Fighters Training Fight Story

For most of the guys at Rusty's, Yuri Petrovich remains a mystery. Most don't even try to pronounce the Russian heavyweight's name--they just call him Ox...and he lets them.

From the day he arrived some seven years ago, Ox has kept his life divided into two clean categories: inside the gym and outside the gym. Of course, all that changed a few months ago when Ben Foster's grudge against Chuck Henderson came along. Since Ben knew Ox as the bouncer at Winks, that clean separation of Ox's life had threatened to collapse. But both Ben and Chuck have shown no signs of telling anybody that Ox works in a gay bar.

With good reason. Ox had knocked Chuck out in the parking lot, and Ben had seen the big guy plow through fifteen guys single-handed. As the heaviest of Rusty's heavyweights, Ox weighs well over 300 pounds and stands slightly over 6 feet tall. While other muscle gods might fall more easily, Ox has a tree trunk of a neck and a cast-iron gut. Those who spar with him or have full out fights with him swear he can't be hurt. Few are willing to step into the ring with him more than once. Rusty had to order specially reinforced heavybags so that they'd outlast Ox's training sessions.

In exchange--or so it seems--Rusty calls in the occasional favor. Beating up Chuck had been one. Another has been training Rick Logan. At first, Ox just told the kid to match him routine for routine. Rick took to it right off, and Nature gave him a growth spurt to boot, packing some thirty odd pounds onto the kid's chest, shoulders, arms and lats. And Rick credited all of that to Ox. Ox just kept working, and Rick kept pace with him. Ox soon took a greater interest in mentoring the boy, working with him directly. One afternoon, after Ox had held the heavybag steady for Rick, Rick offered to do the same for Ox. The Russian smiled and nodded. Rick braced himself as best he could. Ox kept the punches light for a while, just to see how much Rick could manage. Before long, Rick complained, "I know you got more than that. C'mon." So Ox let the guns fire. Rick managed to hold on for a couple of punches, but after that the bag swung wildly as Ox's punches slammed into it. The big guy was careful, but Rick had a pretty wild ride. After about twenty seconds, the kid let go of the bag and dropped to the floor, laughing. Then Ox turned the heat up full blast, rocking the bag with hard combinations. Rick watched from the floor, awestruck. The bag swung out over him several times, but Rick studied Ox's stance, the flow of his punches.

They became friends, practically family if you wanted a good word for it. Although you couldn't guess Ox's age just by looking at him, you could see a paternal nature to his instruction. Ox's usual stoicism melted when matched with Rick's playful yet determined attitude. It wasn't unusual to see Rick doing chin-ups on Ox's unshaking outstretched arm, or for the kid to get a running start, leap onto the big guy's back from behind, climb up onto his shoulders, and finish with a handstand, young hands steadying a lean body from the firm foundation of Ox's massive delts. No one else had quite the same relationship with Ox, and Rick felt privileged to have it. As for Ox, he still didn't say much to most of the guys, but the kid could almost always make him laugh.

Ox chose Mix Jeffries for Rick's regular sparring partner. Mix didn't complain--his own growing invincibility had started with one body punch from Ox. After he'd survived that, no one else's punches seemed to register. Rick's growth spurt ended with him at 139. He keeps pounding back the protein shakes and working the weights, but he's hit a plateau. Maybe he'd spent too long trying to stay at bantamweight and that'd messed up his metabolism. Maybe genetics were against him. But the kid can't see himself getting as big as he wants to be. He's strong, sure--just ask Mix about that--and he's got good speed, too. Rusty's been counting on that--he has trained Rick to swarm an opponent, fast and hard, and Rick has the stamina to sustain that kind of attack for a full round without burning himself out. But he wants more.

Another Monday comes, another sparring session with Mix, but it's clear the kid's heart just isn't in it today. Mix cuts him no slack, so Rick takes a lot of hits he'd usually avoid. Ox stops the session. The big guy says nothing--he just walks over to the heavybags and starts pounding away. Rick's body droops. Mix comes over to take the kid's headgear and unwrap his hands. "Something up?" he asks.

Rick meets Mix's eye. "It's true Ox hit you, one in the gut?"

"Yeah. Yeah, he did."

"And you got stronger? You got bigger?"

"Stronger, yeah. Not bigger, though, not really."

"You think he'd maybe do that for me?"

Mix isn't sure this is the best idea. "I didn't really ask him to do it."

"Think he would if I asked him?"

Mix doesn't commit to an answer--he just shrugs. No point in talking the kid out of it. Rick doesn't wait for a response anyway. He's on his way to the heavybags. Ox is still whomping away, so Rick waits. He watches the bag bend, twist, ride high and fall hard. Ox meets each swing with another heavy blow. Sweat gleams against muscle, traces its path across taut, hardened skin. Ox stops the routine, steadies the bag, pulls off the training gloves and tosses them to Rick. The big guy stands there, fists on his hips. "You train, you don't train. If you train, you train. Yes?"

Rick nods. "My head's not in it today, that's all."

"Then go home."

"No, I'm--" Rick stops, caught in the Russian's angry glare. Maybe this is the right time to ask for a punch in the gut. "Sorry. But I'm stuck at 139, and it sucks."

"Is good weight for you. Very strong for your size. Is your body to decide. If you do no grow, you do no grow."

"I'd like to try something. It's a little extreme."


"No, not drugs." This is the time, he thinks, don't blow it. "I want you to hit me like you did Mix."

Ox doesn't answer. It's hard to tell what he thinks of the idea. No smile, no frown--no change from his usual stoic demeanor. Rick maintains eye contact, and he's just about to say something when the big guy finally speaks.

"Go home."

