May 1421, 1998
Sidebar: Boxing Herstory
Women's boxing hits home: Joltin' Jen Darr takes on South Philly's Joie Gambino in a three-round featherweight bout.
by Jennifer Darr
We're the only female boxers on the bill.
Though she's only about 5-foot-2, she's built like a powerlifter. She tries to psyche me out by standing on tiptoes so I can see her leg muscles.
Two can play at that game.
I take off my sweatshirt. Now I'm wearing just a tank top. Look, I've got muscles, too.
"She's checkin' you out," Howard Altman, my editor and manager, whispers in my right ear.
In the other ear, Johnny Farina, my sparring partner and, tonight, my corner man, is talking strategy. The combinations he's telling me to execute are floating around in my head like alphabet soup. Okay, what shall I do first? Jab? Nah, not aggressive enough. I've got to let her know that I'm tough. I'll come at her with a right hook, then immediately a left.
The only thing keeping me from feeling too intimidated is the fact that she's wearing frosty pink lipstick. I hate frosty pink lipstick.
"Sit straight. Relax."
It's 5:15 p.m. We've been sitting here trying to psyche each other out for at least an hour and a half. The only thing keeping me from feeling too intimidated is the fact that she's wearing frosty pink lipstick. I hate frosty pink lipstick.
A big sweaty guy informs us it's time for our bout.
As we walk through the rowdy crowd to the ring, my trainer advises, "Don't look at anyone. Just look down. Loosen your neck."
I climb in the ring and look at the crowd. What if I lose? What if she annihilates me? What if, God forbid, she knocks me out?
Give me the water bucket. I want to throw up.
"In the blue corner," the announcer begins, "from South Philly's Rosati's Gym, trained by Mickey Rosati, weighing 130 pounds, Joie Gambino!"
The whole room cheers.
"And in the red corner," he continues, "at 128 pounds, assistant managing editor of the Philadelphia City Paper, trained by Marty Feldman, trainer of seven world champions, Jennifer Darr!"
My fansall 15 of themcheer.
One day, back in January, news editor Altman asked if I wanted to do a story on women's boxing.
"Sure," I said.
"But you have to actually trainand fight."
"Fine," I answered. No problem, I thought. How hard could it be? I had my share of high school fistfights, and recently I gave a guy a right hook at a party for hurling insults at a friend.
I've always hated boxing, though. Whether it's men or women in the ring, boxing has always been a non-sport to me. It's pure violence, I thought. Bloody noses, cauliflower ears, bitten-off ears. Big, burly, stupid guys with funny-shaped noses feeding their egos. Guys who never learned the art of debateverbal debate. Boxing, to me, was a way for a man to prove he's tough in a world that no longer requires physical strength.
But the thought of training, hitting a heavy bag, even hitting a man, was appealingand challenging. This is a sport that historically hasn't accepted womenexcept to fill the thong-wearing card girl positions.
Over in the back, a barrel-chested gray-haired man is whacking one of the two heavy bagswithout gloves.
"Haya doin', I'm Marty," he says. "I run this joint." Feldman, a former pugilist and current trainer, is a few months shy of 65.
"Hey, here's an article for you: I'll be benchin' 250 by my 65th birthday," he says.
He wears a black short-sleeve T-shirt and black Calvin Klein jeans every day. His arms burst out of the sleeves.
"I used to hang down at the FOP. One night, when I was leavin'I had a chick on this arm and chick on that armthis guy, a cop, started givin' me a problem."
"Bam!" he throws a hook in the air. "I took him out."
He tells me what I'll need to do to prepare for my May 9 fight: lift weights, jump rope, hit the heavy bag and speedbag, and work with the medicine ballfour days a week.
I want at that heavy bag. I've only seen them in movies. Never actually hit one myself.
After a few rounds on the bag, I've already cut and bruised my knuckles. And I had my gloves on.
My fight was originally scheduled to take place at Delaware Avenue's Baja Beach Club. I was holding out for the Blue Horizon, but Damon Feldman, Marty's son and the promoter of Tough Guy competitions, said that would be impossible. This isn't a pro fight, nor is it amateur. It's a Tough Guy card, a type of competition frowned upon by some in the boxing world.
