Dropping alcohol was hard, but my whole life has been hard. At least this time I knew what I was working for, my wife and my future. I could claim it all back if I worked hard enough. Of course, there was that new thing Antonio introduced me to; bare-knuckle boxing, an “underground sport”. Early on, he talked me into doing this for a little while; after we got out of rehab of course. It was just until I made enough money to send myself to Spain.
I trained until I got out of rehab, and that’s when I started to actually fight. Bare-knuckle boxing is much different than regular boxing. Anything goes. I was lucky I had a punch that few could handle well. It gave me a nice advantage over my opponents, especially those in the first many matches.
“It’s your first fight Alejandro. You nervous?”
Antonio and I were standing outside a broken down pawnshop. This is where we checked in. From here we would be directed to the secret location of the fight. They were all very careful, and I was a new guy. Being the new guy also meant an easy fight. I would not even get a ring to fight in. There are only a couple of actual rings that are created and reserved for only the biggest fights and the highest of rollers. These fights were on Saturdays, not like this fight, held on a Wednesday.
“Naw.” I replied. “Not a bit.” With that, we walked in, and Antonio did all the talking.
"Hey Christy, baby.” Antonio had a strong New Jersey accent. He claimed all true Italians do. “Where’s Nicky?”
“Ah, he’s in the back,” a young girl said between chews of her gum. “I’ll get him.” She also had an accent, and I knew, before I even saw him, that Nicky would, too. “Hey Nicky, a friend’s here!” Why was I not surprised when she screamed for Nicky instead of going and getting him?
“Hey Antonio!” A man I assumed was Nicky walked in and immediately gave Antonio a hug over the table. “How've you been?”
“I’ve been good, I’ve been good,” Antonio answered.
“I haven’t seen you for some time.”
“Well, I just got out of rehab.”
“Really?” Nicky sounded surprised. “So you finally quit?”
“Yeah, I’m through.”
“Well let’s go celebrate,” Nicky suggested. “I know this great bar downtown.” They both laughed and pointed at each other. I just kept my "bad ass" face on. That was all I was supposed to do, so I did it to the best of my ability.
“So is this another one of your ‘awesome boys’, Antonio?” Nicky asked, referring to me.
“This ain’t just any boy, Nicky. This is Alejandro Fernandez!” Antonio exclaimed with a smile on his face full of pride.
“Oh yeah? I've heard of you. You’re that awesome boxer who ended up in alcohol rehab. Now I know why Antonio went to rehab!”
Dang! I can’t believe he's heard of me, I thought. I don’t know if it was a good thing or not.
“So Antonio, you just happen to run into him at ‘quitters anonymous’?”
“He happens to be an old friend of mine.” Antonio seemed to be a bit mad. “Just tell me where the fight is.”
“You know the old McNabb’s place? You still remember how to get there?”
“Yeah. It’s been awhile, but I think I can still find it.”
“Well, that’s where you wanna be.”
“Thanks Nicky. I’ll see you soon. Later Christy.”
As we turned to leave, I gave him a nod. Then, I started punching my hand. I was starting to get excited. It’s a shame Old McNabb’s place was not closer. My energy came back to me once we got there though.
The Old McNabb’s place was an old man’s, Jonathan McNabb's, old ranch. No law enforcement ever came down that way, and even if they did, we fought in a broken down old shed. It was perfect. The atmosphere was not like that of a regular boxing match, but it was awesome. It was perfect for me now.
The ring I fought in this first night was just made out of the people surrounding us. We fought like boxers, throwing only punches. This was partially because we had no room to throw people around, nor walls to throw them against. It also was because we were trained more in throwing punches and were more comfortable with this. Of course, he never got much of a chance to do anything else. He never laid a good blow on me. I don't think I even bled.
These little fights went on for about two months, at a fight a week. Second was a quick-footed kid, in an underground parking structure. The match before mine that day was brutal. A big guy threw another guy around, bouncing him of cement pillars and dropping him on the solid floor. I fought this big guy the next week. Luckily, it was at Old McNabb’s place again. This gave me an advantage; a costly one for the big guy.
I then fought in a parking lot, an empty pool, at some big business place, and Old McNabb’s place two more times. I won all these fights. I was proud, and so was Antonio, but what I was more proud of was that I had not had a drink. This I found impressive. After a week without a fight was a big Saturday night fight. This was impressive to Antonio and Nicky.
What I was not so proud of was that I had not talked to Sandra since the day I sent her off. At first she would send letters to me at rehab, but I was always too ashamed to answer back. I had not contacted her after I got out, because I knew she would not approve of how I was making my money. Also, I knew I would have to go see her, or bring her back down. Antonio and I were doing well on our own right now, even if our housing and life style did not show it. We were having a great time; finding ourselves. Besides, I would do all that later. When? I was not sure.
“After your next fight, you’ll have to tell me what ya think.” Antonio said. “ Your first big fight will make ya or break ya.” We were just sitting in our barren house, drinking Sobé, and we were watching lots of movies, classics mainly, analyzing them in our own unique way.
“Oh, don’t worry, I will not break. I shall not break.” Then we both started laughing. We were watching an “Old English” movie, and I said “shall".
“Well don’t ya go losing concentration for even a second.” Antonio warned. “It just may cost you the match.” I think these words may have cursed me.
Something weird started to happen. I started to see someone everywhere. When I was returning a movie, I thought I saw a face I had not seen for a while. He glanced at me and then lifted up a movie box in front of his face. When I took another look at where I thought the man was hiding behind a Fight Club tape, there was only an old man. That night I was walking out of the gas station when I saw him again, this time slowly driving by. In the back window of this car was a pair of boxing gloves, familiar boxing gloves.
“I’m not saying you mistakened some guy for him!” Antonio was trying to calm me down. “I’m just saying it may just have been in your head. Sometimes people see things that are not really there. That does not mean they did not see it.”
“I am not crazy!” I yelled.
“I did not say that.”
“Maybe you're right. Maybe I’m just spooking.” I started to settle down. “Or maybe it’s a sign,” I suggested.
“Hey! Whoa! Whoa now. You’re not backing down on me now are ya? You're not gonna get scared off on me are ya? Antonio was getting scared now. I was his best “boy” he had ever had, and a good friend. He liked me, and loved the money I was making and could make for us.
I saw him two more times before the fight, but ignored it. I had to get my mind where it belonged, on the fight.
The big fight was at some rich guy’s house. He was a bare-knuckle boxing high roller. He made large bets on the Saturday night fights, and some small ones on the others. This guy had a nice boxing ring made in his huge basement. He said it was for him to train. It was, except for on a few Saturday nights.
I was in the ring first. This is because I was the challenger. Standing in that ring alone, I could not do anything but think back about eight months, my last pro boxing match. I could not get my mind off of the ghost that had been haunting me. I had a feeling he was there that night.
Then the crowd spread like the Red Sea for the Isrealites. My opponent was coming to the ring with his entourage. I was waiting to see what I saw right then as the people spread. That face again. I was assured now that my dreadful nightmare was coming true. I was scared. I wanted to get out of there, but I knew I could not. I had to win. I had to face him. I always knew I would. What was ironic was that I once could not wait for this day. Oh well. One must roll with the punches. That’s something I have learned as a boxer.