Drogheda, Ireland, 1987: After haunting the gym for two weeks, I fear I’ve become a nuisance. Club members nudge each other and ask, “What’s a girl doing here?” I’ve told the head trainer, Joe, that I pound a punching bag at home and have hinted I’d love to train, but he only responds with a low hum. So I keep watching the men work out and study the fight posters on the wall.
One day, Joe takes me aside for a chat. I’m sure he’s going to tell me to stop coming. But instead he says that I can train. I beam at him and nod, then dash off without saying a word.
At home I run straight to my room. No time to waste. I must prepare myself. I bob and weave and pelt my gloves into my make-shift bag. I know to keep my chin down, throw straight punches, and stand with my left hand forward because I’m right-handed. What I don’t know is what to wear to the gym.
Deirdre Gogarty (right) vs. Shawnise Davis in 1996 (Photo by Robert Duyos, South Florida Sun Sentinel)
The next day, I visit a tiny sport shop on Dyer Street. I find a plain gray tracksuit like Sylvester Stallone wears in Rocky. It’s my twig-of-a-size, so I don’t need to try it on. It’s perfect because I don’t want to draw attention to myself. Or get Joe in trouble for allowing a woman in the club.
On my first day of training, the boxers watch as Joe wraps my hands with bandages. He tells me to start by skipping rope. The rope whips my legs and trips me, and everyone in the gym gawks. Then he tells me to sit on the wooden floor so he can stand on my toes while he counts my sit-ups. My stomach muscles burn and my bra clasp digs into my spine. I wear it only be- cause I’m seventeen and I’m supposed to, not because I need to, and now I want it off.
Joe orders me on my feet and tells me to spar with a make-believe opponent, to warm me up for the heavy bag. Joe ties my hands into a pair of blue-and-white gloves, and pop-pop, pow! I bask in the luxury of hitting a real bag that doesn’t crash down on me like the one hanging in my bedroom closet.
Next: the speedball, grueling duck walks, weighted leg lifts, and squats with the medicine ball. My home workouts have helped my arms, but the rest of my body is jelly. Finally, Joe signals the end of my first day of training. I lean against a grimy windowsill. Sweaty, achy, exhausted, I am delighted—with myself, with where I am, with what I’m doing. I vow to myself that I will succeed here, as I never have in school.
I refuse to miss a night at the gym despite the fact that it’s June, the dreaded month of Ireland’s Leaving Certificate—my final exams. I have already failed the Inter Cert, and with this test I am about to fail the most important exams of my academic life. I’ve feared this ordeal since my first year of school at the Loreto Convent. My parents are well-educated. Mum is a dentist and my father an oral surgeon, so they are concerned that I do well in school.
Hours tick by in my bedroom as I try to study. Perhaps I can scratch out a “pass.” But the task seems overwhelming, so I swap my world history book for The History of Boxing. I’m glued to stories of Jack Dempsey knocking out bigger men, Sugar Ray Robinson’s epic battles with Jake LaMotta, and Henry Cooper dropping Cassius Clay with his famous left hook.
Mum appears in the doorway of my bedroom. Her light brown hair is perfectly styled, and she glides in high-heel, open-toe pumps. She says that she is taking me to Dublin to a specialist because of my problems with spelling and mathematics.
“Jeez, Mum. What’s the point of me even going to school if I’m so bad I need to see a psychologist?”
“Do you want to end up on the dole? Honestly, Deirdre. You’re seeing the psychologist, and that’s that!”
I nod, and she storms off. I take the tests. It turns out I have dyslexia. Maybe I’m not so dumb after all.
Joe wants me to spar with Lynda, a soccer player who’s been working out at the gym. I don’t want to spar Lynda because she’s not a real boxer. Regardless, it’s my first chance to land a gloved fist on living flesh.
We’re in the ring but can’t stop giggling. We giggle our way through round one. But by round two, we’re no longer nervous, and begin to hit each other in earnest. The punches sting but are tolerable. I’m surprised how downright exhausting it is to hit and not get hit for a whole round.