Unsanctioned by amateur or professional governing bodies, Tough Guy competitions are three-round fights, sometimes involving relatively inexperienced participants. Critics say they're wild, uncontrolled and dangerous.
Some states have even gone so far as to outlaw them. In April, the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission implemented a temporary ban on Tough competitions.
But Damon disagrees with the charges that these contests are dogfights. The competitors wear headgear, he says, and 16-ounce gloves. Every fighter must have a pre-fight physical. Women must take a pregnancy test.
The Athletic Commission will review its policy on June 29. Until then, it has refused to grant permits for any Tough Guy competition.
Regardless of what government officials think, these competitions have served a purpose for women.
Christy Martin started her boxing career in a West Virginia Tough Woman contest on a dare. She won, and entered again. She liked it so much, she started training and eventually turned pro.
Feb. 21: Four days a week has now been bumped up to six: four days lifting and hitting the heavy bag, and two days just lifting.
Mom walks into the gym while I'm hitting the heavy bag. "Ooh, you have that look on your face," she cringes.
"Ooh, I know that look. That angry look. Only you and your brother have it. Your sister doesn't have it."
Because I don't have a car, Mom has agreed to drive me to the gym for the next few months. She's going to be my Burgess Meredith. In exchange, I have to listen to everything she says.
It's time for the medicine ballMarty's own custom-made version. It's round and covered with silver duct tape, and flat on either sidelike a big Tums. I set it on the floor, get in push-up position, and drop onto it.
Doesn't feel like exercise. Feels more like stomach-pumping.
"Make noise when you do that!" Marty yells from across the gym.
Make noise? I don't like making noise. I don't like making a fool of myself, either, and that's what shadowboxing feels like, another part of tonight's curriculum. What good does hitting air do? Worse yet, I have to do it in front of a mirror in a crowded gym.
"Do this while you're doing that," he gets right next to me, starts throwing lefts and rights, saying, "Bing, bam, bing, bam, bing, bam."
Feb. 28: It's late on a Thursday, maybe about 8 p.m. The gym's not too crowded; only Marty, trainers April DePaulo, Joy Waller and Stacey Spigel, and a few women are there. Joseph Kiwanuka, a professional boxer from Uganda, is there, too. Marty's training him for an April 28 fight at the Blue Horizon.
Marty's walking around with a blood pressure monitor Velcroed to his bicep, occasionally pumping it up, releasing, and checking the gauge.
The women are talking as they work out.
"Guys are intimidated by a girl with muscles," says Monica, who dropped over 100 pounds since she started coming to the gym.
"My boyfriend sometimes calls me 'freak,'" she adds.
"Once, when I was at the beach, these guys said, 'You look like a guy,'" says Lisa, an attractive 30-something mother of three.
Joseph finishes his run on the treadmill.
"Joseph, this is Jen. Jen, Joseph," Marty introduces us. "Jen's training for a fight in May."
"You're fighting?" he looks surprised. "You have big legs," he says, patting his thighs. He's the first boxer I've ever had a conversation with. I expected him to be more brutish. Instead, he's kind, polite and modest. Had he known that telling an American woman her thighs are big could be taken as a put-down, he surely wouldn't have said it. He was complimenting me.
"Are there many women boxers in Uganda?" I ask.
He shakes his head.
Though the popularity of women's boxing is rapidly growing, there still aren't enough countries with amateur female boxers for it to become an Olympic sport. According to Frankie Globuschutz, owner of New York City's Academy of Boxing for Women and president of the International Women's Boxing Federation (IWBF), 160 nations must have participants for women's boxing to become a medal sport. He estimates that by 2004 it will be an Olympic exhibition sport, and by 2008, a medal sport.
March 21 (the Tropicana, Atlantic City): This is the first time I've ever seen live boxingand this is "Ladies' Night Out," an all-female card featuring a 10-round featherweight title bout between Jill "The Zion Lion" Matthews and Anissa "The Assassin" Zamarron. In between rounds, hunky leopard-thonged men carry round cards around the ring.
When Daily News columnist Stu Bykofsky called to ask me about my bout, he predicted it would be a "catfight."
