Ever been the fall guy?
You know, the guy or gal who gets brought in at the last minute to fill in. Someone to fill in a position and just be there for appearances or for minor entertainment.
We all like to root for the underdog. The unknown hopeful who maybe does not lose too badly. A number. Another one of the nameless faces that come and go.
That’s what it felt like later on. Like about 48 hours after I get that phone call. “Please Doug, I really, really need another fighter,” said world class kick-boxer, Barry Atkins. “My guy is really green. All your expenses will be covered.” And being eager to please and build up my kick-boxing experience, I accepted. Never mind that I was to start a new job on Monday, three days from now.
After a five hour drive to Kamloops, B.C. Canada and got a home at a hotel. The next day, during weigh-in (like they were going to change their minds at this point), I met a fellow martial artist, Dan Lowney. Dan asked who my coach and corner man was. Embarrassed, I admitted not to have any and was on my own. What I did not tell Dan was that I also had not trained in kick-boxing for the past five months. Being a stand up guy, Dan volunteered to corner for me.
Now, I am not making excuses for what happened later during the match. I had not properly prepared. My fault. I will also mention that Barry Atkins’ White Crane school of martial arts trained some world class fighters. They were very good. I had been up against one of their guys before and he had been tough as nails. Besides, this match was supposedly against a total rookie.
So, I had three matches under my belt. During the five month kick-boxing layoff, I had been training in Chinese kung fu. I had been mostly training stances, forms and breathing techniques. I did not even wonder if that was enough. Logically it was not.
Then came the fight night. There were 11 matches of Atkins’ White Crane kick-boxers against different out-of-town clubs. Most of the matches did not even last one round. The White Crane fighters were grinding these outsiders like so much hamburger. One after another, the other fighters were hitting the canvas or assisted out of the boxing ring.
During my match, my opponent came at me like a mad Rottweiler. Whatever, I threw, he ignored and kept punching and punching..and punching. I felt my knees start to buckle as I grabbed him in a clinch. I flopped a weak hook at his head in an attempt to look like I was still in the match.
There was no kick-boxing going on here. Just a maniac who rushed in throwing punches.
The referee separated us and I hung back in my corner, still unsteady. I remember the Canadian champion, Dennis Crawford telling me something about how to fight a slugger. What was it? I also vaguely remember, this tough 18 year old kick-boxer talking about technique that worked and the other kick-boxers thought that he was crazy. What was that about?
Too late to think about it as here comes slugger boy again. This time I did not try to box or kick-box. I moved my head to the left and drove a straight right fist like I was throwing a shot put. It caught him flush in the mouth and he staggered back.
For a few seconds his eyes looked glassy and he just stood there. Then someone behind him shouted something and he comes charging in like a bull. I throw that same right punch with everything, which, after beating was not that much.
About the third or fourth time that I had countered his rushes, he switched to kick-boxing. For short bits and then he would rush in again and again.
I had this one side kick that I could throw really close. Like even from a clinch. (Thank you, Al Cheng for teaching me.) It worked over and over.
By the third round, I was wobbling and someone in the crowd kept yelling at me to keep my hands up. Rule number one: keep up your guard. Keep your hands up. But, I was so exhausted and disorientated. Counter punch. Counter punch. Take the kick. Eat the pain. Slip in another tricky side kick. When he got close, I threw my arms around him in a clinch and hugged him in tight, until the referee separated us.
The match ended and that was that. Dan congratulated me for doing so well. After a shower and a meal, I went to bed with a pounding headache.
The following day, while driving back to Vancouver, I heard Kamloops radio announcer talk about the former night’s kick-boxing matches. The Kamloops team had won 10 of 11 matches.
I smiled, knowing first-hand, which match that they did not win. Even the underdog has their day.
Believe in yourself or no one else will.