While Lynda and I spar, a heavyweight watches me gasp for breath. He approaches me afterward and says I need to run to be fit for boxing. His nickname is Blackie. He resembles Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing. He not only looks like Swayze, he stands like him, and moves with the same grace. He offers to run with me.
The next day Blackie and I trot along the quays, the setting sun behind us. The only sound is our feet pounding pavement and the river slapping ships along Merchants Quay. I try to hide my strained breathing as we push against the steep pavement of Constitution Hill.
As looming stone warehouses shadow us, I imagine Mum’s reaction if she saw me running these deserted backstreets of Drogheda with Blackie. A deep pain in my legs burns away the thought. Blackie glides with ease down Laurence Street as I struggle to keep up.
The workouts with Blackie motivate me in the ring. After a few more spars I’m serious and aggressive with Lynda. She doesn’t reciprocate. I have no problem hitting another person; on the contrary, it is liberating. After a lifetime of being polite and considerate, I climb through the ropes and am transformed into a fighter.
Out on a run with Blackie I confess my wish to spar real boxers. “No problem,” he says. “You can spar me.”
“Why not?” I reply. “Jack Dempsey fought people bigger than him lots of times.”
I stare at Blackie’s imposing mass in the opposite corner. Joe is thin-lipped silent while tying my gloves. Young boxers quietly gather around the ring.
The bell sounds, and I press toward Blackie. I’m determined to show off my skills and toughness. I’m halfway across the ring when a heavy thud against my padded forehead snaps back my head. I don’t understand how he hit me—I’m nowhere close enough to hit him.
Bop! My heads snaps back again.
How is he hitting me like this?
Blackie effortlessly sticks out his jab and can’t miss. He pulls his punches, but they feel like hammers. My neck hurts and it’s only seconds into the round. I swing, he leans slightly, I miss him wildly, and he hits me with ease. Over and over again. The more I charge him, the more I damage myself by running into his fists.
Racking my brain for a solution, I picture Rocky Marciano rolling under punches, getting inside, and landing bombs. Mimicking my vision, suddenly I’m inside. Blackie’s hairy chest is in my face. I can’t miss. As my right fist travels toward his bristly chin, he casually leans away and throws a half-hearted uppercut. My head rolls, almost touching my back, and prompts Joe to take a quick step closer. Blackie raises his palms as if to gesture I’m sorry. I’m fearful Joe is about to stop the spar, but the bell rings and saves me the humiliation.
Joe asks if I’m all right, so I must look bad. Strangely, I feel chilled even though I’ve thrown punches for three minutes. I’m weak, shaky, and nauseated. But worst of all, I’m disgraced in front of the guys who stare at me with sympathy. Joe implores me to keep my hands up and move my head to avoid getting “climmed” again. I can’t believe Blackie is beating me so easily. He’s not even trying. After the years I’ve spent pounding my bag, the weeks I’ve trained at the gym, the handful of times I sparred Lynda, why can’t I land one decent shot on a guy the size of a bulldozer?
The bell rings. With no more pretensions of showing off skills, I attack Blackie with no form or defense. I rush forward and flail my shots like a buzz saw. Blackie steps back and taps his right hand into my stomach. My lungs deflate. My last bit of breath is snatched from my body. I don’t think I can stay on my feet. I can’t breathe.
Am I dying?
I must have been hit in the breadbasket—the famous solar plexus punch Bob Fitzsimmons used to knock out James J. Corbett. No doubt, if Blackie even touches me there again, I will tumble.
My legs are rubber. I’m dizzy. My vision is blurry, and I can barely hold up my hands. I’m a joke—nothing like Barry McGuigan. What made me think I could be bad at everything but good at boxing? I’ve reached the bottom of the pit. I found something that gives meaning to my life, and I can’t handle it.
I’m helpless on the ropes, but through the ringing in my ears, I hear a muffled chorus. Louder and louder, the rhythmic sound engulfs me. Male voices from ringside are singing. They can’t be. They are! Deir-dra! Deir-dra! Deir-dra!
It’s the most uplifting sound I’ve ever heard.
