I’m hastily wearing the shin guards and body armor they gave me from the pile of gear by the red corner. I peek over at the opposite side of the ring, and I see my opponent is already waiting on me, stretching and moving around.
“Where are the gloves and headgear?” I ask the organizer.
They remove the very same ones my brother just fought in, and hand them over to me.
Really? I’m using these too?
I put on the headgear, then the gloves. They’re damp, likely from a combined sweat of the 50 or so people who competed earlier. The 16 oz. gloves are also soft and incredibly worn out already.
I go up the ring. I then ask my coach to tighten my left glove, as it still feels a bit loose, likely from all the wear and tear it has gone through today.
An official asks me if I have a groin guard on. I nod, and lightly knock on it with my glove. I realize this is the only time they actually checked for anything. They didn’t even look at my hand wraps.
That gives room for cheating, but whatever, really. I don’t plan on getting hit much today, anyway.
The round girl enters from my side of the ring, and she walks around to signify the imminent start of the fight. The referee calls us over.
This is it. Go time.
“No elbows,” the referee reminds us.
He’s still giving a few more instructions, but I know the rules and I’m not really paying much attention. I’m just looking at my opponent, sizing him up and looking for any signs of nervousness.
He looks calm.
I’m much taller than him, so I decide I’ll try and play a bit of mind games while we’re facing off, just to see how he reacts.
He’s just looking at the referee while I stare at him. I extend my arms from side-to-side, shaking my gloves slightly. I’m trying to make him wary of the reach he will have to deal with, looking for any type of adverse reaction.
I know it’s unlikely to rattle competitors at this point, but even the tiniest hint of nerves would be a small victory on its own.
He finally looks me in the eyes with a blank stare. I don’t really see any change in emotion from him. As the referee pushes us back to our corners, he then extends his arms and does the exact same thing I’m doing.
I take it as a gesture saying “I’m not nervous, and I can do that too.”
Fair play, Sir. Fair play.
The referee shouts, and the fight is on.
We’re both in our orthodox stances, and I reach my left arm out and touch gloves with him. I lift my right hand near my temple, and leave the other extended as we walk the middle. It’s an extra layer of defense, and an easy way to judge distance while I try to see how he decides to open up to start this fight.
He throws a kick that I easily block with my shin, and he tries an overhand right that is parried by my extended glove. I drop my hands and slowly circle away after his first attempt.
He tries to close in with an inside leg kick, and I counter with a right hook that lands before circling away to my right. After I easily avoid his second attempt, I drop my hands again and slowly walk to the center of the ring as I reset.
Much like my first fight, I’m dropping my guard just trying to play around, exude confidence, and bait him into doing something foolish.
Doubt can grow, and if he shows frustration, maybe I can pick at it and make him hesitant and less confident as the fight wears on. If not, then I don’t really lose much. It’s a low-risk gamble I’m willing to take, especially at this amateur level.
He comes forward again. I lift my lead leg twice, feinting a kick and seeing how he reacts defensively. He moves up his gloves to defend up top, so I throw a hard kick to his leg followed by a right hand.
My punch lands, and instead of pulling it back, I grab a Thai plum as we clinch. I throw a weak knee and he pushes me forward to the ropes. I just hold on to him, trying to judge his strength inside before the referee quickly breaks us up.
He pushes forward immediately and I land a teep to keep distance and push him back. He comes back forward and decides to throw a front kick of his own. It lands flush on my groin.
I grimace in pain, and the referee steps in after the foul.
Not again! This s—t has happened in every single one of my fights now. Ugh.
The only good thing is that this time, the official is actually giving me time to recover instead of just counting like I was knocked down.
It hurts like hell, but I try to shake it off as quickly as possible. I take a few seconds. I’m still in pain, but I exhale loudly and tell the ref to start us up again.
F—k it, let’s go.
He immediately comes forward and tries a leg kick. I check it and land a counter on his chin. He seems unfazed and presses forward again, so I step back and land another leg kick. He continues forward.
