Last night was the big fight.
(Alright, technically the night before last as I’ve taken so long to post this that it’s now after midnight. This has partially because I’ve been resting a lot and processing what I want to say today, and partially because I’ve spent much of the past two hours trying to get my broadband to work.)
It feels weird that, after ten weeks of training, it’s all over now.
I was told to relax beforehand, so I spent Thursday night reading in the bath and treated myself to duck for dinner. Some of the women fighting got their hair or nails done (they looked stunning and I was a bit jealous) and booked days off work to spend it pampering themselves.
I honestly couldn’t have spent the day not being at work with things to do. If I’d had the full day of the fight free, I would’ve stressed and hyped myself up way too much.
As it was, I was busy throughout the day, so I could keep the fight at the back of my mind and concentrate on other things. I left work early so I could get to the venue with plenty of time to have a medical check and sign a contract saying I wouldn’t sue if I got injured and find out about the line-up.
It was reassuring to learn that my blood pressure is healthy. We didn’t get a straight answer when we had to ask how bad our blood pressure had to be in order to be disqualified this close to the fight.
By this point, it was not even 6pm and the fights weren’t due to start until at least half past, if they were running on schedule (which, we were informed, as usually not the case). We were allowed to wander around, go say hello to the girls in the other dressing room, get a feel for being in the ring, greet our friends as they showed up to watch.
My very supportive friends brought along a sign to cheer me on. (The Pokemon will make sense a soon. I love that they are all fighting types.)
I’m definitely glad we got to get into the ring before the fight. I was talking to some of the other fighters in the dressing room about how nice it would’ve been to get a chance to spar in the ring to get a feel for what it will be like, rather than fighting there for the first time in front of a hall full of people. It was daunting.
I was the sixth fight in the line-up and, although it was reshuffled around between the time I arrived and the first fight, that did not change.
I was supposed to go on at 7.45pm, which I decided would be a good time.
Based on what I’d seen at the Pride fight, I thought it would be better to be on in the middle rather than the beginning or end. At the beginning, not everyone who’s coming has arrived, so it’s fairly empty, and the people who have arrived likely haven’t had much to drink yet, so they’re quite quiet. This does not make for an ideal atmosphere. Towards the end of the night, people have had plenty to drink so the audience is nice and loud, but a lot of people have left because they’ve seen who they came to see and are now bored.
(I don’t blame them for this, I did this at the Pride fight. The fact is that these very amateur fights are not marketed towards people interested in boxing, but the friends of those participating.)
I thought that I’d been given a good time slot because it was early enough that I wouldn’t get overwhelmed feeling nervous for hours building up to it, but late enough that the crowd would be a decent level of rowdy.
I felt eerily calm for a long time. I chatted to the other women about their day and how they were feeling. We hung out and ate Jaffa Cakes and drank water and pumped each other up. There was one person in the dressing room who seemed really psyched out who did not make things any less tense for the rest of us. Everyone else was really cool and supportive, though, so for the most part there was a pretty good atmosphere.
I went up onto the balcony to watch the first fight from above. It started twenty minutes later than planned, but apparently that was a fairly reasonable delay compared to some previous events.
I am very proud of Yas for having the guts to go on first – and for putting on a show that really pumped up the crowd and got them looking forward to the rest of the night.
From up in the balcony, I could hear Cherrelle (my coach, in the red corner) as clear as a bell. I could hardly tell that Jon (the coach in the blue corner) was saying anything – his deep voice got lost in the all the noise. Before, I hadn’t had any real preference about whose corner I was in, but that made me thankful I had her on my side.
When the fight was over, I went back to the dressing room. Only one of the fights between the first one and mine featured someone from my training group. I didn’t want to get too worked up watching fights, so I mostly stayed in the dressing room.
I got changed and regretted my choice of shorts. I wanted to find some long boxing shorts but Sports Direct has recently been taken over by new football kits so I struggled to find any. Instead, I got some generic sports shorts that weren’t skin-tight cycling shorts. I did not try them on in store because the queue for the fitting room was very long, even though I was aware at the time that this was not a wise idea.
