Lesson learned: The fact I’ve been punched in the head doesn’t make me more capable of commenting on elite level boxing.
So this past Thursday I discovered the identity of my opponent. I must admit I’ve shocked myself at how calm and composed I’ve been about the whole thing. I’ve deliberately not spoken to many of my colleagues, friends and family about it too much as their shock and disbelief would’ve wound me up. When speaking to those involved in boxing, they give a balanced view. Yes, it is bloody hard work and potentially dangerous but they do it everyday and it is just as normal to them as working behind a desk is to my mates.
I remember vividly speaking with some of the UWCB veterans (they’d done the previous event so I considered them fountains of experience, knowledge and wisdom) and what they said shocked me. One of them hadn’t seen, or noticed, his opponent until the face to face. He’d never sparred him, witnessed him on the pads or worked with him at all. Well, I found out exactly what he meant. As we were called up one at a time for our official photos, individual then head to head, I watched on as several former sparring partners had their names read out. Those of us left in the unknown shiftily looked around to see who was left. My opponent was called first. As my name was read out I was a little taken a back. Like the earlier example I had seen nothing of the man I’d be sharing the ring with. I recognised him from the sessions but had no idea about his boxing ability. Similar to mine according to the matchmaking philosophy. They got that pretty spot on.
As I say, I wasn’t nervous or phased by this. I posed for the photos, fists raised and evil stare in place. I’m not a nasty person so it took some effort to look as menacing as I could. The result was comical as I look like I’m ready for war opposite a thoroughly nice bloke! Turns out he was ready alright, just looked more at ease than I did.
Friday was a complete blur. I’m not sure how I managed at work but soon enough Saturday rolled around.
I woke up early and did a 5km run on the morning. I jogged with my girlfriend who was doing her first ever Park Run, so it wasn’t as hectic as my normal pace or the previous weekend ‘s Great North Run. I think it did me some good as the longer the day went on the more excited I got. Undoubtedly there were some nerves but I feel I channeled them well enough.
We, the ‘boxers’, had to arrive at the arena at 2pm for pre fight medicals. I was more worried about this than stepping through the ropes. We had 3 chances to pass and not everyone did. Basically, we had a light shone in our eyes and two tests to check blood pressure. I’m delighted to say I passed first time, unlike some who were told to calm down and come back. Probably not the best advice in the circumstances! One poor bloke failed 3 times and wasn’t permitted to fight. Some said that he shed a few tears and I have no shame in saying I’d have been the same. 8 very hard weeks of training, multiple tickets sold and all to be told no. Obviously, the checks are in place for a reason and I’d never suggest going against medical advice. Just a shame.
Between then and warming up to box I have very little to say. Not because it passed me by, just that it was bloody boring. A lot of waiting and not much else. I briefly saw my family and friends but I didn’t want to be with them for too long. My Mam was a wreck by all accounts. She hates boxing and loves me in a healthy state. Those I did see commented on how calm I was which further relaxed me if I’m honest. I watched a few other bouts from the walkway, taking in the atmosphere but seeing the thousands in attendance barely registered. I wasn’t bothered about being in front of any of them apart from the 2 tables of my supporters.
I was due on second after the interval so while the break was on I was in the warm up room. It was a bit bizarre working the pads right next to the man I’d soon be aiming for but 48 others did the same, so who am I to grumble? Boxing out of the blue corner, I got to enter the ring second. I liked that as I wouldn’t have to wait in the ring and subconsciously made me feel like the home fighter (obviously not the case but maybe made a slight difference).
I honestly don’t remember a thing about his entrance other than I was pacing around behind him as he set off. Before I knew it, I was being called and my music hit. Still Dre by Dr Dre feat. Snoop Dogg for those who are interested. Short intro, no messing. Enough to get me pumped but slow enough to keep me calm. Also an absolute tune!
I remember some people I don’t know cheering me which felt nice. I saw my girlfriend recording so gave a pathetic little fist raise then nearly went up the wrong step. I just about got myself through the ropes (it seemed at the time I made a right mess of it but on the video it was a matter of seconds) and the nerves hit me after I’d acknowledged my fans. I stood in the corner and thought to myself “Right, what the f**k am I doing?” They went as quickly as they came. That was the only nervous experience I had. My corner man checked I was good to go and off to the centre of the ring I went.
I remember bits of the actual bout but differently to how it looks on video. He came out like lightning and hit me with a solid right. That kept happening, yet it didn’t tell my brain to keep my hands up for any length of time! I was backed up pretty early but managed to roll my way out and each round followed a very similar pattern.
After 2 it was dead even. I knew this because the ref came over and spoke to my cornerman and I noticed a big 1-1 on his papers. I was then told if I won the third I’d win the fight. I responded enthusiastically when asked if I could do that and marched to the centre. I didn’t realise at the time but I was out early and waiting for him.
I honestly thought the last round was going to him. Not that I hadn’t done well or even enough to win. Just that it was close and I’d eaten a few more shots. The announcer played his part, noting the ref had told him it was “even after two…and he scored the third….even! It’s a draw” He also said he thought it was Fight of the Night which was nice to hear. You see it all the time in the pro game but after trying to batter each other for 6 minutes, we embraced and congratulated each other. It was genuine. I thoroughly enjoyed the night and not embarrassing myself.
The post fight medical was similar to the first one. Blood pressure monitored and my bloodshot eyes noted (clear sign I’d been punched in the head apparently) and I was on my way. A pint of water was his recommendation.
I’m not normally the emotional sort but seeing my Mam nearly in tears and my girlfriend thanking her stars I was ok hit me slightly. But what really caught me off guard was the reaction of my mates. They were gushing about how proud they were, how much they (as non boxing fans) enjoyed my fight and how well I’d done. It genuinely gave me an indescribable buzz.
As well as those who came to support me on the night, I’d like to sincerely thank all those that helped me train and prepare. Peter Shepperson, Michael Dicks and Shannon Bowe who conducted the official training sessions. Matt Jobes who took me through some of the basics and lent me a pair of 16oz gloves (that I still haven’t returned!) and Mick Charlton at Seconds Out boxing gym in Ferryhill who gave me solid advice and really boosted my confidence over the past few weeks.
With all they taught me in mind, see if you can actually see any of it during this display of ‘boxing’, before it went rapidly out the window! Purists look away now!