That's how most people envision women's boxing. But this is no catfight: no hairpulling, slapping, biting or scratching.
In fact, the reason women's boxing attracts good crowds and high TV ratings is that many fans regard it as a return to boxing in its purest form.
According to Rick Kulis, president of Event Entertainment, a company that produces and distributes pay-per-view events (including USA Network's Tuesday Night Fights), their March 31 professional female boxing tournament garnered the highest ratings for Tuesday Night Fights in yearsthe fight was seen in roughly two and a half million homes.
"I think the fans like the honesty of it," says Kulis. "It's back to boxing for boxing's sake. These women are good athletes, they take it seriously, and they are not in it for that big payday." (Speaking of payday, women boxers tend to make more than men early in their careers. Purses get smaller with experience. Experts attribute the small purses to a lack of endorsements [read: lack of a household-name status] for women boxers.)
But, as with all change, you'll always have naysayers.
There's one man in this city who thinks women's boxing is "barbaric."
That's Russell Peltz, Philly's main boxing promoter.
"I am 1,000 percent against it. I don't like to see a woman get clocked. A person who stands in the corner and sends a woman out there -whether it's a father, a husband, a boyfriendthat's absolutely foreign to the way I was brought up. Right or wrong."
Early this year, USA Network's Brad Jacobs asked Peltz to host an all-female card at the Blue Horizon as part of the Tuesday Night Fights. Peltz begrudgingly agreed.
"I had no choice. Either I did the fight with the women on Feb. 3 or else I would have had to wait until Feb. 24. I didn't want to wait."
After USA aired advertisements promoting the card, it sold out within 24 hours. Jacobs says it sold out because of the women.
Peltz disagrees: "We've sold out our last 21 shows, with or without women."
Peltz is one of a handful of boxing "purists" who would rather see women's boxing just go away.
They're not purists, says Kulis. They're sexist.
"Fortunately," says Kulis, "that sexually repressive attitude is not shared by a broad section of the fan base.
"They're entitled to their opinion. But [women's boxing] is not a fad. It's not going to go away."
"Every time he's fought at the Blue Horizon he's had a standing ovation," Marty told me on Thursday.
What gets fans so excited?
KOs. (In Farina's professional debut, he knocked a guy out in 47 seconds.)
Marty told me a few days ago that Johnny's about "my size"five-foot-something, 130-something pounds.
On the drive to Springfield I gnaw on my nailssomething I haven't done since puberty. I arrive a little late. Johnny is already there, dressed in green cotton shorts and white tank top.
"Jen, this is Johnny. Johnny, this is Jenand I'm Marty, nice to meet ya," he laughs.
We shake hands. I can't help but notice how much bigger his biceps, triceps, deltoids and latissimus dorsi are than mine. He tells me he sells Little Debbie cakes for a living. He's 32; been boxing since he was 15. That's 17 years, compared to my two months of hitting a lifeless bag.
We jump rope for 10 minutes. The rope keeps getting caught on my sneakers. I'm not jumping high enough. It was just yesterday that I learned how to jump on one foot, then the other, then the other. He's just five feet away from me, in front of the mirror, jumping twice as fast and messing up half as much. He's ducking and weaving and bobbing. He spins the rope around twice in one jump.
He moves to the heavy bag. He throws a left hookalmost knocks the bag off the bolt and chain it's hanging from. I drop one of my rope handles.
"That's what happens to boxers," he says. "It's the sparring. It turns their heads into toothpaste."
"We'll take it back to the store after you fight, Jen," my mom says.
We put on 16-ounce gloves and lace up. I pick up the headgear. Smelly, used headgear. The one Marty puts on me has "Dip" scrawled in pen.
"Dip," Marty recalls. "Yeah, this was Dip's. He was a great fighter. He OD-ed."
I'm wearing the headgear of a dead man.
The bell rings; a green light goes on. The two-minute round has started. I bring my hands up, just like those guys in the pictures on the walls downstairs.
He jabs me lightly at first, telling me to jab back. My jab sucks. I am right-handed. There's no power in this punch.
Marty's sitting on a metal folding chair on the side yelling at me. "Jab. Right. Left hook!"
