MUHAMMAD Ali standing over Sonny Liston, claiming the 1964 world heavyweight title, has always epitomised boxing for me: the look of cold, bloodthirsty hunger on his face, as he stood tense over his opponent, who was laid out.
I never thought boxing was cool, but when Katie Taylor won gold for boxing in the Olympics, last year, I got confused.
Taylor was cool and the paradox of her soft mannerisms and gentle, smiling face confused my belief that boxing was an opportunity for barbarians to unleash their inner demons.
I discovered, in becoming a boxer, that passion, emotion, any feeling, is a hindrance in the ring. Remaining cool, calm and in control of your movements is the secret.
The way to a win is patience. You must wait; protect your face, keep moving and, when you see an opening, strike.
The first few sessions of my six-week training for a white-collar boxing tournament were entertaining, because they involved no boxing, just learning the basics, which was difficult.
Punching did not come naturally to me and my attempts were frail, flimsy arm jerks.
“Commit,” I was told repeatedly by my trainers — Seanie, Gerry, Brian and Graham — “extend your arm and twist your elbow.”
Other elements of boxing proved difficult. That prancing, dancing stance is not as easy as it looks.
For the first week or two, each training evening left me weak and in pain. The arm-strengthening exercises were the cruellest. We had to hold our arms out, level with our shoulders, and keep them tense.
At first, I was dismissive that this would be arduous; however, as the seconds ticked by, gravity pulled on my weak little arms and the battle to keep my stance brought me close to tears.
The burning sensation in my biceps would stay with me long after I had dropped my arms and cradled them in a self-hug.
Somewhere between the intense pain and peculiar procedures, the boxing basics became more instinctive.
My prance improved and my punch followed the formula.
Week three, we began to box in the ring. I hopped in, full of enthusiasm, and was swiftly suckered-punched, square on the nose. I cried, just a few leaky tears, but it was enough.
The following week, I found my survival instinct. I did a couple of rounds and I came out of it without a knock.
From there, I really started to find my feet.
Graham told me getting hit was the best thing that could have happened to me. I told him I could think of better things.
I never enjoyed the ring, but I knew it was just three minutes, and all I had to do was avoid the flying fists.
The week of the big fight, we were all getting our gear on for the final session, when we noticed a new girl among the ranks. The gossip mill swings into motion. The ladies are very curious.
“Who’s she, now?”
“Jaysus, she’s a bit late starting,”
“What’s going on at all?”
As dictated by the lads, we took our turns in the ring. At this stage, we all had an idea of each other’s movements and style. We knew what to watch for and when to strike.
I was paired with the new girl and I struggled. She was good, but she reacted excessively.
A fake punch sent her into overload, throwing all kinds of shapes. I faked one, dodged the reaction, spun and swiped her from the side.
I got lucky with some tight jabs, and finished with a stellar sucker-punch on the nose.
After the session, Gerry and Seanie cornered me as I packed my bag. “How did you get on there, now?
“Ah, shur, grand,” I said, casually but cautiously.
The boys looked at each other, Gerry takes the lead. “That girl is from Seanie’s boxing club, you will be fighting her on the night — I can’t put you in the ring with the other girls.”
They tell me she has been boxing for five years and also practises Taekwondo.
I wasn’t looking forward to the fight and I definitely wasn’t up for it now.
On the night, I am fight number 11 and the waiting is agony. Everyone comes back with stories. Win or lose, the consensus is it’s fast, confusing and tiring.
“It will be over before you know it,” the waiting are assured.
Gerry is in my corner. He tells me the ring is smaller than the training ring. He says forget the shadow games; hit her. But I decide to see how I get on.
I get on terribly. Gerry is right. The ring is tiny and there is no getting away from her. She is relentless.
Punch after punch after punch; it is the longest three minutes of my life.
I try to duck and dive, but there is nowhere to go. I am numb to the pain, but the constant impact has me dazed. The bell goes. I retreat to my corner in a hurry.
“I’m getting bate, Gerry,” I say.
“Of course you are. I told you to hit her. Hit her, Roisin,” he says.
The bell goes and round two starts; I hit her. Left and right, repeatedly, without pausing. I don’t give her a second. I follow her around the ring as she tries to create space. She slips and falls. I walk away.
It reconvenes in the same thread; left right, left right. It is not pretty or clever boxing. It is just punching and I don’t feel good about it. She leans on the ropes, I ease-off and fall back.
She takes the opportunity and springs forward. I am insulted by her retaliation, following my soft moment and I lean into my punches. The bell goes and I don’t need to be told I won the round.
Round three starts ferociously. She wants to win back points, but I had given up all sentiments of courteous conduct. I punch her every opportunity I get. She spends the entire round on the ropes and I don’t let up until the bell goes.
It is just three rounds of three minutes, but it is more tiring than a two-hour run. We go to the centre for the decision. The ref holds us both by the hand. He raises mine high into the air.
* Boxing Olympian Kenny Egan, light-heavyweight silver Olympic medallist, will be coming out of retirement tonight to take on UCC Students’ Union president, Padraig Haughney, who is mounting the challenge of surviving a few rounds.
The match takes place in the Savoy, Cork at 7pm, and money raised will go to Breakthrough Cancer Research and the Children’s Unit at Cork University Hospital.
Tickets are €10.
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