Wrestle My Way Into Your Heart

A Mixed Martial Artist finds love

By Mongoose750 (mongoose750@yahoo.com)

 

            At a university in Iowa, two women watched the busy hustle and bustle that was normal at the beginning of the semester.  From the balcony of a large old house that was converted into apartments for students who didn’t want the cramped existence of a dorm room, it offered a nice view of the campus, and a safe point for people watching.

            “Another year, another semester, eh, Lisa?”  The first woman said.  She was 5’8” and black with long wavy hair.  She wore a yellow T-shirt with the school’s logo, blue jean shorts, white sports socks, and white running shoes.

            “Our last year, Celeste,” Lisa said.  “We’re so close to freedom now, I can taste it.”

            “You sure it’s not one of the factories nearby you can taste?”  Celeste Evans said.

            Lisa smacked her lips.  “Maybe you’re right, but still, after this year, we graduate, and we are out of here.”

            Lisa Lane was a 5’11” woman with natural long red hair and creamy white skin.  Along with her wire frame glasses, she had her hair pulled up in a ponytail, wore a pink tank top and shorts outfit, and was barefoot.

            Watching the students, Celeste said, “Looks like a nice crop of students this year.”

            “Maybe so,” Lisa replied, “but I think I’m going to become a lesbian this year.”

            Celeste snapped her head around to look at Lisa.  “What?”

            “Well last year was such a dating disaster, it may be a good idea to bat on the other side of the fence until we’re gone.”

            “I remember last year, I was right here with you,” her roommate added.

            “They started out nice enough, until I told them what I do for a living.  Boy, they changed their tunes overnight.  Some were offended, thinking I was trying to be like a man, while others were scared of the fact that I was stronger than half the men they knew.  There was this psychology major who thought I had issues against my father, and I was working out some hidden aggression.”

            “What did you tell that boy?”

            “That I love my father dearly, he has no problems with what I do, and the truth was that my physical fitness made him feel inadequate.”

            “Good one.”

            “Amazing what five minutes of leafing through a psychology book will do for a rebuttal.  Then there were the fraternity guys.  As soon as I told them, some asked me if I did my thing in oil, Jell-O, chocolate pudding, or some other normally edible substance.  Some of them wanted to know if I would take on the sorority girls.  I told them the girls would not want to do what I do, much less take me on.  Some of the guys asked if they could take me on.  And others just wanted me to flex my arm for them.”

            “I told you about those frat boys,” Celeste said.

            “I know, and I promise to listen to you next time.  But what really took the cake was that Mormon guy.  I think he twisted every scripture he could find from the Bible and the Book of Mormon why what I did was ‘sinful.’”

            “It didn’t stop him from seeing you a second time.”

            “No, it didn’t.”

            “I think what took care of him was that ‘lively’ conversation we had on his church’s doctrine on black people.  If you didn’t have him leave, I was going to take him out myself.  ‘Cursed race;’ I was going to ‘curse’ his butt right there.”

            “That was what did it; that, and what my Baptist pastor said to me before I left for college.”

            “What’s that?”

            “Stay away from Mormons, they’re a strange people,” Lisa said.

            “Amen.”

            “So if any guys ask about me this year, just tell them I ‘switched hitters.’  Some of them think that about me anyway.”

            “Okay,” Celeste giggled.

            The two were silent for a while as they watched the students.  Finally, one man caught Lisa’s eye.  He stood roughly the same height as Lisa, and he reminded her of a younger version of Denzel Washington.

            “Okay, I switched back,” Lisa said.

            “That was a short trip.”

            Lisa pointed toward a nearby fountain, where the man was standing.  “See him?  He’s the man who’s glancing at his campus map by the fountain.”

            Celeste saw him.  “Yeah, he’s fine.  So you’re going to try some ‘dark meat’ this year?”

            Lisa gave her friend a funny look.  “Celeste, I was thinking about going out with him, not having him for Thanksgiving dinner.  Besides, last I checked, you seem to like ‘white meat.’”

            “Ah yes; George, the other white meat.”

            “How tacky.  Anyway, could you do the usual?”

