Manny Fight Story

My name is Manny Arguilla. You probably never heard of me, not unless you were up on the amateurs about seven years ago. I did OK for a while, fought some pretty tough guys, but nobody tough as Arch Dobbs. The guy busted me up bad enough for a night or two at Mercy General. Kinda made me face my own mortality, I guess. When I got back to the gym, I cleaned out my locker and left. It took me six years to get back in the ring, but when I did I didn't fight. I coached my friend Stone Bradford through three rounds of sparring against Arch Dobbs. After that fight, they went into Arch's office for sex that shoulda happened a year ago...and I stayed in the ring, still holding Stone's handwraps and gloves. I kinda had a rush going, like I just fought the guy myself. I was juiced up on it. Didn't wanna leave, you know?

And I had some time to kill. If Stone tells me the truth about his sexual powers, I had maybe twenty or thirty minutes before he'd be ready for the jog back home. I thought I should keep moving, maybe work out a little if it was cool with the guys who actually belonged here. So I duck between the ropes and hand the gear to Phil Martin, Arch Dobbs' corner man. I ask, "You think I could maybe work out a little? I'm supposed to wait for Stone."

He just says, "Manny Arguilla."

This catches me like a sucker punch. I've changed a lot since I hung up my gloves. I grew a goatee and moustache. I let my black hair grow down to my shoulders (I usually tie it back, but I wear it loose when I run with Stone--I like to feel the wind). And I had put on some pounds. I was in worse shape before I started working out with Stone, but I still have a few extra inches on my gut. Stone calls it my "Manny pack." Tell you the truth, my life's been about sitting down and reading for a while, ever since I started the pre-med program at State. I'm older than the kids who came right out of high school, and maybe the boxing scrambled my brain a little, but I have to work hard with the books just to keep up. Only one of my profs ever gave me any crap about my amateur days, but it's like I can sense the whole faculty judging me, waiting for me to flunk out. But Phil isn't judging me--he's just letting me know he knows who I am. So I just nod.

He reaches for my hands, looks 'em over, takes the wraps I just gave him, and starts wrapping my hands. Couldn't tell you why, but I let him do it. In my head, I know I don't wanna spar, but the tight cloth feels familiar and--I don't know--it feels right. After Phil finishes, he gives me Arch's wraps and then he holds out his hands. I get the idea, and I start to figure out how to say no, but I wrap his hands. Phil has these huge hands--large striking surface--don't know why I didn't see it right off. Not swollen or puffy, but thick and hard and a little rough. His knuckles have these creases from what look like small scars, like he skinned his knuckles a lot. The hands of a fighter. All of this without talking. It's kinda intimate, you know? Close, quiet, and masculine...and a little sexy. I'd caught him watching me a couple times during Stone's fight, but I didn't think about it then.

Phil barks out an order. "Take off the sweatshirt." Then he peels off his tight "wife beater." Bare-chested, Phil is as ripped as I'd expected. After all, the gym's an oven and Phil's shirt was already sticking to his skin. The reveal's no surprise. I take off my sweatshirt, but I have a sleeveless T underneath. Hey, I may have a fat belly and a little extra jiggle in my pecs, but my arms are rock solid. Phil doesn't ask me to take the shirt off.

So now what?

Phil points to a wall of mirrors, so I loosen up a little by shadow-boxing. Nothing too fancy, just bread-and-butter jabs, maybe a few light straight shots and hooks, short combinations--the moves I'd been coaching Stone through several months ago. My eyes move from watching my hands up to the psych on my face. I look fierce, man. I look good. Fat, but good. I could scare somebody.

Suddenly I hear Phil call out my name. Not many guys are in the gym just then, so I don't think to check out where everybody is before I turn around. Phil's on the apron of the ring, waiting. Half a dozen guys are hovering near the ring, kinda like they did for Stone's fight with Arch. Phil waves me over to the ring, but I can see he has the training mitts on his hands. A little target practice. Why not?

One of the guys tosses me a pair of light gloves with elastic at the wrists, and I put 'em on and get into the ring.

"Call the shots," Phil says.

