43-0

How far would you go to recapture the glory days of your youth? That is the conundrum facing Harry 'Hammerfist' Jones. A boxer in the twilight of his career, he should have retired years ago. Determined to prove himself once more, he steps into the ring one final time. Will Harry's last fight end in glory or despair? Keep reading to find out. (Note: This story was a competition winner in Writers' Forum magazine).

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1. 43-0

 

‘You ready, boss?’

I glance at Jimmy, a permanent grimace etched on his face from years of abuse. Was I ready?

‘I was born ready,’ I reply, my usual pre-fight blurb.

‘That’s the spirit,’ Jimmy says, giving me a playful hook to the body.

I remove the towel from my head; it’s wet with sweat from the pad work. My boots could do with a polish. Flecks of blood still remain on the laces from my last fight. Last fight was supposed to be just that; my last. That’s what I’d promised everybody, but I couldn’t go out like that, not after twenty years in the boxing business.

I can still remember the flashing lights from around the venue. Not the flashing lights associated with a fighter in his heyday, but the lights that dance around after a stiff blow to the chin. I’d woken up a few minutes later on the way to the hospital, Marie staring down at me with fear in her eyes.

 

‘Please, never again, Harry.’

‘Never again, baby,’ I choked out through the swollen jaw and broken pride.

Even at that point, I knew I would go back.

 

Jimmy slaps me on the back, doing his best to rile me up. It had been five years since I’d even been in the mood for a fight; just before I’d found out Marie was pregnant with John. I was still holding out for some kind of boxing viagra, but had had no luck so far.

I survey the room that has housed me for the last two hours and kept me warm. Garish cream paint splatters the walls, covering up a chronic case of mould.  Still, it was a room. This is the reason you got into this business, I tell myself. Of course, it wasn’t just one room I needed now. John was four, and with another on the way...

My trademark black and white dressing gown hangs loosely on the body that still aches from making weight. They say that after years in the boxing business, you know your body well and can take care of yourself. I reckon if that was true, then nobody would be boxing.

‘Tear his head off!’ Jimmy shouts, an unlit cigar dangling from the edge of his sagging mouth.

Years ago, I’d been his number one fighter, and we both had a little money. Ten years, two dodgy promoters and one torn rotator cuff later, we were both pretty much penniless. ‘At least we’ve got each other,’ he would always say.

‘Daddy, are you going to win again?’ enquires John. He’s dancing towards me with his long white blonde hair straggling over his face.

‘Sure am,’ I reply, ruffling his unruly mop. Marie insists we leave it that way; she wants him to be a musician. ‘43 and 0.’

Of course I make up the stats. To him, I’m not just a Dad, I’m a hero. He doesn’t need to know the truth. I’d lost six of my last ten fights and I wasn’t expected to last the distance here.

‘Go get him!’ he barks, doing an impersonation of Jimmy. His grey teddy is clinging to his body like a second skin.

I look up and Marie has arrived, hands clasped at her waist, eyes on anything but mine.

‘Don’t worry, hun, I’ve got this.’

‘I’ve heard that before,’ she replies, biting down on her lower lip, her crystal blue eyes piercing through me.

‘It’ll be ok,’ I reassure her.

‘I love you.’

‘Love you, too.’

We begin the short walk to the ring area. My legs are shaking, but I manage to walk on, butterflies stinging my insides like a hoard of angry bees.

‘Just remember,’ Jimmy says. ‘You’ve been here before. He’s the rookie; you’re the pro.’

‘I’m the pro.’

We pass over the shiny linoleum surface and my shoulder gives a moan, like a car that's failed its M.O.T. once too often.

Up ahead, a cleaner is sweeping the floor, his crooked back belying a hidden youth. ‘Alright man?’ he greets me. ‘I remember seeing you dish out that beating to Bobby Lee twelve years ago. Great stuff! Good luck tonight.’

I nod, placing a bright yellow gum shield into my mouth before bashing my beaten black boxing gloves together. Beating Bobby Lee was the highlight of my career. He was 21 and 0, hard hitting and quick. I knew I could beat him, though. He kept his hands low, and I could bang. I remember walking out to the screams of thousands of fans. The roar was electric, giving me that extra ten percent I needed.

I stand in the alleyway, trying to get some feeling into my legs. Today, I’m first out and first on the bill. How many people here even remember Bobby Lee now?

 The P.A. system crackles to life and a booming Yorkshire accent announces me. ‘Weighing in at 168 pounds with a 35-16 record, from Newcastle England, Harry ‘Hammerfist’ Jones.

I walk out, the Bobby Lee lights conspicuous by their absence. Gazing around the leisure centre, I see a number of empty seats. Darkness engulfs the crowd as I make my way to the spotlight in the centre of the ring. The faint smell of sweat and salted popcorn stings my nostrils. Welcome to the execution.

Jimmy is chewing on his cigar as I step through the ropes and shake the announcer’s hand. I bounce from side to side on the hard ring surface, a series of judders slamming up my body.

‘Now, weighing in at 167 ½ pounds, with a perfect 10-0 record with 8 knockouts, from Belfast Northern Ireland, the undefeated and European Bronze medallist, Gary ‘killer’ Harris.’