            “Sure, I’ll have all the information on him by late tonight.  I’ll start with calling Fran in registration.  By the time you put your weights down, I’ll know his name.”

            “Thanks.  If he’s a frat, Mormon, or psych. major, I don’t want him.”

            “Just promise me not to continue going with him if he doesn’t like what you do.”

            “It’s a deal.”

            Later that evening, as soon as Lisa put down her weights, her cell phone in her gym bag rang.  She pulled it out of a side pocket and answered it.

            “Hello?”  She said.

            “Hello, his name is James Clark, he transferred from a school up north, and he’s a senior too.  Better get him while he’s hot!”  Celeste said on the other line.

            “Thanks, that’s another one I owe you.  It looks like it’s time to visit the cafeteria tomorrow.”

            “I’ll have my contacts let you know as soon as he sits down to eat.”

            “Bon appetit!”  Lisa replied.

 

 

            When Lisa entered the cafeteria the next day, true to what her contact said, there was James sitting at a table by himself, eating his lunch and examining his schedule.

            Thank God for cell phones, Lisa thought.  How did people get by without them?

            She took her tray and walked to James’ table.  She was wearing a black T-shirt, blue jeans, no shoes, with her hair still fitted in a ponytail.

            “Excuse me, are these seats taken?”  Lisa asked.

            James looked up for a moment.  “No, go ahead, have a seat,” he said, and then returned to studying his schedule.

            Lisa took a few bites of her lunch while watching James figure out his schedule out of the corner of her eye.  After she thought enough time had passed by, and James was starting to get a little frustrated, she smiled, adjusted her glasses, and looked at him.

            “You know, finding your classes can be easy, once you know the secret,” Lisa said, offering her hand.  “Lisa Lane.”

            “James Clark,” he said as he shook it.  “So what is this mysterious ‘secret’ to finding everything on this campus?”

            “Knowing the five key points on campus.  They are the fountain, the statue, the library, the clock, and the cafeteria.  So far, you’ve found one of them.”

            “I remember passing by a fountain yesterday.  I think I know where that is, but I have no idea where the other places are.  I’m not sure I can find this cafeteria again.”

            Lisa smiled widely.  “Then I think you’re in need of a grand tour.  What’s your schedule like tomorrow?”

            “Well all my classes are over at one.”

            “Great!  Meet me at the bench in front of the fountain at two o’clock, and I’ll show you all you need to see on this campus.”

            “Uh, thank you.”

            “No problem.  Hey, I got to go, but I’ll see you tomorrow,” Lisa said as she got up to leave.

            “Okay, bye,” James replied.

            As James sat at the lunch table wondering what just happened, Lisa strolled away to put up her tray, smiling broadly.

            Almost too easy, she thought to herself.

 

 

            Living by a “key point” has its advantages, Lisa thought to herself as she stood on her balcony the next day.  If he shows up, she’ll be able to see him arrive, and he was pleasant to see.  On the other hand, if he doesn’t show up, it wouldn’t be too big a disaster.  It was not like she had to go out of her way to meet him.  It would be a disappointment if he didn’t show up though.

            At five minutes before the hour, James appeared, walking toward the bench.  He was dressed smartly in a charcoal-gray polo shirt and black jeans with black loafers.  It looked like he wanted to make a nice impression.

            Ooh, and he dresses nice too, cooed Lisa as she left the balcony and fled down the stairs.  She wore a two-piece lavender outfit consisting of a short sleeve blouse and pants.  Barefoot, she padded her way to the ground floor, where she exited out the back door (she didn’t want to give away her secret place too soon).  She walked briskly to the bench where James had just sat down.

            “Glad you made it!  Ready to begin?”  Lisa said.

            “Yeah,” James said.  “Shouldn’t you grab your shoes first before we go?”

            “Oh I won’t need them.  Let’s go.”

            For the next two hours (the official tour the university conducted to visitors was only twenty minutes to a half-hour), Lisa told and shown James everything he needed to know and more about the university.  During that time, Lisa found some interesting information about James too.  He was a secondary education major with an emphasis in the physical sciences, which delighted Lisa, because her major was agriculture; both were raised on farms, and he transferred to the school because they had a better quality of education.  The biggest piece of news to Lisa was that he was unattached, which made giving the tour even more pleasurable.

