Savage Joy: Part 2 The Main Event

(Editor's Note: If you missed Lisa's earlier post - check out how she trained for her big fight in Part 1)

The Fights Begin

The first fighters went out, and it seemed only heartbeats later that one was brought gently back: a knockout in the first round. He was shaken but on his feet; they walked him out of the ready room and I didn't see him again. Later his opponent roared in on a wave of fierce victory, shaking his fists in the air and relating in vivid and graphic detail the knockout. He fist bumped everyone and shouted for more red corner victories. I absorbed all this, because we must. This is boxing.

Another two fighters went out.

The ready room began to empty. I shadow-boxed slowly in the eerily empty space, watching myself flow by in a skinny mirror someone had propped against a chair. Jay, my trainer, periodically haunted my circle of work, and when I saw him I closed with him, punching toward his left ear or tucking under and laying in a body shot.

Finally I took off my wedding ring, put in my mouth guard, fastened my headgear and went to the official to have my wraps signed so that I could be gloved.

A women lost her bout, and came back alone to make a quiet space in the otherwise empty room to cry and breathe and collect herself.

I wondered if I would feel the same in her place. Would I find myself outclassed in the ring? Would I feel humiliated? Would I cry? I'd tentatively explored these thoughts weeks ago, but I hadn't handled them too much. And the fight was on. It felt far too late to consider these things again, so I resolutely banished the ghosts, and left the distraught boxer to her work. This is boxing.

I found Jay out on the wing of the entrance stage, just a few feet away from the ready room, watching the match before mine. Dust swirled in the floodlights over the ring as the fighters finished a round and the arena exploded with the thump and scream of rock music. Jay and I grinned at each other; we are both endlessly passionate about hair metal.

And then it was time. I think I was dancing. I looked at Jay, laughter bubbling up in my throat.

"What does Nikki Sixx say?" he shouted over the noise.

"We're still kickin' ass!" I shouted back as my walk-in song, Kickstart My Heart, roared through the arena. I skipped up the stairs to the elevated platform where I raised my gloves and was bathed in the spotlight, then danced down the levels to the arena floor and toward the ring. I saw friends with fists in the air and I waved and pranced and grinned ferociously. This is boxing!

The Main Event

Part of my strategy was to work to fight a hard first round, rather than saving up for later. I had height, weight, and strength over my opponent, and I wanted to play my advantage cards early in the game. So I threw the first jabs of the round, and set up the first power rights. She took my measure and returned fire. We both danced, and I slipped and faded off several of her shots.

Lisa Bledsoe vs. Mischa Merz

Somewhere inside my brain I shrieked in delight: I wasn't standing and slugging! I wasn't a wooden puppet! Look at me moving around! Look at me on my toes! This was a higher level of energy than I'd had in my last fight; I had definitely improved. I barreled through the first round with some grace, and definitely with power. Most of my energy held, most of my training stuck. Hallelujah.

At the bell I bounced back to my corner, breathing hard and grinning down at Jay ringside before looking up to hear what my corner had to say. "Yes!" he declared. "Yes! Nice work!"

"Did I win that round?" I asked eagerly.

"I think you may have," he said as proudly as if I had just handed him a fresh-minted Franklin.

He coached me further, but I couldn't tell you now what else he said. I was happy, as happy as I've ever been in my life. There is no other feeling to equal this savage joy, this deliriously pleasurable mastery and dispensing of physical and mental power. I hoped I had not paid too high a price in fuel, and at the bell, I headed again into the storm with glee.

My opponent's jab was a work of art: each one as crisp and sharp as a slice of hard green apple. Despite my height advantage I kept hearing it pop smartly against my headgear, scattering a fine spray of diamond beads of sweat in the spotlights. It was stiff and fully extended, and I ruefully wished my own were less sloppy, but I kept them out there to keep her at bay.

She seemed as fresh in the second round as I'd felt in the first. I still felt physically strong, but my quickness was ebbing, and I began to lean on the voice of my corner for mental assistance. Every time I threw a jab in her face I heard his immediate response. "Niiiiice!" he would shout, then call a combination. I'd wait for the opening, and throw it. "Niiiice!" he'd say. I could hear him with crystal clarity, and as my plan faded, I worked his.