They fit fine, but they did not come far down my thighs. I didn’t have much of a problem standing up and moving around, but I was uncomfortably aware of my legs. I was aware of every hair I’d missed when I shaved them, every little bit of flab. Sitting down, I was all too conscious of it all.
I watched the other fight between women from my training group. It was far fiercer than I expected from either of them and I was amazed.
In the dressing room afterwards, things were much quieter. We had been instructed to relax. I finished reading my book. Our coach put on some music.
Her attitude was so helpful. She was calm, dancing in the dressing room, and casual about everything.
I shadowboxed a bit to warm up and did some drills with Cherrelle. I still felt worringly calm until Cherrelle put the gloves on me. Putting my wraps on, having Cherrelle tape them, warming up without gloves on, all felt completely fine.
But when the first glove went on I started to feel sick.
I pushed through it, shadowboxing until it was time to head out. Cherrelle and I had a little dance before we went out and I actually calmed down quite a lot just hanging out by the door.
When they invited us through into the front, we got all the fighters in the room yelling “GET ME” along with the coach to pump us up. It’s something that Cherrelle says that, over the past week since we learned she’d be in our corner, has become a little catchphrase for us.
After much deliberation I had picked a remastered version of the original Pokemon battle theme as my ring music. After sifting through hundreds of really good suggestions, I thought about some advice I’d been given about thinking about what I want to say. My first thought was “domestic violence is bad” because that’s what the event was all about, raising money for Refuge. But there are only so many songs about domestic violence and they’re usually not very inspiring.
The only other thing I could think that I was “trying to say” with the fight was “hey look I’m having a fight”.
And nothing says that more to me than the Pokemon battle theme. I’ve been playing the game as long as I can remember. Afterwards, I joked about – if I carried on fighting – graduting to gym leader themes, elite four themes, champion themes and Trainer Red one day, when I’m that good.
Cherrelle seemed to enjoy my choice. That was a relief. I was half expecting more people to be more cynical about the song. It was silly and kind of childish, but people seemed to really enjoy it.
I was still paranoid about my tiny shorts but, now with my gloves on, I couldn’t do anything about them.
Once I walked out, I felt okay. Cherrelle went out ahead of me and then stepped aside so I could go around first. I had to walk past all my friends to get to my corner. They were all standing up and cheering and one of them was filming. I blew them a kiss and nearly spat my mouthguard out.
Feeling like I was showing off for my friends (something I do a lot) made me feel a bit more relaxed. The strangers faded away a bit.
As Cherrelle rubbed Vaseline on my face and headguard, she reminded me to punch and tuck, punch and defend, punch and step back. This helped, I think. I still wasn’t quite in the habit of stepping out of the way as recently as Wednesday. I preferred to just take the punch and then still being in a decent range when I was ready to throw my own. Which is not necessarily a good idea and definitely not something to rely on – not when you’re fighting someone bigger than you.
Cherrelle reminded me that I’d been sparring with a woman who had much more training than my opponent and that I’d managed to go through three two minute bouts with her before and come out of it just fine. Well, with a black eye, but fine. If I could do that, I could do this.
I’d been telling myself that since I was sitting with the ice pack on my face after that first round, but hearing it from Cherrelle made it feel a lot more real. Focusing on her and what she was saying made it easy to stop thinking about the crowd and my shorts and the judges and all the things making it tense.
I was aware that all those things were all there when we touched gloves, but as soon as the first punch was thrown, everything apart from us – and Cherrelle and Laura screaming at me from the red corner – disappeared.
I started off fairly cautiously.
I know I’m not the fittest person in the world and I didn’t want to tire myself out too quickly. I also know that Cherrelle’s general technique is to react to your opponent and use their mistakes against them. It’s worked so far for her.
I don’t remember much about the details of the fight, if I’m honest.
In the first round, I kept my punches low and my hands up. I tried to hit multiple times if I could hit once, to make the most of my short arms being in range in case it didn’t last. I kept Cherrelle’s advice to back off after a few blows in mind far better than I have up until that point.