            After having a light snack at the cafeteria, they returned to their starting point at the fountain.  Lisa took a quick glance at her watch, and realized she needed to end this meeting soon.

            “Well I hope you enjoyed the tour,” Lisa said.  “There’s a money back guarantee that you’ll never get lost on this campus for as long as you go here.”

            “Lost?  I think I’m ready to give tours myself,” James replied.

            “Good.  I need to get going, but I’m glad you enjoyed it.  Hey, have you heard about the Grand Enrollment Party at Johnson Hall this Friday?  It’s always a pretty big event here.”

            “I read the fliers, but I wasn’t planning on coming.  I don’t know anybody.”

            “Well you do now.  I’ll be there a little late, but please go, you’ll have fun.”

            “Okay, you twisted my arm.  I’ll see you there.”

            They said their goodbyes, and Lisa hurried back to her place to change.  She worked out later that evening and the other nights before the night of the party.  She noticed that she had a smile frozen on her face.  It had been a while since she had been this happy.

 

 

            Johnson Hall was one of the nicest facilities on campus.  The building contained some classrooms, and a nice patio area that was an excellent venue for all types of parties with the exception of the fraternities who use their own halls to trash.  On the night of the party, the building was almost full.  New students, old students, old students looking for new students, and students who were there just because it’s a party clogged the living room area like the proverbial can of sardines.

            It was through this crowd that Lisa maneuvered with ease, like salmon swimming upstream.  Being a senior, she was already used to what seemed like nearly half the campus condensed into the building.  Having just arrived from her workout, she had to deal with the casualties of being late as she scanned the crowd in search of James.

            She was dressed in an emerald green sleeveless mandarin-style long dress with slits on both sides and a dragon embroidered on the back.  She had her red hair let down, opting to keep her glasses on instead of wearing contact lenses; and to the surprise of everyone except those who knew her, wore no shoes, though she did paint her toenails the same color of her dress.

            After several minutes of scanning and asking around, she considered pulling out her cell phone and calling him when she saw him on the balcony leaning on the front rail, exploring the night sky.  She made her way to the balcony and ended up behind him.

            “The sky is pretty tonight, isn’t it?”  She said, softly.

            James turned around.  “Yes it is, and so are you.  I like that dress.  Nice choice of footwear,” he joked.

            Lisa chuckled and looked at her toes.  “Oh, I don’t wear shoes; I hope that doesn’t offend you.”

            “No, not at all; you seem to be rather comfortable with it.”

            “Ever since I was a little farm girl.  Do you do a lot of stargazing back home?”

            “Yes, quite a bit.  Back home, we don’t have the pollution or anything else to block your vision.”

            “Good point.  Hey, speaking of unobstructed, why don’t we go to my place where it’s less noisy, and I can tell you what I really think about star gazing?”

            “Okay, it’s too crowded here for my tastes; lead the way,” James said.

            Lisa led James back to her apartment, where she beckoned him to sit on a sofa while she brought two cans of a soft drink for both of them.  James glanced out the front window.

            “So that’s how you saw me coming!  I thought the timing was a little too perfect,” he said.

            “Yeah, this place Celeste and I picked turned out to be great.  It’s excellent for stargazing and other things,” Lisa said, handing James a can as she sat down beside him.

            The two talked the larger part of that evening about career goals, farm life, and almost everything in-between.

            Finally, James said, “So Lisa, you said you were going to tell me what you really thought about stargazing.”

            Lisa placed her drink down on the coffee table and looked at James intently.

            “I agree with you; back on a farm, you have a clear view of everything in the night sky, but right now, you’re the only star in my eyes,” she said softly.

            “Why thank you,” James said, almost blushing.

            Taking the can from James’ hand, Lisa suddenly pushed him down on the sofa, then lay on top of him, scissoring her legs around his thighs.

            “Also, living on a farm has made me very strong,” she cooed, almost in a whisper.  “Strong enough to do a lot of things, as I will now demonstrate.”