I defaulted to a right hook when I saw one, and growled in satisfaction when it landed, vibrating its way up to my shoulder. I waited for my reigns to be pulled in -- most trainers don't let their beginners throw right hooks. A straight right is faster and more powerful, but I throw the hooks because I love them, and because I keep getting the profound satisfaction of feeling them slam home. Sure enough, I heard it: "Straighten that out! Throw a straight right!" I laughed inwardly and threw a quick straight right, which of course was perfectly blocked by my opponent's tight and quick guard.

See? I mentally tossed back toward my corner. Those don't get through as mean and nasty. I knew Jay would allow me a few right hooks; we'd discussed this in advance, because I'd had the same experience in my first fight.

Mischa surprised me a bit with how much she worked the inside game. In her fights on YouTube she appears most comfortable fighting outside, often even along the ropes. I very much prefer an outside game myself, and I was starting to not respond well to the inside flurries. None of her shots were the kind of heavy body shots I was accustomed to taking from  Jay, but they were racking up points and I needed to shut them down.

So I clinched. I smothered her gloves and held them. I could tell she disliked it, in the same way a smartly-dressed woman dislikes stepping in something sticky that clings to her shoe. I sighed and caught my breath, then spun out for a precious second before she attacked again.

The second round ended, and I walked to the corner, eager for my mouthpiece to come out so I could breathe. I felt like that round had been close. If she could maintain the same pace for the third round I was going to have to buy energy credits from somewhere, fast. And yet I still felt immensely pleased to be holding my own with this champion fighter.

Coach Nathan stepped up his instruction, and I tried to take it in. Everything he said was true and right and good, but I felt like a wave already rolling in toward the shore; there was absolutely nothing I could do except roll forward. The bell rang and I rolled, eager but diminished.

Mischa's lightness and footwork was perfectly intact, but her shots were much fewer in number. We began to exchange singles and doubles, and I knew our scores were riding up only slowly. If I could return two for her every one, I anguished. Or three for her two. But I couldn't always do it.

We circled and she led me, dancing easily backward. "Stop following!" I heard from my corner. "Cut off the ring!"

My mouth dropped open in shock and my brain sent out a memo: What the hell are you doing? You're not a rank beginner! Cut her off and control the ring.

This is something I’m good at, but the fatigue had shut down some of the mental processes that keep all these strategy plates spinning in the air. I tossed that one back up and hoped I had enough of them still working.

Which was about when I realized I had never worked angles and was throwing all my shots from smack in front of my opponent. This means I'm throwing more with my arms than with my body, which burns more fuel and is less powerful. And Jay and I had worked so hard on that! Damn! But time was running out.

I spent what I had left, polished or not. Everything. She probably felt like I was throwing the contents of a heavy junk drawer toward her. I was, and I tossed the drawer as well. Her style stayed clean and technically beautiful. Mine was ghetto. But we both were fighting to the very end.

When the bell rang I felt incredibly ferocious and proud and exultant. I had paid out everything and there had been much good coin to spend. We had fought hard, and I had not been outmatched. I had taken shots, but I had not been hurt.I had paid out some damage of my own. I didn't care how the bout would be awarded, I wanted to sing.

I suppose I did sing.

"I did okay! I did okay!" I crowed to Jay and my corner man, Nathan. "I did okay, didn't I?!"

Jay gave me double rock fists. "You did!" he shouted. "You did more than okay."

"Yes, indeed," Coach Nathan added, clapping his hands against my headgear. "You did beautifully. You are a champion."

After the fight

He stripped off my gloves and headgear and took my mouth guard. I turned back toward center ring, and leaned against the ropes with my face turned up to the floodlights, savoring the moment, storing it up in my head for later.

The ring announcer climbed in to give the judges' decision. The ref motioned me forward and took my left wrist; with her other she held Mischa's right.

Mine wasn't the one raised in victory, but it didn't seem to dim my joy.

Moments later I climbed reluctantly out of the ropes and made my way back with Jay to the ready room to get my gear. I moved confidently out of the backstage maze to the loading dock and called my husband to tell him where to find us, still shaking with amazement and happiness.

"Oh!" I said suddenly to Jay, real contrition in my voice. "Sorry about not working the angles. I totally meant to do that, but I forgot."

He laughed. "We'll keep working on it," he promised. And I knew we would.

See more of the photos from the fight here or read the full story on The Glowing Edge.

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