Tattoos covered his bare chest, flowing from one powerful arm to the other and coating every surface in between. As he bounced back and forth the ink did little to hide his enormous muscles. Sweat dripped off them and onto the ground below, littering the mat with darkened spots.
I studied him as he moved, taking note of anything that could help me during the fight. His size stood out as a defining feature. Each of my previous opponents had slightly varied in height, but none had dwarfed me like the man who then opposed me. The expression it's not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog lost its meaning as I stared up at him.
Losing this match meant losing the tournament, and as a semifinalist I refused to give up the opportunity to make a name for myself by winning the next two matches. I had trained for years to have this opportunity, and at that point I would have taken the win no matter the cost.
The bell sounded and my heart began to race. I shuffled towards the center of the ring to confront my opponent. We danced around each other, throwing and dodging punches. With each hit, he lumbered around, allowing his moves to be easily dodged. As he attempted to hit me, I snuck in punches anywhere I could. Before long, victory seemed right around the corner. If nothing unexpected happened I was sure to win.
As fate would have it though, something unexpected did happen. My opponent grabbed hold of my arm and bashed my face a countless number of times, making up for all of his missed punches. I didn’t have a chance to comprehend his illegal move before he shoved me to the ground.
I struggled to stand up, the ground swayed beneath me making my rise nearly impossible. The world around me became muffled allowing only certain sounds to break through to my ear drums.
“One,” The referee began his count. If I couldn’t stand up before he reached ten, I would lose the match and the tournament. The ringing in my ears drowned out the roaring of the crowd. I peered out the ring to see the people who had cheered me on at the start of the match all hold their breath waiting for me to get up.
“Three,” I didn’t hear the second number, but when the third came it rang out in my mind repeating itself while I lie helpless. The referee's choice to not to call a foul stunned me. As my exhaustion kept me nailed to the ground, I fought to stay in the match.
“Seven,” The utterance forced me into action. I rolled over onto my stomach and placed my hands on the ground. With each additional movement, my body begged me to stop. The usual ache in my muscles from my continuous training and fighting throughout the tournament turned from a faint nagging to an overwhelming obstacle as I tried to stand.
“Nine,” My time had almost run out. Taking a deep breath, I looked over to my opponent. The spotlights above glared down at me blinding me from seeing his face. I knew it wasn’t bleeding, but I wanted it to. I managed to land a decent number of hits, but none good enough to cause any real damage.
After one more short breath I rose to a kneel. The pressure I forced on my leg had caused me to rise, but I still felt uneasy. The elbow had thrown my balance off, and I still needed to lift the other foot. As I struggled to return to a stand, I slipped on the mat and fell to the ground.
“Ten,” The referee uttered the last word in the count. I looked out to see as some members of the crowd hollered, celebrating my defeat, others fell silent, dejected by it.
After the match every wandering eye seemed to fasten onto me and indulge in my failure. As I turned my head to obscure them from my view, their silent jeering echoed throughout my mind. A painful reminder of what I lost replaced any desire to continue. My chin remained tucked into my chest as I walked to the locker room to gather my things.
On my arrival, I saw my opponent rummaging through a locker a few feet away from mine. In my attempt to creep behind him, he heard me and turned to speak.
“Oh hey,” He looked at me with a sardonic smile, holding a white T-shirt in his hands in front of his chest, “Some match, huh?”
“Yeah,” I still felt disoriented from our fight. “Crazy how you won,”
“Rules are rules, that’s how it goes,” After speaking his last line he let out a single mocking laugh. Rules are rules. My fist clenched until my fingernails dug into the palm of my hand. The boxing match had ended but this hadn’t. I considered sucker punching him right there to give him a taste of his own medicine. He stood in the way of my glory and I would have done anything to win, but there was nothing I could do. I wiped some drool from my mouth and dropped my eyes to his feet before walking to my locker.
The next few days I had no desire to do anything other than lay on my couch. The boxing phase of my life had come and gone, and with it went my passion. I flicked through the endless television channels cable provides until I eventually stumbled upon the same tournament I had lost being televised. A man clad in a blue suit holding a long black microphone stood in front of the building the final match was to be held.
“The final match will be canceled,” His words sparked curiosity which was soon quenched by further listening. He went on to explain that my latest opponent had fallen victim to a fatal car crash. The finalist from the loser’s bracket happened to be a good friend of my opponent’s and declined the tournament’s award out of grief and respect, leaving me the winner.
I considered declining the award too, as I hadn’t won the tournament. The award, the title and the acclaim weren’t mine. Accepting it would make me a fraud, but after some consideration I realized my life would be better with those things in it.
Within a few days, I was contacted by countless news agencies, media groups, and sponsors. As the news spread, people began hailing me as the winner, regardless of my failure in the semi finals. I would go to the grocery store, or the gas station, or even just outside to get some fresh air and someone would recognize me. “It's you,” they would say as if my presence was equivalent to that of a unicorn’s.
After about a few years the fingers that once pointed straight at me remained folded into their hands and the faces accompanying them gave no second glances. Every few weeks one of those faces might linger for a short time, locking eyes with me as they crept through their memories trying to find the spark that ignited their interest in my otherwise benign appearance. Occasionally they would find it and greet me or just be satisfied with the knowledge of who they met. Other times their brow would furrow as they would break eye contact and return to their lives, likely never realizing the renowned loser they met that day.