The Art of Losing Without Defeat

19.06.06 - By Nick Porter: I would like to first begin by properly thanking the readers of East Side Boxing for the warm response I received for my first (and subsequently only) article written for this website and published about this time last year. I have many excuses for why I’ve been unable to write more, and while some are more legitimate than others, they are ultimately just that—excuses—and I’ll not bore you with them. However, I hope to be getting more involved with the ESB team from here on out, so hopefully you’ll be hearing from me a bit more.

I recently returned from watching the Jermain Taylor-Winky Wright fight, which I enjoyed very much. However, I will abstain from commenting too heavily upon it, as it will have received enough coverage from the boxing press. Instead, I want to take you to a less-well-documented fight that, at least for me, equally encapsulated the essence of boxing.

The saying goes that training is the hard part of boxing; if training for the fight is handled properly, than the fight itself should be easy. To that effect, I knew that this fight would be easy, in the relative sense of the word. I had worked as hard as I could, and I was ready, physically and mentally, to win. At five-foot-nine, I am a small middleweight so seeing that my opponent was noticeably taller than I was did nothing to deter my confidence. As we waited, we saw him across the arena warming up. He held his hands very high, and my trainer, Michael Golemis, told me to go to his body and wear him down.

And when that bell rang, that’s exactly what I did. I had trouble getting inside at first, but when I did, I made it count. For the first part of the round, everything seemed to be working my way. I feinted the jab up top, and went in for another straight body punch, slipping under his jab as he came in…

And that’s when I found out what a difference one anomalous occurrence can have in the development of a fighter and of a human being.

My orthopedist would later confirm the ringside medic’s diagnosis of a dislocated shoulder; however, I did not know this at the time. All I knew was that instead of his breaking down under my punches, I had broken down under my punches, as he moved in just a bit too quickly when I threw that left hand into his stomach and his body weight snapped my shoulder out of joint. It was a wholly novel sensation, and instead of coming up with my right hand as I had planned, I grabbed on as hard as I could while I regained my senses. I tested the left arm… I could lift it, but not to my face, and when I threw it, even when it connected, there was nothing on it and I knew it was hurting me more than it was hurting him. For the remaining 76 seconds of the round, I was pelted with right hands that I was defenseless to stop and used my jab to keep him away from me.

Mike was livid when I returned to the corner. “What the hell is your problem? Why’d you stop throwing that left into his body?” he yelled, with a well-merited sense of outrage, as I was straying from our game plan. I gestured to my limp arm, and got my first look at it. Putting it simply, my arm looked as though someone had jammed a baseball between my bicep and tricep. With one look my trainer immediately said “Ok, that’s it, we’re done here,” and went to go find the referee. I began protesting; half because of the adrenaline and my desire to win, and half because I knew from reading about boxing that the ultimate disgrace for a fighter is to quit on his stool, no matter the reason, and damned if I was going to let it happen to ME. My trainer, to his credit, dismissed my protests and told me calmly “It’s my job to look out for your health, since it’s obvious you’re not going to.” When the medic saw my shoulder, his eyes also widened, and I was taken out of the ring immediately, leaving a befuddled announcer and a confused but relieved looking opponent.

And just like that, all of my training, all of my sacrifice, everything I had done to get where I was, became meaningless, because of an absolute fluke. To say I was livid would be a dire understatement; fate had robbed me of my chance, of my night, and I made sure everyone knew it, cursing and stomping my feet. Something I wanted had been taken from me; in effect, I was throwing a temper tantrum. My trainer grabbed my good arm, and said into my ear as we went to get my shoulder popped back in, “Nick, this is a sport for you, not a profession. Now is the time when you show everyone whether you’re a class act or an ass.”

That’s when it hit me, harder than anything else that had been thrown my way that night. I was fighting on an amateur boxing card in a backwoods youth center: this night and this fight would be forgotten. The essence of amateur boxing lies in the ability to discipline oneself and overcome conflict. The win is important, but due to the decreased stakes, the process is important in a way that it is not in the professional ranks. I had trained myself for the conflict in the ring; that much was easy. What I had to do now was look everyone in the eye, force a smile, and pretend that my spirit hadn’t shattered with the muscles in my shoulder.

That proved to be much more difficult.

That was almost two months ago. By my doctor’s orders I took some time off and have completed a rehabilitation program, and I am just now returning to boxing with regularity.

It’s still hard for me to watch the tape of that night. Not because of the injury, not because of the loss, but because I still somehow feel as though I was meant to win that night, and I was denied what was mine. Watching my head slump down as my trainer calls the ref over to stop the fight hurts me worse than seeing any of the shots I took. I received a lot of compliments for handling my injury well enough that even my trainer didn’t know what had happened and finishing the round (though I think my opponent got wise), but in retrospect, it was handling myself for the rest of the night that meant more to me. It reminded me what it meant to be a fighter: the obvious physical toughness, but more importantly, learning to listen to that voice inside of every good fighter that says “I know it hurts, but if you stop now I’ll never forgive you, you son of a bitch.”

And I won’t stop. Not yet. After all, somebody owes me my W.

Article posted on 18.06.2006

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