Thursday, April 5, 2012

I Had to Lose to Win

I remember my first loss coming when I was 10. I was the fastest kid in elementary. Come 5th grade, a kid beats me in my final year of annual track and field snatching an undefeated title that had my name on it. I ran like a locomotive and he “glided” as I remember one P.S. 91 administrator comparing. It was close, but I hadn’t loss a race to anyone except my family. During those early years my mother would race us up and down the block in Crown Heights for fun and for contention. I learned competition through her. I never accepted losing as an option, but I later learned to respect the nature that if you lose, at least win at learning. I never hate my opponent. I embrace him/her.  If I have a specialty it's learning from mistakes or the victories of my opponent.  Later that year, I noticed myself attempting to take longer strides like my competitor without losing my natural speed.

Track and field isn’t like boxing. For all practical purposes, it’s more head to head. It’s not just testing your speed against your opponent’s; it’s a test of your brilliance, strategy, strength, and persistence. On May 7th of my quarterfinals match of the Golden Gloves I lost but it was a sacrifice towards gaining wisdom.

The first round made me feel invincible. I was putting punches together in bunches, simultaneously going to the head and body. The beauty was that I could tell he could box well, but I was in control for that round. Right hook to the body, right uppercut, straight left, punches I never let go are now flying from my arsenal. He didn’t buckle that round, even though he had a look of personal disgust on his face as he was still managing to lay a few good jabs and hooks of his own.

At the end of the round I was fatigued. It’s as if his corner used a ray gun on me and zapped all of my energy. Impossible! I’ve jogged for 10 miles at a time. I worked tirelessly in the gym hitting the bag thousands of times. I went back to my corner and told my trainer, “I’m tired.” I allowed my mind to be disillusioned about my fatigue. I had heard fatigue is all “mental”. In the corner, my coach praised my work in the first round, but I was gassed.

I stood up waiting for the bell pretending to be ready for the same energetic pace I set in the first round. It wasn’t 20 seconds into the round before I heard his corner, “he’s tired.” I presented myself with the worse boxing strategy in the second round concluding that I needed to finish him so I could rest.

My punches were closing the proximity between me and my slightly shorter-arm opponent altering my perception of clarity and overall boxing strategy. Behind the comfort of his defenses and in between my barrages of punches that I mistakenly assumed were wearing him down he was resting. With thoughts of capturing another victory I had my shields down and chin up. I was thinking 60% offense. 0% defense and 40% fatigue. I remember seeing Floyd Mayweather, Jr. in situations that would place anyone in panic and he would just fall into the calmest of states. I could not spell calm.

In the midst of my transition from a Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker-esk boxing strategy relying on footwork and timing with feints and jabs I took an unusual and some might say peculiar turn down the uncharted course more fitting for a Julio Cesar Chavez with the up-close and personal hooks to the top and bottom. But there was no head movement like Chavez. No bobs. No weaves.

The shot that made me reel backward came in a perfect line and it was right when I had him pinned against the ropes. There was no pain. All I felt were my thoughts. “What happened?” Ninety-five percent of the damage was in not seeing it. I slid on my behind. Amazingly, I knew exactly what type of punch it was: straight right. My consciousness rebooted within milliseconds right before I hit the canvas. I felt fine. I got up. We traded punches. He was still slightly cautious, but smart. Two more standing 8-counts later the referee stopped the match. There was no protest. I was tired.

Although I didn’t feel much pain that night, blurriness bothered my vision at one point. I complained that I needed to sit down. It passed that night. My fatigue muffled the loss. I’ll wake up next morning and find out, “I actually lost?”

For several mornings I kept finding out I had lost again --My personal hellish Groundhog Day. I went from hardly turning on the television to using the motion and comedy of television to blind my loss. It made no sense to confide in anyone. I got calls. Already did hugs. Already heard from dad and mom. Spoke to boxers and I spoke to my coach. I only needed an internal conversation to help me cope.

That weekend the movie Ali came on three times. I watched it each time. I slowly began to put into perspective my amateur loss. I had no right to feel miserable. No one robbed me of my title and the best years of my life to fight. No one threatened me with imprisonment and stole food from my family’s table while attacking my character. I had a lot to be grateful for. I learned a lot from understanding Muhammad Ali’s life as a boxer.

Riiiight. If only a feel-good movie of triumph had softened the blow of losing. It was as if my mind had mocked me for thinking that the progress of redemption and revelation would be that simple. Try again. I tried sleeping and it turned into a daylight nightmare. I remember staring at the wall. Then I dreamt wide awake. I would find myself in the match again and then I’d take a step back and guard myself, snapping awake, “Damn!” I could have beaten him easily!

Strangely, I was proud of the young guy. He had held on and persevered with me. I’m sure he remembers me congratulating him inside the venue and then outside. I genuinely wanted him to win the tournament. He made it to the finals and lost in a controversial match.

I thought of why I loss: I had been complaining it was my hands hanging low. Sergio Martinez does the same thing except he guards when in close. My chin was up. Then it was also my close proximity to him. My weight was 165.5 in a 178lbs slug-fest. My fatigue! I didn’t rely on my jab.

A former undefeated professional boxer earlier this year said subsequently after losing, “Now I am a fighter.” That’s when I began to free myself mentally. But, the smoldering red lava in the pit of my belly would be cooled roughly three weeks after my loss; when one day I ran to catch a train right before the doors closed behind me. Inside, I began huffing and puffing like I was dying and I had barely run 30 yards. Disgusted with myself, I told my body to “relax!” On cue, it calmed. That’s when the idea of mental fatigue began to internalize in my mind. I smiled to myself knowing it was the breakthrough that I needed. I wanted to reach someone who had fallen and give them the same feeling of revelation. You have to experience the growth in order to learn it. No one can make you learn it by hearing or seeing. You must experience an epiphany.

With this knowledge, I often throw myself into a panic in order to test my tranquility in the eye of the storm. I have a bigger interest in using yoga and meditation in my boxing training. I am wanting longer rounds and more consecutive sparring sessions like I'm training under Ann Wolfe. I want to know how good am I now? Have I addressed all of the faults of my first amateur lost? Will I tuck in my chin? Will I stick to the game plan under pressure? Do I fight at the same weight or at a lower weight that I can manage because of my fast metabolism? My blood pressure has been maintained without medication. Can I keep it up? You must grow after losing. That is the only way you win. The hard part is over. Acceptance. Learned. It's time to train.

On May 2nd, I return to the ring.

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