When do you know when it is time to hang up the gloves? When your body hits the canvas and you have got nothing left to give. When you can’t take any more and all of your bones ache and you quiver throughout, that’s when you call it a day. However, though I could hardly take much more, I still had some to give. I had too much riding on this bout to give up now and losing was not an option. It was all or nothing and this punk hadn’t seen the best of me yet.
Picking myself up from off of the floor, I glared straight at the ref and shook my head in acknowledgement that I was okay to carry on. In truth, he should have called an end to the fight right there and then but you don’t get to forty without learning a thing or two about convincing an official that you’re fine. I’ve bounced back from plenty of hard knocks in the past; when the towel should have been thrown and gone on to win. I’ve made a career out of it. That’s why they call me the Anvil, seventy eight fights in just over twenty years. Not all of them were victories, ten fights lost on decision, but I have never stayed down for the count and this, my last professional bout, was not going to end in humiliation.
Freeing my hands the ref invited me to reengage with my opponent. My rival was nearly half my age and was the clear favourite to win the match. He was an aspiring, young, black, fighter who had yet to lose and may even someday rise to that of champion. All he needed was a title shot and I was merely a minor hurdle in his path towards our weight-class’ ultimate prize, the middleweight crown.
No fighter had taken him past five rounds before and to his disdain, we were into the seventh. He was more than eager to finish me off and I don’t think on recommencing with our bout that I could have taken another of his trademark jabs but fortunately the bell had rung upon the ref’s decision to let the match continue. I had sixty seconds to recuperate before we would reconvene for round eight.
“Ben, if you go down again, I’m going to stop the fight,” the ring arbiter told me as he visited my corner. I simply nodded my reply before spitting a mouthful of water and blood into the funnel, my trainer’s assistant was holding.
Listening to my manager’s instructions I swilled my mouth once more. Though the water was refreshing and I was making the most of my moment of respite, my head was a whirlwind of thoughts. Coach Weaver was telling me to take a defensive stance, make my adversary work for the victory and string it out for the duration of the round. Though he didn’t state it, he had already accepted the loss. He was certain I didn’t have the strength left to knock out my rival and I was well behind on points. All he wanted to see was me still standing by the end of the next three minutes, never having been counted out. He had never once ever given me any ill advice. He had seen me through some truly nasty scrapes and I owed all of my sixty eight victories to him. If only he knew of my personal agenda that was propelling me forward.
I have had my fair share of vices over the extent of my career, gambling, booze, and women and sadly, I have little to show for it. Don’t get me wrong, boxing pays well. Thirteen years ago, I was rank third in the world for my weight class and some would say I was the best fighter of my generation, had I not purposefully thrown a fight and ruined my chance to prove myself as the world’s best. Unfortunately, gambling was my worst vice. Had I not have been constantly trying to recoup my losses; I would have more than just a scant nightclub to my name. Boxing has sustained me for all of these years but gambling has cost me dearly and even during this, my last fight, I had to place a hefty wager.
Win or lose the prize money for the fight would put me back in the black but I would end my career braking even. What good is that? The odds at the Bookies for beating Al Johnson was eight to one and a sizable bet was sure to set me up for life. All I had to do was win and as usual, in a drunken haze, I had convinced myself that it was possible.
Gazing ringside, I could see the city’s richest and finest citizens watching on intently, including Dirty Will Wornham. He was accompanied by his usual standard of guests, a high-class hooker and his ever present bodyguard. Dirty Will was a lone shark. I had known him for years and had done business with him on occasion. He liked me, after all I’d made a lot of money for him, but he had no heart. He would always place a bet for himself and I was sure that he had put his money on the other guy. The prize money was fifty grand and that is also the amount I had borrowed from Will. I was either coming away with nothing or four hundred thousand in my hand by morning.
Back on my feet, the stool was taken from me and that meant that there was less than twenty seconds until the bell. Accepting my gum shield from my trainer’s assistant, Coach Weaver rubbed my shoulders and gave me some pep talk.
“Remain focused, keep moving and keep your distance. Don’t give him anything to strike at. It’s three minutes, you can make it.”
Ding, ding. Last round.
Al came out of his corner quickly and moved about the ring in anticipation of my expected defensive stance. However, as that was not my game plan, what happened next took him completely by surprise.
I drew him in and then nailed him with a hefty right hook. I followed that up with three succinct jabs before moving in close to his body. Like a sprinter racing the last few yards to the line, I was giving it all I got. I was making every punch count and the crowd was spurring me on.
Suddenly, Al took a step back. He was wavering and had begun to stumble. He was unsteady on his feet and experience told me that it was only a matter of time before he went down. The question was did I have the time before the sound of the final bell?
This was it, the strive for victory. The seconds were ticking away. I was using the extent of my strength; every last ounce of energy I had left was going into the force of my blows. Time was against me but will and determination were on my side.
How do you know when it’s time to hang up the gloves? When your body hits the canvas and you’ve got nothing left to give. By the count of seven I was back on my hands and knees. By nine I was clinging to the rope, not bad when you consider the force with which he hit me and how hard I had fallen to the floor.
Ten. That was it. The bout was over. There was no point in rushing to get to my feet so I leaned on the edge of the ring for a few seconds longer. I had lost my last fight, blown my personal record for having never been knocked out and I was broke.
With my head hung low I tried to recall the last vestige of strength I had to walk away from the rope with pride but I couldn’t. Though I was standing, I felt lower than when I was on the ground. Coach Weaver had soon come to my side and tried to convince me that I fought well and with dignity as multiple camera shots flashed before my face but it was of no use. My last bout had ended in humiliation and an arena of people had been there to witness it and by morning the rest of the world would share in my shameful demise. I wouldn’t need to read tomorrow’s back pages; I could already see the headlines.