Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Don't Rob Me

I get the call on three week's notice. It's on national TV against a tough guy. But I can take him. I know it. The fight's in his home town. Should be a good crowd there. He's being pushed as the next big thing by his promoter. He's boxing's next star and all that stuff. I've heard it all before. Hey, they said that about me 10 years ago. He has skills, don't get me wrong, but I can beat him. I take the fight. The money's not bad. And I've got to feed my family. 

I've got a daughter. She's five. She's the love of my life. I fight for her. I have a full-time job doing construction. The hours are tough but I can train at night. I get up at 4:45 every day, do a quick run and I'm at the job by 7. At 4, I head over to the gym and we go to work. Most days I don't see my daughter until she's almost ready for bed. But that hour or two a day is so special. I read to her. I listen to what's going on at school. She's in kindergarten now and she grows up so fast. The other day she asked me if I was hurt. She saw bruises on my face and she was worried. Smart girl too.

Next week, I get on a plane. I'm not supposed to win but I'm going to shock the world. I'm not an opponent. My new manager has a plan for me. Win this fight and it will be six-figures. Lose, and I'm back to just scraping by. Don't really have a choice the way I see it. But I'm feeling good. I have a new lease on life. My shoulder's feeling better and I train smarter now. It's not about whipping five boys at the gym. It's about getting my work in.

I wasn't always an angel. I get that. I burned a bridge or two. No denying that. I didn't always listen to the right people. Hung around with a couple of bad guys. I could have trained harder. I threw a lot of money around.

The weird thing about having money when you're young is that you think it's going to be there forever. Then one day, it's almost all gone. I'm not bitter about it, not anymore. I put myself in that position. I messed up. It's on me.

But I'm telling you, I can beat this kid. He's never seen a jab like mine. He's used to brawlers. I can box. I can move. My legs are feeling great.

When I started, I had that right hand. It was lightning quick. BAM! Light's out. Game over. That was my money punch. Brought me up through the amateurs, almost made it to the Olympics. For awhile, it was easy. They were putting guys in front of me and I was knocking them out, one after the other. They had never seen anyone like me.

But something happened. I didn't have that spark in the gym. I never felt right. First it was my ankle, then my shoulder. I couldn't pop like I used to. Didn't help that I was up late at the clubs. Burning the candle at both ends.

And then one day, 5th round KO. Didn't see the punch. Tough fight. The kid brought it. I remember the plane ride home. My team was cheering me up. There were saying it was a lucky punch. Things happen in boxing. All that stuff. I took the loss hard. I hate losing.

A few weeks later, I go back to the gym. But it wasn't right. I wasn't feeling the same. I didn't train as hard. I wanted to go all out, but I just couldn't. Started to cut some corners. It wasn't like before. Looking back I was just going through the motions at that time.

I started boxing when I was 8 and now I was 26. Didn't seem like I ever stopped. It got tougher and tougher. I kept fighting. First fight back was a confidence guy. Dusted him. But things weren't going well at the gym. Coach and I would argue a lot. In the ring, I didn't feel sharp. I'd win a few fights then lose one.

My promotional contract ran out and they didn't renew it. These were guys who said I'd make millions. They brought me to Vegas when I first signed with them and had a big press conference. It was written up on espn.com.  Suddenly, I didn't have a promoter. I didn't have a plan.

I never really paid too much attention to the money. One day I went through my accounts and I noticed there wasn't much left. I was in shock. I called the banks and we went through everything line by line. It was almost all gone. My signing bonus, the network contract, the endorsement checks. Gone. Like a puff of smoke.

It was a tough time. I had a baby girl on the way and all that time I sacrificed, all that work I put in, didn't leave me with much. I felt like I let my mom and dad down. I felt like a failure.

As I said, I no longer had a promoter. I had nothing in the works. People didn't call or come by the house like they did. I had a mortgage to pay and nothing was coming in.

The thing about depression is that it's so hard to shake it. It just crawls up inside of you and won't let go. It's awful. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. At one point, for almost four months I didn't leave my house much. I'd run errands or something, but I was in my own world. Didn't really want to see anyone. Didn't want to talk to anyone. 

I had a trophy room in the house where I kept all of my awards and medals. There was my first-place trophy in the National PAL Tournament.  I had my regional belts from the pros. My USBA belt. One day, I walked in the room and I just couldn't look at it anymore. Destroyed almost everything. I tore that room apart.

To me, where I was at that time, I didn't deserve those trophies. I was nothing. I was supposed to be the best. But I was just a loser. My girlfriend, now my wife, was there with me that day and just cried and cried. And I just sat there on the floor of the room, holding a piece of a trophy for what must have been five or six hours.

I put on weight. I blew up 45 lbs. I didn't feel like going to the gym anymore. I watched a lot of TV. Judge Judy. Cops. Maury Povich. It didn't matter.

It wasn't like everyone left me. My amateur coach dropped by every now and then. My professional trainer, or Coach, as we call him, stayed loyal, but he didn't pity me. He tried getting me out of the house but I wasn't listening. Some of the other fighters from the area were my good friends. They'd send me texts telling me to keep my head up. It didn't really matter.

A couple of things changed though. I got a call from a small promoter in Atlantic City. They needed help selling some tickets and he offered me a fight. It was a six-rounder against some scrub. But the money was pretty decent. I thought about it for a day and said OK. I was just tired of sitting around.

I went back to the gym and put in some hard work. One day I woke up, it must have been about two weeks before the fight, and I couldn't move my right arm. It felt kind of funny more than anything. But I couldn't do anything with it and it wasn't getting better. I went to my doctor and he sent me to a specialist. We took some X-Rays and an MRI. He told me I had a torn labrum in my shoulder and I'd be on the shelf for awhile, maybe for a year. If I didn't have the surgery I wouldn't be able to box again. 

