Fighting Contest Story

The second match against Arch's gym went pretty much as Rusty had planned it. Not that there hadn't been a few surprises.

As he'd expected, "Mix" Jeffries had lost on points. The kid had more power than you'd expect a welterweight to have, but he lacked the speed most of his opponents had in spades. Tonight he'd gone up against someone who could meet his strength and surpass his speed. That might take away some of Mix's attitude about working the speed bag, but Rusty doubted it.

Yuri Petrovich, the heavyweight the guys called "Ox," hadn't won a single round. He'd fought his usual fight--standing flat-footed in the middle of the ring, a mountain of muscle slightly above 300 pounds, and then waiting for his opponent to get tired of punching an immovable jaw and abs of marble. Most of his opponents seemed to give up in the second round, and then Yuri would smile and start throwing power punches. Tonight, Yuri hadn't smiled.

For the middleweight bout, Rusty had picked Chuch Henderson, mostly to shut the guy up. Arch had several middleweights in his stable, and any one of them should have been able to smack Chuck around pretty much at will. But Chuck had risen to the occasion. Where Chuck's combinations had come from...Rusty had no idea. There'd been no evidence in the gym. Chuck would use his split decision win to pose as some kind of champion until the next tournament came along. Rusty was glad he wouldn't be riding back to the east side with him.

And Andy Jakes had wanted the wild card bout too much. Rusty kept trying to get Andy to choose his fights wisely, to think before throwing a punch, but Jakes went on andrenaline more often than not. Getting Jakes knocked out hadn't been part of the plan, but the guy hadn't been seriously hurt, just confused. Rusty's little "moment" with Andy after the fight had probably doubled the confusion. Bad timing, probably, but time would tell.

His guys--all of them--slugged more than they boxed, prefering to knock out an opponent instead of winning on points. Not a surprise, really. That's why a fighter came to Rusty--to increase the heat on his power shots. Lately, though, Rusty had been trying to get them to remember the basics as they went for the kill. Some were learning, others weren't. Maybe tonight would convert a few more to the "learning" column.

But that would have to wait.

It's time for Rusty to pay off his bet with Arch.

Rusty comes out of the locker room and into the gym, darkened almost completely except for a few lights over the ring. He watches the sex fight between Bumps Murphy and Phil Martin. He doubts if either of them notices Stone Bradford slipping out of Arch's office, the fading traces of a hard-on still evident beneath the kid's trunks. Maybe Arch had had his own "moment"?

After the fight, Bumps almost makes it to the locker room door before he sees Rusty. When their eyes meet, Bumps pulls his shorts higher, as if everything hadn't been on display a few moments earlier. Rusty plays it cool. "Andy's still got his gloves on. He's waiting for you."

Bumps nods. "Hell of a night, huh?"

"Yeah, well, I gotta stick around and pay off the bet."

Bumps laughs, a single grunt. "Right. You do that." He opens the door, and light spills out of the locker room. Rusty can see only slight evidence of Bumps' war, just a slight swelling of the lower lip, maybe a little reddening around the gut. "You want me to stay, just in case?"

"No." Rusty smiles, the memory of Andy's punch still fresh on his jaw. "I'll be taking a week off, maybe more. I'll call." The door closes, and Rusty looks back to the ring. Phil is gone, but the lights are still on. Amazing how much it appeals to him, the smell of leather and sweat, the memory of punches. Even the heat seduces him. He leaves his shirt on the floor and walks over to the ring.

Rusty and Arch first fought in a city tournament. Rusty had the name then--undefeated in some eighty fights, all wins by knockout. But Arch had no respect for the power. In the second round, Arch jackhammered a right hook into the flesh beneath Rusty's ribs. He'd been hit before, and he'd worked his body just as any fighter would, but this punch was different. He felt the impact as if the punch had passed through him. The pain stunned him and forced the air from his lungs. In the split second Rusty needed to recover, Arch launched a right uppercut that snapped Rusty's head back. Rusty saw nothing for a moment, only a flash of white light. Then, once his head had cleared, he realized that Arch had moved him back several feet with less forceful shots to the gut. Energized by the punishment, Rusty rammed his own uppercuts into Arch's face. Arch reeled back farther with each blow until his knees buckled and he fell to the canvas. The victory clinched, Rusty stood over his vanquished foe and breathed heavily. The ref had to push him to the neutral corner. Even in victory, though, he had felt the sweetness of what he came to call "the disconnect."

