Your Punching Privileges Have Been Revoked
Yeah, the vaseline helps a little, though that’s mainly so the skin don’t break when the guy gets in a lucky scrape, with his red leather glove rubbing against my almost equally leathered face. It seems to be happening more and more lately. The sweat always manages to get in the eyes, though. Deep in the corners, ya know? And then I’m up until God knows when that night because my eyes are burning like a son-of-a-bitch and I’m squirting all kinds of shit in there that my doc gave me, only after a lecture on how maybe I ought to think about taking it easy and also after his favorite scary stories about what getting hit in the head does to the brain.
Thanks doc, just give me the eye juice and I’ll take it from here.
I shuffle back towards the edge of the ring where I’d climbed in, having rubbed off the liniment from the inside of my glove onto the top rope. I don’t have to put on much of an act as I fall back. We’re only in the third round and the battle had long since become mental, what, with my chest feeling like an elephant’s taking a nap on it and my shoulders burning like a dead hero’s funeral pyre.
I got to give this kid a run, though. Have to keep the audience of twenty entertained and off their phones. They gave me another young one tonight. I can tell he doesn’t want to be here, thinking he’s beyond fighting a geezer in shorts hiked up to his nipples, but here he is because his manager said everyone has to do it. Anyone in the Northeastern circuit has to come up against Rocko because the guy has done so much for the sport, ya know?
They always come in thinking they only have to dance with me a round or two and then take me down. And sometimes I let them.
But sometimes I don’t.
The outside of my gloves finds the slickness on the ropes as I bounce off them and then fall back to rest with my hands up in front of my face, blocking the incoming hits.
This guy’s a Puerto Rican, probably lives not too far from my old neighborhood. I know he’s not even really trying and still his footwork is impressive. It calls to mind the little dance I’d seen Vasquez do back in ‘07 before my uppercut found the glass bonework that composed his chin and delivered me my third title belt.
After allowing a few jabs to the stomach, I feign like I’m winding up for a right hook. I almost see the split-second smirk on the kid’s face. He takes the bait and comes in with a left. I hold what little breath I have, duck, and let the boy find nothing but air. Now he’s off balance. I put the rest of my speed and strength into a couple of quick jabs to his wide-eyed face.
The kid knows something is wrong right away, but he looks confused. He blinks a couple of times trying to squeeze away the sting. I take my cue and get to work on his stomach, followed by an uppercut which sends his mouthpiece flying across the ring with a pound of spit. He leans to the right, seeking some stability with his gloves on an imaginary rope. He only finds more air. His eyes look like a pair of eggshells sitting side-by-side in the nest as his head lands on the mat, bouncing once or twice, emitting a sonic boom across the tiny gym.
Bobby, the ref, starts counting down and I stand patiently. I could head back to the corner at this point. The match is as good as done. My signature punch is my signature punch for a reason.
I look out toward the people sitting on the bleachers. Some young, but mostly older folks. The men are wearing dark coats and a few have women with them that are looking away with curled faces like they’d just been force-fed lemons. Except there’s this one gal who is on her feet, a big grin on her angelic face and whose eyes are smiling down on the Puerto Rican like a pair of spotlights. Her male companion looks like he’s going to be sick.
I don’t look down at the kid as Bobby yanks my wrist in the air and declares me the winner. Two weeks of aspirin and the boy will be alright, though he might be talking funny for a while.
The walk back to the locker room is always a solemn affair for me, only because it takes all I have to present myself to the world like I’m still a champion. Like I’m still that guy from ten years ago.
Like I’m still Rocko Giannetti, three-time world champion.
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