I went home and thought about everything. I wasn't ready to retire. In my heart, I knew I had something left. My girlfriend made me promise her that if I ever fought again, I'd give it 100%. No excuses. I said yes on the spot. Easiest promise I ever made. Kept it too. We had the surgery and that pretty much took care of whatever savings we had left.

My girlfriend, she was great. She stuck with me the whole time and just kept me centered. It didn't matter that she was pregnant and going through that. She stayed strong for me. The night after the surgery I was lying down and she was rubbing my head. I looked up at her and said, "Will you be with me always?" And she said yes. Like it was nothing. But I don't think she really understood, so I said, "Will you be with me as my wife?" She looked at me and started crying and I cried too. It was just a beautiful moment. I'll never forget it. I didn't have a ring or anything. But it was the best decision I ever made.

Then in a few weeks my angel was born. And suddenly life was much better. I took a job in my uncle's office just answering phones or doing this and that. Pick up a permit at City Hall or drive this person here or there. It wasn't tough but it was nice to get out of the house.

I started going hard at rehab. Did a lot of work at the pool, some strengthening exercises, lots of flexibility work. About six months after the surgery, I laced up the gloves. Man did I miss it. You really don't know what you have until it's gone. I remember the first day back, I could only hit the heavy bag a few times. I'm sure the young kids there after school probably hit harder than me that day, but I didn't care. It felt good.

I went back to doing road work. And I missed it. There's something about the cold air in the morning. It keeps you going for the rest of the day. There's that feeling that you're up earlier. You're getting ahead while everyone's sleeping. Champions get up early. The discipline. I missed it.

As my shoulder started getting better, I went out to some of the construction sites. I had never had a full-time job in my whole life. The pay was better than sitting around the office and I liked the fresh air. Good guys too. Many of them had been fans of mine. At first, they would bring a poster or a pair of gloves to sign, but eventually, I was just like the rest of them.

I talked with Coach more. I told him I wanted to make another run. But I needed to make some changes. I wanted new management. I couldn't afford to make any more mistakes. A few weeks later, he brought in some guys and we really hit it off. They had a plan for me. No shortcuts. Just what Coach and I wanted. We signed some contracts and I was back in business. I hadn't fought in almost two years but I was ready.

First fight back was just a four-rounder. I was the main event but it was against some local dude who was 4-13-1. We swept the fight and got the decision. Man, I was rusty. My timing was off on my combinations. I didn't really let my right hand go either. But my jab was there. It was a good start.

We worked back slowly. I fought five times the next year, all four and six-rounders. The money wasn't anything special but I was getting my name out there. Training hard. Feeling back to my old self in the gym. The other boxers around town started showing up at my fights. Their support meant everything to me.

Flash forward to six months ago and things were going fine. I won 11 in a row in my comeback and I'm on the final undercard fight before the HBO show goes live. I'm fighting another guy like me. A guy with a name who got knocked out a couple of times but was trying to make it back. It was my first 10-rounder in almost five years. I do my ring walk. The HBO suits are in the crowd. The camera's rolling. They were doing tests for the show.

Let me tell you, I had it that night. BAM! I was smooth. The jab was working. All night we hit him with the 3-2. I hit him with one right in the fourth. It pushed him back to the ropes. I'll never forget his face. I saw it in his eyes. He was ready to go. I was about to jump on him but the bell saved him.

Coach is getting on me in the corner. Telling me to stay aggressive. That everyone's watching. Bell rings to start the fifth and the guy's still on his stool. He's done. The fight's over. We're jumping up and down in the ring. My wife comes in. It was the first fight she brought my daughter to. We hugged and people were coming over to congratulate us. That high. That high is amazing. There's nothing like it.

We started getting some offers. Nothing great, but the phone was ringing. My manager told me to be patient. And then a few weeks ago we got the call. The original guy got hurt in camp. Would I be interested?  It was a tough fight but I'd seen the guy before. I could get to him. The money wasn't life changing or anything but it was still the best I'd seen in years. I took it. What the heck. You've got to make your own luck sometimes. He's got some power, but he's green. He can't fight anyone that can move.

So I'll be on the plane. And I'm going to give it my best. They let me get off work to train full time. The weight's been fine and I'll tell you, I'm killing it in the gym. I dropped this guy during sparring two days ago with a left uppercut and he just went to sleep. The gym basically stopped. I mean, I never had that punch before, not like that.

We're feeling good. We're ready. My sister and her family are coming out as well. They made shirts for us to wear for the weekend. They had a big story about me in the newspaper. My wife made copies for everyone at her job. We're all hyped up. 

But we're also serious. I'm doing it right this time. Eating the right things. Getting my rest. Training as hard as I can and listening to Coach.

I'm going to walk in that ring and let it fly. I think I got the kid's number. All I want, all i ask for, is a fair shake. If I win, give it to me. If I lose fair and square, give it to him. But don't rob me. Give me this chance to succeed. I know his record is good, but he's got holes. Watch the fight. I'll be popping him with my jab and right hand all night. He looks the part, but I got the skills.

If I win, big things are in store for me. I'll move up high in the WBA and the WBO. I might be up for an eliminator next. If I lose, I'm back to eight rounders in front of 300 people. I've put the time in.  I'm doing everything right. I'm playing by the rules. Don't rob me.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter
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3 comments:

  1. Good perspective! Humanizes the travesty of getting robbed!!!

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  2. Great work. Deserving of a large readership.

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  3. Amazing article. Am sharing this on Facebook. You do not play boxing, you live it.

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