Joe is in preparation for his first illegal fight, which is unkown to him at this time. His wife needs to be kept out of the picture, she cant find out what Joe has planned
The following day, the stacking bill problem really hit home. Through the post came the red letters, final reminders for the gas and electricity, the mortgage three months late and the phone cut-off, which meant no internet access.
No internet meant I couldn’t apply for jobs at home. Hiding the gas and electricity bill from May for the time being, seeing her showing signs of breaking down, I didn’t want the bill finding its way into her hands, just yet. She seemed stressed and snappy. That was so out of her character, normally so laid back, just taking things in her stride.
It was there and then that Mike’s offer started to make a lot of sense. £400 for one night's work? That would cover some of the overdue money on the mortgage.
We could use May’s wage and my welfare cheque to pay the gas and electricity bill. It would put us above sinking level for the time being. Give us a chance to breathe for a couple weeks. The last thing I wanted to do was lie to my family, but it seemed the only option.
Stuck between the family’s need for money and my weakening morals, my decision was made. I was going to take the fight. I used the weekend to ponder how keeping it quiet from May would work. Coming to the conclusion I’d have to make up some kind of story about picking up some weekend work or a night job, sneak away, having Tim cover the story if need be.
The weekend was spent as usual, entertaining the kids and visiting May's parents in Stonehaven. It was pretty boring and I didn’t really get involved. I didn’t gel with her parents anyway. My mind was too occupied on what was going to take place in the upcoming weeks.
Little did I know at the time how much this was going to change my life and me.
Tuesday arrived and I was very eager to talk to Mike regarding the fight. Tim picked me up as normal, 6.30 on the dot and I wasted no time in telling him my plans as I entered the car.
“Tim, I’m going to take that fight Mike offered me.”
“Aye, why not eh? You’ll be fine. Fighting’s in your blood.” Tim replied.
“Need to keep it hush from May though. Don’t want her to know, so if you speak to her, I’ll need you to cover any story I make up.”
“Aye, nae bother. When we get there the night, talk to Mike. Find out if the fight’s still on. If you’re lucky, you’ll be in.”
Spotting Mike as I arrived at the gym, I immediately approached him. He was chatting to Bull. Those two were practically joined at the hip.
“Hey, Mike, can I have a word?” I asked.
“Fire away Joe.”
“Is the offer of that fight still on? If it is, I’ll take it.”
“Great, we can make that happen, as long as you don’t go cancelling on us at the last minute. We don’t take kindly to that kind of shit. Once your name’s in the ring, there’s no going back. You understand?” It seemed clear that cancelling would land them in the shit and me in a hole.
“This will be a good fight for you. Let’s check your weight on the scales.” Mike ordered and I made my way over.
“100.5 kg. Ok, fine, but you’ll need to keep working your ass off, get rid of those extra kilos. Tim will keep you posted about the fight details.”
“Alright, cheers. When and where is it?”
“It’s down in Dundee next weekend, Saturday night. Tim will keep you right. I’ll give you a good spar the night, get you a little sharper.” Mike said.
Turning away, I started skipping with the rest of my training partners. Never thought to ask how many rounds or what size of gloves it was. Presumed it was a pro-boxing show. It just didn’t seem important, acquiring the money took precedence.
I put in extra effort that night, pushing it a little harder than usual, but it left me fatigued and thinking more about this fight tensed me up. It seemed to mentally and physically drain me that evening. Maybe it was the lie.
Nearing the end of the night knowing the sparring was approaching, didn’t fill me with joy. All the other boxers were much fitter and topped up on juice. The ‘roids charging blood through their pumped-up muscles, just helped them keep going.
“Right guys, sparring. Everyone can have a few rounds the night.” Tim yelled, standing with his customary stopwatch around his neck. There were six of us that night, and I had a bad feeling I was going to get pushed to the limit here.
Tim came over while I refreshed my dry throat at the fountain. “Joe, you’re in for a treat the night. Six three minute rounds, a one-minute break between them. Just get through it best you can, and don’t give up or coast through it. Mike and Bull don’t want to see that.”
“Seems like I’m the one you want knocked out the night.” I tried to joke.
“Nonsense mate, you’ll be fine,” Tim replied.
Climbing through the ropes into the ring with my head-guard on and gum-shield in, taking a deep breath, Tim gave me a nod, asking if I was ready, although that was the last thing my mind was telling me.
The five guys outside the ring squatted against the wall, or stood with their gum-shields in and gloves on, ready to rumble. Toby was the last one lined up on the row and Chris the first. Good, the two hardest guys first and last.
All the boxers weighed over the 80kg mark. Chris and Danny were big bulky bastards. Staring me down with a glint of fear in their eyes, showing I gained some respect around here.
“First two, ready?” Tim mumbled as he side-stepped around the ring, taking the role of ref again. Bull standing in the other corner, Mike taking a casual stance at the back of the ring.
First spar, Chris. Looking pretty wary of me, he didn’t come charging in, as usual. We exchanged combos in a more friendly fashion. I mean friendlier as in he wasn’t trying to charge me down, or rip my head off.
The old boxing brain started to return, dipping and slipping punches, keeping the head movement working.
Half way through the round he stepped it up, started landing his grinding hits, pounding my ribs was his specialty, which hurt like hell. Towards the end of the round, Mike yelled.
“Now Chris, NOW!”