So he does. Rick knows better than to press the issue, so he doesn't bring it up during his workout the next day. He keeps his focus on the work at hand. In a way, it's as if he'd never mentioned the idea, almost as if he'd never even had the thought in the first place. He works the mitts with Rusty, then goes to finish his workout with a session on the heavybag. Ox stops him and says, "Go to ring."

Rusty's waiting for him with wraps and gloves. Ricks gets no answer when he asks, "Who'm I sparring? Where's Mix?" When he's geared up, the only other person in the ring is Ox...and Ox is gloved up, too. The heavyweight's t-shirt is hanging on the ropes near his corner. Somehow Ox looks even bigger with his shirt off. "But I didn't ask to spar. Just one in the gut is all."

"And that was stupid, too. No more stupid than this, though." Rusty sounds worse than he looks--he doesn't approve, but he's allowing it. "You know how he fights, right?" Rick nods. "So you earn the punch. Make him the heavybag today. When he thinks you done enough...he stops it. That's if you really wanna do this. The Doc ain't too happy, but he didn't like it when Mix got beat, either. Your dad...he said it's up to you, but he thinks it's stupid, too."

"You asked my dad?"

"You're seventeen. Of course I asked your dad. You shoulda asked him, too. But it's your call. You up for this or not?" Rick looks at Ox--how can he score anything against the big guy? How much is enough? In the end, though, he nods. Rusty puts headgear on the kid, but Ox goes without. There's no bell--Rusty just waves Rick in. Ox waits in his corner, gloves at his sides, game face on. No help there.

So Rick uses what he knows. He knows better than to hope shots to the head will do any good, so the target is Ox's gut. Rick also knows better than to throw all his strength into his first punches--he risks a sprain that way, maybe even a broken hand, and humiliation besides. So he jabs at the Russian's abs, targeting them in turn, aiming at the tendons between them. Ox doesn't respond, but Rick doesn't stop. This is how he'd work the heavybag anyway, light punches to full strength over a extended period of time. Slowly, he increases the heat and the speed. He notices a slight twitch when he hits a spot on Ox's left side. It's too much to hope for, and there's no way Rick's punches have done any damage, but it could be a weakness, an injury from some other fight. Rick hits the spot again, and there's another twitch. He punches the full round of Ox's abs once more, just to be sure he's seeing what he thinks he's seeing. Once more he hits the spot, once more there's a twitch. Rick launches the swarm strategy, aiming for the same spot from lots of angles. He can't believe his eyes, but Rick sees a small welt developing. Ox betrays nothing--just the slight involuntary twitch. Rick slows down the speed and hits the target with all his power. Ten punches later, the kid's almost done--his shoulders ache, his fists feel detached from his arms, and his eyes burn from the sweat. He keeps at it even as his strength wanes. Then he hears an impossible sound--Ox giving out a slight grunt as each punch lands. This fires Rick up a little longer, but not much. The gloves are too heavy now. He lets his gloves fall--not really a decision, because he can no longer hold them up--and he looks up, ready to ask Ox if that was enough.

In a typical fight, Ox would smile at this point, denying any injury before launching a few quick bombs of his own. Now, though, Rick sees a difference. Ox isn't smiling...he's crying--not sobbing buckets, just a few drops spilling down the hardened jawline. Not from pain--the bruise will give Rick some extra respect in the gym, but it's nothing special. When he locks eyes with Ox, Rick knows the reason--Ox doesn't want to hit him. He has to, but he doesn't want to. The big guy says, real quiet, "Am sorry." And then he tosses a hard, short right into Rick's gut.

Rick has no time or strength to prepare himself. He doubles over, collapsing over the fist as it lands, then yields to its propelling force. Ox remains in his corner. Rick hits the canvas halfway across the ring. Between the exhaustion from his attack on Ox's gut and the shock and pain of Ox's punch, Rick has trouble breathing. It's as if his abs have gone dead and won't support the movement of his lungs. By the time he can breathe, Rusty's there with the Doc, and Mix is standing by with a bucket. Good thing, because Rick's next physical response is puking. Rusty wipes the kid's face, and the Doc holds a cold compress against Rick's gut. They help him lie flat. The gym is quiet, or at least Rick doesn't hear much--the pain overrides other sensory imput. They keep him prone for a few minutes. Nobody's saying much. Rick keeps his eyes closed and concentrates on the cool of the compress. They move him back to the Doc's office and apply ice packs all around his gut. Rick's not sure about the Doc's instruction--"visualize the muscles relaxing" sounds a little too weird. But Mix is there to tell his story, to say this is the same advice he'd been given.

Then Rick's alone in the Doc's office. Almost alone. Ox is there when the kid's eyes open. Something has changed between them, and Rick doesn't know what to say.

Ox breaks the silence. "You have good father."

"Yeah, he's cool. Didn't know Rusty told him about this."

"Yes. Is brave, too. To protect you. Very brave."

"Protect me?"

"He says yes to Rusty only if he can hit me first. I tell Rusty to let him. This is important to you. I am bouncer at a bar--you know this, yes?" Rick nods. "I do not use weapons there. I do not carry gun. But I have club. A small one. I do never use it, just show it to those wanting for to fight me. They walk away. I give club to your father to hit me. Here." Ox points to the bruise. "We do this for you to be strong. Is not over. You must train. But..." Ox places his t-shirt on Rick's chest. "This one is yours. Give to your father, then come to train. Yes?"

Rick manages a nod. Ox runs a huge hand through Rick's hair, then holds that hand against Rick's face. In spite of the quick ice-down, a substantial bruise is developing across Rick's gut. The heavyweight feels the tears rising again, an impulse he does not often feel.

Only for family. Only then.

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