Teenage guys who have never made eye contact with me are chanting my name, cheering me to win. It inspires me to fight back with renewed energy. I fire a harmless flurry off the ropes to a roar of approval. I finish the round with one-two-threes, and more importantly, on my feet. Joe smiles and Blackie gives me a hug of respect. The boys continue to cheer and clap as I climb out of the ring. As I remove my gear, our eyes meet and kinship is born. I am no longer an outsider. I am part of a team.
I am now a fighter.
My new status prompts an invitation from my gym mates to go with them to National Stadium in Dublin. There I witness my first amateur boxing show. I enjoy the company of my down-to-earth friends. And I love everything about this night of fights—the crowds, the atmosphere, even the drama of a local favorite’s terrible knockout as he struggles unsuccessfully to beat the count. Afterward, it’s all I can talk about.
After the next day of training, Joe and I stand on St. Mary’s Bridge near a part of town called the Bull Ring, my bike propped against my side. Engrossed in conversation about the fights, I don’t notice the way the minutes stretch into hours. It’s been dark a long time when a brown Renault zips up and slams to a stop. Mum rolls down the window and says, “Get. Home. This. Minute. People will think you’re a prostitute!”
Joe slinks away.
“Prostitutes don’t wear tracksuits and ride bicycles,” I say back.
“Go!” she yells, pointing homeward.
I hop on my bike and push the pedals hard and fast, but I’m no match for my mother, who follows me bumper-to-tire the whole way home.
At home Mum follows me to my bedroom and screams, “Why would you hang out on the street so late at night with a man? What will people think?”
I know better than to answer back, so I shrug my shoulders and slip out of my bedroom and into the bathroom to brush my teeth. But she stays on my heels and asks, “Why do you want to hang around a boxing gym and not play a civilized sport like golf or field hockey?”
I spit into the sink, and again she yells, “What will people think?”
I just turn on the faucet and let the water run down the drain.
Not long after my mother found me at the bridge with Joe, my parents go through an ugly separation. Meanwhile, I spar regularly with the guys and improve. I’ve bloodied several noses and even scored my first knockdown. My defense isn’t good, though, and Joe’s been stingy with instruction. He offers excuses not to hold up the hand pads for me. Perhaps he doesn’t want to be seen wasting his time training a girl. I try to learn by watching others and studying books, but it hasn’t stopped me from getting pummeled.
I’m not proud of my scrapes and contusions because a good boxer shouldn’t be marked up all the time. I don’t see Dad much since my parents’ separation, but he takes me shopping every fortnight. I worry he’ll notice my facial bruises during our next visit.
My sparring captures the interest of a Drogheda Independent sports reporter, Hubert Murphy. I’m afraid he’ll blow my cover. Dad doesn’t know I spar with guys, so I tell Murphy I’m the first female Master of Ceremonies for boxing in Drogheda, in total contradiction to my shy nature but a lie encouraged by the club’s treasurer, Séamus McGuirk. The only thing Murphy wants to know, however, is why a young girl would get hit for a sport with no future. Don’t I know girls aren’t allowed to box? Because I love it is the only explanation I offer. I don’t try to explain that boxing is as important to my life as breathing.
Thank goodness my face is unmarked when Dad picks me up for our grocery run. We head to Harry’s Supermarket. Murphy’s article is due in the newspaper, and sure enough, there’s a write-up and big photo of me posing a staged left hook on the jaw of a young man. The caption reads: “Take that! Deirdre Gogarty with sparring partner Barry Leonard, Brookville.”
Dad gasps at the photograph. “I hope you don’t do anything silly like actually getting hit? You don’t even have a gum shield!” This is true. I don’t have a gum shield. Dad would be horrified to know I’ve had terrible pain in my front gums where a poorly padded knuckle slammed me. But I’m afraid to upstage the guys by showing my seriousness and buying a gum shield. “I don’t need to be repairing my little girl’s mandible,” he warns, half-joking.
Dublin, Winter 1989
After my parents’ separation, I move with my mother to Dublin. We live in her tiny apartment in Clontarf, an area on the north side of Dublin. My top priority is to find a new gym.