He went to town on me for the last thirty seconds, hitting me with everything. Upstairs to the head and down to the body, I countered throughout his barrage with little effect. The round was soon over thankfully, we touched gloves and he left the ring.
Next up, Peter. One of the smaller lads. Quite young, nimble, in his early twenties. Short fluffy ginger hair. Not built big, but owned fast fists.
“Right come on, let's go. Round two!”
The minute break wasn’t long enough to settle my breathing back to normal. Peter was a raw brawler like the rest of the boxers here but difficult to hit because of light feet.
He might have lacked size, but didn’t lack heart. As I battled my way to land a combo of heavy punches to bounce his body from side to side, he absorbed it all and carried on. I liked guys like this, loads of heart. If you didn’t have heart you have nothing. Something Tommy Stevenson used to tell me. ‘You can hit hard, you can be fast, you can be big, but if you've no heart, you’re fucked.’
Three occasions during this round Mike shouted at Peter. I sensed a pattern.
“Now boy now, get on him!” Mike took pleasure in controlling what punishment I received.
I could see what was happening, Mike was testing me, pushing me, trying to find my limit.
Totally fucked by the end of the round, I needed more than a minute before taking on the next guy, but I kept repeating Tim’s words in my head, not to ‘upset’ Mike or Bull, get through it best I could. The same one minute break would have to do.
The third round, with Danny, a well-rounded plump fighter, kept relentless pressure on me. Danny had a hanging beer-belly, but boy could he fight. Blessed with a gift and he knew how to use it.
Targeting the body, leaning over me and keeping on the inside. As I had less and less energy to move, he punished my stomach and kidneys. I didn’t like it. My energy drained, taking pounding thuds to my kidneys and rib-cage, not able to dodge the hits. My feet felt like they were dragging a ball and chain, heavy and weary.
The minute breather came in time, before I took a brush against the canvas.
Round four, they had seen the effect Danny had on me, keeping him in for this round, trying to take me down to another level, Mike pushing him to punish me, fast dancing legs combined with a huge belly, a combination not put together often, giving me the run-around.
Wasn’t sure if I would make it through the fourth. My heart and skull ready to explode with lack of time to draw breath and heat trapped in my head, ducking, backing onto the ropes, taking a hurl of punches to the head, immobilising my movement.
In the fifth, I had to really push myself and try to get my credibility back with Danny. I surprised myself, considering how knackered I was, putting him down and fighting on pure instinct. I could hardly breathe, fatigued, and struggled to keep my hands up.
Every punch thrown was telegraphed before it left my side, and when they landed, they brought no weight behind them. In the last minute and a half, I was getting thrashed, but couldn’t give up, not if I wanted to bring the readies home to May. That wasn’t an option for me.
The last guy into the ring, was the pocket dynamo Toby. Knowing his skills, he could break me, the fastest and fittest here. By this time, the pain ran throughout my whole body, my lungs hardly able to function, legs weak, eyes and forehead ached, standing tall sent a stabbing pain into the ribs. I just had to suck it up, get on with it. Mike must have taken pity on me, giving me just over the minute’s break this time, but that wasn’t going to help.
I slouched into the corner after the fifth round.
“Here Joe, get this down you. One round left” said Tim as he tried to build the confidence in me, while pouring water down my throat and over my head “And for fuck sake, keep your hands up, your eyes are a fuckin’ mess.”
I tried not to think about what I’d look like after this. Just had to get this last round done and dusted.
“Come on mate, last round, let’s see if that Tilly grit’s still in there.” Tim said.
Immediately at the start of the round, Toby flustered forward with a sharp combo, hissing like a snake each time his punches hit, but I kept my hands up so it didn’t have the desired effect.
Remembering our first spar, I knew he'd be itching to make the most of the weakness showing in me. You could tell he was a well seasoned boxer, judging by his speed, combos and elusiveness. Bouncing into my face again, slithering his chin against my soaked chest, connecting with a bouldering body blow then coiling his body back, he smacked me in the jaw with a wicked left uppercut. I clambered back, swinging a lacklustre left hook, missing as he weaved under my arm and floated back up, landing what felt like a bowling ball, shaking me to my boots. His 84 kilo frame far too fast for me to cope with in my condition. My brain couldn’t function, I went to sea, legs wobbling as if balancing on a wave, eyes seeing double and unable to focus, the sound numbed like the echo of a muted speaker, but, I was still on my feet, still looking Toby in the eye, or at least I thought I was.
Under two minutes of the round left. I wasn’t going to make it. Suddenly he halted, refusing to take advantage of my wounded state, choosing to stand idle and wait for my recovery. Mike egged him on to finish me while I was handicapped. He either didn't have it in him or was wary of my power when wounded.
Regaining my senses after fifteen seconds, I realised I had been let off the hook.
It was in his hands to drop me at any time, but he chose not to. I pretty much collapsed on the floor, exhausted, as Tim signalled the end. Taking one last look at Toby, I turned and slumped out of the ring, not looking back.
“Well done son. You’ve sure got the heart and guts for this game!” Bull bawled in a local accent and slapped his palm on my shoulder in a friendly gesture.
I didn’t reply, too exhausted to talk.
“Joe, you’re pretty bruised around the eyes lad. Might want to get some ice on ‘em.” fussed Tim.
Once I made it to the changing room, I stole a glance in the small mirror hanging. May was going to go nuts!