            She unbuttoned the middle button on his oxford shirt and started kissing his chest, working her way up to his neck.

            Seeing where this was going, James said, “Uh, Lisa, I made a promise to myself that the one woman I would sleep with would be the one I’ll marry.”

            Lisa, who was ready to involve herself in the pleasure of chewing on James’ neck, stopped for a moment.  “Really?”

            “Yes.”

            “So that means you’ve never-”

            “That’s right.  I’m a virgin.”

            Lisa was stunned.  Throughout her years at college, she was taught she needed to “seal the deal,” that is, become physically intimate with her date in order to establish a relationship.  Now she’d run into someone who appeared to like her for who she was, not because she was “sexually compatible.”  In Lisa’s mind, this meant one thing; he was a keeper.

            She grabbed James’ head and kissed him on the cheek.  “That’s so sweet!”  She said.  “Okay, we won’t do it, that’s fine.  Can we just lay here and hold each other a while?”

            “No,” he grunted.

            “W-why not?”

            “Because you’re crushing my legs!”

            Lisa looked down at her legs, giggled, and unlocked them.  “Heh, heh, sorry about that, occupational hazard.”

            “Occupational hazard?”  James said, sitting up in an attempt to get the blood moving in his legs again.  “What do you do?”

            Lisa sat up and prepared herself, he was going to find out one way or another.

            “I’m a submission wrestler,” she said.

            This time, it was James’ turn to stop what he was doing for a moment.  “Really?”  He said.

            “That’s right.  James, have you heard of Mixed Martial Arts?”

            “Like the Ultimate Fighting ChampionshipsÔ and Pride Fighting ChampionshipsÔ?”

            “Yes!”  Lisa said excitedly.  Finally, a man who had a full understanding of what she did, who wouldn’t be asking about hitting people on the head with folding chairs or rolling in Jell-O®.  “Do you watch them?”

            “A few, but most of them are on pay-per-view.  I usually see the amateur kickboxing tournaments when they come on.  I’m a big fan of Susan Davidson, if you’ve heard of her.”

            “Susan Davidson, she’s my idol!  If I could kickbox like her, I’d have an easier time with my bouts.”

            “I could see why, your legs are so strong,” James said, satisfied that his legs were back to normal.  “I bet you get a few submissions from them.”

            “A few.  I have to depend on my grappling and ground skills, because my striking game stinks.  My record is quite good, nonetheless.”

            “So tell me about the organization you’re in.”

            “I have a better idea, would you like to go with me to training tomorrow?”

            “Sure, what time?”

            “It’s from five to seven.  That explains why I was late tonight.  But since tomorrow is Saturday, it’s from one to three.”

            “Well since I now know where you live, I’ll meet you here at 12:30.”  James glanced at his watch.  “Speaking of time, I better go.”

            “I had a nice time, really,” Lisa said, kissing James lightly on the lips.  “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

            “Me too.  Goodnight, Lisa,” James said as he went down the steps.

            Lisa could barely contain her squeal of excitement until James left.  She couldn’t wait until Celeste returned from the party so she could tell her everything.

 

 

            It took some effort, but Celeste managed to calm Lisa down, and to have her finish telling her about James in the morning.  When she got up, took a shower, and walked to the kitchen to eat breakfast, Lisa was there to ambush her with more news about James.  At least she was wide-awake this time.

            “ . . . and on top of all that, he’s a virgin!  He said the woman he sleeps with will be the one he marries,” Lisa said in such exciting tones that it made Celeste wonder if she drank any caffeinated coffee prior to her waking up.  Celeste herself was doing well to keep herself from overflowing her cereal bowl with milk upon hearing that revelation.

            “Really?”  She said, and then added in a quiet voice, “I wish I did that.”

            “Me too,” Lisa said, finally showing signs of slowing down.  “I thought for a split second that he might be pulling my leg, but he was very serious.”

            “I learned my lesson though.  The last man who tried to make a move on me, I told him, ‘if you sleep with me, you better marry me.’  Scares them off every time.”