I try a place called Saint Saviours. I have to turn sideways to slink past wall-to-wall guys skipping rope. My hand is wet from scooting my way along, my palm flat to the sweating ceramic tiles. I am relieved to see that they have a ring, at least. I approach two older men standing beside it puffing cigarettes, watching dispassionately as two boxers destroy each other. The smoke drifts into center stage, where quick fists shred it. Up close, I smell tobacco and fresh blood.
Catching the eye of the smaller man, I tell him I’m looking for the trainer.
“I’m Pat,” he replies, poking his thumb into his chest. “That’s me bruder, John.” He thumbs toward the taller man.
I introduce myself and tell him I want to train at this gym.
Pat furrows his scarred brow and tilts his head. “Now why would a pretty girl like yourself want to train with these bums?”
I laugh nervously and stare at the bloodstained canvas.
“And what about breast cancer?” he continues, cigarette hanging from his lips.
“Well, the chest area is not really a good target anyway,” I try to explain.
“Does it hurt?”
“Not really.” I lie, remembering a blow to my breast around period time. I divert the conversation. “So, were you a boxer?”
Pat’s silvery blue eyes light up. “That’s me winning the British light-welter-weight title.”
He points to a faded photograph on the wall—a man with rippling chest muscles, hands stretched upward, his face beaming toward the heavens, and the Lonsdale belt strapped proudly around the tiny waist of a rugged youth.
“You look very frail,” he says. “Can you take a punch?”
“Oh, yes. I’ve been sparring a lot, even with heavyweights.”
“And do those fellas hit you?”
“After I give them a good pop on the nose.”
Pat gives me a broad smile of neatly fitted dentures. As if I’ve passed his code of ethics, he asks, “So how are you gonna be getting here?”
“On my bike.”
“All right then,” he says, and lights another cigarette. “I’ll train you the best I can. You can park your bike over there. It’ll get nicked outside. You can change in the loo, so you don’t have to go in the men’s room. See you Monday.”
Back at the flat, I search through boxing books for any mention of my new trainer. I discover that he is Pat McCormack, hailed as a modern-day Jack Dempsey.
After critiquing my feverish shadowboxing, my new coach delivers his verdict. “No, no, no!” he scolds, grabbing my shoulders to hold me still. “Jaysus, you’ll be bleedin’ lifted out of it with footwork like that. Balance is the key. It will open all doors. Two weeks of only footwork. No punches!”
I want my new coach to show me how to knock people out, not put me through the tedium of where to put my feet. But for two weeks I step and slide, front to back, left to right, until Pat is satisfied with my balance enough to let me spar. At last, a chance to prove my fighting skills. But my opponent is tall with long arms and a lot of experience. The only thing I prove is that I have an appetite for raw leather.
“Well, yer balance is a lot better. But Jaysus, yer defense is bleedin’ terrible. How were the club in Drawda lettin’ you spar?”
In front of a mirror, I practice my punches. Pat strolls up to guide my hands forward and then back to my face. My reflection disappears behind his thick arms and wide shoulders. My coach smells of spicy cologne and tobacco.
“If I had a daughter boxing, I’d want someone to teach her how to defend herself,” he says. “I got paid for this ugly mug. But you’ll never get paid enough to end up with a face like mine.”
He’s still guiding my punches when a drunk stumbles into the gym. The drunk takes one look at me and makes the shape of a woman with his hands, managing a long whistle.
“Piss off!” Pat yells, without diverting his eyes from coaching. The drunk ignores him and continues to whistle.
“Out!” Pat yells again and points a stiff-armed finger at the door. Then he marches up to the intruder, picks him up by his coat, and tosses him through the doorway and onto the street.
“Stupid bastard landed on his head,” Pat says as he resumes coaching. “There’s blood everywhere.”
Minutes later, red lights flash outside to the howl of an ambulance siren.
“You see, you have to turn your fists over,” Pat tells me, ignoring the drama beyond the windows. “It’ll give you better snap on your punches.”