I jab, and hit his glove. I throw a right, and hit his glove. I throw a left hook, he ducks, sending me into a spin.
I'm pissed, and already breathless.
"Throw another one!" Marty screams from his chair.
"Another what?" I mumble through my mouthpiece.
"Jab, right, left! Jab, right, left. Bing, bing, bing. Bam, bam, bam!" he says as he stands up. Then he demonstrates: "Bing, bing, bing. Bam, bam, bam."
I jab, and hit his glove. I throw a right, and hit his glove. I throw a left hook, hit his glove. I follow up with a few right and left hooks, hitting his gloves. He's got his gloves up protecting his head. I sneak in a right hook to the bodyit lands.
"Good!" Marty yells. "Did you see that, Mom? She's thinking for herself," he says sarcastically.
While Marty and Mom are discussing my body shot, Johnny clobbers me with a left hook. I forgot to bring my right hand back up.
I let out a strange yelp, something like the sound someone makes when dunked in a freezing cold pool.
"Ya okay?" Johnny says, lowering his arms a bit.
"Yeah, I'm fine," I say between gasps. "Just not used to being hit."
"Well get used to it 'cause I'm not gonna stop. You just gotta remember to bring your hands back up."
Mom chimes in: "Yeah, Jen. Keep your hands up."
We continue until the bell rings and the red light goes on.
The bell rings for the start of the second round. It's hot and sweaty under this headgear. I am breathing so heavily it sounds like I am having an asthma attack.
"Don't turn your head!" Marty yells from his chair, placing emphasis on every word. "You turn your head like that in a fight and the ref will stop it!"
"You gotta look me right in the eyeeven when I'm punching you," Johnny adds.
After the eighth round, I slump, red-faced and panting, against the wall. I untie the gloves myself and throw the headgear across the room.
"Give me that mouthpiece. I'll take it back," says Mom.
"You can't take a mouthpiece back," I snap back. "It's like underwear. You buy it, it's yours.
"I'll just buy another," I say.
"How about some water. You want some water, Jen?"
"No, Mom. I just want to sit here."
"I'll tell you," she says, "you deserve a medal. Doesn't she deserve a medal, Marty?"
No, I don't. I don't want special treatment because I am female. I have to sweat and get hurt just like any guy. And I can't bitch and complain about it either.
March 29 (second sparring match): As we drive south on I-95, Mom gives me a pep talk.
"Just remember these two things, no three things," she says waving her fingers. "Don't turn your head, keep your hands up and don't back up. Remember them and you'll do fine. Oh, and look Johnny right in the eye at all times."
Johnny punches harder today. And faster. I can block a few. Can't duck any. I haven't learned ducking and punching coordination yet. Right now I can only handle one task at a time.
He punches and keeps punching: Left, right, hook, hook, body shot. I'm taking every shot. Every time he lands one on my head I feel a swift headache.
I jab him and hit his glove. It's becoming harder and harder to hold my arms up. And the less I punch the more he does. So I let him. I hold my arms up and try to block as best I can.
"Don't stop punching," Johnny pauses.
"Okay, okay. I know," I say, just so he'll shut up. Maybe the bell will ring soon.
"You stop, you give her the opportunity to do this " he nails me with a right.
I punch right back. Again and again and again. He ducks almost every punch. The muscles in my arms burn and ache.
"Come on, hit me," he's weaving side to side with his gloves down. He's showboatin'.
"Come on, you aren't tired. Hit me."
Yes, I am tired. And I am really starting to hate this Mr. Johnny Farina. I didn't like aiming for his face, but now I'm reconsidering.
That taunting is what really gets me. That's what a girl did to me in ninth grade after she stole my boyfriend. I dunked her head in the toilet in the cafeteria bathroom. Even when I had her head in the toilet, she kept egging me on.
"How else could you describe this but frustrating?" Marty asks me after the last round.
"I don't know." I'm on the floor, trying to catch my breath.
"I felt like I wanted to quit and that my punches sucked," I admit.
"That's frustration," he says. "How many chicks can say they've done this? Right or wrong?"
April 2 (third time sparring): Johnny knows how to get me angry. He ducks four out of five punches. And he never shuts up.