Now Rusty stands next to the steps that lead up to the ring. He runs his fingertips along the canvas, reaches up to trace the seam of the lowest rope. He looks over to the door of Arch's office and wonders why Arch hasn't come out yet. He has to pay the bet, needs to pay it, feels every cell of his body longing to pay it. To release the tension, he climbs the steps, ducks through the ropes and enters the ring.

Rusty hadn't felt satisfied by his first fight against Arch, so he welcomed the chance to fight him again a few months after the city tournament. This time, though, Arch launched his bombs in the first round. Thunderous hooks, crosses, and uppercuts. He seemed to know Rusty's defenses and sailed right through them, just a step sooner, just a beat faster. Only Rusty knew how this happened. He slacked off in his training, but not enough for Lou or Bumps to notice. He'd even complained about feeling slightly sick before the fight, but only enough to explain the gaps in his defenses. What he'd wanted, what he had begun to need, was that moment when the brain projected a white light because it couldn't register the pain, couldn't process the signals. Arch was the only fighter who'd ever hit Rusty hard enough for that to happen, so Rusty dropped his defenses and welcomed Arch's attack. Once the punches started, he had no way of knowing how many times he'd been hit. He simple rode the wave of the disconnect until Bumps and Lou brought him out of it. Lou had even apologized for letting Rusty fight.

Back inside the ring now, Rusty tests the tension of the ropes. He walks the perimeter of the ring, staying on the balls of his feet. The bounce of the padding adds to the spring in his step, and he falls into the old patterns of footwork. When he reaches the corner closest to Arch's office, he stops and calls out Arch's name, but there's no answer. Is the guy trying to psych him out? Has he left?

The two draws played pretty much the same. Rusty would keep his defenses high and his punches hard during the first round. In the second round, he'd let Arch turn the tide. Although the opportunity had been there, Arch never unleashed his full power either time. He still hit plenty hard, harder than any other opponent Rusty had faced. In the third round, they'd go to war, trading bombs toe-to-toe. By that point, anyone watching them would believe that each had grown too spent to finish the other off. They'd had the crowds on their feet both times.

After the second draw, Rusty had decided he shouldn't turn pro, not if he liked getting hit. Arch was the only person he told this to, mostly because he'd hoped they could still spar. Rusty had offered to buy Arch a beer as an apology for controlling their fights.

"What do you mean YOU controlled the fights? I'm the one who pulled the punches."

"No way."

"Wanna prove it?"

They had gone out and fought on the street for hours, but neither of them could claim a clear victory. The next day, when Lou saw the effects of the street fight, everyone knew it was time for Rusty to get out of the ring.

Impatient now, Rusty starts shadow-boxing. He bobs and weaves, ducking invisible punches, warming up and stretching his torso. He tosses a few jabs, then a few combinations, and soon the muscles of his arms, shoulders, and chest loosen. He rolls his head from side to side, then fakes the effect of a left cross, a right hook, an uppercut. Although his head still throbs a bit from when Jakes' punch had knocked him against the wall, Rusty's jaw and his gut have released their pain. He keeps moving, grunting with each punch he throws. Everything is flowing, just as if he'd never left the game. He puts more force into it, attacking the memory of every opponent other than Arch. Soon his body shimmers with sweat. In the midst of his frenzy, he turns towards Arch's office one more time.

Arch stands there, wearing red trunks and a pair of black gloves. He rubs the left side of his jaw. Rusty drops his hands to his sides and waits. A drop of sweat falls from his chin to his chest and then follows a slow path along his stomach.

Finally, Arch asks, "Ready to pay up?"

Arch ducks through the ropes and tosses Rusty a pair of cheap gloves, the ones with elastic around the wrist.

"What's this for? I lost the bet."

"I know. Humor me. Let's just say it's for effect." Arch kneels down and pulls the automatic timer close to a corner of the ring. It's already set for three rounds, the length of each of the earlier bouts. When the time comes, a quick thump will set their match in motion. With the timer in position, Arch stands and waits. In a moment, Rusty's ready. Arch steps on the starter, and they circle each other. The timer adds a thirty second delay before ringing for round one.

"Here's the deal," Arch says. "If I don't take you out in three rounds, we go toe-to-toe until one of us goes down."

