It's a short piece looking at fighters as poets and a more human side to a brutal sport.
|When he entered the conference hall he felt as if the floor had given way beneath him and he was in free fall. There was a blinding chorus of camera flashes and he could barely see where he was going, it felt a lot hotter than it had at the back and Champ could feel the sweat gathering on his brow. He was directed to his chair in front of the baying journalists who all together began to fire questions at him, not one he could decipher from the other. As the journalists were brought under control and the camera flashes became less frequent he could make out the size of his audience. There was easily over a hundred people seated he thought, maybe a hundred and fifty; more were standing along the back wall waiting for the show to begin. He took a sip of water from the glass put out in front of him, it was warm. As a general hush descended on the room, another man with a clipboard pointed to a journalist in the front row. The journalist nodded, recognizing that to be his cue and asked, ‘Hi Champ, what have you made from your opponent Kevin Sampson’s claims that you are too old to be Heavyweight champion and he predicts you won’t have the stamina to make it past the fifth round?’
Champ fired back instantly, ‘The boys a great fighter but I got one thing he hasn’t, that’s experience.’ Again there was a hush as the journalists thought he would begin a tirade against his opponent but it never came.
Feeling short-changed and sensing they had hit a sensitive issue another journalist stoked the fire a little more, ‘So Champ, surely you must realize the bookmakers have your opponent as the clear favourite. If you do succeed in beating the younger man, would you look to retire and secure your unbeaten record or fight further into the future?’
‘If I beat him?’ The anger was clear in his voice but he tried to restrain himself, he knew they wanted him to crack, ‘Any of you want to back Sampson be my guest, put your house on him to win, damn throw your kids college tuition in while you're at it. I promise to visit you at the poor house after the fight.’ He had purposefully avoided answering questions about retiring simply because he hadn’t made up his mind yet. Telling them he was considering retirement would be seen as admitting he was no longer at his best and that’s not something you do before going into a title fight. The thought of retirement was still lingering on his mind when another question was fired at him. ‘Some in his camp have suggested that you no longer have any respect for the sport and that your interests out of the ring have become your main priority. How would you respond to such claims?’ There was a slight pause as Champ took a second to think of his answer. ‘I’m a fighter but that is not all I am. I am a poet, a leader and when I am beating him he’ll believe I’m his father. I’m a…’
‘Great actor!’ The room erupted in laughter, the mass of journalists jostled in their seats to see the man who had spoken sitting in the middle of the sixth row. ‘You are a great fighter, but if this is a contest between more than fighters, then you underestimate your opponent. You say you a poet, I like that, but are you a greater poet than your opponent? The man may look simple, but with poetry, you must read between the lines. His rhymes are his immense body blows. The metre his careful strides across the canvas. You compose haiku’s but your opponent's tale is epic and grand like a greek tragedy. The narrative would be an allegorical tale of a man who must wander through a wilderness in search of something he cannot describe or has never seen. Or perhaps more simply about a boy from the ghetto’s of Georgia, who has lived with nothing and with no more then the his bare hands and the will and strength god instilled in him has made his way through life beating those who think themselves better then him.’
‘Well ladies and gentlemen, I believe you all know my former mentor and trainer Jeremiah. The man was named after the prophet who foresaw the fall of Jerusalem, how now he seems to be prophesizing my downfall. You asked me a question. Am I a greater poet than my opponent? But how do you measure greatness? If it is through technical ability, which I possess in greater abundance than my opponent then yes I am greater. To watch me dance on the canvas is to see a lyrical balled take form, my feet set the rhythm in the ring, each round is a stanza for me to fill. My opponent will be silenced by my greater diction and the world will hear the tale I tell which is not to dissimilar to the one you describe. It is of a boy who must wander a great and boundless desert for many years. The boy searches through this cold and lonely place and as the years pass he becomes a man. He has been hardened by the world around him, which has given him nothing but is the only one he knows and so he must love it. Every so often the boy will stumble across another of his kind, another who has had to wander through the wilderness and endure the same hardships as he has done. Yet he feels no kinship to this other, but feels compelled to destroy his brother and erase him from that terrible world. Because if he cannot control the world, he must be master of all others on it, if he must suffer on in this void then he must suffer alone.' He thought that an appropriate time to leave them, some slightly stunned by his revelation, others smirked and laughed believing it to be a part of the circus that was now surrounding the fight.
He leaned against the desk in the small office while he waited for the car to come round and pick him up. He let out a sigh of relief but kept it hidden from the others who seemed too busy to notice. There was a knock at the door but before anyone could open it Jeremiah let himself in. All eyes were on Champ and he gave a slight tilt of the head to signal for everyone to leave him alone to speak to Jeremiah. Jeremiah watched them leave and waited for the door to close before turning to Champ. ‘What, you’re not going to thank me?’
‘Thank you? You tried to make a fool out of me out there,’ Champ remained against the table while Jeremiah stood by the door, with his hat in his hands he almost looked frail. ‘Son, you were doing that on your own. You were letting them get the better of you, they weren’t righting a sports article, they were writing your obituary. I’ve never seen you look so vulnerable. Then from nowhere you try and segway into this scripted speech, I couldn’t stand by and just watch you destroy your image like that; I had to step in and it’s because of me you managed to get that performance out there and all but stop them from writing you off completely.’
‘Who said that was a performance, maybe without you I can finally show people who I really am.’
‘Pah,’ Jeremiah waved a hand to dismiss the claim. ‘A wandering child? That’s not what you are.’
‘So you really think you know me then, well prophet, do tell?' Champ’s voice conveyed a growing annoyance but he remained motionless.
‘Sonny, I know you better than anyone else, I practically raised you. You're not a solitary figure trying to rule the world, you're just another man scared to death of failing; that’s all, your like every other guy out there whose had something and can’t bare to see it taken away. I can see it weighing you down, they nearly saw it out there. Right now people look at you they don’t even see a man, they see what’s possible, they see an extraordinary specimen of human achievement. Shit, I’ve seen people look at you like you were a God; but when you lose and you will lose, that all goes away.’ The Champ looked to the floor, Jeremiah could see his point was being made. ‘You become just another fighter, one for the history books. Maybe you can get a job in Vegas as a greeter like Joe did, or heck with your mouth maybe even get into commentating. The world won’t end when you lose, it just won’t be the world you want it to be.’ Jeremiah edged closer to Champ, ‘Now kid we both know what you have to do, call it off, say you pulled your back, at your age they’ll have to believe it. That way you retire as the Champion, unbeaten, unbeatable.’ Champ didn’t take his eyes from the dingy carpet, ‘But we both know that’s not what I’m going to do.’
Jeremiah almost laughed, ‘Yes, I guess we do.’