‘This is going to be the longest journey ever.’ I think to myself as I finish getting my kit ready and packed in my gym bag. I’ve made my peace, quietened the voice of uncertainty that has been playing mental ping pong with me for the past ten minutes and I’m well set and ready to go.
I know I can win today. I go over the mental check list in my head for about the hundredth time. ‘Wraps. Yes. Gloves. Yes. Shorts, oil, gum shield and box… hell yes. Asking for a quick blessing and a bit of luck I head out the door. I’ve trained hard and I feel more ready now than I thought I would.
Heading out the door into the cold, wet and windy November weather I contemplate the journey to Wales for the show I’m fighting on in the evening. It’s going to be the longest journey ever.
An hour or so later I’m on my way to Wales on the train, listening to music on my headphones and thinking of everything but fighting. Well that’s not strictly true because the fight keeps surfacing in my mind like a Shark’s fin rising ominously above the waves. I’m looking forward to it but I’m nervous too. After all..I’m only human.
I’ve developed a game plan of sorts. It really begins with keeping everything focused left (where the power is ) bar my right low kick and keep it simple. Always keep it simple. I ignore the nerves and push them to one side again. I see myself winning again and again. I won my last fight. I keep hold of that memory like a mental safety blanket, knowing that today will be different because this isn’t K1. This is what I what I love the most. Muay Thai.
Two trains, a bus journey and a taxi later and I’m weighed in fed and watered and ready for the evening ahead. I weighed in at 61.8kg which was a little over my weight on my own scales. The social club, I’ve discovered has a little secret away from the main room where the ring is being set up and where the skittles alley is where I weighed in earlier.
Slightly away from the weigh in area and down another set of steps is the home of Barry Island Eagles gym or ‘red corner’ for the evening. I grin to myself having a little look around briefly.
I know a gym like this in Bournemouth. It used to be my home. It’s always the gyms tucked away out of plain sight that are usually very good at what they do, and I’m pleased to have Lee Power and team in my corner for my fight. It feels a little strange being at a show without my trainers or other fighters from my gym but I know that I’ll be in good hands.
The afternoon rolls by at a crawl and after a half hearted ‘everything feels too slow I’m not sharp enough’ warm up on the bags, I wait patiently for the doctors to arrive for the medicals. The social club has got busier as other gyms arrive and I’m glad when I can get my medical done upstairs and mingle a little.
I feel nervous but calm and ready. I’ve had a few fights now so being here and having a cascade of thoughts run through my head is nothing new. Anything negative I side track and ignore, or outright put to bed or push to one side. The rules meeting finally arrives and I know that it’s not long now until the show starts. The first fights are at Seven.
The social club has been getting progressively busier as the minutes have ticked by and when the doors open at 6, I begin to get my mind set on what lies ahead. I’ve doubled checked the fight list over and over. I’m fighting 9th. I quickly work out at what point I need to be warming up and ready.. there we are.Fight number 7.
I’ll make sure I’m getting ready from then on in. I’m pleased that Lee has announced to the lads from Eagles that I’m with them for the evening and to help me out if needs be. It’s nice to feel part of the family for the evening. There’s a few lads who have never fought before and some more seasoned fighters warming up on bags.
I get changed and stretch off a little. I sit down near some bags and start to wrap my hands. It’s at this point I start to really get my head in the game. This is happening right here and right now. It doesn’t matter there’s another few fights before I even need to start getting ready. I want to be ready now.
I watch the other fighters on the bags warming up and shadow boxing lightly in the gym / changing area. I join them on the bags. This time everything feels sharp. It feels strong.
My left kick feels immense as it hits the bag. It feels like power. Teeping, short sharp boxing combinations, teeps, left body, left low kick.. I move away from the bags and relax shadow boxing now and again lightly.
It’s 2 or 3 fights in when I head upstairs to take a look at the kids doing their thing. I smile to myself. I wish I started that young. Maybe things would be different now. Either way, I’m glad I’m here. Robert one of Lee’s trainers and students notices me in my shorts and wraps and tells me to go and relax. ‘You’ve got ages yet.’ he says smiling. It’s funny because ages always lasts a lifetime. fifteen minutes lasts forever.
I nod smiling ‘ok’. Taking another look at the kids I wonder how many fights this is now. Back down stairs in the gym the atmosphere is electric, but the junior fighters before me are getting themselves in the zone before they step up. It’s Calum then Bray then me. Somewhere along the line there’s a change in order of fighters and I wind up fighting before Bray.
I’m up next and I’m just about ready to go. I sit down. I shut all the noise out. Internal and external and close my eyes and relax. Slow breaths. In and out. In and out. I open my eyes and watch one of the more experienced fighters from Eagles lightly touch sparring with another lad. No power. Tap tap. No power at all. Just good technique.
Then it’s my turn to step up. Gum shield, water.. this is it. Here and now. Nothing else is important. ‘Let’s go get him.’ I think, banging my gloves together. I’m ready. I have to walk on my own for the first time ever in my fighting career. As I head up the stairs from the gym a thought flicks through my head ‘this is weird.’ I blink and ignore it. This is nothing new. This is what I do.
As I turn the corner to head towards the main room where the fights are taking place I catch sight of my opponent Marcin and his trainer in front of me. ‘Alright John, good luck mate.’ Sonny says giving me a nod. Marcin looks just as nervous as I feel.
In the cold light of day, he’s not as imposing as I feared but he looks tough. FSC are a good stable. We have to wait for a couple of minutes as the ref needs to use the toilet and I wait around the corner. Nerves jingle jangling I smile to myself. Nothing like life on the edge.
A couple of drunken girls become my new best friend and ask me if I’m ok, and who am I fighting oh and good luck!.. I smile tightly. Bless them. Thanks! then it’s time. I walk to the ring, the crowd giving me some encouragement on the way, and see Lee in my corner bowing as I walk to the ring. I give a quick bow myself before climbing through the ropes..
I walk to the red corner and give a broad smile as usual, gum shield in place. It’s good to know the big man is watching my back tonight. Leader of the Welsh. ‘Alright?’ Lee says smiling back. Calm and relaxed. I nod, and turn to face the centre of the ring. It’s Marcin’s turn to enter. He heads to the blue corner where his trainer Sonny is waiting. This is it.
The referee comes over to my corner, giving me a nod and smile. He checks my gloves and asks me if I’ve got a box on. The last one is a given but I’ve heard of fighters coming a little less prepared than they should. He tells me to turn around and checks the soles of my feet. My heart pounding I face the centre of the ring again. My adrenalin begins to kick in.
Signalling to us both, the ref brings me and Marcin to the centre of the ring. Marcin is wearing his gym’s Mongkon and a flower garland. His expression is stone cold. I meet his gaze. ‘Right lads.. the referee begins going through the usual rules overview of the fight. Now and again, I break eye contact to acknowledge him.
My mind flashes back to Mike Tyson saying how when his opponent breaks eye contact he knows he’s won. I wonder if I am showing weakness. I look at the ref once, then back at Marcin, then the ref and I quickly glance back meeting Marcin’s steely gaze with fire of my own.. Right till the final sentence. This is it.
I wonder again if I’ve looked weak. No matter. We bang gloves together and give each other a bow. I head back to my corner for a final pep talk from Lee and Jimpy (also in my corner.) then I walk calmly to the centre of the ring in stance, facing Marcin. The ref looks at us both then raises his hand and drops it. ‘Fight!’ This is it. And just like the last time.. I’ll see you on that road.