            Lisa laughed.  “So George is behaving himself?”

            “George is a gentleman.  It drives me wild.  I have to watch myself to keep from jumping on him,” Celeste laughed.

            “I invited him to my workout today.  You coming?”

            “Yeah; George and I are going to the library to do some research for a subject for a research paper.  We should get there in time to watch you sweat.”

            “Yeah, we’ll see if James will get scared off or not.”

            “He already sounds like he’s a brave man.  That woman whoever he gives himself to will get a blessing.  See you later,” Celeste said as she left.

            Lisa sat eating the rest of her breakfast.  There won’t be “some other woman,” Celeste, she thought to herself.  If he’s going to give himself to somebody, it’s going to be me.

 

 

            James was sitting in his dorm room putting the finishing touches to his homework.  Normally, he enjoyed reading the chapters in his science textbook, but this one chapter he just finished reading was rather boring; and it happened to be the longest chapter in the book.  Still, at least it’s out of the way, so he can focus on other things.  He stretched and looked at his watch, which just hit noon.  Then there was a knock at the door.  He opened it, and there was Lisa, smiling and bouncing on the tips of her bare toes.  She was wearing a sleeveless black T-shirt, a red skirt that hung just above the knees, and black leg warmers.  As usual, she wore no shoes.  That was no surprise to James at this point, but he was starting to wonder if she owned a pair.

            “Hello, you’re early,” James said.

            Lisa bounced forward and gave him a peck on the cheek.  “I know, but I couldn’t wait,” she replied.  “Besides, we need to get there early so I can show you around and introduce you to everybody.”

            James looked down at his T-shirt and jeans.  “Okay, let me change clothes real quick.”

            Lisa, looking at James with her head cocked to one side, said, “You look fine to me.  Besides, we’re going to a gym, not a fine restaurant; you’d stick out like a sore thumb dressed up.”

            “Oh, you’re right.  So I guess I’m ready to go then.”

            They went to Lisa’s car, and drove into town to the gym where she trained.  It was a standard gym by the general definition of the word, the only differences were this one had a couple of boxing rings and one ring that wasn’t a “ring” at all, but an octagon, similar to the one fighters in the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC)Ô use in their matches.  The other side of the gym was covered with various types of weight training equipment, dumbbells, punching bags, and treadmills; along with a few wrestling mats placed in-between the equipment and the rings.

            Whoever’s in charge of this place is really serious about this business, James thought to himself as he looked over the place.

            The couple wasn’t alone, far from it.  There were at least ten other women who were either exercising, performing practice bouts in the rings, striking a punching bag, or practicing a hold, throw, or whatever else on the mats.  The only exceptions were a man - the only one there besides James.  He was about the same height as James, but he was white, a few years older, had brown hair in the style of a military buzz, and had a build that looked like he was a boxer.  He wore the standard boxing togs of blue trunks and white boxing shoes with a white tank top shirt.  The other exception was a woman of Latino descent, 5’5”, and full-figured.  She may have been shorter than the man, but she was not lacking in power.  The woman was coated with solid muscle.  This was further empathized by the sleeveless black leotard she wore, matching with the long raven colored hair that hung over her shoulders, and the black toenails on her feet.

            Lisa saw the apprehensive looks on their faces as they approached them.  Generally, most dates she brought here didn’t last long.  She still had memories of one frat boy she dated.  The two entered the gym, and he looked around and said out loud, “Where’s the Jell-O®?”  The day went downhill from there.

            “James, this is Renee, my coach and my grappling trainer, and this is Ray Clark, my boxing trainer,” Lisa said, the nervousness clear in her voice.

            The three shook hands and said their hellos, Lisa’s trainers still a little cautious around the new guy.

            “Nice setup you folks have here,” James said.  “Have you trained many winners here?”

            “A few,” Renee said.  “Are you familiar with mixed martial arts competition?”

            “Oh yeah, whenever I can watch it for free, being a college student and all.  I have to admit I’m more up to date with the amateur kickboxing tournaments, particularly the women’s competition.”

            “Who’s your favorite?”  Ray asked, testing his comprehension.