"Come on, hit me," he weaves back and forth, hands down. "Hit me. Get mad. Get mad."
"I am trying but YOU KEEP MOVING." Whack. I land one. "You won't let me hit you!" I scream. Thump. Another lands.
"Good!" Marty's elated. "You better register yourself. You're a dangerous weapon. Lethal." He's mocking me, but in his own way he's trying to inspire me.
Landing punches doesn't do me any good. It just makes Johnny hit me harderand more often.
Tonight I practice letting myself get punchedleft, right, left, right.
"Look at me when I'm punching you," he says.
Eye contact is the last thing on my mind when there's a sweaty glove in my face.
What did you think?" I ask Howard Altman as we pass the Southwest Philly sewage plant on the drive back to Philly. He took me to the gym tonight because Mom had to work late.
"When I get hit, just at the moment of contact, I get a little headache," I add.
"That's what happens to boxers," he says. "It's the sparring. It turns their heads into toothpaste.
"The brain is basically like gefilte fish," he explains. "With enough concussive power, their brains just turn into one big bruise."
April 11 (sparring): I've sparred about eight times so far. My arms are bruised and I can't get out of bed. My knees and ankles are aching and swollen. I think I landed on them wrong while jumping rope; Marty tells me it's just my body getting used to all the jumping around.
"You're using muscles you never even knew you had."
The first round begins and Johnny's punching harder, faster.
"Spin her, Johnny," Marty yells from his chair.
He cups my left elbow with his right glove, pushes me to the left, and plants a left hook dead in my face.
"Now you try it, Jen."
I spin him and he ducks my hook. Bastard. I come back with another, then, bam, a body shot.
I'm starting to like boxing.
"She's punchin good, ain't she, Mom?"
"She deserves a medal."
The bell rings.
In between rounds I pace the room trying to relax and control my breathing.
Johnny gets in my face: "If you throw a punch and miss, you gotta throw another, and another. She ain't gonna be as fast as me. No one is."
Just get out of my face. Leave me alone. This is my quiet time.
"You're punching hard. Not as hard as me, but hard. Just remember to bring your hand back up."
I look over at Mom on the other side of the room. She raises her eyebrows and holds up a yellow bottle of Gold Bond Medicated Powder. "Here, let me shake some in your gloves."
"No. I can handle the smell."
"How about some Advil? You need some Advil? Here " she's holding out dark red pills and a bottle of water.
The bell rings, round two. Earlier, Marty took me aside and whispered, "As soon as the bell rings, go up to him and bam, bam, bam, bing, bing, bing." He hunches over and throws little punches so Johnny won't see what we're up to.
I get one good shot in at best, but I don't stop hooking him.
"Stop slapping! Don't slap! Punch with your knuckles."
"I'm trying, I'm trying," I snap.
"What?" Marty teases, "I'm crying, I'm crying?"
Before the eighth round, Marty instructs me to keep punching. I'm tired, but it's the last round; I can do it.
I throw six hooks in a row. Johnny jabs, I jab back. He jabs three times, I jab twice. I'm exhausted, sweaty. My arms feel dead.
Where's the 30-seconds-left bell? It's been more than two minutes and I don't hear a bell. I keep punching; if I stop he'll hit harder.
It's been at least another minute. Where's the bell?
I turn my head to look at the timer.
"You shut the timer off!" I yell. Marty doesn't even look ashamed.
It's sneaky. Unfair. Mean. Manipulative.
"Don't turn your head. Keep going. Keep going. Another minute."
"No," I shout as I throw a sloppy left hook. "No. No. No. You're not playing fair."
"Just another minute."
My face is red, my eyes are bloodshot and tearing, and I'm gasping. After two minutes Marty says, "Time."
I throw my gloves and Dip's headgear to the floor and run to the bathroom. I'm frustrated. I feel weak, wimpy, infuriated. I'm crying the way little kids do, when they are crying so hard they gasp for air.
I come back out, my face washed but still red. That's how it looks when Johnny hits me in the face anyway, so no one will know I was crying. Can't let them see me cry.
"You just did an eight-minute round," Marty says. "You hear that, Mom? Did you ever think you'd see your daughter doing something like this?"
