The Sweet Science
Updated: Feb 11
“Have you ever sparred before?”
Everything moved: jump ropes whipped, heavy-bags waltzed, and shadow boxers slipped imaginary hooks. Speed-bags rumbled and heaters hung from the ceiling, pumping stuffy air into the warehouse—even in August. Ray’s Boxing Gym was an engine.
“Aren’t y’all ‘bout the same weight? How much you weigh?”
“Okay. You two.”
The headgear sloped into my vision and made me a toddler that was unfamiliar with the weight of his own head. The gloves were eight ounces, four ounces lighter than the ones I’d been training with. The ring that seemed spacious when I watched sneakers sidestep at eye-level was suddenly quite cozy. Not much canvas between us. We touched gloves. We exchanged nervous smiles. The bell rang.
I had heard about the gym from a featherweight I met in my English composition class in community college. His name was Rocky Juarez. He came back to Houston from the two-thousand Australian Olympics with a silver medal after a controversial decision. He got robbed, and I was in over my head.
I took timid steps toward the center and pawed out a harmless jab with textbook form, conscious of my footwork: feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, left-foot step, and return. My arms were tucked into my ribs. My gloves were guarding my chin. My mechanics were sound, my defense impregnable. The overhand right landed above my left eye all the same.
And then another. I am getting beat up. This guy is beating me up. Another. I am losing this fight. I clenched my jaw, squinted my eyes, and pushed forward. I didn’t recognize it in that moment, but this was exactly how I’d felt with Andreas “Junior” Garza on my block, with Andrew Dreyer in tenth grade, with those three guys at Brookline Park who tried to steal my basketball. This was what I’d hoped to extinguish by learning to box. This was unconscious instinct, loss of control.
I took a few on the way in and bullied him into the corner, my form forgotten. I measured the distance with my left glove, held his head in place, and began to tee off with the right. It landed solid. In an instant I felt the impact travel from my fist through my arm to my shoulder down my back to my hip and firmly into my planted right heel. He bent at the waist to avoid the next one, and I threw gangly rights like javelins that mostly missed.
The bell rang, and I wanted to vomit. My jaw ached from tension. My pulse throbbed in my eyes. The trainer came to my corner. “You’re a good fighter, kid, but a terrible boxer. Catch your breath, and we’ll go another.”