Sunday, June 28, 2009

Lessons in the Ring

Don't wait. Be first.
My coach used to always bark that phrase at me when I was inside the ring. I've adopted more of a counter-puncher style, a fighter who reacts based on his opponents moves. But I think that's symbolic of how you go through life. Whether you are creative of your own actions or if you are reactionary of others. Be first. Create your own destiny.

Keep your hands up.
I used to always have this tendency to drop my hands. Blame it on tiredness or watching too many damn Floyd Mayweather Jr. fights. Those habits cost me. Those habits hurt. Literally. In life, one should be trusting but never get too comfortable. Never forget that at any moment the fight can change, and you better have your guard up. Therefore, above all, protect yourself at all times.

Get off the ropes.
I began adopting the game plan of moving once I felt my back touch the ropes. Before it used to be sort of a resting area, a place where I'd practice my Philly-shell defense, but more often than not, it just became target practice for my sparring partner. I was an immobile subject, waiting to get picked off. You should always be moving, not idle on the ropes.

Control the center.
In order to stay off the ropes, you have to have some type of authority within the center. You have to stand your ground and not let yourself be pushed around. If your opponent is stronger than you, box him. If he's a better boxer, bully him. If he's better in both, exploit his anger. Make him sloppy. Find something. Use your opponents flaws against him to control the center. You control the center, you control the fight.

Make him miss. Make him pay.
I began getting better at making my opponents miss but I could always hear my coach's voice yelling, "make him pay when you make him miss!" To me it was like acting on your accomplishments. Don't just sit there and be happy that you avoided a bad stroke of luck, but take advantage of your position. Act.

Don't admire your work.
Boxing commentators used to always echo this phrase; essentially the equivalent of not dwelling on your past accomplishments. In boxing when a fighter would "admire his work" and in thinking too long about how great of a combination he just threw, he'd get caught, punched, and pounded while his mind was elsewhere. Don't think of the past, focus on the present.

Punch with him.
Part of the reason sparring has gotten easier for me is because I am punching with Maicelo and you know, sometimes I land when he's coming in, which means it interrupts his whole rhythm, which means his potential 5 punch combination was reduced to 1. Despite the fact that I know he'll beat me, I still punch back. It's like facing an adversity you know is too overwhelming, but at least you're still throwing.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Yesterday's News

Someone told me I was in yesterday's edition of the Peruvian sports newspaper "Depor". I spent a good hour at 6:30 in the morning running around like a madman searching for a copy. This is what I find:


Monday, June 22, 2009

My problem. Endless waiting.

Tomorrow is when I will finally clean up my room. Tomorrow is when I'll mail that letter, write that article, organize my photos. Tomorrow inspiration will come, my problems will be solved and the mental congestion will melt away. Tomorrow is when I'll finally get my act together. I just have to wait, til tomorrow.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Big Fight

Tonight the Peruvian champ, Kina Malpartida, successfully defended her WBA Super Featherweight title by TKO victory in the 7th round over her opponent Halana Dos Santos. On the undercard, my buddy and sparring partner Jonathan Maicelo won a unanimous decision over Javier Gallegos, beating him from pillar to post nearly every round.

I'm a bit bummed out because despite having earned press credentials to the fight, I couldn't get any good pictures. Ironically enough, the photographer pass forced me to stay in the "photographers area" on the second floor. I managed to sneak down to the first floor and for about 15 minutes, into ringside, but eventually got kicked out and then marked by security. But I try to look at it like this. I got the press pass for free and managed to sit in S.340.00 ($112.00) seats for some damn good fights. I really shouldn't be complaining.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The last round

I suited up in my black Under Armor shirt, my green Marmot rain jacket, a.k.a my makeshift sweat suit, packed my yellow Winning brand sparring gloves and headed out the door. The final day of training. Weigh-ins on Friday, light warm-up on Thursday, which makes today my last day of sparring. The last day they "needed" me. I wanted to make it something important. I wanted to say fue un placer a hacer los guantes contigo, Maicelo. I kept envisioning this grand finale to celebrate all the hard work I put in. But it never came.

After 15mins of warm up, I sheepishly asked Maicelo if he needed sparring. Creo que no. Turns out, Faustino arrived late, and by the time he showed up, Maicelo's workout was already winding down. But we ended up training together anyways, running sprints side by side. He was still beating me relentlessly, only it hurt a whole lot less. By the 4th or 5th sprint, I told him that this was my last week. I was leaving next Wednesday. ¿¡Oye, porque!? ¡No podemos celebrar! I didn't really know how to respond, just touched that maybe he considered me a friend.

I try to think whether or not I'll miss the gym. To be completely honest, much of it reminds me of the self-inflicted mental anguish from my voluntary isolation, but the few social interactions I do have during the day occur while I'm there. I can say that I know most of the fighters, trainers and casual observers at the gym. Some even ask me if I'm fighting on the big Kina Malpartida* card this Saturday. In some ways, I think I will miss that. Being part of something that is.

I winded down my own workout with 5 lackluster rounds on the heavybag, some sit ups and half my stretching routine. I guess I was actually disappointed I didn't get beat up today. Go figure.

Before I left, I went around and shook the hands of my coaches. They asked what time I'd be in to train tomorrow. I explained that from now on it was only photos. I'd just be around to take photos. They hesitated and gave me a bit of an awkward glance, but eventually shrugged it off and went on. To be honest, I'm a bit sad that my last workout went out with more of a whimper rather than a bang, but I think sometimes that's how it's supposed to be. You exit just as you entered. A nobody.

