Under The Lights (republish Challenge)
*This has not been edited for publication*
RJ just stood there. His mouth had dropped; his legs were shaking; his
heart was hammering inside of him like a carpenter. He had never been
on the other side of the ropes before. He had never had anyone else
strap on his gloves. The same question kept blocking his focus. It
rattled inside his brain and stole his attention completely. The question
was, “do I belong here.” The bell rang with a stinging sound that
echoed throughout the hall.
He never even heard it though. Everything swirled around him, as he
stumbled and fell against the outside of the ring.
“ Hey RJ, your up.”
Eight weeks before, RJ had once again signed up for the Florida 14-16
Dou martial arts season. He only signed up because his best friend
Thompson Banks needed a partner to qualify. The deal was that
Thompson would start the first four of eight rounds and win the fight
before RJ ever had to take his turn. This was really not that
improbable, because Thompson was by far the greatest fighter that the
league had ever seen. He was the reason they started buffing up on their
protective head gear. The year before this had been easy, Thompson
had made his way through the season almost untouched and won the
championship in the second round. Everything should have been the
same this year, but something was different. Travis Field, that is what
was different. He hadn’t taken many belongings to Florida, but he
brought plenty of trouble. He was the only fighter anybody in town had
ever seen that could go toe to toe with Thompson and last four rounds.
Travis had his little brother as a partner, and he was almost just as
good. Jackson had been fighting all his life. When the final fight, the
league championship came around, Thompson needed to win, and fast!
Unfortunately, that just didn’t happen, The first round had dragged on
and Thompson had taken a beating. The second round was better, but
Thompson still lost points. In the third round, Thompson had hung on
for dear life, and had tied his opponent in that round, but he was still
down an overwhelming amount of points. In the fourth round, the old
champion made an incredible comeback. It was a sellout worthy
performance. The crowd had gone wild as he tore the new kid to
pieces. It wasn’t enough though; right before the knockout blow, the
bell sounded. Thompson was forced out of the ring despite his constant
begging for another round. Now everything rested on RJ’s shoulders,
which were already sagging from fear and weakness. It is true, RJ had
wanted to be a fighter all of his life. He had trained hard. His heart
burned for this moment, but when it finally came, the lights burned
hotter. He stepped out into the ring, and watched the arrogant younger
brother strut around the ring. He was clearly begging for attention.
This was the moment of victory that he had always wanted, but did
victory want him?
RJ never even knew what hit him. He never even noticed that the fight
was going on before he found himself kissing the canvas. His head
swam as he fought to get up. He knew every second he was down
meant more points for his opponent. Jackson came in hard and
delivered a combo to his rib cage and then his face. RJ crumpled again.
The smaller boy was still in shock as he climbed to his feet. Jackson got
lazy and took a wild and obvious pull back swing for RJ’s head.
It was a miracle for RJ that the shot was evaded> The two competitors
circled each other. Jackson faked a low kick and stung Rj on the nose,
but the kid didn’t go down this time. Rj took his first swing at Jackson
Jackson had followed up and drilled Rj on the face after blocking a
weak swing. The boy had stumbled back into the ropes and fallen. Now
RJ was upset. He raced to the middle of the ring and swung a wild and
random group of punches. Th flurry lasted about five seconds and
ended with RJ flopping on the ground holding his rips tightly and
gasping for air. The first round continued in this fashion and ended
with RJ having only landed one punch, and Jackson scoring 8 jabs, 6
hooks, and one cross.
“Are you ok man?”
“umm, I guess I’m alright”
“It’s okay, you can make up for the loss after some rest.”
“Sure, you can take him. Stay on your toes more, and don’t wind up before you swing. Just let one fly quickly before he knows it’s coming.”
“No problem RJ; I believe in you. We can still win”
After RJ had his two minute break, he climbed over the ropes again and
entered the ring. He still wished he could just go home. He knew He
wouldn’t win. He also knew that Thompson didn’t really think he
would win either. The referee started off the second round of the
second round, the fighters met in the middle. Jackson toyed with RJ
and waited for a response.
“ what’s the matter? You scared to fight? Just stay on the floor a little
while and you can go home without a scratch.”
RJ remained quiet, but delivered a combo to Jacksons face. Jackson
blushed a ripe red color and swung a low kick for RJ’s knees. Before he
knew what had happened, Rj was diving backwards uncontrollably.
RJ got up again. This time it didn’t take quite as long. Jackson danced
around him and faked a jab, but took a shot at RJ’s knees again. It
worked, and once again RJ was forced to have a little conference with
“I would ask you if that hurt, but I’m sure your used to it by now”
jeered the confident opponent. Again, RJ made no reply. Jackson
became bored and threw a whirlwind of punches from every angle until
his heart was bolting out of his chest and he was exhausted. An evil
smile crept across his face as he saw the smaller boy tripping backwards
and falling into the ropes. RJ had protected himself from most of the
swings, but had taken one or two powerful hits. The rest of the second
half was not incredible for the underdog. He took his fair share of this
and left the ring panting like a wild dog.
