Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Second Chances

There are many euphemistic ways to describe a loss in boxing. Archie Moore "went" 4 rounds with the legendary Muhammad Ali. James Tillis was the first to "go the distance" with the ferocious Mike Tyson. I guess you could say this last Sunday I had the opportunity to be in the ring with Guatemala's National Champion.

Four months ago I first stepped into Xela's boxing gym and sparred with this contender. At that point it was my first training session in almost 8 months full of non-exercise and nasty lifestyle habits. Regardless of my disadvantages I fared pretty well. His wide shots and predictable style were easy to read. But in these last four months I half-heartedly trained as he improved exponentially; tightening his stance, shortening his punches and acquiring a national championship in the process.

Last time the coach asked me to fight in an exhibition match at the local university. I would have and would have lost badly, but an injured shoulder prevented it, something I wish I still could have done. However, this past week they asked me to fight again, a second chance, in a little town called Hüetan.

On the two hour journey on a dusty trek, the asphyxiation caused tearful pleas for air, the winding roads turned stomachs as they did cars. When we finally arrived, I found myself to be the only foreigner, greeted by constant chants of "Chino Chino!", inquiries of how to speak English idioms and glares of curiosity. Throughout the entire stay I felt somewhat out of place. The only place that felt familiar was inside that ring.

The first round went beautifully for me. I was landing right hand leads, the biggest insult in boxing. I was ducking, rolling, and even throwing counter punches in the Philly shell defense made famous by James Toney and Floyd Mayweather Jr. I successfully turned his aggressive attacks against him, and threw classic three punch combinations against the ropes with hardly a scratch on me. After the first round, I thought I had him. The second round, was a different story.

I had mixed feelings coming into the fight. I hypothetically wondered what it would look like for a foreigner to come in and beat the national champion. It would go against my ethos as being a respectful traveler. Foolishly, I decided to let him have a few blows to my face to even it up. The first two punch combination stunned me, surprised me and I took a step back, nodding in agreement with the strength of his shots. I responded with a solid body attack, although it appeared he didn't even flinch. It wasn't so much the strength of the following punches that caught me, but the speed and succession of them. I remember seeing my view slant diagonally and simultaneously go downwards, much like a first person point of view to someone dying in the scene of a movie. Even though I beat the eight-count, the trainer stopped the fight right after I slurred out in English, "I don't think I can keep going." He had knocked the Spanish out of me.

Like the many ways to soften the description of a loss, there are twice as many excuses I could make as to why I lost. It could be the 10oz gloves we used, when I've always fought with 12oz, the fact that in the last month or so, my head just hadn't been properly trained to take the hits, or that for the four hours beforehand, I sat with children in my lap in weather cold enough to see my breath. It could be that my stomach was being deceived and feasting off anxiety rather than proper nutrition, however that was a shared circumstance and if he simply is accustomed to such conditions, then he rightfully deserves that advantage. But the biggest reason I lost was because I underestimated my opponent, miscalculated the fight, and above all else, he was just the better fighter that night.

I can't help but feel disappointed, as most fighters do after a loss, especially a knockout loss. But my choice to do this in the first place wasn't about winning, it was about attempting to do something I was afraid of. During the long drive home I asked myself if I was okay with my performance and I think I am. I concocted numerous justifications as to why I gained more than I lost in this experience.

I got to visit Hüetan, a small village not frequented by travelers. I gave a story to my opponent of knocking out someone from the US, or China (as I was introduced in the fight). And on top of that I was given 60 Quetzales, equivalent to about 8 US dollars, the first time I've ever been paid to fight. Can't say it was a bad day.

(From the left to right: Felix a.k.a "Conguito", Alejandria, Me and Wendy)

(Me with the Guatemalan National Champion: Carlos Chavez)


Anonymous said...

this post made me smile... like this ---> =]

congrats on your first fight abroad. it sounds like a great experience and i wish i were there to cheer you on.

Anonymous said...

Nice to see the pictures Nick! Win or lose at least you now have one more great story to tell. Glad you are experiencing and learning all that you can while you are there. We miss you.

Anonymous said...

i admire your honesty and humility. they existed here on multiple levels, from your sensitivity as a foreigner (from the U.S., of all places) which manifested for example in the beginning of the 2nd round, to your circles of reflections after the match. happy holidays =)

Nathan Cermak said...

that was beautifully written - i miss boxing with you!

sticky said...

haha they said you were from china? how strange to be in a country where u are the foreigner eh? what a different mentality to experience.