"She deserves a medal," Mom says.
"I'd put her up there with a guy," Marty says. "There's not many chicks out there who can fight a guy. There's not many guys who can fight guys."
"That wasn't right," I slump against the wall.
"I thought you were gonna cry for a minute there," Johnny laughs. "Thought you were gonna act like a girl."
April 21 (sparring): I've vowed never to cry again. At least not when I am boxing. Controlling my anger is getting easier now. I've even learned to channel itthrough my arms and into my fists.
I feel good tonight. I'm landing more and more shots.
I think Marty can sense my confidence.
"Hey, Johnny," he yells during the seventh round. "Knock her out!"
"No!" I plead. I throw more punches in case Johnny decides to take him up on that advice.
"Knock her out!"
The round ends.
Ding ding ding. Eighth and final round.
I jab and hook; he ducks.
"Johnny, knock her out!"
Not again. I keep jabbing. "No, please don't. I don't think I need to know what that feels like."
"Knock her out!"
Johnny's looking me dead in the face. He enjoys watching me squirm. More jabbing.
"Knock her out!"
Ding ding ding. Round's over.
"I wouldn't knock you out," Johnny assures me.
May 3: "Haya doin'?" Marty yells.
Sometimes I wonder if he's bored with me. It's so hard to gauge my progress, since I'm always sparring with someone better than me.
"Good," I say halfheartedly. I don't complain as much anymore. Marty doesn't care. He cares, but he doesn't want to hear any complaining. I agreed to do this, so I've got to do it.
During the fourth round, Johnny starts again. "Come on. Hit me. Hit me, hit me, hit me." I'm hitting, but mostly his elbows and gloves. Bruising myself.
The bell rings. One minute of rest.
"Yeah, Johnny, he's a sadist. Jen, since you are such a masochist, when Johnny stops hitting you, start punching yourself."
Damon stops by the gym. Since about a week after I started training, I've been bugging Damon to find out what my opponent looks like. All I want is a picture, anything.
"Damon, did you find out about Joie?" I ask, in between rounds.
"Yeah, she says she's gonna kill you. Naaa. Just kidding. I have no idea what she looks like."
May 4: I'm at work and my telephone rings.
"Yeah, Jen? This is Joie Gambino," says a gruff voice. "I'm gonna kill you."
"Naaa. Just kidding. It's Damon, Damon Feldman."
Maybe it's a boxing thing, getting revved up to hate your opponent before the fight, but my nerves can't handle much more of this.
May 5 (the promotional tour): Damon arranged for a guest spot on Q-102's Afternoon Workout show.
DJs Donna Storm and Jay Towers ask me questions in between songs: Why are you doing this? How much have you been exercising? What's your opponent like?
"Gambino?" they say.
"Yeah," I quiver. "I don't know anything about her."
Storm starts the taunting: "Yo, Joie," Storm says in an affected South Philly accent. "Come on Joie, call in. We don't hear the phones ringing."
Please don't do that. What if you piss this girl off and she thinks it's all my idea. I'm the one who's gotta fight her. I'm just doing what the promoter and trainer are telling me to do.
I steer the conversation toward feminism. They put up a roadblock: "You're ready for bikini weather, I bet?" says Jay. Then he queues up the next song: "Push Push In the Bush."
"So, Jen, don't you have anything to say to your opponent?" Storm asks.
"No, not really," I timidly reply. I've seen WWF.
"Come onnn," she nudges. "Nothing?"
"Okay, alright, okay I'm gonna win."
I half-whisper that last sentence, hoping maybe that the background music will drown my voice out.
May 7: "How are ya?" Marty says when I walk in the gym. "Hey, Johnny says you hurt his back with your body shot."
I hurt him? Yeah, my punches are hard now. But I hurt him?
Tonight Marty's training another woman to box. She's stockier than I amif she were pro she'd be a middleweight or a junior middleweight.
Why are you doing this? I ask.
For exercise, she says.
You don't plan to compete?
"No," she says, shaking her head and widening her eyes. "I'm afraid of getting hit."
Getting hit isn't so bad. It's liberating in a sense. And if you know how to react, it can actually be an advantage. When someone hits you, says Johnny, that means their hand is away from their faceperfect opportunity to sock 'em.
