“It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, you’re gonna wanna get in our next contender’s pants. . . . Show some love for our hometown legend, the Switch Hitter!” I snort at the name, expecting to walk out and see a fighter carrying a baseball bat. What do ya know? No bat in sight. Extra reinforcements might not have been a bad idea since I’m on fire and ready to bust the bricks off this clown.
Waiting for the emcee to call my name, I think of all the crazy things in my life that have led me to this point. I’ve experienced more than any one person should by the age of twenty-one—few happy moments surrounded by almost constant anguish. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?
“Being escorted to the cage by the most badass entourage I’ve seen tonight, all the way from Corbin, Kentucky . . . the newest fighter this side of the Mississippi . . . the Raven!” At least name makes sense. Ravens are known for being alone, having no problem flying solo. That’s what I’ve done for the past four years anyway.
After my announcement, the crowd erupts into cheers that I can hear loud and clear, even over the song streaming out of my earbuds. Bouncing back and forth on the balls of my feet, I crane my neck side to side, examining the mass of people. It’s a good-sized crowd for this venue. I sometimes wonder if these guys come to watch the fights for the love of the sport or because they like to see the ring girls walking around, barely dressed, carrying signs indicating the round. Oh well, they paid their cover, and that money, if all goes according to plan, will be in my pocket later tonight.
With my coaches leading the way, I follow, bobbing my head to “Down with the Sickness” by Disturbed, mentally preparing myself. I run over everything I’ve been taught over the last year—how to get out of a submission hold, finding opportunities to take my opponent down, remembering not to be a cocky asshole.
It took a lot of convincing for Zan to let me fight tonight. He’s not the kind father figure he portrays himself to be. He says he loves and supports his “children,” but deep down he’d rather I not get in that cage. I know damn well if I blow my first match, it’s going to be a long time, if ever, until he puts me on another card.
“You ready for this?” Zan asks, pulling out one of my earbuds.
Smirking, I eye up my competition that’s already inside the cage—a small, tiny thing that doesn’t look to have much muscle mass. Standing on the opposite side of the mat surrounded by coaches, glancing in my direction, the slightest tinge of fear flashes across those brown eyes, similar to mine. Physically, I’m not very intimidating—weighing in at an average weight for my class with an average stature to match—but the menace written across my face is an entirely different thing.
Since my first introduction into the world of mixed martial arts, it’s all I can think about. It may be cliché, but I live, breathe, and sleep MMA. It’s the one place I have control. Nobody can take a match from me unless I allow them to, and my opponent isn’t going to walk away with anything . . . except maybe disappointment, since I’m taking the purse. I already know I want it more; I can taste the victory and it’s going to be as sweet as I imagine it to be.
Stepping into the steel cage, I shrug my midnight blue robe off, right into the hands of my coach. Wearing standard MMA gear and my hair pulled back tight, I walk straight to the official, who checks my taped hands. Once cleared, I step back to Zan, who pops my mouth guard in for me, pats me on the shoulder, and whispers in my ear, “It’s only you two. If you want it, make it happen. If not, we can leave right now.”
“Don’t worry, Z. I wouldn’t bring you all the way here to disappoint you.”
Zan and the other coaches walk out of the cage and the door slams shut, leaving only me, my opponent, and the official inside. I meet them in the middle, and the ref goes over the standard rules for the fight. My opponent and I nod and bump fists, and the bell dings, indicating round one is under way.
Pacing myself and testing Switch Hitter’s skills, I toss a few jabs in the direction of my opponent, gauging for reaction, if any. Without even flinching, my advances are shut down and every punch is dodged while some are tossed in my direction as well. None land, and Switch Hitter never breaks a sweat. I may have to reevaluate my plan. Weight class isn’t everything in the MMA world. Sometimes the smallest contender can be the biggest fighter. This isn’t going to be as clean as I thought.
It doesn’t take long before Switch Hitter makes a dive for my lower half and I feel hands wrapped around my legs. I try my hardest to center myself to stay on my feet, but I’ve been hit in just the right spot and gravity is an impossible opponent. I position my body to flip and mount, like I’ve been taught, but I’m not quick enough.
Before I know it, a strong forearm, stronger than I assumed, is wrapping around my neck, pulling back to cut off my air supply. Taking a few deep breaths, I try to calm my overheated, exhausted body and find a way to maneuver out of this situation. From the corner of my eye, I see Zan signaling me to tap. If I’m going to go down, the officials are gonna have to call a medic in here—quitting an option. Dangerous or not, it’s how I’ve been taught.
The phrase that’s been drilled into me for months dances around in my head.
Well, I’m consumed and I’m not giving up. I’ll figure a way out. I always have, I always will.