Two days until fight night
“How is that possible?!” I stared at the scales in dismay.
“Well?” asked Ryan expectantly.
I looked up at him, worried. “77.3 kilos, man”. I couldn’t believe it. How had I put on 1.8 kilos overnight? I didn’t understand.
“What did you have for breakfast?”
“Porridge!” I replied animatedly. “Porridge and raisins, that’s it!”
“Well,” he shrugged, “you drank a lot of water yesterday. You won’t have gotten rid off all of that yet, for sure. I wouldn’t worry too much. Now… let’s get the sauna suit on.”
It was the final week before the fight. It was a week of “finals” and it was a joy to finally be here. The final sparring session had finished the previous Saturday; I, together with Luke, my chief sparring partner who was fighting on the same card as me, had gone 5 well-drilled rounds, and we were both as sharp as razors. As the bell sounded we embraced, relieved that the only punches left were those to be thrown on fight night. On Tuesday I had my final conditioning session at a kick-boxing gym; a gruelling hour-and-a-half was followed by a hug/hand-shake from the fitness instructor, a fellow boxer who wished me well as I headed out the door for the final time.
My final day at work was Wednesday, as I had booked Thursday and Friday off to cut the remaining weight in peace. Thursday had been incredibly tough, but productive. After putting the sauna suit on I ran, skipped and shadow-boxed my way down to within half a kilo of the weight limit.
“How we looking?” asked Steve as he appeared in the doorway.
“75.5” I said, wringing sweat from my woolly hat. “I’ll be back tomorrow to get the rest off.”
“Niiiiiiiice, son” he purred back. “That’s gooooood work.”
Thursday’s effort, I was convinced, had broken the back of the ordeal. All I had to do was be sensible, monitor my food and drink, and shed the rest of the weight in the morning before weighing in afterwards. And now here I was, with no water and barely any food in me, and overweight. I sat down on an old heavy bag and swore.
This was a physical strain, but it was a greater mental strain by some distance. My impatience and bad moods had become more frequent; I was struggling to concentrate at work. I had gotten into arguments with my fiancé, who unbeknownst to me was going through an ordeal of her own, hating what I was putting myself through and not entirely understanding why I felt the need to do it. I was moved by the surprising number of old friends who had agreed to come and support, but I wasn’t a natural self-promoter, and was worried by the remaining tickets I still had left to sell after my close circle had bought theirs.
I was also worried about Ben Taylor. I had known for about 3 weeks now that Ben, a 6 foot 1 south paw, fighting out of a small town in Kent, was going to be my opponent on Saturday. When I first heard this, the news had fired me up; I was pumped and I was confident – I was going to put on a clinic against this guy. But as the night got closer, thoughts of losing in front of my friends and family had started to creep in. What if this guy is the next Carl Froch and I can’t put a dent in him? What if he’s the next Pernell Whitaker and I can’t lay a glove on him? What if he’s the next Mike Tyson and I can’t take a punch from him? Ben, a boxing novice, was suddenly an Everest to climb.
And now, on top of everything else, I had all this weight to shift. I picked at the loose threads of the heavy bag and swore again. Fuck.
But it had to come off, and I was soon changed into my sauna suit and was on the exercise bike. As I cycled, I chatted in broken English and French with a group of pros who had travelled from Paris to train at Gumshield. They had heard that their countryman Jordi Weiss, the European welterweight champion, was training with Ryan, and had come over for some strength and conditioning of their own. It was obvious I was cutting weight, and they asked me about my fight.
“When is weigh in?”
“… how much is the weight now?”
“And how much is for the fight?”
“… so you must take 2.3 kilos now?”
A 20 minute cycle and 6 rounds on the heavy bag were enough to spend most of my remaining energy. Breathing heavily, I sat down and rested my head on my folded arms, eyes shut, feeling ill. The idle chatter and conversation had dried up; people were now just keeping their distance, letting me go through it all. Oddly, I could sense their sympathy from where they’re standing. They’ve done this before; they knew how I was feeling.
A hand ruffled my damp hair. “You’re training like a pro, son.” said Steve. “Keep going. Do three rounds of shadow boxing. Then we’ll get you on the running machine.” Three rounds of shadow boxing. It was like he’d asked me to run a marathon. I stood slowly up and made my way to the ring, saying nothing. The small crowd parted to let me through.
With my hood over my head, I focus on staying light on my feet, trying to bounce around the ring and keep mobile. As I do so, I catch sight of my reflection in the floor-to-ceiling mirror on the back wall. A pale stranger stares back at me, gaunt and disapproving. We lock eyes as I flick punches out, and stare one another down. After a few seconds I tell him to fuck off and leave me alone, whoever he is.
By the time I get on the treadmill I am light-headed. My body is just done with this training.The only thing my legs want to do is sit down in protest against it all, and my mind is doing everything it can to force them through 25 final minutes. I start the machine and shuffle along at a just-about jogging pace, my feet almost dragging on the treadmill belt. How do fighters do this several times a year? Ryan sticks his head through the doorway.
“How much longer?”
“Nearly there mate.”
Standing in my boxers by the scales, I think about what to do if I’m still over 75 kilos. Is there, by any slim chance, that I need the toilet? Is it appropriate to take my boxers off and strip naked in this gym? Would drying my hair count for anything at all? One thing was certain, I would not put on my soaking gym clothes and start training again. The thought alone made me feel sick. Ryan, camera in hand to photograph the scales as evidence, invites me forward. I step on the scales and watch the numbers jump around. Then, after a few seconds, they settle.
I curled my biceps into a ‘Strong Man’ pose, and screamed a scream of victory.
“How much?!” asked Ryan.
“74.4 fucking kilos!” I yell. In that one session I had lost nearly three kilos. Just under half a stone. Steve puffed his cheeks. “Three kilos,” he said, impressed. “Good work, Matt.”“Trois kilos!” came the shout from the French guys behind me. “Fantastique!”
The next half an hour was bliss. Relief washed over me in the shower as I slumped against the tiled wall, and I gorged on bananas and peanut butter wraps, and drank water by the bottle. “Slow down!” Ryan said, “you’ll give yourself stomach cramps!” But I didn’t care. I laughed, stuffing another banana in my face as I went to leave. I gave Ryan a hug as I opened the door.
“Great work, Matt.”
“I’ll see you at the fight.”