The roar of the local crowd goes up. To Gary Harris, I was a journeyman, another name on a padded resume that would ultimately lead to future glory. To the crowd, I was a lamb to the slaughter.

The tall, lean physique of ‘Killer’ Harris enters the ring, his glittery hood being pulled from his head to reveal a blond Mohawk.

‘You’re going down,’ he goads.

The diamond stud earring that was present at the weigh-in is missing from his right lobe. He flexes his pectoral muscles, the bulge of his biceps straining from the effort. A large tattoo of the grim reaper scars his chest.

His eyes wander over me as I take my dressing gown off. This is the first time he’s seen me without a training top on. The years have taken their toll on my body and the faint six-pack I once had is now a distant memory, just like Bobby Lee.  

‘That all you got?’ he scoffs.

I ignore his taunts, instead choosing to stare into his dark eyes, searching for some fear or nervousness. I find none.

  ‘You can carry my title belt when I win it,’ he taunts, turning his back on us to interact with his youthful trainer.

I take in a short drink of water, spitting it into a pale orange bucket. Jimmy and my cut man, Tom, exit the ring and take their place by the edge.

The referee calls us both to the centre of the ring to give the usual pre-fight talk. I ignore the spiel, choosing to stare Harris down instead.

His perfect face is the antithesis of mine. Where I have scars on my jaw, he has designer stubble. Where he has high cheekbones, I have scar tissue.

It occurs to me just how lightly he is taking this. I might not have a six pack anymore, but I could still bang. Just as Bobby Lee had realised, I’d have to make sure Gary ‘Killer’ Harris would, too.

‘You’re not going to last three rounds,’ he spits at me.

‘You’ve never fought more than four rounds,’ I reply, taking a swipe at his inexperience.

The crowd begin to stir into their frenzy as Harris prances about the ring.

The bell sounds; we begin.  

I step to the centre of the ring, my guard high. Harris drops his hands low and goes dancing. The extra three inches he has in height coupled with his superior reach make fighting on the outside his best chance for an easy night.

I step forward, attempting to land a stiff jab to the face. I miss, and get one back in return. I shake my head, vibrations from the blow rushing through my body. I sense the crowd’s restlessness, but block it out.

He’s grinning as he moves around, popping off the odd one-two combination. My guard keeps me well protected. He’s faster than me, but he’s inexperienced.  

‘Come on, old man,’ he goads me, winding his arm up, Sugar Ray-style.

I ignore the jibe and press on. My eyes dart to the counter in the corner; just over a minute left of round one. The round is fairly even, but I don’t want to leave anything to chance. He’s the home fighter and the history books are littered with gift decisions in home town fights.

Harris turns to face the crowd, giving a wink to a female in the front row. I take my chance. Lunging forward, I unload one-twos to the body. He’s surprised and digs his elbows in, trying to stop the flurry of blows to his midriff. Body shots will sap a fighter’s stamina, and this bloke needs slowing down.

I move in again with a hook aimed at the body but he slips away from it and launches one of his own. I wince, the blow resembling the sting of TCP on a flesh wound.

I look up and I’m met with another jab to the face. He’s toying with me and I move in to hold, trying to protect myself. The referee steps in as the bell goes.

‘My round, old man,’ he laughs. The words hurt almost as much as the punches.

Almost.

‘You’re doing great, son,’ Jimmy tells me as I take my place on the wooden ring stool.

Tom stands over me, sponging water over my head.

‘Drink.’

Tom sticks a plastic straw into my mouth and I begin sucking on the magic liquid, trying to ease the stitch that has built up in my side.

‘He doesn’t want to fight.’

‘That’s ‘cause he knows you can bang,’ Jimmy reassures.

‘I lost the round.’

‘It was close.’

I gaze at Jimmy’s face, the cigar replaced by a worried look.

The bell sounds; round two.

‘Go get him, son,’ Jimmy shouts as the ref jumps back to allow the two of us to fight.

‘You going to keep running all night?’ I fume.

‘What’s the matter, Granddad?’ Harris replies. ‘Can’t keep up?’

I drop my hands in the centre of the ring to entice him in. Big mistake. Harris flies in, ready to slay. I try to lift my guard, but it’s too late. Flurries of punches rain down on my face, like an army of golf balls.  

‘Ugh,’ I groan as he hooks me to the body, my energy levels instantly sapping.

The ref moves in, watching the action. Unless I throw something, this could be over. The punches don’t hurt me, but they are fast. I punch wildly, eager to show the ref that I’m still alive. Harris jumps back, content to pick me off.

A familiar taste invades my mouth, metallic and salty. Blood. The pain I feel tells me it’s coming from my nose. I blink repeatedly, trying to see out of my swollen left eye.

‘You ok?’ the ref asks.

 ‘Never better.’

He steps back, buying my story. Out of my good eye, I see Harris waving to the crowd shouting, ‘champion!’

Not yet.

I move in, throwing out a jab that catches his face. He steps back, shocked that I’ve connected. He runs and I have to be content with following him. You’ve already lost the round, I tell myself; conserve some energy.