            “Oh, I’m a Susan Davidson fan all the way, no question.  I hope this doesn’t cause any conflict if you have a different favorite.”

            As soon as Susan’s name was mentioned, both trainers visibly relaxed and smiled at the same time.

            “My boy, I used to be one of Susan’s trainers,” Ray said.  “And Renee here, the woman who trained her is good friends with Susan.”

            James’ eyes lit up.  “Really?”

            “I don’t brag too much about it, but yes, it’s true.  I even got to meet her on a few occasions.  I can tell you she’s as sweet a person as anybody you’ll ever meet.  Just don’t get into the ring with her,” Renee said, smiling.

            “No problem there; I’ve seen the women on the receiving end of her punches and kicks especially.”

            “I can even tell you a few Susan stories, but obviously you’re here to watch Lisa practice, so let’s give her back the spotlight.”

            “That’s okay, really,” Lisa said, more than relieved at the first gauntlet James had gone through.

            “Yeah I’m sure that’s ‘okay,’ you just want to find a way to get out of practice.  Ray, guide her to the locker room and the weights so she doesn’t get away, while I show James the nickel tour of this place,” Renee said.

            While Renee was showing James around, Ray led Lisa to the weight machines, passing by a boxing ring where two women were wearing and displaying to each other their new fighting outfits.  One was 5’9”, with long blond hair fixed into two ponytails.  She was wearing a black sleeveless leotard, the outfit showing off her toned muscles of her arms and legs.  The other was 5’7” of Chinese-American decent, full figured, long black hair, and had muscles that seemed to be busting out of her new outfit.  Her outfit was a leotard that slung over one shoulder, and came with elbow length fingerless gloves on each arm.  The leotard was decorated in a leopard print design, with black fringes on the edges of the leotard and gloves.

            “Hello Lisa, who’s the new guy?”  Said the blond woman, whose name was Xana.  Originally from the Ukraine, she managed to hear about Renee’s reputation and her coaching pedigree, and enlisted in her program, with success.  The welterweight carried a reputation of being one of the best strikers around in the region.  Small wonder, considering her background was in kickboxing.

            “Oh, that’s James; it’s his first time here.  Nice outfits,” Lisa said, nervously, as she started to walk a little quicker toward the weights.

            “Not so fast, honey, we need to ask you a few questions,” the other woman said, who goes by the name of Naomi.  She was a middleweight who was as close as one could get to becoming a heavyweight.  In contrast to Xana, she was a judo specialist, who also sported an excellent record.  She had already established a reputation of a competitor who could dismantle an opponent as soon as she laid hands on them.

            “Have you known him long?”  Xana asked.

            “A little while,” Lisa said, looking to Ray for help.  The boxing trainer gave her a look that said, “You’re on your own, kid.”

            “Let’s get to the point here,” Naomi said.  “Does he know what we’re about?”

            Lisa saw an opportunity and took it.  “Yes he does.  He’s not able to see the pay-per-view shows, but he sees them when he can,” she said, then added as a bonus, “He’s a Susan Davidson fan.”

            As Lisa hoped, the last remark had a pacifying effect on both fighters.  She could see them relax, and she tried not to visibly display exhaling the long breath she was holding during the conversation.

            “That’s great!”  Naomi said.  “We’re really glad you found someone who seems like a decent guy and knows the sport.  We don’t want to make a habit of beating up your boyfriends.”

            “Thank you,” Lisa said, relieved and confident that her new boyfriend had met with her friend’s pre-approval and nothing would happen that would spark an incident.  Two of Lisa’s previous boyfriends didn’t meet with the same fate.

            One boyfriend, despite the explanations that Lisa gave him concerning the sport, still thought there would be managers running around with folding chairs ready to hit the opponent when she wasn’t looking.  When he finally realized the action was actually real, with no theatrics or gymnastics to pretty it up, he committed the cardinal sin of declaring the women no better than the wrestlers on TV, saying that it’s worst than fake.  Xana, who was practicing at the time, took offense with that remark and told him so.  As the conflict escalated, he finally said that an unskilled fighter could mop up the floor with her.  Thoroughly incensed, Xana invited him in the ring to show her how “bad” she was as a fighter.  The match didn’t last long.  When he woke up from her knockout kick (which she said she pulled for Lisa’s sake), he was sitting behind the steering wheel of his car, and unable to enter the locked doors of the gym.  Getting the hint, he drove off, never to see Lisa again, which suited her fine.

