Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Saturday at the Boxing Gym

Tom Schreck
Author of “On the Ropes, A Duffy Dombrowski Mystery”

I got into boxing because I tried it after I got a black belt in karate--something I thought certified me as a badass--then one day I got in a boxing ring with a guy who got discharged from Coxackie Correctional that week. I wound up in a pile. It didn't go a whole round and my stomach hurt.

I bagged the karate and in my late twenties started to box. I got reasonably competent and at my best I could hang with pretty good amateurs and maybe poor pros. Really good amateurs and average or slightly-less-than-average pros, would kick my ass.

Saturday I was at the gym for about an hour and half and there was a lot going on. There’s always a lot going on in a boxing gym. None of it, or at least very little of it, was spoken.

Here it is in no particular order:

1. I get to the gym and wrap my hands. A quick look around and I see the gym’s new pro fighter, a former champ is working out. There's also the hotshot new kid who got signed by Golden Boy Promotions--DeLaHoya's outfit. Everyone gives both of the pros a wide birth, even the people who don’t know who they are. They’re somebody, you can tell, by the way they move and the way act. Others working out don’t look them in the eye.

2. The big heavyweight with the tattoos is in wearing an "Irish Drinking Team" tee shirt. I sparred an easy round with him a couple of months back. He went easy and I almost threw up I was so tired. He went easy, for him.

3. I'm thinking about doing some sparring today but I'm looking for an excuse not to. I won't use that excuse unless it looks like I'm doing somebody else a favor.

4. I work as a pro fight judge and there's a big fight in the Garden tonight. Everyone's asking me why I'm not working it. I say I didn't get the call.

5. The non-sparring part of the workout starts. It has both fighters and boxercisers and it’s a boxing station-to-station class. Without a word being said everyone knows who the competitive fighters are, who the gym fighters are, who the wannabes are and who's there just for a workout.

6. By luck, I get in the group with the ex-champ and the up and comer, which means I have to try to keep up while making jokes about my age. I'm careful never to claim I could hang with them even in my supposed prime. In the ring with the coach doing pad work, the other two guys' punches snap into the pads with loud cracks while mine seem to thud like I'm wearing sofa cushions and not bag gloves.

7. A guy who was a good pro kick fighter comes in. He's the dad of the hot new boxer. Ten or fifteen years ago we sparred and I knocked him down. He brings it up every time he sees me and in the gym world it's the one thing that defines me. He brings it up to everyone in the gym again today and laughs that he wants to come out of retirement to even the score--I say something about landing a lucky punch and everyone laughs. When we're both 70 I think the interactions will be the same.

8. There's a couple of old ex-football payers doing the workout and looking really uncoordinated. I'm not sure why but that makes me feel good.

9. Word is out that the local pro heavyweight from the gym across town is coming in to spar with the ranked MMA guy from downstate later this afternoon.

10. A guy who I used to work out with 15 years ago comes in with a kid he's training and says to me; "Hey, how about you and I get a rematch?" I think I remember sparring a couple of rounds with him in ’94.

11. The class part ends and the fighters start putting their gear on. I'm farting around hoping to not have to spar. I have to ask someone to take a photo of me in a boxing pose because Crimespree Magazine is going to put me on their cover. So there I am in a gym with a former a champ, an up and coming star, a trainer who was once on the national team, and a bunch of other fighters—and I’m getting my picture taken because I am a writer.

I feel like a total asshole and get it over with as fast as possible.

12. Alex, my usual sparring partner, tells me he forgot his mouthpiece but he still might be willing to spar. No one who fights ever says “I don’t feel like it today” because there’s a part of you that never feels like it. There’s also a part of you that knows how good it feels after its done. Like you’ve done something 99.9% of the world’s population isn’t willing to do. Of course, a lot of people don’t go over Niagara Falls in a barrel and that doesn’t make that important.

I'm relieved that it’s sort of Alex’s fault that we can’t spar today and leave to take my 85 year-old mom out for Japanese food-- a detail I leave out as I leave the gym.

I’m writing this on Sunday at Graney’s Bar with my headphones on. My shoulders are so sore I’m nauseous and the beer isn’t helping. Just the same, I feel a little sharper and a little more aware because I did something important yesterday.

It would’ve been a lot more important if I got to fight but, as you know now, that wasn’t my fault.

It just wouldn’t be right to spar a guy who forgot his mouthpiece.


G.M. Malliet said...

Tom - I think I'd choose going over Niagara Falls in a barrel to entering a boxing ring.

Mark Terry said...

I've been studying karate for about 3 years (and a different style for a year in college) and I'm a first degree brown, which is a degree short of a black belt. And I'm not a fool. At Powerhouse Gym where I lift weights, there's a guy who's 58 and teaches boxing classes and trains some pro boxers. Kekan could kick my ass blindfolded wearing handcuffs.

And I've watched him work with his pro boxer. If I got into a ring with him I'd be lucky to go out on a stretcher, not a body bag.

I'm sure there are karate people who are just as good as a pro boxer, probably some even better. I've seen some that are. But I'm not one of them. I could probably do okay against some jerkoff in a bar.

Some of the black belts look at me funny when I comment that I've watched the pro boxers work out and it's amazing. It's like they don't believe me. All I can say is, Watch them sometime. They hit really hard. They're really fast. They know how to take a punch. And they're in such good shape that even if I did manage to get good hits in, they'd outlast me until I collapsed of a heart attack.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Another wonderful post, Tom. I felt like I was there, but just as the plump middle-aged woman who brings the snacks.

And adding "Mom" was a beautiful touch in the rough world you described. :)

Keith Raffel said...

I tried boxing one year in college. Glad I did it. Glad I'm not doing it anymore.

Mark Combes said...

Getting older kinda sucks. Not being able to do what you once where able to do with ease. I would think the ability to get punched hard in the face and still see straight has a short shelf life. Best to go with the Japanese food. Those damn chopsticks are challenge enough!

G.M. Malliet said...

p.s. I love it when it's Tom's turn to blog. The testosterone just oozes from the computer ;-)

Tom Schreck said...

I pretty much am always oozing GM.

I refuse to take antibiotics.