I should’ve pivoted out then exploded with a 1-2 counter to stop his movement, but my legs are feeling really heavy already. Why?
I am unable to escape like I wanted to, and he scores with a body kick, and tries a flurry of punches in the corner. I block most of them and manage to get a clinch. I immediately turn him to the ropes for a better position.
The referee breaks us up. While he didn’t really land well in that sequence, I’m already pissed off for not being mobile, and allowing myself to be pushed to the ropes like that.
As we reset, I decide to attack first this time. I step forward with a jab and a cross. The second punch lands, and I immediately follow up with a leg kick and a right hook that connects.
“GOOD!” I hear my coach shout.
He pushes forward aggressively, trying to get back those shots in reaction. He lands a glancing body kick, and then tries another one from the opposite side. I see it coming, so I check it and immediately fire a low inside leg kick counter followed by a right hook.
I step back, waiting for him to come forward again, then I step right in with a kick. He blocks this one, but my right hand follow up scores up top.
My legs really are getting really heavy. I don’t know what’s happening.
He tries a kick that I dodge and counter with a jab. I dodge another straight punch, but I really don’t feel very mobile now. I throw a cross that he blocks, and he lands a weak teep that pushes on the side of my body armor.
F—k, what’s wrong with my legs? Adrenaline dump? Effects of not warming up properly after the three-hour delay? I’m in much better shape than this.
I try to shake it off and circle a few steps away.
I really can’t move like I want to. F—k! I need to adjust my game. I can’t throw as many kicks if I want to still be mobile enough on defense for the duration of the fight.
My opponent moves forward again. I time that big right kick he keeps throwing, blocking the shot and countering with a right straight to his head. I move back and he does the same thing. I check the kick, and counter with a punch that he partially blocks. He tries to follow up with a right hand, but I defend it with my extended arm.
I circle to my right. I quickly throw a left switch kick that he blocks, and I fire off a right hook and a right body kick that scores. He tries to counter with an overhand right, and I just roll with the punch, so it glances through the top of my headgear.
“He’s just throwing that overhand right over and over!” I hear my brother yell.
I step in with a superman punch that misses the mark, and we both end up in a weird clinch with my arm over his shoulder. He lands a knee. I push my arm down, forcing him to bend with his head now to my side, almost in a guillotine choke type of position.
I could be a jerk and just grab my other wrist — mix in an MMA choke like my brother almost did earlier. But I’ll just wait for the referee to break us up.
My legs are even heavier now, but in my head, I find this amusing.
“He doesn’t check!! Just throw with power on your leg kick!” I hear my opponent’s corner scream out loud as the referee called for a reset.
What are you talking about? He hasn’t landed a single leg kick, and I’ve checked almost all of his kicks.
I know what he’s going to do now, so as he rushes in, I check the leg kick and put more weight on my counter straight. The punch lands flush and his body slightly turns because of it.
I step back a little, and he rushes in, again looking for the same kick his coach asked for. I throw another big counter right before he can even throw, moving him slightly off balance the moment he lifts his leg. He bites hard on his mouthpiece, throwing two more punches that I easily dodge as I circle out.
I throw a leg kick, and he comes forward, countering with a good punch that lands on my ear as the bell rings.
I head over to my corner as the round ends.
My coach removes my mouthpiece and gives me a sip of water, before relaying his instructions.
“Good job. Stay disciplined and don’t get overconfident,” he tells me. My brother also reminds me to watch for the overhand right.
Their other instructions just seemingly float and blur past me. They think I won the round, but I’m still pissed off, wondering why my body is reacting like this.
I feel like my legs haven’t been working and I’ve been forced to box with him almost. I’m really angry with myself because in my mind, I shouldn’t even be getting hit as much if I can perform to my ability.
I’m so much better than what I’m showing.
I take a few more deep breaths, and the second, and final, stanza begins.
We touch gloves again as the referee signals the start of round two.
I briefly switch stances to throw a lead right leg kick and a follow-up right punch. He tries a counter overhand right, but I dodge it and circle out to reset.