The ambulance speeds away. Pat doesn’t so much as look toward the door.
One night I visit one of my favorite hangouts, The Moy, on Dorset Street where Pat and his brother John are regulars. They tell me about the days of winning their British Crowns. Their connections to professional boxing in England are full of exciting possibilities.
As if reading my mind, Pat says, “You can forget about boxing in Ireland. Those sexist fuckers will never give you a chance. There’s no way they’ll let a woman box in a man’s world.” He pauses to gulp his lager. “You’ve got to go abroad.”
I explain my desire to find a match to anyone who will listen, hoping my quest falls on the ears of someone who can help. One day, at Saint Saviours, I receive a letter from London. I rip the envelope open, praying for a fight offer. But no—it seems I’ve attracted a pervert who discovered me in a Sunday World newspaper article about my attempts to find an underground fight. The letter’s author tells me he gets aroused sitting in bed with my photo on his wall.
Months pass as I continue to prepare for a possible fight. I’m given the chance to spar with amateur champion middleweight Tommy Mullen. Tommy returned from England to box in the Irish National Championships. He emulates fellow southpaw and idol Marvelous Marvin Hagler, and even though I’m a Sugar Ray Leonard fan, it’s amazing to watch Mullen’s precise impression of Hagler. He throws a short right hook off his jab to turn foes’ legs to jelly, and then he finishes opponents with a devastating straight left.
Preparations for my possible matchup at an upcoming boxing promotion in Ireland are clouded when Pat is told by the higher-ups of boxing not to train me anymore. Apparently, I am a potential liability, and they don’t want him to encourage me. On the verge of the event, someone wants to impound my trainer. But Pat ignores the order and our training continues.
Despite the gathering storm clouds, I wait for an opponent to step up. My hopes are dashed, though, in the days leading to a potential match. Acting as a go-between, former amateur great Harry Perry informs Pat and me that the IABA is adamantly opposed to a women’s fight and will never allow it, not even as an exhibition. Hiding under the umbrella of the European Amateur Boxing Association, they claim women can’t box for “medical reasons,” namely the risk of breast cancer. There have been no studies that conclusively link breast cancer to contact sports. Regardless, my debut is off.
Pat tracks down Mick Hussey, an old friend in London, who knows Sue Atkins. She is the British lightweight champion. Even her fights are underground, her championship unofficial. Hussey campaigns for a match between her and me, but months pass with no word. My chance to fight the great Atkins looks slim.
Finally I get the break I’ve been waiting for—an invitation to fight, not in London but in Holland.
I need medical clearance, so Pat sends me to Doctor Purcell on Amiens Street. I wait outside for hours with coughing and spluttering vagrants. The doctor eventually arrives in a muddy, cluttered van with a large mutt in the passenger seat.
Purcell has wild hair and an unkempt beard. He slams the door and hurries inside. He looks more prepared to treat cows than people. Surely he’ll sign anything. His informality ends when he sees to compete in boxing on my medical release form. He gruffly tells me to go to a boxing doctor and shouts, “Next!”
I’m desperate to get medical clearance, but I can’t go to a boxing doctor. They operate through the IABA, and there’s no way they will approve me. I choose a female physician out of the phone book. She refers me to a female co-worker who states that I have an irregular heartbeat, so she cannot approve the release.
I try another doctor on the far side of Dublin for fear that doctors in the same neighborhood talk to one another. After a ten-minute appointment, which I spend praying he doesn’t detect my so-called irregular heartbeat, Dr. Casey approves my medical for a fee of forty pounds.
A week after I post the paperwork to Holland, someone from RT√â Broadcasting phones to say Pat Kenny wants to interview me on his national radio program. I agree to the meeting, and he begins with a warm, to-the-point introduction. “Twenty-one years of age,” says Kenny, “nine-and-a-half stone, lightweight division, in the prime of physical fitness, and yet cannot get a bout. What sort of boxer is that? I’ll tell you what sort of boxer that is—it is a female boxer and her name is Deirdre Gogarty, and she is here with me now in the studio. Good afternoon, Deirdre.”
