Second tending to boxer in corner of ring, Rayne, Louisiana. 1938. Photographer Lee Russell –

The earth is as full of brutality as the sea is full of motion.

Jack London, The Sea Wolf

He gets up by 4 am in the morning. Puts a glass of water in the kettle to boil and sets off for morning ablutions. Done, pulls a pair of neat trunks and vests from the cupboard. With a windcheater over the chest, he sips down the hot coffee, biting off a left over apple in between. Both coffee and apple are important, next food would be available by 9:30 am only; he has to maintain the energy level. He can’t go overboard with the heavy diet either. Few bouts with his sparring partners are lined up in the morning. And the Manager confirmed on a junior ranked Boxer’s visit to continue with the test bouts later in the evening. They have to pick up the pace. Barely two weeks left for the Bantam Weight Title Challenge.

The reigning champion is a hard hitter. A light foot Southpaw, he is among those few boxers who can jab on a back foot!!

He knew the strengths and weak points of his first sparring partner, who had a lousy habit of bobbing the head to tempt a jab from the opponent. A tactic like that may work against a novice but sells poorly against seasoned fists. Next bout was over within the second round, but got a reprimand from the Manager to work combinations. By the time he reached the last bout, his body was sapped of energy. Manager was smart enough to call out a break. Finally a Spartan breakfast of eggs and fruits to nourish followed by 30 minutes’ break. It was the bout day and he was supposed to be free during the afternoon hours, but the Manager would have none of it and told him to hit the weights, all reps till failure. What happened? Boss unhappy with his performance despite all the wins during the practice bouts? Fine, he will let the gloves speak against the pro and make him realize that ‘He’ is the real deal against the champ.

Weights till 1 pm – lunch break till 3 and then jump ropes for 15 minutes followed by shadow boxing – 30 minutes, which will make a set. Repeat the set 5 times and take a break.

Around 6 pm, pro was present at the club with his Manager and seconds. Quick discussion among the bosses and off to dressing room for changing. He saw the pro from a distance, athletic built, much younger, having the body language of fighter eager to please the crowd. 2nd round or the 3rd max to finish him off.  The timekeeper rang the first bell after a short introduction. No time for pleasantries here.

They don’t call boxing a ‘Sweet Science’ for nothing. Apart from its sheer physicality and a demanding regimen, boxing requires chess like skill to anticipate opponent’s next move. Fail in any one of the departments and you will find the referee pointing fingers to the count of ten.

As usual, first round went testing each other’s skill, moves and habits. By the start of the next round, he started aggressively against the pro – Jab, Right Cross – Jab, Jab, and Cross. Pro seemed to be on the defensive when suddenly a rear uppercut crashed on his chin. A text book execution, his head shook wildly, legs felt light as feathers. For few seconds he was completely dazed, stars circling over the head. By the time he understood what was happening, referee had shouted out number ten to the crowd. Pro, unmistakably, went around the ring, waving both the hands jubilantly. The victory was way beyond his expectations it seems.

Manager was furious. Repeats like today at the Title Challenge and they would be lampooned across the boxing circle. He understood, Manager was probably more upset at losing a chance at the District President’s vacant post by coaching a glass chinned pugilist like him. 

Back to the house. Set the alarm at 4 am.

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