Damn. I connected, but it was so slow and didn’t do damage. My legs feel even worse now.
He pushes through again with that leg kick, which I block and counter with a punch that glances on his headgear. We clinch. I turn him to the ropes and land a short knee to his thigh. We trade with one weak knee strike each before the referee breaks us up.
I switch, throw a body kick, and a 1-2 combination. He blocks the first two strikes, but that last punch lands clean. I then step away and dodge his attempt to counter with a body kick.
I switch to try and get a reaction, and then I throw a body kick. As with most of my attempts to fake him out on this fight, he doesn’t really stray from his plan and just continues to push forward, throwing kicks of his own. This leads to us both landing awkward, ugly kicks at the same time.
He plods forward after the clash of kicks, and he lands an overhand that I try to roll with to lessen the impact. I block the next overhand, clinch, and turn him to the ropes again. I land three short punches to the side of his head until the referee separates us.
Feinting really isn’t working. Stick to countering his forward motion, or beat him here in the clinch, where he doesn’t feel strong anymore.
He immediately comes forward once again. I lift a leg to try and feint a teep, but he ignores it and presses on with punches. Nothing lands, and I initiate a clinch and turn him to the corner.
I block a weak knee attempt with my forearm, and with the same hand, I land two short punches to his body as he puts his knee back to the floor. He tries another slow knee. I easily block it again with my forearm, and then I pull his head down and land a knee right under his body armor.
I hear a slight groan as it connects.
“Takedown!” My coach yells.
As he slowly lifts his knee up to respond, I use this opportunity to trip him to the mat.
We reset, and he immediately throws a wild kick that I effortlessly move away from. We both throw slow body kicks that are each partially blocked. I block a few more strikes, and see that he is also slowing down.
I throw a superman punch then initiate a clinch as I get in close. I trip him to the mat again.
My performance hasn’t exactly been great, but since my legs haven’t been working properly, I might as well score with these easy points now.
He slowly gets up. I’m getting tired too. I check a kick and land a counter right hand, like I’ve been doing. I grab the back of his head with my left arm, and briefly dirty box, landing an uppercut and a hook with my free hand.
He lifts his left leg to try and kick, and before it hits, I counter and kick his other leg that was planted on the mat.
“Yes!” my coach yells.
He lands a right hook, and I clinch with him. I land a short knee, and then I adjust my grip, and throw him down to the mat again.
He slowly gets up, and plods forward. He looks a bit flat-footed and susceptible to a kick, so I immediately land one on his leg before clinching again. I twist my body, and throw him down the mat right as the final bell rings.
I’m tired and I slowly walk to my corner. I look back to see my opponent leaning on the ropes and sluggishly walking as well.
My coach comes in and removes my headgear. I lean my head on the turnbuckle, partly ashamed I had to result to these tactics to score points in this final round.
I’m shaking my head, really disappointed at my overall performance. There was so much I wanted to do in there, and improvements I wanted to showcase from my last bout.
“My legs were so heavy from the start of the fight,” I tell my coach while he helps remove my body armor and shin guards.
I’m not sure if he hears me, but he’s just smiling and doesn’t really reply as he walks back down the steps. The referee calls us to the center, and I hear my coach outside the ring.
“Both my guys won tonight!” my coach excitedly tells my younger brother.
The referee stands between my opponent and me, holding each of our wrists while waiting for the decision to be announced.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a split decision…”
“The judges saw this bout going in favor… of the blue corner!”
I frown and look towards my corner. My opponent exhales loudly and his hand is raised in victory.
I’m confused. I’m angry. I’m tired. I’m a lot of other things, but mostly, I’m just incredibly disappointed in myself.
I’m not yet sure how to process the decision, but regardless of how I feel right now, I know none of it falls on my opponent. He stuck to his game, took all my shots, and just kept pushing forward. He’s tough and never got rattled. I respect that.
“Good fight,” I tell him. I give him a slight hug and shake his hand.
I immediately walk towards his corner to bow and congratulate his coaches outside the ring as well.