He holds the mitts pretty close to himself, but I don't think anything about it at first. I start by building jabs, first one then two then three--all the way to six. So I still have some speed. Then the basic combinations. Left jab followed by left-right straight shots; multiple right hooks to body then head. Phil's good with the mitts, just enough resistance to feel the contact and punch through it. Then I work into more and more complex combinations, but no more than six shots--I've worked the mitts, too, and I could never set myself for more than six. I call for left jab, right cross, straight left, right hook to the body, right hook to the head. We go through it slow, shot by shot so he knows what's coming before I try to put any heat on it. I throw the combination twice, then I call for it again. Just before the last punch woulda hit the mitt, Phil drops his hands, moves in, and takes the punch. I pull it back some, but it's a pretty solid shot. His head snaps to his right and then straight back to face me.

"Sorry, man," I say, "You OK?"

Phil stares me down for a long time before he says, "One round. You want headgear?"

I coulda done the wimp thing and back off; I coulda done the macho thing and refuse the headgear. But I know too much about what each punch to the head can do. Not what it will do--lots of fighters never get their brains scrambled, even if they do get knocked out. After all, they do know that a fight is about avoiding injury. I opt for the safety of the headguard. Phil doesn't give me any crap about this--he just nods to one of the guys and waits for me to get ready.

One round. How bad could it be?

Just before we're ready to go, Stone shows up in my corner. As a master of all things obvious, he asks, "You're fighting this guy?"

"One round."


"I got no idea."

Then I see Arch Dobbs in Phil's corner, talking close in, his mouth to Phil's ear. Then Phil nods. Arch comes over to me and says, "I'll ref, OK?"

I nod.

Stone stays in my corner. "This guy fights dirty. I've seen it. He throws shots to the lower back if he can. Be careful."


Somebody rings the bell.

I plan to circle in quick and establish my jab, but Phil rushes across the ring. I manage to duck under his right and land a shot to his gut as I pass him. When he turns back to face me, I start popping left jabs, but he has my timing figured from watching me earlier. Not one jab lands. Then he launches a couple left/right combinations, almost getting into a rhythm--I see it early enough to avoid contact, and I see him dropping his left after he throws it. About the fourth time he throws that combination, I counter his left with my right hook. My first solid punch of the fight. Phil falls back a step, so I move a little closer, just to stay in range. I hit him with a short combination of head shots--two straight lefts followed by a right uppercut. When his head snaps back, I get off about three hard hooks to his left side, just below the floating rib. He bends to his left to cover, so I even up the body work with three left hooks to his right side, same place. Suddenly, BOOM! Even with the headguard on, his punch stuns me pretty bad, turns out the lights for a second. I hadn't seen the punch coming, but it had to be a right. Unlike me, though, Phil doesn't move in. He waits to make eye contact when my head clears. This is a dirty fighter?

"You OK?"

I nod...and that's when he moves in, using body shots to move me back into a corner. I keep my shell pretty tight, but you shouldn't even let a guy hit your arms too much if you can help it--it's still damage, and you can get busted up pretty bad. I try to spin out of the corner, but it doesn't work. Phil drops his guard a little in order to launch the hard shots. I think, "If I can just time this right..." Finally I find a hole and hit him with a right to the jaw, then a couple of jabs to set up a couple of hooks. We work our way into the center of the ring, defenses even, both of us landing one shot out of three. Finally, the bell rings to end the round. Arch steps between us--the only reffing he'd had to do.

Phil holds out his hands, and we touch gloves. Stone comes into the ring to get the gloves off me. One of the other guys helps Phil with his gloves. Even though we hadn't said anything about it, Phil and me end up unwrapping each other's hands. It just felt like something we were supposed to do--just felt right.

Then it's time for the run home. I start looking for my sweatshirt, but Arch comes up to me and says, "Not bad, Arguilla."

"Yeah? Thanks." So Arch has me pegged, too, probably from the minute I came in.

"You want a job? I could use another trainer in here. Lots of in-close sparring goes on here. Phil could use the help."

I gotta tell you, pre-med or no pre-med, I miss the life. Not that I want another shot at the amateurs, but still...

"I'll think about it. I got biology lab at noon. Gotta book. I'll stop in later." We shake on it, though. One way or another, I'll be back.

As Stone and me get set to go, I tell him about Arch's offer. Right then, I catch Phil watching me again (or still)...only this time I also see a sizable bulge in the guy's package.

"I think he's interested," Stone says. Like I said, he's the master of the obvious, this guy.

"I'm thinking about it."

"Define 'it.'"

"Shut up and start running."

So am I gonna do it? I'm thinking about it...all the time.

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