A barely audible piano was playing in the background and a large crowd was cheering "kid kid kid". Then THUMP! POW! BOOM! and everything became quiet as the lights blackened.
For a brief second, a serene numb calmness overcame me. Then in an abrupt instance my senses returned one at a time. First, I could here the loudest almost deafening chant "KID KID KID!!!" While a blurry figure of a barrel chested man with enormous fists poised ready to punch became clear. I then realized my knees where half bent as I stumbled back, slipping on the peanut shells littering the filthy wooden floor. The chant seemed to get even louder "KID KID KID!!!" It was that instant the pain became overwhelming. I could feel my face swelling as my confusion diminished. I suddenly remembered how this all started.
On February 3rd, 1898 the Doane shipyard whistle blew for the last time and the era for great wooden ships was officially over. I walked out the main gate unemployed, wandering aimlessly into the city that never seemed colder. It must have been hours before I could no longer tolerate the frigid winter wind. I needed shelter. I heard cheering, laughter and music echoing down the street. It was coming from the Champion Pub. I crossed the street carefully avoiding the ice ruts formed by the horse carriages. Peering into the front window I saw what seemed to be hundreds of people. In the center of all this commotion was a boxing bout.
I heard a tap on the glass and looked over. I was hailed in by an elderly patron, who saw me entranced by the excitement of the pub. Walking in, I was taken back by expanse of the pub. It was a very large room encircled by a balcony with almost as much activity as the main floor. The smell of sweat and stale beer filled the comforting warm air of the pub.
I stood there shivering, and admiring the surroundings while blowing into my cupped hands. "Allow me to introduce my self Mr. Freres Proprietor of dis lovely establishment." "So What's ya poison"? He asked "Hmm? Oh a beer." I replied timidly. "Here ya go Kid." I sipped the beer slowly as I watched the dancing girls behind the bar.
Later I heard a slurry voice bellowing "sho you thinx you are sho tuff" I turned to see a glassy eyed drunk pointing at me. He repeated himself "sho you thinx you are sho tuff". He threw a sloppy punch my direction. Instinctively my left hand blocked his hand as I jabbed him with my right. He stumbled back as Freres reached over the bar and grabbed his collar and said. "Dats it hey Jimmy ya Bar Fly if ya wants to fight. Do it in the ring" "Naa, it's just a shimiple mishunderstanding." the drunk replied.
Immediately after, an older man approached me. "Call me Coach." He said. "Hey Kid you're a natural but you need to train, and you need a coach." "So ya interested?" "Interested in what?" I asked. In an excited raspy voice he yelled. "Hey kid, ya interested in being the pub champ? " "No Thanx, I am no fighter" "No you're wrong, I saw your reflexes. It's in ya Kid. Let me bring it out. Besides the last purse for a Pub Champion Bout was ten thousand dollars. You also win purses in the four bouts before that. Kid, ya gonna be rich that is if ya listen to me. Well what do ya think now?" I have to admit the sound of the shipyard whistle did go off in my head reminding me of my recent unemployment. The idea of winning a purse to hold me over for a few weeks was very tempting. My response was a simple "Hey, Coach" Hurriedly walking away he spouted out an order. "Kid, follow me up to the balcony." Barely keeping up with him I exclaimed. "I've got a name." He response was snide. "Ya kid we all do."
"Now listen up this is a speed bag it develops timing and arm strength. Watch this First hit it with one hand then with the other and repeat." He demonstrated. "Now give it a try". After a few cumbersome attempts I got the hang of it. "Now it's time to try the jump rope" He barked out as he quickly marched over to another corner of the balcony. My hesitation was very apparent. "Jump roping that's what little girls do." "Listen up kid there's nothing better to build up them legs Start jumping." I jumped rope for several minutes when the elated coach screamed. "Kid, you're a natural! Now lets go pound the heavy bag."
On the way to the heavy bag he pointed out a poker game. "Look over there. That's Mr. Sullivan, he's a big player. That's Mr. Cornell, Mr. Thomas, Mr. Barker, and that skinny guy is Mr. West. Get to know those gentlemen they're the ones that set the purse in fights. The more you visit them the better the purse in one of your bouts. Remember that Kid."