As I turn around, a ring girl comes up and hands me a goody bag filled with items from the event’s sponsors. She then puts on a silver medal around my neck. I try to keep a straight face, but this only adds to the disappointment.
F—k, don’t give me a medal. I didn’t win.
I go back down the ring, and my brother, coach, and friends all try to give me words of encouragement. I’m not sure I hear most of them. All I can think about is how bad I performed.
“My legs just felt so heavy. I don’t understand why,” I tell my coach again.
“Yeah, what happened to you? You looked a lot slower than normal in there,” he replies. “It’s okay. We’ll make sure we get the next one.”
I shrug and shake my head.
My brother says his head really hurts, and it’s why he could barely say anything while in my corner. I tell him it’s okay, and that he should maybe sit down and get some air.
Paolo probably just got hit clean once or twice in his fight, but if he’s dizzy, that could be a mild concussion I think. I tell the others to watch him and make sure he’s okay. I also need a moment alone anyway.
I walk to the back of the venue and sit down on the same corner where I took a nap earlier. In the few seconds it takes to get there, all the different emotions start rushing in. I’m slumped over, and slowly removing my hand wraps.
“I don’t know how they gave both rounds to your opponent,” my coach says. He taps me on my shoulder, before walking back to rejoin the group.
I don’t necessarily disagree with what he said, but I don’t really care about the decision right now.
I was never scared about losing. My biggest fear has always been that I wouldn’t perform to my ability, and to me, that’s exactly what happened. That stings so much more than the split decision loss.
I am so much better than what I showed. I’ve lost before, but this just feels significantly worse.
I can’t stop all these thoughts from running through my head.
My kicks and combinations were too few and far between, and my movement and explosiveness just weren’t there. I had very high expectations for this second event I joined, and none of them came together as planned. I don’t want to take anything away from my tough and gritty opponent, but I feel like the two others I faced on the National Championships were far more technical, yet this is where I performed the worst.
I want to scream. I want sob and weep. I even want to get back in that ring and just do it again.
Several weeks of sacrifices, and hard training — all for this one moment, and I couldn’t deliver. I beat myself, and this hurts like hell.
I remove the medal from my neck, and throw it to the floor next to me.
This worthless piece of metal doesn’t mean anything. I lost.
I’m driving to my favorite Japanese restaurant in the area, trying to forget the decision, and just look forward to treating myself to a well-deserved feast and a long overdue cold beer.
“How are you feeling?” I ask my brother.
“My head doesn’t really hurt anymore, and I’m so happy about the win,” he replies.
“Right? I was on cloud nine when I won my first bout. Enjoy that,” I say. I kind of feel like he was holding back a bit on celebrating after seeing me lose, and I really didn’t want that.
I’ve lost once before, and I know I’ll eventually be okay. It’s not the end of the world, and I still only do this for fun. I figure since it’s my brother’s first time competing, it’s also better that it’s me who had an off day instead of him.
We arrive at the restaurant. As my brother is going down the car, he sees the strap of my medal hanging from our bag.
“You really don’t want your millennial medal?” he asks.
We have a good laugh about my participation award, and we walk inside the establishment.
“Do you guys have uni?” I immediately ask the waiter before we even get seated.
See, things are already looking up.
It’s a few days after the fight, and I just got word that the power has finally been restored at home. It’s insane how it took forever to fix, but at least I can now get back to my normal routine.
Before leaving, I buy a few more home improvement things for my buddy’s furniture-challenged place. I figure it’s the least I can do for staying this long.
I thank him for letting me crash at his “minimalist” condo, and we say our goodbyes.
I start unpacking once I get to the house. Under all the clothes and random sponsor products they gave out, I see my silver medal.
I absolutely hated that thing, but today, it makes me smile. While it still doesn’t symbolize any sort of meaningful victory, I now see it in a better light.
It not only represents my first time competing alongside my brother, it’s also a constant reminder of the valuable lessons from the experience — that off days and debatable decisions are part of the sport, and we should best be prepared enough to win even on times we’re at our worst.
I pick the medal up, and look for a place for it in my room.