My first boxing match
Yup, that's me on the deck.
A while ago I was watching a documentary about the annual boxing competition between Oxford and Cambridge universities. It stressed me out, which is odd, because I've competed in an event very similar to that.
I was twenty-one years old, a student, and in my spare time I trained in amateur boxing at Kent University.
I enjoyed watching boxing (in those days I didn't have the reservations about it that I have now) and I wanted to try the sport.
Kent University was the ideal place to learn as they had a great coach, and I was living close to the place at the time.
I was five-eight, 147 pounds, and a natural welterweight.
In spite of my lack of athletic talent, I made steady progress because of my amazing coach.
One day he said to me:
"Kent University has been invited to compete against Oxford at boxing, because Oxford want to give their boxers a bit of preparation before they have their annual fights with the Cambridge lot. Would you like to be on our team, Jack?"
"I'd love to," I said.
Then I shat my pants. Not literally, but you know what I mean.
It was a couple of weeks to the contest,which was ample time to get worked up about it.
The day came that I boarded a minibus with the rest of the team and we headed over to Oxford.
I was lucky my fight was among the first. That gave me less time to stress about it.
I entered the ring and saw my opponent: he was about six feet tall, slim-built and long-limbed; very different to me in his physical shape. That sounded warning bells: if he was quick on his feet, he'd be able to move around the ring, punch at range, pepper me with jabs, catch me with the occasional right hand, and I'd be able to do nothing about it.
The MC made the usual introductions which I hardly heard because I was in such a tizz; my coach put my gumshield in my mouth, the bell sounded, and me and my opponent both got up off our stools.
This was amateur boxing, but bear in mind it wasn't like amateur boxing is today. It was closer to a short pro-fight. In those days there were no headguards in the amateur game, and novice fights were fought over three rounds, each three minutes long.
"Three minutes? That's nothing," you might think.
I can assure you that any three minutes in the centre of a boxing ring, or cage, or Judo mat, against an opponent who wants to punch your lights out, kick you senseless, or strangle you into submission, will be the longest three minutes of your life.
So I was somewhat anxious as I made my way to the centre of the ring.
But here's the thing: so was he.
And it was my good fortune that I dealt with that better.
My distinct recollection is that he didn't throw a single punch, but I think I must be wrong about that. It's some sort of a false memory.
I believe what actually happened is that he threw punches all right, but not effective ones. I was somehow able to block them, or slip them, or walk right through them. And because he was even more stressed than I was, he wasn't able to glide around the ring to escape me, as I'd feared he would.
The result was that the first round consisted of me following him, closing down the ring on him, and hitting him with solid shots. I don't remember feeling anything he might have thrown back at me.
The second round went exactly the same way until he ended up in a corner and couldn't get out. I bent him double with a body hook then plastered his face with hooks and uppercuts. The referee stopped it at that point, which was just as well.
Maybe you're wondering how I could hit a man who was obviously helpless. I was young and all I was thinking about was self-preservation. In the fight game, self-preservation equates to other-annihilation.
One of these days I'll tell you about my second fight - the one I lost.
I'll also have something to say about writers and boxing. There's a bit of history there I'd like to explore.