I’ve been training nine years for this, I think to myself as I walk into the ring and kneel upon the blue canvas tarp. I place my hands onto my hips and straighten my back, closing my eyes to better my focus and drown out the encompassing din of the jeering, hostile crowd. My four-ounce gloves are tight around my wrists and marked with black x’s across their white-taped cuffs to signify the fight official’s approval. He’d slapped the cup of my jockstrap with the back of his knuckles and examined the streaks of Vaseline on my ears and nose and eyebrows to ensure that regulations were met before signing off with a Sharpie and allowing me to mount the ringside steps.
And now, I bite down on my mouthpiece and breathe through my nose as I hear the muted sound of my electro-rock entrance music shut off and switch to DMX. The crowd begins to roar and cheer and whistle with their fingers, and I open my eyes to see an entourage of silhouettes emerging from across the arena, my hooded opponent centred among them and jabbing the air with a flurry of strikes.
“Get up,” I hear my corner say to me, and I turn to see my coaches gripping the chain- link fence that separates us, waving their spare hands and motioning for me to stand to my feet. I lean forward and push off the floor with my toes, then shake out my limbs to loosen their joints while stretching my neck in half-circles.
My opposition enters from the door across the ring, having stripped down to his trunks and embraced the men in his corner. He stares at me unblinkingly, his arms hung at his sides, and he lowers his head and rolls his shoulders as the fight announcer fumbles with his cue cards and makes his way toward the centre of the canvas.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the announcer says through the mic in his hand, sweat dripping down his face beneath the floodlights, “your co-main event of the evening. Introducing first, fighting out of the blue corner!” He points to me and wipes spit from his lips as the stadium erupts with gibes and taunts that thunder across the high-rise bleachers and the chairs surrounding the ring. “This man is a ninjutsu fighter,” the announcer continues. “He stands five feet ten inches tall, weighing in at one hundred and sixty pounds. Fighting out of Hamilton, Ontario and making his mixed martial arts debut, please welcome David ‘The Ninja’ Slater!”
Boo-birds fly from the stands and dive-bomb my head as if to chase me away from the man across the cage—a homebred wrestler, lean and broad-shouldered with skin veined like leaves, who maintains his gaze and studies my stance with unflagging scrutiny as the announcer spins and points to his side of the ring.
“And in the red corner,” the announcer says, raising his voice to counter the sudden resonance of shouts and ovation, “he stands five feet eight inches tall, weighing in at one hundred and sixty-six pounds. This man is a mixed martial artist, fighting out of West Coast BJJ and hailing from Terrace, British Columbia. Please welcome Donald ‘The Pit Bull’ Morrison!”
My ears begin to throb as their walls reverberate from the blur of derisions and acclaim being thrown down from the seats. I walk toward the centre of the ring where a referee now stands, and I mirror the Pit Bull’s steps as he crosses the tarp to meet me.
The ref explains the rules and demands a good, clean fight, free from downward elbows and strikes to the spine or groin. He asks us if we understand, and we nod and touch our gloves together, and I examine Donald’s short-shaved head as he turns to walk back to his corner, his scalp riddled with nicks and scrapes and rows of ragged scars.