"If you pull punches, the deal's off."

"Don't worry. You game?"


The bell rings. Round one.

Arch begins by popping his jab into Rusty's jaw with just enough force to rock his head slightly. Bip-bip-bip. He's using this as a warm-up. After about thirty seconds, Arch's shoulders have loosened, and the pain of his earlier gut punishment at the hands of Stone Bradford has dwindled into memory. So Arch turns up the heat by throwing more complex combinations: left jab, right cross, left hook, right uppercut to the gut followed by another uppercut to the jaw. Rusty offers no offense and only raises his fists into the imitation of a defensive posture. Arch tosses punches at will, most of them headshots. He's not throwing with full force yet, but he's not pulling punches either. Rusty moves back when the force of Arch's blows force him to move. Together, they work into a rhythm of give and take. At ten seconds to the end of the round, the timer clicks a countdown. Arch finishes the round with five uppercuts that rock Rusty back into the corner.

The bell rings. End of round one.

"How was that?" Arch asks. He paces back and forth in the center of the ring.

Rusty smiles. His head cleared just before Arch asked the question. "Perfect," he says. "Gotta love the disconnect."

At fifteen seconds before the round, the timer clicks again. Rusty starts towards Arch, but Arch shakes his head. "Stay right there in the corner." Rusty breathes deep, backs into the corner, and grabs the top rope with both hands. Arch comes forward.

The bell rings. Round two.

There's no warm up this time. Arch moves in close and starts throwing power punches into Rusty's gut. First he targets the navel area and visualizes his punches passing through the muscles and organs. Rusty grunts after each blow sears through him, and his grip on the ropes loosens. Arch moves the shots higher, following the fold between the ab muscles, trying to sense the spine. He keeps the rhythm steady, a punch every few seconds. Rusty struggles for breath now, and he can feel his knees buckling. He pushes his hands from the ropes with enough force to end up with his arms draped over Arch's shoulders. Arch pushes him back into the corner and keeps him there. Rusty closes his eyes, pulls Arch close, and lets his ab muscles loosen. Arch feels the change, feels the muscles turning to mush. The timer clicks, so Arch throws the last few shots into Rusty's solar plexus.

The bell rings. End of round two.

Rusty won't let go right away. Arch lets his fists hang at his sides. He supports Rusty's weight and holds him against the corner.

"Had enough?"

"Not...yet..." Rusty leans against Arch. Neither of them is wearing a cup, and both have developed hard-ons from the contact. Arch brushes a glove against Rusty's crotch. "No," Rusty says, his voice faint. "Not...yet..."

The timer clicks again. Arch steps back to the center of the ring and gestures for Rusty to meet him there.

The bell rings. Round three.

By this point, Rusty's showing signs of the beating: a trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth, a welt under his left eye, bruising on his abs. He approaches Arch slowly. When Rusty's within reach, Arch throws a hard right. Rusty steps back, his eyes unfocused for a moment. When he thinks Rusty's clear, Arch launches a left uppercut and follows it with a right hook. Rusty steps back again, and it takes a bit longer for his head to clear. Arch throws two straight lefts and then a right. Rusty staggers back, but he stays on his feet. Arch alternates right and left hooks, snapping Rusty's head from one side to the other. Flat-footed now, Rusty turns into the punches to maximize their impact. The timer clicks, and Arch finishes with hard blows to Rusty's temples.

The bell rings. End of round three.

They're both breathing heavily now. Arch has almost no strength left, and it's hard to tell what's keeping Rusty on his feet.

"Ok," says Arch. "Your turn. We'll trade off."

Rusty throws a right, a stronger one than Arch expected. When he recovers, Arch throws his own right. They exchange punches like this six or seven times. Finally, Rusty's left sends Arch to the canvas. His momentum send him down as well. They stay there, backs to the ground.

Arch's head clears, but he's not certain how much time has passed. He checks Rusty's breathing, he listens to Rusty's chest to check his heartbeat. He takes off their gloves, unwraps his hands. He checks Rusty's eyes the way he's seen the docs check hundreds of fighters.

"I'm ok," Rusty says. "I set things up with Doc. You gonna need him, too?"

"Maybe. C'mon, I'll get you there."

"Not yet."

Rusty pulls Arch down on top of him. He kisses Arch and runs his hands over Arch's back and buttocks. The struggle shifts gears, and the contest continues.

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