The bell sounds and Harris heads to his corner to the thunderous cheers of the crowd. Tom is on the job, dabbing away at my nose with a cotton bud whilst Jimmy attempts to mentally revive me.

‘Two more rounds left; you’re two down.’

‘I thought the first round was close?’

‘I lied. Listen to me, this bloke will run all night. He’s got more stamina than you, and he’s quicker.’

‘This isn’t helping.’

‘Those powder punches are nothing compared to what you can throw, though. You need to rough him up. Tie him up, work the inside, and let him know you still exist.’

I take in a final drink of lukewarm water as the bell sounds.

Rushing forward, I send a hook to his body that awards me with a wince. Tying him up, I begin working his sides, applying my strength.

The ref steps in and breaks us up, but I rush him again, pushing him back against the ropes, trying to unload on his ribs.

‘Get out of there!’ I hear his trainer shout, the thick Irish accent rising above the gasps of the crowd.

The ref pulls us apart again, earning his money.

I still hadn’t earned mine

‘Is that the only way you know how to fight?’ Harris goads.

‘That’s why you’ll never be a champion,’ I tell him. ‘You’re not willing to do whatever it takes.’

His eyes narrow as he charges forward.

I miss with a jab and he lands one of his own, snapping my head back with vitriol. I shake my head, trying to regain my composure as another one lands flush on my chin.

I step back, off balance; the crowd smell blood. I hear the roar go up as his combinations lash down on my body, black spots beginning to float across my vision. I try to cover up-grab him-anything to give myself some respite. He pushes me away and lands an almighty jab, right on the button.

I don’t feel the landing, but I sense it. The ref is standing above me, beginning the count.

The world moves in slow motion as I struggle to get up. Out of the corner of my eye I see Marie standing amongst the crowd, tears washing down her cheeks. What is she doing here? She never watches my fights.

I try to speak, but no sound comes out. I hear Jimmy in the background, urging me to stay down, telling me I’ve had a good innings. I’m tempted to take his final piece of advice before I see a small figure next to Marie, propped up on a chair.

John is watching me, visibly shaking.

I can’t go out like this, I tell myself.

The blood rushes back through my body as the mist begins to clear.

‘Five!’ the ref shouts.

I scramble to my knees, and I’m eye to eye with Jimmy; only he looks different. His deeply wrinkled face has been replaced with a youthful exuberance. Standing next to him, Tom has hair and a thick moustache.

I look up and Harris is gone, replaced by the arrogant face of Bobby Lee, smirking at me.

‘Seven!’ the ref calls as I scramble up.

The capacity crowd are suddenly on their feet cheering me. The pain dulls and a sense of purpose washes over me.

Bobby Lee moves forward, hoping to catch me cold, but I’m ready. He lunges in and I dodge his jab, sending a huge hook to the body that lifts him off his feet.

He stumbles back as I move in, throwing a left-right combination. I tune the crowd out, my breathing echoing around my ears like the ping pong of shouts in a cathedral.  

He drops his hands again, showboating; only this time, he’s not sure of himself. I smell his fear, his uncertainty. You’re making the same mistakes again, Bobby.

I feel my strength as I pour forward into him. I start throwing with intent, hammering shots down on his body and chin. His legs are starting to wobble.

Right hook, just like last time, I tell myself as I send out blow after blow, sensing the end. I dish out one final shot, catching him flush on the chin. He falls back, landing on the canvas in unison with the white towel from his corner. Nobody is getting up from a blow like that. Not Bobby Lee and certainly not Gary Harris.

The crowd erupts, lights flashing as I’m pulled onto Tom’s shoulders. Jimmy is dancing around, spraying water everywhere. I turn to find John flying into the ring, still clutching his teddy.

‘Daddy, daddy!’ he shouts. ‘Are you still the champion?’

I jump down and scoop him up into my arms. ‘Yeah, I’m still the champion.’

‘Never again,’ Marie says as she approaches me, tears streaming down her face.

‘Never again.’

And this time, I really mean it.

 

‘I’m sorry Mr. Jones, but visiting times are over now.’

‘I was just finishing up telling this lady the end to my story,’ I reply, annoyed that the uniformed woman has interrupted me, yet again. She’s always fussing, taking my blood pressure or forcing me to swallow tablets. ‘I’m not done yet!’

‘It’s okay,’ the woman sat opposite me says. ‘I already know how it ends.’

‘You do?’

She nods, and bites down on her lip, her eyes not on mine. There’s something familiar about her, but I shrug it off.

‘I’ll come back tomorrow,’ she says, straightening her jacket up.

‘That would be nice,’ I reply, noticing tears falling down her face. ‘There’s no need to cry though, it’s a happy ending.’

She looks at me for the first time since she arrived. Her piercing blue eyes stare into mine. She’s quite attractive. Maybe tomorrow I’ll ask her out. If I get out of this place and away from the uniformed lady and the men in lab coats, I’ll be able to do anything I like.

‘I know it is, Harry. 43-0.’

I smile. ‘Yeah, 43-0.’

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