“How’d I do Thompson?”
“Not bad; you landed three hooks, and four jabs. He landed fives along with two kicks. You still made up for all of the floor time though.”
“That’s a lot of the point scoring.”
“I know, but you’re getting better. Try to anticipate his hits. Watch him take in a breath and move out of the way before he even swings”
RJ nodded solemnly.
RJ was ready now. his fear was gone. He had a passion now, and he was
willing to sacrifice anything to win. He had hung on two rounds and
was confident he could take the win back. For the first time he actually
felt like he wanted to be here. It was no longer a bad dream.
With eyes flashing and heart pounding, RJ stepped out onto the canvas.
Jackson smiled and walked to the center.
“ Just two more hits left buddy. I hit you, and you hit the floor. It won’t take much longer. Don’t worry”
“ I guess we’ll have to see about that” replied RJ, who was comfortable
enough to talk back now. He was not impressed with his opponents
choice of words at all. The ref started off the fight, and both boys
started with a wild volley. Jackson swung hard and fast, but RJ was
dodging and blocking almost everything. RJ leapt to the right to get out
of the flurry and then started breaking on Jacksons weak rib cage.
Another violent attack broke out. This time RJ was doing most of the
offense. Jackson struggled to block and evade the oncoming slaughter.
RJ rained down hits on him like a true veteran. His heart was in the
fight now, not just his arms. The sneaky fighter jumped backward and
stuck RJ in the shin as he advanced on him with a jump-skip. RJ let out
a helpless, pain-filled yelp, as he hit the canvas. The crowd stopped
everything and looked on with fearful silence. Everyone waited for RJ.
His leg had been hit hard right in the funny bone. He could still feel the
vibrations pricking inside his leg. Slowly, RJ crawled to his knees. The
boy let out a painful sigh as the tension died down. The count was at
seven. He had three seconds to get up; RJ lifted one foot, and jerked
himself up all of the sudden with new found strength. The crowd
roared with approval for the underdog who had endured everything so
far. RJ’s eyes blazed with pain as he looked on the awe filled youngster.
Jackson thought he had won. HE never expected that last second push.
RJ smiled now, and gave his opponent a wink. Jackson was started and
gave a confused second look at the boy. He didn’t have long to look
though; RJ landed hook on Jackson strong enough to knock a
mouthpiece out. The bully staggered backwards and then wheeled
forward, as he tried to gain back some momentum. Jackson swung an
uppercut, but RJ dodged and knocked him down. Jackson leapt back
up; his face was flushed with embarrassment. The two boys engaged in
another slobber-knocking volley. Both boys swung with all their might,
and heart. They dodged, they blocked, the doffed each others
arms. They kicked and scratched and jumped and shoved.
They battled on and on, in a heated close quarter shootout. Sweat was
flying off of their backs. Saliva was spilling out of their mouths.
Finally, after what seemed like an hour, RJ came out on top.
He stood over Jacksons limp body for a moment, and scanned the
crowd for the first time. Applause erupted from the building, and
everyone jumped to their feet and cheered for the underdog, who had
persevered through the beating. The moment was cut short though.
Jackson was saved by the bell. RJ’s shoulders slumped and his mouth
dropped as he saw Jackson being pulled out of the ring. The bully
would have another shot. The last round was coming up, and the competitors would have a whole five minutes to rest up and get ready.
This would ruin RJ’s advantage of hitting Jackson while he was still
shocked and fragile. RJ took a trip to get a bottle of water from the
vending machine, his mouth was bleeding and he wanted to get away
from the noise so he could clear his mind. He slipped the doller into the
machine and pressed the number. RJ leaned against the wall and closed
his eyes for a second. Everything became quiet. He was all alone,
dwelling in the silence of his mind. There was no noise except the
constant humming of the machine.
“ I finally did it. I entered my first fight, and I could be the one to win
the championship” He smiled to himself as he thought of wearing the
plastic belt around his waist. It may have been a cheesy prize, but
anything with the word “ champion” on it was enough for him.
Then he stiffened, and his smile vanished.
“Stay focused RJ. You still have to survive another round. Get your
head in the game. It’s Showtime.” He stepped away from the wall and
turned towards the machine where his neglected bottle of water was
waiting, but something stopped him cold. Jackson was right in front of
him. The cocky expression had apparently migrated, and the boy looked serious now.
“Hey RJ, how are you feeling”
RJ bent down to grab his water but he felt an arm grab his.
“Look, I know I’ve been a bit of a bully, but I really need to talk to you”
“Well what is it, we don’t have much time so hurry up”
“Look RJ, there’s no reason for us to go out there and kill each other”
“Jackson, what is this about?”
Jackson paused, and answered slowly.
“Not everybody has a life like you RJ”
“What on earth do you mean”
“ I have noticed from school that your parents have a “ proud of you
no matter what” philosophy. Well my dad isn’t exactly like that. If I lose
this match to a little guy like you, It won’t be pretty. I’m begging you,
please hold back. I can’t afford to lose. It would ruined my fathers
views of me. It could ruin everything.”
