“I was on my way to a stranger’s house to have a fight.”
I had been training in various boxing gyms throughout London for approximately five years. I sparred here and there, enjoying the relaxing feeling I had after a good session.
Boxing is an art form, a technical dance with the highest stakes.
That’s what attracted me to the sport. I remember going into a boxing gym for the first time and seeing these small fighters who were very technical with precise movement around the ring, like chasing a shadow in the wind, you can’t get close. They could easily knock down a man twice their size and I admired this athleticism greatly.
Boxing was a release; a fun way to be in great shape, hammer out the stress of working long hours in London with the added benefit of feeling good. It was time away, an escape where I could focus on the intense action in the ring without any other thoughts. It was for this reason I had turned down so many opportunities to fight before, all the gyms I’d sparred in had put me forward but I always declined.
I enjoyed the freedom boxing brought. The only pressure was the one I put on myself to turn up to the gym when I felt like going home. One of the gyms was notorious for putting together fighters who were not well matched either in size or experience. I heard some terrible stories of fights that had devastating results for the less experienced boxer, who generally got beaten up. It wasn’t a boxing match.
Some of the promoters didn’t care and wanted to ‘put on a good show’ as they saw it, they were never governed or overseen by a particular body, or at least not that I knew of, so it was free reign in that sense and you had to put a lot of faith in the promoter to match you evenly. It takes huge guts to put yourself forward and step out into the ring even without this added unknown risk.
I came to a point where I had been flirting with the idea of a fight for some time. It kept creeping into my mind: ‘I’d like to be part of a show, I feel good enough’. This tied in with an internal drive I have always had to do something to the best of my abilities and not by halves. I would go all in, or not at all.
A few things in life also shifted to help with the decision. I had been producing music for some time and the studio I was using wasn’t available for a few months. I had also split up with my girlfriend so I now had more time and energy than usual. There was an opening for this to happen, for me to invest in the training needed to compete at this level, not to just box anymore for the sake of it. The timing felt right to allow it to happen.
I trained hard; six times a week for two hours each session. Once early on Monday mornings with a trainer, then each night and Saturday morning. I would ride my bike to the gym which added another forty minutes exercise each way, carrying a bag weighing six kgs of gear too added its own workout. Sunday was the day for relaxation.
Throughout this period I felt myself becoming a much better boxer. The trainer helped to bring me back to basics; footwork and movement. I was now more nimble around the ring, it is a dance after all.
One evening I went to another gym I had never been to before to get some practice with fighters I didn’t know and joined a sparring session. I wanted to test myself by intentionally being in uncomfortable situations to help prepare mentally for the ring and get used to that feeling of the unknown. All boxing gyms are intense environments for the outsider. There is always a certain amount of sussing you out that goes on by the fighters in the gym. As insiders they don’t give too much away, it’s all part of the dance. I went through to the changing room and immediately felt the glare coming my way, like a heavy weight pushing on my back, almost making me trip over my feet as I walked.
The session was good training although I was out of my depth. We did a few minutes sparring between each fighter on continual rotation with no stops and it became immediately clear they wanted to make an impression. It was tough going and I took a few hard hits. They had proven their authority; this was their gym and I felt it!
Another scenario I found myself in was a suggestion put forward by a trainer I knew. He said I should meet with one of his clients who had fought before to spar with. This seemed like a good idea so I got in touch and arranged to go round to his place to have a sparring session one evening.
I remember walking up to the flat, which was on the sixth floor in a block of flats in central London near Farringdon, and it suddenly dawned on me this is a bit weird and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. In a nutshell, I was on my way to a stranger’s house to have a fight.
I got to the entrance of the building and pressed the buzzer. A strong “hello” came through the small speaker and I said “hi, it’s Guy”. “Ok, come up” he replied. I went up in the lift and walked along the corridor, not sure what to expect. I was slightly nervous and keen at the same time. I got to the door and it was off the latch. I cautiously nudged it open and he came down to meet me. He was slightly taller than me with a stocky build and a few years older. He welcomed me in and came across as a good bloke telling me he was a chef. As with all chefs I have met he had a scowl ingrained across his forehead from the tension of the job I presume.
He had cleared a space in the lounge ready for a tussle. We did the usual “how do you know such and such” whilst I got changed as he didn’t have much time. I think this helped to ease the nerves for both of us. We ended up using an egg timer he had nearby on the cooker to keep track of the rounds.
It was unusual sparring. You had to be aware of the sofa behind you, the kitchen in the corner (it was open plan), then the bookcase to the left and a glass table that had been moved out the way. We couldn’t shove each other too hard as you would fall into a picture on the wall or possibly out the window. This helped with spatial awareness and forced us to be up close with one another. We did six rounds of sparring and I left as quickly as I had arrived.
All the training and sparring was taking its toll though. I remembered approximately two weeks before the fight feeling good and ready; it appeared I had peaked too soon. This was my own character showing through, going all in with lack of experience and guidance taking on something of this nature. The words ‘pace yourself’ came to mind.
I found the hardest part with boxing was the emotional shift I forced myself to undertake every time I put on the gloves. I never, ever, intentionally wanted to hurt anyone. Getting into a ring you have to be mentally prepared and fully accepting of what is going on. To box you need to have this ‘I’m going in’ attitude. This was completely out of character and I found it emotionally draining. I would psych myself up to it, when within my true nature it’s the last thing I wanted to do. This is probably the main reason why I hadn’t fought in all the opportunities before.
As anyone will know who has competed or trained to a high level in a sport, the more training you do, the fitter you get and the better you feel. There is a high often spoken of which can be achieved after a short fast run for example.
I was used to this high having played rugby to county level throughout my teens and also doing cross country mountain bike racing amongst lots of other sports; I was very active growing up. This high was not felt through my intense boxing training.
I can remember a specific conversation with my girlfriend (we got back together a month into training) when I said to her, “something seems wrong, I don’t feel fitter and stronger. I feel more exhausted and worn out, almost thin”. I left it at that and presumed it was just due to the amount of training, a stressful job and I wasn’t in my teens anymore. This did linger in mind as an area of concern.
As the build up to the fight continued I felt a sense of improvement in my fitness, although something wasn’t right, I couldn’t quite identify it. One day I was walking along the road to the shops and felt a very sharp sudden pain in my chest that brought me immediately to a stop. As quickly as it occurred it disappeared as if nothing had happened and so I carried on not giving it another moment’s thought.
This happened a few more times over the coming weeks up to the fight. With my general exhaustion as well I decided to book an appointment with the doctor just in case.
Within myself I knew something was up but I didn’t want anything to possibly get in the way of the fight. So with the usual delay at the surgery and my own self-willing I had an appointment the week after the fight.