Parking Lot Fight Story
On the morning
after his fight in the parking lot, Mix Jeffries had a large bruise that nearly
covered his gut. Ox's punch--that massive fist--had centered its impact just
above Mix's navel. Mix almost thought he could find the purple imprints of Ox's
knuckles. The memory of the pain triggered a gag impulse, but Mix fought back
the dry heaves. He focused on one thing--total denial. After all, he'd done
nothing wrong, not really. Chuck had started it. Mix put on a loose-fitting,
black t-shirt. He planned to follow Ox's advice and keep the shirt on all day.
He started his morning road work gently, coaxing his abs to respond without cramping up. He took a long route to the gym, adding two miles to his usual ten. By the time he reached the gym, his gut had loosened somewhat, but he still had to fight the impulse to hunch over. He stretched out longer than usual, begging his abs to relax.
Just as Mix finished stretching, Rusty came out of his office and held the door open. Mix started to call out to him, but something told him not to. A second later, Chuck Henderson came out of the office--the left eye black and swollen, the jaw a bit puffy, the lower lip split and held together with several stitches. Chuck left the gym without even looking at Mix, but Mix watched him go, barely noticing Rusty's approach.
Rusty put his hand on Mix's shoulder. "Hate it when that happens."
Mix put on innocence, but it wasn't an easy fit. "Why? What happened to him?"
"Street fight. Had to suspend him. 'Course he says somebody jumped him, but that's a lie. Skinned knuckles--dead giveaway." Mix resisted the impulse to check his own knuckles. Rusty looked Mix in the eye. "He says some guy got him in the parking lot last night. You two left right about the same time, right? You didn't see anybody out there, did you?"
Rusty held his gaze a while longer, didn't break it until he asked, "So did you decide about taking the middleweight bout against Arch's guy? We got to train now if you want it."
Mix remembered Ox's advice. "Yeah, I'll take it. I'd like to spar today, start picking up my training a little. That ok?"
"Anybody specific in mind? You want to work power or speed?"
Speed meant going in with somebody smaller. His gut would scream with every move. Power meant going up against somebody bigger, adding to last night's punishment. "Power."
"Ok. Get Bumps to set you up and meet me in the ring when you're ready."
"You? I'm sparring with you?"
"Something wrong with that?"
Mix shook his head and went to find Bumps. As Bumps wrapped his hands, Mix caught a glimpse of Ox working the heavy bag. The thunder of his punches cut through all other sound in the gym. Ox moved his punches lower, clearly practicing body work. He stopped for a moment and made eye contact with Mix. The middleweight nodded to show that he'd got the message. Ox went back to work on the heavy bag. He sent an uppercut into the center of the bag, doubling it over and lifting it high on its chains.
Mix and Bumps got to the ring a few minutes later. Rusty was there, already dressed in black trunks but bare-chested. In the months since the last match against Arch's gym, Rusty had kicked up his training, and he'd grown lean and hard again, almost as imposing as he'd been in his amateur days. He'd already gloved up, and Bumps slid another pair onto Mix's hands. Nobody told Mix to take off the t-shirt, nobody saw the bruise.
"What do you think we should train?" Rusty asked. "What needs work?" Rusty started loosening up, bouncing on the balls of his feet and throwing light punches at an invisible opponent. "If you ask me, you're too much of a head hunter. You spend all your time upstairs. When your guy covers up, you try to punch through his gloves, but you don't have enough juice to make that work...not yet. If he's smart, he gets under your jab and does the body work you shoulda been doing. That's what happened in the last match against Arch's guys. Am I right?"
Mix nodded. This was going to hurt.
"So I say we get you ready for his attack. Let him go for the gut and leave himself open to the headhunting you wanna do anyway. Sound like a plan to you?"
It sounded like a bad plan, or at least a painful plan. Everybody knew Rusty's rep for power. Add that to the pain from Ox's punch last night...but Mix just nodded again. Ox had finished with the heavy bag and was watching them. Had Ox been the one to tell? Probably not. Rusty would have suspended him, too.
"So now we get to specifics. We'll go three rounds. You keep going for the head, and I'll work the body. You do three today, tomorrow we go four. By the time the match comes up, you'll walk right through the guy 'cause you'll be tough as iron. This work for you?"
"But what?" Rusty paused his warm up and faced Mix directly. The sweat that covered him caught the light from the windows and made his muscled body glisten. The man was a god.
Mix swallowed the fear. "You don't usually spar."
"I know. But I'm willing. Are you?"
The question hung in the air. Mix considered confessing the whole thing, right down to Ox's last punch. It was as if the gym had suddenly emptied. Mix could hear his own breathing, but little else. "Yeah. I'm just a little...surprised. That's all."
Rusty told Bumps to set the timer for three rounds. Mix then realized that every other fighter in the gym had paused in the middle of his workout. Most were headed ringside to watch. Rusty warned them, "No yelling, guys. I gotta tell him how he's doing."
