Competition has been in my blood for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I begged my mom to let me do mixed martial arts, and she finally relented when I was eight years old. After my first Tae Kwon Do class, I was ecstatic. After my first competition victory, I was hooked.
It’s been eighteen years and I’ve lost count of how many long car rides I’ve taken to tournaments, bruises and body aches, first place medals, and last place finishes I’ve had. Through it all I’ve never lost the desire to push myself and look for new challenges. Starting boxing gave me that new challenge; it was a way to take eighteen years of martial arts experience and apply them in a new setting.
I started boxing in 2013 and my first fight was a victory in Athens after about one month of training in a boxing gym. One of the first things I realized once I started boxing was that, when it comes to strategy, there is not a whole lot of difference between Tae Kwon Do and boxing.
You need good footwork and good fundamentals. You want to establish your range early on, you don’t want to be overly aggressive and leave yourself open to counters, and you don’t want to sit back too much on defense and appear passive.
Thanks to my martial arts experience, my punching technique and stamina have been on point since the first day I stepped into the boxing gym. But the tools I used in boxing are different than what I used for Tae Kwon Do; one of the first things I had to adjust to was using my hands in a situation where I would traditionally use my legs.
However, the mental aspect of this training was a challenge to overcome.
I won my first fight, received a W (withdraw) for an opponent who didn’t show up for my second, and then dropped my next two for a 2-2 record (Which felt a lot more like 1-2). My next two fights were a chance for redemption, and, while my third win brought me my first victory by knockout, it was my fourth win that helped me see that I was a fighter.
My fourth victory was a hard-fought battle at the Paul Murphy Title Boxing Tournament on June 1, 2014. The week before the fight, I was in rare form. I went to the gym and forgot how to get tired. I sparred multiple rounds with a couple of different guys and even had my trainer putting me in to work with some guys after I had already done my scheduled rounds.
I’ve never been a big fan of cutting weight right before a fight, so when my dieting had my weight down to 158 lbs – four pounds over the limit for the division I was trying to get to – I decided that I’d take my chances in the 164 lbs division.
When I saw my opponent, my first thought was, “Damnit, I shoulda lost more weight.”
The man in front of me was tall and every bit a natural 164 lbs fighter. I stand at about 5’ 7 inches, and my opponent had at least four inches on me. I’m no stranger to fighting tall opponents, so I stepped into the ring ready to do what I needed to do to achieve victory.
The bell rang for round one, and he went to town on me. Between his longer reach, speed, and great training, he destroyed me in round one.
I got a standing eight count halfway through the round. Towards the end, I spun away from the corner to avoiding getting trapped – I thought it was a pretty decent Russell Wilson impersonation – but the ref apparently thought I was trying to run away and turn my back on my opponent. He took me to the corner and warned me that the next time I pulled that stunt I would get disqualified. That was all the wake up call I needed.
For the first 45 seconds of round two, I fired off nothing but jabs. I had to establish my distance and find a home for my straight right hand (I may be only an amateur, but if you put me in the ring with Floyd Mayweather, I’m not going to win, but I would bet a million dollars that I’ll land plenty of straight right hands by the end).
My right hand found a home on his left cheek and on his ribs. Once I started landing it, everything else opened up. By the end of the round, I had him pinned against the ropes while I fired everything I had. I was punching anywhere I saw open space. My stamina was at a level that allowed me to do it for a good five to seven seconds. The ref pulled me off and gave him a standing eight count.
The bell rang and I went to the corner knowing that round three would determine the winner.
The only thing on my mind at the start of round three were the words of the boxing champion “Sugar Bert” Wells I had heard from the week before: “You’ve got to work the body.” One of my favorite combos is a double jab to the head followed by a straight right hand to the body just before they can put their hands down. If I could establish a crisp jab that keeps his front hand up, it could leave the left side of my opponent’s ribs open to tee off on. That was my strategy.
I came out strong, and I could feel his body slowing down. He was finally giving way on each shot to the ribs, so I started adding extra punches to his stomach and liver with my left hand. At around the one-minute mark, I fired my combo. As my right hand connected with his ribs, he dropped. The ref counted, my opponent got back up, and then he came back for more. So I hit him with the same combo in the same spot again. And again he dropped. This time the ref called it a slip, but I could see the end was drawing near.
I locked onto my sweet spot once more. He kept his left hand close to his body for a while, so I landed a couple of jabs – right hand combos upstairs. As soon as his hand came up, I dropped him with another shot to the ribs. The ref let him up again; however, by this point he was nearly doubling over from the damage his ribs had taken. I could see he was hurt, but the ref let him continue. So, I dropped him for the fourth and final time with another combo to the same spot.
Finally, the ref called the fight – victory by TKO!
I’ve only had one match since then, but it still stands out as my favorite fight. I know how badly I was shaken in round one, and how demoralizing it can be to face an opponent who seems superior to you in every way. For me to fight against that mental adversity, and to win by knockout, is my own personal Rocky movie. I haven’t had a victory in the boxing ring to surpass that one yet.