Boxing Through Life: Jab, Hook, Smile
I boxed for a year or so, back in the day. The good news is that I could take a punch. The bad news is that people kept punching me.
Even though I only had three official fights, I had hundreds of rounds in the ring and went toe to toe with a lot of boxers. Some were better than me and others were not so good. There was a guy I trained with a guy who had been the Interservice Champion (Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines) in his weight class. I was feeling confident one day and caught him with a hard jab and gave him a bloody lip. I didn’t make that mistake again. It turned out that he only let me “think” that I could hang with him. Once I caught him off-guard and popped him in the mouth he stepped up his game and made me pay for my misjudgment.
My first official fight was in some small town in Alabama. When we got there they put us up in a hotel that was typically rented out by the hour. We didn’t get much rest the night before the fight. I fought some tall lanky good ole boy who sprinted across the ring at the first bell and proceeded to whale a flurry of punches for three solid minutes. His plan was to take me out in round one. When he failed, he had nothing left for the next two rounds. I beat him pretty soundly and walked to my corner of the ring at the final bell. My coach was all excited and congratulated me because he thought I had won my very first fight.
“Hey, this is Podunk, Alabama,” I said, “and their boy was still standing at the end of the fight. There’s no way in hell that they don’t give him the victory.” I was right and he sheepishly accepted the win, and I shrugged. What else was there to do. After we climbed out of the ring I went over to shoot the breeze with him and talk about some of the good punches and combinations and stuff like that, but he apparently had decided we were life-long enemies and wouldn’t talk to me. It was just a game to me, and more importantly, I wanted a beer and I was hoping that he and I would go out to one of the local watering holes. It was his town and I presumed he would know where to go. In the end I went back to my skanky hotel and didn’t get much sleep… again.
A couple months later I fought an Army guy down in Fort Benning, Georgia. He was in my weight class but he was about a foot taller than me and his arms were about six inches longer than mine. This meant that while he was just a bit too far away for me to hit, he could plaster me over and over again… and he did. The fight got pretty intense, but it was his fight all the way. The SOB broke my nose. After the final bell I walked over to his corner and he and his coach looked at me like they thought there was going to be trouble.
“Man. You kicked my ass,” I blurted out and we all broke out laughing. We hugged it out and went on our way. It was a good fight that I was on the wrong end of. I ran into him a few months later and we joked about the ass-whooping he gave me. I never knew his name, but he seemed like a nice guy… except for the punching me in the face stuff.
The Fort Benning team came to Maxwell Air Force Base to fight us again not too long after that. I fought a guy about the same size as me who did not have long arms and I knocked him out in the first round. He wasn’t out cold, but they stopped the fight. I saw him and my other Fort Benning buddy in the chow hall the next day. The guy that I beat wouldn’t even look at me. Apparently, most people don’t want to chat after losing a fight. Win or lose, I like talking to competitors.
I had a teammate who once knocked out an inexperienced boxer who was helping him train. Our coach asked me to climb in the ring and finish the three round training session. Just after we started he caught me with a vicious blow to the side of my head and then stepped back and waited for me to go down. When I smiled and raised my eyebrows at him, implying, “Is that it?” the “confident killer” look dropped from his face and was replaced with an “Oh shit” look. It was the correct look and he paid for knocking out my friend.
I learned a lot of things from boxing. I learned that getting hit in the face hurts. I know that seems obvious but there’s nothing like firsthand experience to drive home the point. Second, and more important than the first, I learned that getting hit in the face is not the end of the world. I got hit and knocked down and I got back up. And here is the big revelation that I hadn’t yet learned in my young life. I realized that people who hit me in the face and knocked me down and people that I hit and knocked down were not necessarily my enemies. Just like me, they were trying to win a fight.
Over the years I came to realize that boxing is a lot like life. Life can be hard and sometimes painful, but if you work at it and get back up when you get knocked down, win or lose, you are still in the game. And I learned that even if you lose, you’re better off than never getting into the game in the first place. “You’ve gotta be in it to win it.” I don’t know who told me that, but they seem like wise words.
Winning is great, but it’s not everything. Losing sucks, but there are worse things than losing. Not even competing in life? Not even being in the fight? I can’t imagine what that would be like.