He didn't really have to say that. The fighters had assembled in silence, many of them jealous of what they considered a remarkable privilege granted to the gym's newest middleweight. When the bell rang, it echoed through relative quiet.
"Now, punches up, guard up." Rusty left his guard low and came forward.
Mix tried to stay out of range at first. He popped left jabs towards Rusty's chin, but he threw them from a point just beyond range. He circled Rusty while the gym owner remained planted in the middle of the ring.
"You're too far out. Come in."
Mix decided to face his punishment. He came within range and tossed a couple of hooks off the jab. Rusty slipped them easily.
Mix threw a pretty good combination: a straight right off the third jab, then a left hook and right uppercut. None of it landed. Rusty came in under the jabs and rammed a right hook just beneath Mix's ribs. He slipped the straight right and landed a left hook on Mix's right side. He ducked the hook and dodged the uppercut, then rocketed a right uppercut into the center of Mix's solar plexus. The entire bruise flared, and Mix gasped for air. As Rusty's punch cut through him, Mix's body tucked inward and his elbows pulled tight against his sides.
"Guard up!" Rusty yelled. He emphasized the command with a straight right to the chin. Forced back a few steps by the blow, Mix raised his guard and left his abs exposed. Rusty came in this time, aiming almost exclusively for the center of Mix's abs, right where the bruise still pulsed with pain. Six, seven, eight, nine, ten hard shots, and Mix crumpled to the canvas. He stayed there, curled into a ball, hugging his gut.
Bumps started counting him out. "1...2...3...4...5..."
"Stop." Rusty spoke to Bumps, not Mix. "Let him decide if he's done."
Mix rolled over onto his elbows and knees, then pulled himself up with the ropes. The pain had him crying now, but he wanted to finish the round. "Let's go."
"Let's finish the round. That'll be enough."
Mix started towards Rusty, determined to face the full punishment now. He threw a half-hearted right at Rusty's chin. Rusty moved in and took the punch. Then the gym owner poked a light hook just above Mix's navel. Mix threw a left hook and cried out in pain as his stomach muscles refused to support the punch. Rusty moved in so that his head was caught in the crook of Mix's elbow. Mix completed the clinch.
"You done, Mix?"
Rusty managed to push back a little. He tossed alternating uppercuts into Mix's bruised gut. After eight punches, the bell rang. Mix had made it through the round, but he couldn't release the clinch. He hung onto Rusty to keep from collapsing. Soon he felt Bumps behind him, the rough hands gently prying the men apart. Bumps and Rusty supported Mix's weight and got him to a stool in the corner. Mix doubled over as he sat, the muscles in his gut refusing to support his weight. He stayed like that for a while. Around him, he heard the other fighters resuming their training.
When Mix could lean backwards against the corner, he found himself still crying. "I'm sorry, Rusty. I'm sorry."
Rusty, his gloves gone, brushed the tears from Mix's cheeks. "Sorry for what?"
"I'm the one fought Chuck in the parking lot. He started it, but--"
"Think you can walk? I want the Doc to take a look."
Mix got up from the stool, but he doubled over again. From nowhere, a pair of massive arms lifted him and carried him back to the Doc's office. Without opening his eyes, Mix knew it was Ox. He couldn't figure any of this, not with the pain pounding through him. When they had him on the table, the Doc removed Mix's t-shirt to reveal the angry bruise. He packed Mix's gut in ice packs and told him to concentrate on relaxing the muscles. "Just visualize it, ok? It's a little weird, but it helps. Any blood when you pissed this morning?" Mix shook his head. "When you brushed your teeth?"
The Doc told Rusty, "Looks worse than it is. No sparring for a couple of days. He'll recover." Doc left the room with Bumps. Ox stayed near the door. Rusty sat on the edge of the table.
Mix tried to confess again. "I'm sorry, Rusty. I'm the one--"
"I know. I heard you the first time. Ok. You got just enough time to get ready for the match. Soon as the Doc says so, we go back to hardening the gut. You took some major punishment. After that, no middleweight's gonna be able to hurt you. You'll walk right through 'em." Rusty reached out and pushed his fingers through Mix's already messed-up hair. Then he stood up and started to leave.
"Rusty?" Mix started to sit up but couldn't. Rusty came back to his side. "You already knew before I told you, right?"
"Right. I knew last night. Why d'ya think Ox showed up in the first place?"
Rusty knew...had known all along. More than that, Rusty had set it up, made it boxing instead of street fighting. Rusty had had Chuck pounded to a pulp so the street fight would show. Rusty had had Ox uppercut Mix's gut. Mix couldn't figure any of it. He stopped trying and closed his eyes. The cool of the ice had started its work.
Rusty left the room. Ox picked up Mix's t-shirt. Had he earned this one? He didn't care. This one would grow strong, thanks to him. He draped the t-shirt over his shoulder and smiled. Yes. This one belonged to him.
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