We later passed the piano, which was booming a catchy tune in repetition to the insatiable audience. Hey what's that you're playing? I yelled. "Maple Leaf Rag" Rich the piano man proudly exclaimed as his head nodded to the beat. He smiled and added. "Isn't it great?"
"Come On Hurry-Up Kid we don't have much time. Here's the heavy bag. Hit it high and hit it low. Learn how to throw good hard punches. Practice them combo shots first throw a left jab then a right jab another if can then POW the knock out blow." That's it Kid you're ready to fight!!! He then signaled to the bar owner.
"So whom do I fight first?" "I don't know it's Bout One it's gonna be one of the lower ranked regulars. There are about ten regulars and the ranking is always changing." Before the coach could finish explaining the owner jumped up on the bar and yelled. "For our first fight tonight Knucles O'Brian verses da Kid."
Laughter broke out in the Pub. Knuckles was a long time favorite of the crowd, and his entrance was very demonstrative. He flirted with the dancing girls on the balcony as he drank a beer. In true bully fashion he knocked a top hat of a gentleman standing next to him. His actions drove the crowd into a whimsical frenzy. I do have to confess his lack of concern about the fight did make me very nervous. Eventually he made his way to the center of the ring. "Top of my fist to ya lad" He said in a heavy Irish accent. Knuckles a blacksmith by trade had broad shoulders and robust forearms from pounding a hammer all day. His face could be best described as grizzly looking with burnt umber hair. A thick mustache skirted a crooked and puffy nose that was obviously broken several times. He was wearing an under shirt that was even more grizzly looking then his face. The shirt was riddled with stains from cinders, sweat, and his last meal.
The bell rang and the banter of the crowd faded revealing the piano music in the background. A punch and a question from Knuckles quickly rekindled the crowd's cheering. "That's a KNUCLES SANDWICH Didja ya like that?" It was a punch to my gut and the force pushed me back a few feet. "That hurt ya" Knuckles exclaimed. Embarrassed and enraged, I lost control and threw several punches to Knuckles' gut and head. At first the crowd was just jeering me on trying to stoke up the intensity of the fight by cheering "KID KID KID." To the surprise of everyone it riled me into an invulnerable state. We exchanged many punches, but Knuckles had a comment for each. "Thanks, I needed that!" Or "Now that's the fighting spirit." It was a big joke to him until I delivered a jab combo that stunned him. "Definitely felt that one."
Suddenly Knuckles' grin was gone. The whole pub was now chanting in unison "KID KID KID". The crowd's demeanor changed from a taunt to sincere ovation. I could barely here the coach's voice "Now you've got him KID." The volume of the crowd increased with every punch. "KID KID KID!!!" Knuckles in utter desperation released a deluge of punches. I dodged three of these sloppily punches hurled my way. Unfortunately, The coach's acclaim came a bit too premature. Knuckles landed one of his enormous mitts on my chin. Then three more punches. THUMP! POW! BOOM! The last one connected solidly. As I described before, the lights darkened and my whole body went numb. My knees were half bent as I lost footing. The crowd got even louder "KID KID KID".
As my senses returned the coach's voice cut through the chaos "KID remember the combos, the combos kid." I took a few steps back. My face was throbbing. I could only catch short breaths, and my body tingled from head to toe. Knuckles lunged forward to deliver another set of blows. His stamina was completely gone. Now I could predict his every movement by watching his eyes. Wherever he looked that's where the next punch would be thrown. "THE COMBOS KID, THE COMBOS KID" was still echoing through the crowd. First I jabbed him with my left then with the right as he drooped his arm to protect his side I could hear the coach "NOW KID NOW" I missed my opportunity he raised his arms again. This time a right jab followed by quick left caught him with his guard down as I delivered a punch to his head with all my might.
Knuckles was half-squatting as he stumbled back, falling into an abandoned chair. "You win Kid..... Now how 'bout buying me a beer" Before he could finish I was lifted onto the shoulders of a group as the bar owner yelled out "KID....DA WINNER".
The coach ran up to me and said "Kid you're set up for Bout TWO, I told ya you're a natural." I knew then that I could be Pub Champ, but it would involve more training and a strong desire to win.