I sit alone. It’s eerily quiet. A deep sense of anxiety fills the pit in my stomach as I patiently wait to be summoned to the Flavian amphitheatre. I bury my negative thoughts, but they persistently try to clamber free - like evils wriggling and writhing from the inside of Pandora’s box. I’m calm, I’m confident, I'm ready. I repeat to myself, as I attempt to etch positivity into my subconscious.
The musky odour of sweat-infused boxing gloves lingers in the air. The distinct aroma recalls a nostalgic childhood memory of the time I laced up my first glove - borrowed from a weathered, wooden box on skid row. The once wretched smell now pleasantly familiar. My lucid dream is abruptly broken by distant, dull thuds that echo like rolling thunder from the adjacent room. My enemy is in preparation. He sounds quick; he sounds powerful; he sounds dangerous!
Suddenly, a deafening roar from the crowd reverberates through the locker room, like a fore-shock proceeding a larger seismic event — It quickly falls flat. Was that a fellow gladiator overthrown? Is the fight over so soon? A man enters. His face is battle-scarred and his nose contorted. He holds a bucket at the end of an obscenely hairy arm, but that’s not what has my attention: My attention is drawn to the saturated, blood-soaked, grey hoodie that looks like it’s been part of a massacre.
“you’re up next”.
I stand in the doorway. My ring music starts to play. Adrenaline courses through my veins; my pupils dilate and the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. Negative thoughts are now nothing more than a distant memory. My mind is bombarded with overzealous thoughts: I can't be touched; I can't be stopped; I can’t be beat; I can't be rocked. I’m the toughest son-of-a-bitch on Earth; I’m as fierce as a lion and I will devour anything that stands in my way. Boos and jeers call out from the densely populated cavea; wave after wave sit intoxicated wolves that are thirsty for blood.
I stand face-to-face with my adversary. His body looks like it’s been forged by Adonis himself. He’s big: very big. Should I have cut down to super-middle? Am I out of my depth at light-heavy? The evils start to resurface, but again, I banish them to a far-flung place. Our eyes lock together. I peer into his soul searching for an ounce of fear, but this meathead shows me nothing but a stone-cold, steely stare. The bout commences and within an instant, the background noise is sucked from the arena - I enter tunnel vision.
Round 6 briskly comes to an end. Warm sweat drips from my forehead and claret ichor pours profusely from my nose. I sharply bite down on my gum shield like a tiger locked on to a defenceless fawn. The bell rings and I stand to attention like an exhausted, ancient warrior on the fields of battle. My enemy stands before me, ready to beat me to a pulp, but defeat? I do not recognise the meaning of the word; I shall be carried out on my shield before I surrender.
My foe ploughs toward me like a raging bull - throwing a vicious right hand. The shot ricochets off my coarse leather glove. A petite gap opens up and I unleash an unsuspecting uppercut which lands abruptly on his cast-iron jaw. To my amazement - he’s rocked. His legs buckle like an altricial young foal. This is it, this is my chance; I will not let this opportunity pass. I fly forward throwing a flurry of punches - wildly swinging in all directions. The dull thuds of each shot resonate across his body forming ripples of human flesh to dissipate, like a rock being dropped into a pool of blood. I have him hurt. Glory is within my grasp.
The world goes black. I open my eyes. I’m on the canvas. I’m dazed and confused. I didn’t see the shot that put me here. I glance up at the referee with ringing ears and starry eyes. I stumble to my feet on uneasy legs. I can’t breathe. I try to guzzle down copious amounts of oxygen. Lactic acid fills my veins like an incapacitating poison being pumped by my pulsating heart. Doubt is manifesting in my mind like an uncontrollable inferno. Pandora’s box has been shaken, tipped upside-down and poured out. I’m going to lose; I’m not good enough; I can’t win; I’m a failure.
The shoe is now on the other foot. He knows I’m vulnerable and smells the sweet scent of victory. I need to stay composed. The hulking-fiend stampedes toward me shooting a looping right hand; it thumps me on the side of my head. My brain rattles against my skull. The blast feels as though I’ve been hit by a padded bowling ball travelling at high velocity. I hastily retreat to the ropes and try to cover up, but my arms feel as though they’ve been bound by lead weights, dragging me down to the murky depths of the abyss.
The onslaught continues; body shot after body shot brutally pummels my internal organs and saps the oxygen from my lungs. I don’t know how much more punishment I can take. I’m clinging on for dear life. My body screams stop but my spirit cries never. Without warning, the bell rings and I inhale an immense sigh of relief.
I sit panting on my stool. The cut-man presses cold eye-iron on the ridge of my brow: squeezing the swelling back into my forehead. I’m running on empty, but I refuse to give in; I must endure.
We stand face-to-face at the climax of this momentous battle. The steely stares now replaced with admiration and respect. The bell rings and once again my persistent enemy paces towards me. He throws a jab that I swiftly slip. I counter with a lightning right-hook that lands with an almighty crack! He’s out: unconscious in mid-flight. His deadweight hits the canvas like a sack of spuds. The crowd erupts with ear-piercing applause. He climbs to his feet on wobbly legs. His eyes are glazed and his face bewildered. The referee takes a good look. He waves his hands in the air: it’s over.
An overwhelming wave of euphoria billows through my entire body. I’m on top of the world; I am ecstatic; I am elated; I am alive! I make my way to the exit, wading through the thick crowds. I’m presented with handshakes, words of praise, salutes and ovation. I am treated like a hero, a champion — a legend!
I sit alone. My body is beaten, broken, bleeding and exhausted. It’s eerily quiet. The distinct scent of sweat-infused boxing gloves lingers in the air. I rest my head back and close my eyes. I take a deep breath as I ponder — who’s next!