics/Red Sox games have impeded my immediate training schedule, as of this weekend I am back on track and already have a couple of prospective bouts lined up for the end of this month. But more on that later. Right now I'm going to go revisit my last bout again - warming at the memories of my mind and body working as one as I landed combinations and the crowd roared, basking in the mountains of post-fight praise, and most importantly, taking notes on what I need to do to elevate my game to where I know it can be.