“It’s great to see you, Pat.”
“It’s great to see you, too. I read about you—you’re intent on having a career in amateur boxing.”
“That’s right,” I say. “I’ve been trying for four years and I’m still trying to get a contest. I haven’t succeeded. And there seems no possibility of having a contest in this country because under IABA rules, it’s not allowed that women box.”
We discuss the details of IABA rules, and then Kenny surprises me with an arranged call-in from my boxing hero, Barry McGuigan. I am so excited that I fumble my words. However, McGuigan disappoints me by saying, “I believe women are things of beauty and shouldn’t be gettin’ hit.” I am stunned, utterly speechless. But then Barry brings a lump to my throat when he says, “However, if you have a talent, Deirdre, go for it. Because without boxing, I’d have been nothin’.”
Late that night, a man calls to say he heard the interview and can find me a fight. His name is Jimmy Finn. He claims to have witnessed several topless boxing shows in England.
“Sue Atkins boxed in one,” he says. “She was not topless herself, but she fought a girl who was. Maybe you should think of fighting that way? Just to get some experience.”
“This is a sport, not a freak show,” I snap, and hang up.
After the interview there is no progress toward securing a match. Not even the people in Holland, who requested the medical release forms, bother to contact me.
Then Jimmy Finn calls again—this time with news of a three-round exhibition match in Limerick in one week. Not a real fight, he reminds me. That would be illegal. But he’s scheduled a nine-stone fight—a 126-pound limit—against an experienced kickboxer who wants to try boxing. “With clothes on, of course,” he adds.
I finally have a chance to compete in the ring and prove that women can box.
On June 30, 1991, Pat and I travel an hour by train to Finn’s hometown of Portlaoise. Finn, a sandy-haired man with the slender build of a track runner, picks us up at the station. Before he drives us to Limerick, about a two-hour drive, we stop at his upscale apartment to watch a tape of Sue Atkins versus Jane Johnson. I’m relieved it’s a real fight, with both boxers properly dressed.
“Aren’t they something? Mighty tough,” boasts Finn. “You’ll need a few fights before you get in with one of those gals.”
“Bollox!” says Pat, then dismissively swipes the air. “Deirdra’d destroy both of ‘em.”
We arrive at the Shannon Arms pub for the weigh-in. The outdoor ring, the centerpiece of the pub’s colorful back garden, surprises me. P. J. Bennis, the show’s promoter and my opponent’s trainer, examines me and nods his approval without asking me to step on the scales.
My fight is the only boxing match scheduled on the day otherwise devoted to kickboxing. Early-comers order drinks and claim spots under giant patio umbrellas advertising Harp and Carlsberg. Fight fans are unfazed by the grey clouds that threaten rain.
Jimmy Finn is giddy as he searches the growing crowd for my opponent. I don’t want to meet her—I’m glad just to know she’s here and ready to box. But Finn comes back with a tall, slender redhead and introduces me to my challenger, Anne-Marie Griffin. She is a local girl and a seasoned kickboxer. She seems as uncomfortable as I am when we exchange nods and brief eye contact. I’m glad when she turns away—I don’t want to see her again until it’s time for the ring.
As the large crowd cheers the strikes of its local fighters, I realize they will not be rooting for me. With the rest of the day’s visiting fighters, I’ll be placed in the cheerless blue corner. But it’s my fault I have no supporters here—not a single friend or family member—because I’ve kept my match a secret.
It begins to rain, and fighters’ shiny bodies spray on impact. I’m worried they’ll stop the show, but the Limerick people huddle under thin summery hoods and patio umbrellas or simply hunch their shoulders against the downpour. They lean over their pints or cover them with coasters. This cocktail of beer and fights is too good to abandon.
Finally, it’s my turn. As Pat tightens my gloves, a shiver crawls into my stomach for the first time today. Why am I suddenly afraid? My coach hangs a towel around my neck, and another fighter offers his robe. “So you won’t get the chills,” says Pat. He places the robe over my shoulders.
