We’re warming up in the back, and Junior’s holding mitts for me. I’m not just hitting them. I’m driving through them. I feel loose and dangerous. They say the last thing to go is your power, and I think that’s true. Junior tells me to dial it down, save some for “Grease” Miller. They call him that cause he’s slick as hell. Young kid, can’t be more than 22, thinks he’s pretty. He likes to hot dog out there, dance around, try to mess with your head, but that shit doesn’t work on me.
The manager Pam comes back and says it’s time. She doesn’t even look at me. She doesn’t believe in me, and I can’t say I blame her. She’s never seen me show what I’m capable of. They play my walkout music, “Bad Moon Rising.” That’s me, on the rise. A bad dude.
I walk out into the ballroom with all the cigarette smoke. I don’t wear a robe like most guys. I’m coming out barechested, Tyson-style. Tyson said when he fought, he imagined his fist going through his opponent’s head and out the other side. That’s all I’m picturing.
It’s still early, the undercard, and the chairs haven’t filled up yet, but it’s not empty. There’s forty people maybe, real toads on a log, fight junkies and degenerate gamblers. They’re here to see Grease. They wanna be able to say they saw him before he was on pay-per-view, ESPN. It’s rare that blue chippers come through Lake Charles.
I go up the steps and duck under the top rope and keep moving, stay loose. I can feel their eyes on me. They know me. I know them. I know what they think of me. They think I’m a stepping stone, a tomato can, the sacrificial lamb. They think I’m a bait dog getting fed to a top pit, but they don’t know what I know. They don’t know mindset is everything and that my mindset is a million times stronger than it was. I just see Grease hitting the canvas and me getting my hand raised. Over and over I see it, and now it’s gonna come true.
Grease comes out in a shiny red robe, bobbing and weaving and dancing all the way up to the ring. People clap and cheer. I didn’t even watch any tape on him. That was my problem before. I would obsess over the guy I was fighting. I would worry so much about what he was gonna do, it took away from what I wanted to do. Now it’s all about me and my combos. I’m gonna make him fight my fight.
Pam announces us from the DJ booth. Grease is coming from Houston. 12-0. Undefeated, but he’s never fought me before. We touch gloves in the middle of the ring, and he’s got this little prickly pear grin on his face. He’s taller and leaner than me, carved up, but this ain’t a runway show.
The ref rings the bell, and we circle each other. He’s doing all his footwork, but I don’t let it distract me. I keep my eyes right on his chest. The head and legs move, but the torso doesn’t. I pump out a double jab then throw a right hook to the body. It just glances him, but it’s more just to make him think.
He’s throwing a lotta feints then his jab breaks through my guard and cracks my nose. Stings but nothing I haven’t felt before. Tags me with the jab again. Again. He’s goddamn fast. I block his jab this time, but he lands a right uppercut behind it, snaps my head back. I’m a little bit rocked, but I don’t let it show. I just need to get through these early rounds, and bet he’ll gas out.
He’s quick to counter whenever I throw my stuff. I take a few steps back, and he comes right after me. He’s throwing big combos now, hooks and straight rights. I have to cover up. I just need a second to breathe and land a big shot. I’m stuck in the corner. He cut me open somewhere, and the blood’s getting in my eye.
The ref is in front of me now for some reason. He yells, “One” then “Two,” counting with his hand. Why’s he counting me down? I reach down, and the canvas is right there. I’m on one knee. I’m fine, but I feel stuck for some reason. The ref yells, “Seven.” I push off the canvas with my gloves and my legs, and I’m back up. I bounce on my feet, show the ref I’m good. He’s asking me something, and I just nod. I put my gloves up for him and take a step forward.
Grease is in my face again, going wild, throwing everything. I just need to make it to the end of the round. I need to get my bearings.
It’s slipping away
I see a tiny opening and throw a wild right haymaker. I don’t see but I feel it hit his chin. The way the jaw gives, you can tell. He backs off me a little, and I take a deep breath. I wipe my eyes, and I can see all of a sudden. I move toward him, and he backs up more. His eyes are glassy and got panic in them. He’s probably never been hit like that in his life. That’s how these young, pretty motherfuckers are. They crumble soon as they get cracked. He throws out his jab again, but there’s nothing on it now. I’m eating his weak shots now. I eat them up. I love them.
I keep hitting him with one-twos until the clacker goes off, telling us there’s ten seconds left in the round. He’s about ready. I throw a lead hook instead of a jab and hit his temple. He’s on skates, and I follow up with an uppercut that lands flush like perfect, beautiful. He falls back like he’s been hit with a goddamn sniper round. His head bounces on the canvas. The ref steps in and waves it off.
I raise my hands, and Junior runs in the ring and lifts me up. All these goddamn people don’t know what to do with themselves. They’re in shock, but all at once they start going crazy and cheering. I did it, their native son. Now they know who I really am. They storm into the ring and carry me out of the ring. They take me through the casino, chanting my name. People leave their tables and slot machines and join in.
They take me to a backroom I’ve never seen before and let me down. There’s a huge spread of seafood, lobster and crab, shrimp, everything. A woman hands me a glass of champagne. I don’t know where she came from. She can’t be from Lake Charles. She’s in a sparkling red dress and has on bright red lipstick. She’s got dark brown hair that goes down to her waist. She’s gorgeous, and she’s looking at me like she wants to have me for dinner. She waves with her finger for me to follow her. She does it in front of everyone. She doesn’t care. I follow her. I don’t care either.
We leave everybody behind. We go past the food spread to the back of the room. The woman pushes on the wall, and it’s a door you’d never know is there. I follow her into a dark hallway. She looks back and smiles, and I watch her walk. The hallway goes on and on, but I can still hear them back there, chanting my name.
My name. It’s quiet now, one person saying it soft.
Something’s stuck to my face, and I can’t get my arm to move and get it off. Another voice. It’s Junior, but he doesn’t sound excited.
What is that sound, the whooshing? It’s going in a rhythm. Back and forth.
My eyes are stuck, don’t wanna open like there’s medicine balls sitting on them or something. I just get my left cracked open, and the light is too much.
It closes then I get it open again.
There’s a guy in white. It’s hard to see with this shit on my face blocking my view. It’s clear, plastic. It’s stuck on my face., taped on or something. There’s Junior, talking to the guy in white.
The whooshing is me breathing. Why’s it so loud? What’d they put this on me for? The guy in white is talking to Junior, but Junior’s looking at me. He’s looking at me like I’ve never seen him.
Junior, why are you looking at me like that?
My eyelid is getting heavy again. It starts dropping.
What are you so scared for?
God, don’t look at me like that