Millman finished wrapping his hands and started working through his standard warm-up. Between mean mugging the cracked mirror Iron Puma had duct taped over the hole in the gym's wall and raising the roof in sets of 20, he consciously began letting all of the day's distractions flow out of his mind. In addition to being the gym's assistant manager, book keeper, instructor for any class Iron Puma wasn't "feelin'", janitor and Angelfire website designer, Millman was first and foremost a fighter. Except for his 40 hour job as shift manager at Dairy Queen. So, in a real sense, it was Dairy Queen then fighter. Except that even a shift manager's pay didn't go very far after his Trans Am payments and mail order Slim Jim deliveries, so he also donated plasma twice a week. So technically, if you were really committed to getting into the weeds, it went Dairy Queen then plasma donor then fighter. Except on days right after a plasma donation, a mistake he was not inclined to make again. Lesson DEFINITELY learned there. You needed to give yourself at least a solid 24 hours to let the blood re-percolate before throwing down with any kind of intensity.
Today he'd focus on his boxing. He and Iron Puma had discussed his next fight at length and decided they'd change up their standard training schedule. He usually worked a 6-week plan that covered all the major disciplines: punching for a week, footwork for a week, breathing for a week, avoiding getting punched, punching while getting punched, and quitting. Now that he'd moved beyond the Central Kansas MMA circuit up to the Eastern Kansas level, Millman was forced to admit that his training would need to advance accordingly. So, boxing (the ancient art of punching while moving sometimes/standing still other times) it was. Who knew what next week would bring? Punching and kicking? His mind was spinning already. Better to settle down and work what he knew, and that was punching things.
Millman walked up to the heavy bag and centered himself in front of it. He let his eyes drift over the etched and worn surface, a testament to countless hours spent by countless fighters over the years. Tonight he would focus on two key combinations that he and Iron Puma had decided upon : the Widow's Lament and the Night Raptor. Many years ago Iron Puma had learned an important lesson regarding coaching cues during a fight. He had made the mistake of suggesting "Punch that mother fucker in his God damn head!" to his fighter during an amateur bout. Tragically, the opponent had heard this genius stratagem as well and proceeded to do exactly that to poor Todd Ezekiel. From then on, Iron Puma swore that all of his directions would be masked in an impenetrable code which ended up being track titles and lyrics from his own body of self-taught music. The Widow's Lament, for instance, was a combination of overhand right-overhand right-overhand right that actually kept repeating until the match was over and you won. The Night Raptor, in comparison, was a devilish bit of misdirection that started with a left jab but was then immediately followed by a right straight. As Iron Puma had confided "Those jerk offs will be all focused on your left hand, they won't even see the right until they're staring up at it from the casket because they died on account of death by terminal surprise. And so, you know, the punch goes to the funeral. Out of honor, or stuff. Look, I'm pretty drunk so I may be rambling a bit. Just ask the school bus driver to pull over, I can make it home from here. Best of luck to you kids and your science fair or whatever. Don't tell anyone about the Night Raptor, alright?" He later let Millman and the others in on the breakthrough as well.
But Millman was barely conscious of any specific thoughts as the rhythm of the Widow's Lament lent its distinctive beat to the gloomy silence. Each hit sent the bag bucking back against its anchor, jerking wildly back to receive additional punishment. Here, truly, he was at peace. No one to bother him about unpaid rent or expired Blizzard coupons. Here, in this officially-condemned-for-critical-levels-of-exposed-asbestos warehouse, he was able to find balance. He took a deep, full breath into both his lungs and felt the familiar tingle in his chest that only this special place seemed to possess.
He was ready. At 49-0 on the Central Kansas MMA circuit, Millman was experienced enough to know when his training had peaked and he was in top form. Fighting the same 4 guys (now 2-8, 1-5, 3-10 and 0-26 respectively) had given him a wealth of knowledge and truly allowed him to round out every facet of his game. Especially the Widow's Lament. And especially against 0-26 Zack Dorkins. Once again, Millman shook his head at Dorkins' chronic inability to protect the left side of his face with any kind of effective defense. "Maybe," he mused, "it'll help once he gets that prosthetic arm he's always going on about. Although the Kansas Athletic Commission isn't too thrilled about allowing any kind of artificial advantage, especially one that isn't referenced in the Bible. "
But this next fight wasn't going to be against Zack Dorkins. This was a new kind of test all together. And that test's name was Chandler Ringwell, the rising star from Emporia whose ground-and/or-pound was the talk of the town (that town being Emporia). Ringwell had made a splash earlier in the year when he participated and won the One Night 64-Man Tournament held in the 4H rodeo arena just past IBP. What had originally been slated as a 63-match spectacle ended up being signficantly shorter after all but 2 of the participants withdrew due to exhaustion after (and in same cases, before) their initial matches. Nonetheless, Ringwell was successful in defeating Ray Hostettler and claiming the trophy they couldn't affort to rename. He would be Millman's biggest test, both figuratively and literally. In addition to his ground acumen Ringwell was notorious for his ability to cut down to 155 with his 7'10" frame. The only trade-offs were a slightly unreliable gas tank and the fact that he needed dialysis treatment at the age of 19 which was administered in the iron lung he lived in when he wasn't training. In other words, he was fully committed to his his career - a true professional. Millman knew this was going to be a challenge. Good thing "Challenge" was his middle name.
(His actual middle name was Eugene. His parents reminded him of this fairly frequently. He often forgot).