Marty's sitting in a chair, watching her throw jabs, rights and left hooks at the heavy bag.
"Good, good. You're gettin' good. One thing: Where's your right hand?"
"It's down," she admits.
Joy's at the mats training a woman to do leg lifts. "Are you ready?" she turns to me.
Yes, I say. But then I whisper, "Actually, I'm nervous as hell."
Joy has fought twice.
"I was a wreck for days before. I felt like I was going to heave," she says. "Right up to the point that the bell rings, you'll feel horrible. But once you get in there and land a punch, it'll totally change. You'll gain that confidence. You won't hear anythingexcept for Marty, of course.
"Always listen to Marty."
"All you gotta remember is don't turn your head," Marty interrupts. "You do that and you'll beat the shit out of her."
I laugh nervously.
"When you started you were just liftin' the bar. Now you're benchin' 85. That chick sure ain't liftin' 85."
He grabs my hand and kisses the top.
"Look at your hands. Even they got strong!"
He pokes his finger in my stomach. It tenses up automatically.
"Look at that. You're solid. Right or wrong?"
He yells across the room, "Hey Stacey, Joy, touch her stomach. She was mush when she came in here and look at her now!"
He extends his arm for a handshake.
"You got a strong handshake. That uhh what's the word I'm lookin' for? Uhh that exemplifies character. You'll have to excuse me, I'm verbally challenged.
"Stay well," Marty yells as I leave.
May 9 (The Big Kahuna, Wilmington, DE): Ding ding ding. The bell rings. Before my brain can tell my body to punch, Joie is punching me. I can't even move my gloves from my face to get one in. Her punches don't hurt; they're just distracting, and annoying.
After a few more punches, we tussle against the ropes. She almost knocks me off my feet.
I can't let her knock me down. I can't let her knock me down.
I underestimated this girl. She's strong. And oozing with energy. I just want the bell to ring. I need to rethink my strategy. It's obviously not working.
Ding ding ding. The bell rings. I go to my corner. Marty and Johnny are yelling at me and I can't understand a word. What language are they speaking? Icelandic? Papiamento?
Ding ding ding. Round two. Right after the bell rings she's already in my corner. I throw a right, and it lands in her kisser. I feel good; she seems to be tiring out. Now that she's not drumming me with a million punches a minute, I can actually think straight. We lock; the ref breaks it up. We go at each other again. She throws a body shot. I don't feel it. I throw a right hookbam! it lands.
I've got to throw more punches. I've got to throw more punches.
We're locked again. (Honestly, I'm relieved. It gives me a second or two to catch my breath.) This time I beat the ref to it; I push her away and throw a right, then a left, then a body shot. This boxing is fun.
Ding ding ding. Second round's over. I go back to my stool and someoneMarty or Johnnytucks loose hair back into my headgear while I try to catch my breath.
"Keep punchin' to the body," Marty tells me.
Ding ding ding. Round three. My last chance.
She's really tired. Now's my chance to knock her out.
This is my round. I throw a right and it lands. I throw a body shot and it lands. She throws a right and knocks my head backI bring it right back. We throw rights at the same time and lock. I don't wait for the ref to break it up; I push her. I jab. She backs up so much it misses her. I jump at her with another. Then a right. She gets me with a few. I hit her with another. I hit her with a strong right hook; I could've knocked her down if that damn ref wasn't in the way.
Ding ding ding. The last round ends.
Marty unbuckles my headgear and takes it off. My hair's a mess, I'm sure, and I don't care. The ref pulls us by our gloves to the middle to wait for the judges' decision.
"It's a split decision, folks.
"The winner is, in the red corner " I turn my head toward my corner to see what color it is. " JENNIFER DARR!"
I turn my head to the corner again; this time I look at Marty and Johnny and Howard. "Me?" I whisper, pointing my glove to my chest.
They all nod.
All those problems I had with making noise? Instantly gone. I turn to Mom, my family, my friends and my colleagues and scream my head off, bouncing around with my gloves in the air, just like boxers do in the movies.
I lean over to Marty.
"So when's my next bout?"