I took a few hits to the face while my fists were trying to get body shots. I could feel the Vaseline on my headguard really making a difference to how solid those blows were. Or maybe I was imagining it. But it felt like her gloves were slipping off rather than pushing further into my face.
At the end of the first bout, I was feeling pretty good. Already sweaty and gross but good.
Cherrelle spent the minute break telling me I was doing fine, giving me some tips about how to manage my energy so I didn’t get tired out with two more bouts to go, reminding me that I’d fought women with much more training than this. She encouraged me to breathe deeply and slowly. She started to give me some water and then we were told to get back in the ring so I only managed to get the tiniest dribble.
I started the second round mostly using the same techniques as the first. They seemed to be working for me. I was getting a lot of body shots in and defending well enough that the occasional shot I took back didn’t feel too rough. I could get through three rounds like this.
I was still few punches back. At one point, I staggered a little and lost my stance. But I managed to correct it before things got really bad for me.
At some point, I have no idea when, I noticed that my opponent had her guard way down. Maybe it had been like that for a while because I was focussing on lower shots. I don’t know. But I saw an opportunity and I took it and I swung a right hook at her face.
It connected. Hard.
She looked shocked – she definitely hadn’t seen it coming.
The crowd went “OHHHH!”
I felt amazing.
I think I backed off a step, and then we were back into it.
After that, I tried to get as many of those head shots in as I could. Whenever she hit me, I swung my arm up over hers to get her in the face. Sometimes, I tried to get in multiple hooks from both hands. When I managed to get in enough body shots that she crouched down to defend her stomach, I swung up and aimed for the face.
I was still taking my share of punches, but I was getting a lot more confident now.
Towards the end of the second round, I could see her start to flag a little. I won’t pretend I wasn’t also starting to get exhausted, but I felt good about that. It might only be a total of six minutes, split up into two minute rounds, but that’s six minutes that you’re constantly moving, that you’re throwing punches that you need to calculate well and you’re also taking punches at the same time. It’s a pretty intense six minutes.
Again, during the break, Cherrelle coached me through breathing deeply and was just tipping the water bottle into my mouth when I had to get back in the ring.
By this point, I was well and truly fond of the head shots that I was throwing that kept connecting. I loved the noises the crowd made when they landed and I felt like I was getting good at them.
I think Cherrelle was pretty fond of them too, because I could hear her yelling at me to hook over my opponent’s arm and get her in the face, and do it again, and get three shots in, four shots in, back off, hook her in the face.
There were times in the third round when I felt like we were standing around sizing each other up for too long.
This is a problem I feel like I’ve had from the beginning – where I’ll want to rest, but can’t because I’m midway through a fight, so I’ll stand still. I don’t think I do it for long enough that it makes a huge difference. Every time I’ve told people I’m concerned, they’ve said they don’t really notice it. But I’m also aware that every second counts and that if my opponent is as exhausted as me, if I can rally myself the tinest fraction of a moment faster, then I’ve got a good advantage.
I think we were fairly even in terms of who jumped back in first. When she moved first, I felt quite confident about managing to defend or counter and then make my own move once she’d made hers.
Even though there was times during that third round that I really didn’t want to, I pushed for as many punches as I could get.
I think my opponent was as exhausted as I was, if not more so. There were a handful of times when she dropped her guard and just stood there, catching her breath. I did not take advantage of this as much as I could have. I’m so used to politely letting people take a little breather during training that my instinct was to wait until she was ready to carry on.
I think I got over this fast enough to get some good shots in, but I could’ve done more.
We both really went for it in the last ten seconds, throwing punches driven only by adrenaline.
With just a couple of seconds left to go, I saw the ref looming up on us, having kept out of our fight for the most part. My opponent backed off. The ref was heading towards me and I was worrying I had done something wrong.
Then the bell went to say the fight was over.