As I stepped through the revolving gates, I heard a familiar voice call my name. I saw Maicelo sitting on the curb, waiting around for yet another reporter. I decided to chat with him for a bit, asked the typical filler questions. How are you feeling, how's your weight, that sort of stuff. But when I asked him of his plans after the Kina fight, he told me he planned on moving to the US for the abundance of pugilistic opportunities. I suggested we keep in contact. He agreed. I told him that if he needed anything, he just needed to..."No. Not for that," he interrupted, "we'll stay in contact just to stay in contact. I don't like asking for things." I respected that. Hell, I admire that.

I want to make it clear that he never asked me to stay and spar. I did that on my own accord because I thought it might help him. I don't know if it actually did or not, but I always received a "Gracias Nick" afterward. I think at least he appreciated my dumbassedness. I tried explaining to him how his words about pity really affected me, how it really made me think about writing and portraying people, but it came out a garbled incomprehensible mess. I hope one day he'll understand what I was trying to say.

As the reporter finally showed up, we said our mutual farewells, but before we parted he wanted to be sure we saw each other before I left. I told him tomorrow I would be at the gym and of course at the fight. No, DESPUES de la pelea. I suggested I could go to Callao again, have some cerviche. Then in almost a break of seriousness, he stopped, slowly stepped aside the reporter and stared me straight in the eyes. La comida. ¿Te gustó?

"I loved it," I replied.

Chevere, he smiled, chevere.

*Kina Malpartida is currently the Women's WBA Super featherweight Champion. She won the title by 10th round TKO over Maureen Shea in Madison Square Garden New York. This Saturday, in her hometown Lima, is her first title defense.

**Chevere is Spanish slang for "cool".

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The final lap

We stop for a moment to exchange looks across the gym. We nod in silent agreement to acknowledge our mutual feelings of exhaustion, touch gloves to cement our solidarity, and through our spit laden mouthpieces, smile a wide grin. Five rounds of sparring. Five rounds on the heavy bag. Now onto floorwork. We're in the same world.

For the first time I'm doing what I've always claimed to do. For the first time I actually feel like one of the fighters...well, at least to an extent. I try to match their efforts in whatever they do. Sprints, roadwork, sparring. And outside the gym, restraining from sex, drugs and bad food: the trinity of poisons for a prizefighter. Normally on this journey, the sparring sessions were infrequent, maybe two or three times in total, and held more of a Ok let the tourist have his "sparring session", take his pictures, and write about it on his blog type of feel rather than a serious test of skills.

But I've long ago lost count of how many times I've hopped into the ring here in Peru. I am now waited upon by trainers, greeted by handshakes and sighs of relief when I step through the gym doors. Ah, the sparring partner showed up. Let's get to work. I'm beginning to be introduced around the gym as El chino que hace el sparring con Maicelo, which almost garners the same wide-eyed admiration as the champ himself.

Before I felt taken advantage of. I remember the first time I was denied a proper warm up; thrown into the ring like meat to a lion. There were times when the gym couldn't provide headgear as I'd be left in there trading blows naked from the neck up. "What the hell," I thought, "he's the one beating my ass. Why's he have the headgear?"

Maicelo's coach, Faustino, used to look away and have side conversations when the three-four punch combinations left me stumbling on bambi legs, which in retrospect, was something perhaps I deserved. Who was this two-bit tourist coming in snooping around and thinking he can hang with the best anyways? He wants to fight? We'll give him one.

But now Faustino stops the action the moment two consecutive blows connect. Estop. Parate. Maicelo, mas suave. Even I think it's premature at times. Last Thursday he spent 20mins showing me how to improve my punches and enhance my footwork to stay out of the corner. Hell, he might even care about my well-being. I guess my willingness to take a beating warmed him up to me.

And even though I come home everyday exhausted and beaten, even though I still haven't figured out all the feelings of my self-loathing, I feel like this experience is going somewhere. I'm discovering something in these sparring sessions even if I can't express them in words. I sit here now with a swollen right cheek, a blacken left eye and a scarred bloodstained lip from taking too many uppercuts to the chin, and tomorrow, it's the first day of the last week before the big fight. The training will probably intensify, the sparring will be harder, and the injuries more severe.

But you know, I don't think I'd want it any other way.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Prayer

(IMO the best scene from Charlie Kaufmann's Synecdoche, New York)

Everything is more complicated than you think. You only see a tenth of what is true for there are a million little strings attached to every choice you make. You can destroy your life every time you choose. But maybe you won't know for twenty years. And you may never ever trace it to its source. And you only get one chance to play it out. Just try and figure out your own divorce.

And they say there is no fate, but there is: it's what you create. And even though the world goes on for eons and eons, you are only here for a fraction of a fraction of a second. Most of your time is spent being dead or not yet born. But while alive, you wait in vain, wasting years, for a phone call or a letter or a look from someone or something to make it all right. And it never comes or it seems to but doesn't really. So you spend your time in vague regret or vaguer hope that something good will come along. Something to make you feel connected, something to make you feel whole, something to make you feel loved.

And the truth is...I feel so angry. And the truth is I feel so fucking sad. And the truth is I felt so fucking hurt for so fucking long and for just as long have been pretending I'm ok, just to get along, just for...I don't know why. Maybe because no one wants to hear about my misery, because they have their own.

Well, fuck everybody.


Friday, June 12, 2009

Pretty much the book about my life.

"The acomodador or giving-up point: there is always an event in our lives that is responsible for us failing to progress: a trauma, a particularly bitter defeat, a disappointment in love, even a victory that we did not quite understand, can make cowards of us and prevent us from moving on. As part of the process of increasing his hidden powers, the shaman must first free himself from that giving-up point and, to do so, he must review his whole life and find out where it occurred."

- The Zahir - Paulo Coelho

Friday, June 5, 2009

I need a change

"You know what your problem is? It's that you have this really shitty way of looking at things you know. I don't have that problem, I just look at the dopeness. But you, it's like you just look at the wackness, you know?"

Yeah, I know.