“Yeah right, you just know you’re beat, so you beg me to ease off when
I’m just hitting my stride”
“Look RJ, please I need you. It’s not what it looks like. I’m serious.”
RJ became very proud, and very angry at the same time. He pushed
Jackson aside and strolled down the hall with his water.
“No promises, Jackson. Except the one I’ll make to the School
newspaper giving them a first dibs on the story you just gave me”
RJ laughed out loud as he strutted into the main building and took his
spot outside the ring. The crowd went barbarically wild at the
appearance of their hero. RJ smiled and played it up as he stepped into
the ring. Jackson appeared on the other side. He slowly trudged into the
ring with knees low and head tilted. Confidently, RJ skip-walked to the
center to hear the refs closing remarks.
“you’ve kept in clean so far. Let’s keep this last round clean as well.
No matter who wins, I want you both to know that you’ve put on a
spectacular performance tonight. Now go to your corners and let’s get
it on.” The two fighters took their positions and waited eagerly.
“You got this RJ, show em what you’re made of.”
RJ and Jackson squared up in the middle. RJ weaved back and forth
testing his opponent. He let loose a lighting jab that buzzed Jackson in
the jawbone. Jackson swung a desperate stroke but RJ ducked, and
plowed into him hard. Jackson stepped back, and regained his balance.
RJ shook his head violently and scolded himself for charging into his
opponent instead of punching him. He had become a greater fool than
Jackson. Carefully, the two battlers stalked back to the center to meet
each other. Jackson dropped a few hits on RJ that made him angry.
His rage fueled his punches, and he drove Jackson back to the other
side of the ring. He thrashed Jackson against the wall. Stroke after
stroke he took apart Jacksons tired defense. The bully watched as
Jackson crumpled onto the ground. The arrogant youngster turned to
the crowd. He was clearly seeking attention. It didn’t happen.
Everyone had suddenly become aware of how much hurt Jackson was
going through, as he lay there completely limp. Even RJ’s family was
shaking their heads. His father was the most disappointed.
“This is getting to his head, I’m throwing in the towel”
“Can you do that when he’s winning? Asked his curious but agreeing wife.
“ I think so” RJ’s father got up and jogged over to the ring.
The crowds boos fell to whispers as Jackson struggled to his feet.
It was far from over. Jackson hung on tightly. The two boys flashed in
the middle Jackson’s legs were shaking as he danced with RJ and tried
to find an opportunity to make a connection. A long shootout
commenced. The boys struggled for the upper hand. RJ landed a hard
right hand on Jacksons cheek and stumbled backwards
uncontrollably. Jackson hit the floor hard, and didn’t move.
Everything was silent. Everything was still. Everything was over, or was
“ GET UP JACK! GET UP AND FACE HIM! GET YOUR FACE OFF THE GROUND! MY SON ISN’T A COWARD”
RJ swiveled his head towards the stands. He could see a large man
screaming at Jackson. His mind was racing in all different directions. He
suddenly realized just how true Jackson’s pleading had been. He could
here the whole crowd cheering for Jackson to get up, and he suddenly
realized that he was no longer the underdog. He was the bully.
It was time to make a choice.
“ I can’t blow this win. Augh, I can’t keep doing this though. I’m killing
him whether I know it or not”
Jackson was climbing to his feet. He had barely beaten the buzzer.
RJ looked over at Jackson. He smiled and gave Jackson a wink, but this time it wasn’t the same.
“You can’t stop him. He’s about to win. This is the final fight of the season.”
“This win is going to his head. It’s not healthy for him”
RJ’s dad looked towards the ring where Thompson had pointed.
Jackson was covering RJ up with hits. A leg sweep dropped RJ to the
ground with a plop. The crowd screamed like a house of madmen.
RJ was still, completely still. The noise quieted slowly as everyone
watched in suspense. The referee was making his count.
,TEN! THAT’S IT, WE HAVE A WINNER”
The ref grabbed Jacksons hand and raised it high into the air.
The stands exploded with applause.
It felt like the entire earth was shaking. The entire earth was moving
from the buzz of a hundred fight loving fans, who were ready to blow
the roof off. RJ climbed back to his feet. He turned slowly and
something caught his eye. It was his mother, sitting in the stands. She
was looking towards heaven with damp closed eyes. He wondered if she
knew what had happened. He plodded over to the ropes and climbed
over them leisurely. He hugged his dad tightly.
“I’m so proud of you son. Win or lose, that was a great fight. You hung in there”
RJ’s dad wanted a quick word with the victor, so he slipped away for a
minute. RJ turned slowly to see his friend.
With mouth still gaping, there was Thompson standing just
outside the ring.
“You had him. What happened out there?”
“Oh, I guess he must have done something that caught me off guard”
Replied RJ with just a hint of an ironic smile.
This is where the story ends, but only where the questions begin, so I will ask you one thought before you’re departing. Did RJ make the right choice?