The ref pointed me at Cherrelle and pushed me towards her. It turns out that I was falling out of my top quite a lot and hadn’t noticed. Cherrelle put me away. I don’t know if it would’ve been as quickly dealt with if I’d had Jon as a coach. When I talked to people afterwards, they told me they hadn’t noticed. I’ll have to wait until the full videos are up to find out how obvious it was.
Laura, who was helping Cherrelle in the corner, very kindly let me spit my mouthguard into her hand. They each took a glove off and my headguard. I straightened out my clothes a little more and then we went back into the ring.
Holding the ref’s hand, gasping, eyes closed, waiting for them to announce the winner, was the first time I really wanted to win.
Up until then, although I thought it would’ve been nice to win, my priority had been doing my best and entertaining my friends who had come to see me. And, while it’s a cliche of a thing to say that taking part is the most important thing, I meant it. I know I’m not the best boxer ever, I know I’m not even the best boxer in our group and I know that the organisers were purposely pairing us up to create fights that could go either way, because that’s more fun to watch. So I was probably about as likely to win as I was to lose.
But in the lifetime that it took the announcer to say that the judges had decided the winner, I really wanted it to be me.
Hearing my name was incredible.
Someone hung a medal around my neck. I hugged my opponent thanked her for a good fight and for making me work for it.
I got out of the ring and half my friends ran over to hug me even though I was sweaty and gross. I went back to the dressing room and hugged some more people. Someone asked me how I managed to hit my opponent in the face at all, let alone as many times as I had, given how much taller she was than me. I said I didn’t know.
I drank two bottles of water and went to find a shower. I rang my dad (who asked if I had won) and my nan (who asked if I was okay). I was asked to answer some questions for an interview with a team who were filming the night. That was quite fun and gave me plenty of time to cool down and relax. (I’ll post the videos when they’re ready.)
Wandering around the venue still in my kit, I felt like a bit of a celebrity – quite a few people stopped me and congratulated me and shook my hand. A few men told me that they wouldn’t want to fight me. I wouldn’t want to fight them either, but I suspect for different reasons.
I hung around and watched all the fights featuring women from my training group. And a few of the fights featuring other people, but I was more inclined to skip those ones in favour of having a shower and changing into clean clothes. I am so proud of everyone who fought. For people who have never boxed in their life before tonight, I was blown away by their performances.
And that’s on top of how much I’ve loved being a part of such a supportive group of women for the past ten weeks.
I’m still not entirely convinced it’s over. I have my Friday and Wednesday evenings back. But I don’t know what I’m going to do with them. I feel like I’m going to feel very lost on Wednesday.
I think I’ll probably continue boxing. After a little break. I’ve definitely enjoyed it enough.
The gym offers unlimited classes (spanning boxing, conditioning, thai boxing, kickboxing and a few other fitness classes) for £15 per week. Instead of doing two sessions a week, like we have been up until now, I might do the occasional week maybe once or twice a month where I go to as many classes as I can, with at least one week off where I don’t go to the gym but still cycle to work so I’m not pushing myself too hard but still keeping active.
There have been rumours of a similar event to this one with training starting later on in the year and finishing before Christmas, which I’m definitely up for doing. I feel like I’m more disciplined when I’m part of a group like this with a goal to head towards, than if I’ve paid for gym membership and have to motivate myself on my own to go.
I’m also tempted to see if I can find another sport that I can do a similar thing with. I now have a medal for trampoling from when I was on my university team and a medal for boxing. Maybe I could get a little collection going, become a jack-of-all-sports sort of thing. Although I don’t want to push it with the charity events. Once every so often is fair enough, but I don’t want to become the friend that’s always begging for money, even if it does go to a good cause.
I can worry about that when the rush of this event has worn off a little more.
At the time of writing, over the course ten weeks, I have got one black eye, one winning medal and raised a total of £440 for Refuge.
I don’t think the JustGiving page expires. At least, the ‘Donate’ button is still there, so if anyone still wants to donate, you can do so through this link.
Thanks to everyone who has supported me throughout the time, through everything from advice to donations.