As I step across mud puddles, I imagine a hundred eyes on me. I study the ground on my way to the ring. As I climb through the ropes, a welcome sense of calm replaces the trembling in my stomach. Then a barefooted Griffin springs into the ring. Her long, lean muscles seem to twitch with confidence.
Face-to-face, I try something I learned from my sparring partner, Tommy Mullen, and stare into Griffin’s eyes. To my surprise, it works. Her eyes dart away, and I know I’ve already won the psychological battle.
Pat gives me his final instructions. “Jab to the head, right to the body. And careful, the ring’s slippy.”
At the bell I shoot toward Griffin and pop her face with left jabs. She retaliates with a one-two that grazes the side of my head. The crowd applauds their girl as I dip underneath her attack and throw left and right hooks to her stomach and penetrate her defense with a right hand to her head. Pat roars instructions while Griffin struggles to move out of my way. The referee breaks the action and cautions Pat against coaching from the corner.
I continue to breach Griffin’s long reach and defense. Every time she knocks down my jab with her right hand, she fails to follow up with a jab or a punch. Pat’s instructions echo in my mind, so I work up and down her tall frame: body, head, body-body, head-head, body-body. My momentum forces Griffin backward. She tries to grab onto my shoulders. But her efforts busy her arms, so I attack her exposed midsection.
In the second round, I go over the top and land several rights to my opponent’s nose, which gushes blood. I instinctively go after the injury. The referee breaks us apart just as Griffin shoves my forehead with her right hand in frustration. But I work my way right back inside and land two hard rights to her face.
The ref stops the action to wipe and pinch Griffin’s nose to stem the flow of blood. I wait in the neutral corner, where a rush of adrenaline and an idea invigorate me: As soon as the action resumes, I’ll allow my opponent to back me into a corner and unleash another right to her injured nose. The force should increase the bleeding—or better yet, drop her to the mat.
After a long break, I back toward the corner as planned. Griffin senses an advantage and rushes forward. But when she arrives, my feet are squared. Thwack! Griffin snaps my head back with a right of her own. My cheek stings as the crowd cheers. I quickly exit the foolishness of the corner, and—as if sensing my embarrassment—Griffin cooperates by quickly backing away from my retaliation. I track her down and find her with a body shot and two snapping rights that drill past her guard. I pile on the pressure to erase her moment of victory.
In the final round, I rush in for the finish. Griffin’s nose pours blood and the referee steps in and calls for the doctor. During the break my mind races with thoughts of ending the bout. I begin jumping in the air like the Cuban boxers I saw at the world championship—I thought it looked intimidating. Pat frantically waves his hands and motions for me to be still.
After the medical break, Griffin rushes me, but this time I have my back foot properly placed and she runs into my punches. I work her up and down, landing shots to score points and to confirm my control of the bout. The crowd applauds our efforts as the bell rings.The fight is over all too soon.
“You done brilliant!” Pat praises as he towels Griffin’s blood off my arms.
“I felt so sloppy,” I complain. “I could’ve done better.”
“For the first time, your form was great. You done better than most of the fellas.”
Jimmy Finn nods in agreement. Then he raises and pumps his fists. “My goodness,” he says. “I didn’t know you were that good. We’ll definitely have to get you a match against Atkins.”
Griffin and I are motioned to the center of the ring for a decision. I realize I’d forgotten this was an exhibition, not a real fight with a winner and a loser. That is not allowed. Perhaps my opponent forgot as well; we fought like a championship was at stake. In fact, it looks like everyone forgot.
“A unanimous decision of the judges,” the announcer begins. I can’t believe it. This was scored like a real fight after all. “The winner,” the announcer continues, “in the blue corner.” The referee raises my hand.
As I leave the ring, I notice the rain has stopped. An orange sun peeks from the clouds to dapple the crowd. Rain droplets sparkle on the trees and umbrellas, and the flower-scented breeze fills my lungs. Strangers smile and stop to praise my performance as we pack up to leave.
“They tried to pull a fast one,” Pat says, “not tellin’ they’d score it.”
But I don’t care. Being alive has never felt this good. I’m on a path that cannot be blocked.