            Naomi was not as forgiving or as gentle.  Another former boyfriend of Lisa’s actually criticized everything about the fighter, including questioning her sexual preference and calling her fat (which she clearly wasn’t).  Like Xana did before, she invited him in the ring to prove how “out of shape” she was.  What happened next wasn’t pretty.  She took the man apart, using almost every devastating judo hold, throw, and even a few moves that she never would use on her opponents in the ring.  He ended up in the emergency room of the hospital, where Lisa appeared, called him an idiot, and told him that she never wanted to see him again.  He readily agreed, afraid that she might send Naomi after him again.

Lisa wasn’t angry with her friends; for what they put up with from her former boyfriends, she couldn’t blame them.  She blamed herself for making a very bad selection.  Despite its success, mixed martial arts was a sport that was still fighting for respect, and dating someone who did not have the understanding nor comprehension nor respect of what it was that she did for a living was not really a smart move.  But with James, at least him knowing what it was that she did was a big plus.

            She shot in the locker room, quickly changed, and started her grueling workout with the weights.  While she did the usual grunting and groaning when she pushed past her previous limits on what she lifted, Renee appeared to be taking a little normal than usual in showing James around the gym. That was possibly a good sign. With her previous dates, the “tour” took no longer than five minutes. But as far as Lisa could see between glances and without Ray barking at her to stay focused, James was asking questions or making comments to Renee.  That caused Lisa to smile, which drew a comment from Ray.

            “What are you smiling about, Lisa?”  Ray said.

            “Nothing,” Lisa replied.

            “Well if you’re so happy, then you need to lift a little more to take that smile off your face.  Let’s add another weight on the bar and see you giggle your way through another set.”

            Then Lisa was back to moaning and groaning again.

            By the time Renee finished showing him around and giving him the details of their organization, James was looking forward to seeing the sparring and other types of training Lisa and the others did.  He was a little relieved that Lisa was finished with the lifting.  Though it was important, he couldn’t see anything exciting to watch about it, unless he was one of those people who enjoy seeing another person in pain.  Before the sparring began, however, Renee had a little surprise for them all; well, all except for Ray, the other trainer.

            “You picked a good day to come, James,” Renee said.  “Today, we’re going to the movies.”

            “The movies?”  James said, confused.

            “The ‘movies’ is another way of saying we’re going to watch footage of my next opponent,” Lisa explained.  “Actually, it’s pretty entertaining.  No popcorn though.”

            “Can we watch?”  Xana said from behind them.

            “You two are still here?”  Renee said.  “You girls are through for the day.”

            “We know, but we figured we’d check out Lisa’s next opponent,” Naomi said.

            No, they wanted to ‘check out’ Lisa’s latest boyfriend to make sure he’s decent, Lisa thought to herself.  She appreciated the concern, but it made her feel like she was expected to receive the approval of two big sisters.  More likely, two big sisters who’ll wipe up the floor with James if he steps out of line.

            “Now this is Jennie, your next opponent,” Renee said as she played the tape.  Jennie was a black woman with long hair placed in dreadlocks, and about an inch or two shorter than Lisa, with a highly developed upper body.  Her biceps could remind one of Popeye the Sailor Man, if that same person would dare to tell her that.  Her legs looked puny in comparison, but they were also well developed.

            “Jennie used to be a heavyweight boxer,” Renee continued, “ when she decided to try something new after winning a few regional titles.  She learned some grappling and kicking skills, but at heart, she’s still a boxer.  That would explain why about ninety-five percent of her wins were by knockout.”

            The group watched a match between her and an unknown opponent, who clearly thought she could slug it out with the former boxer.  Jennie flashed a quick left jab, and the fight was over.  It took the referee and the trainer to revive the victim.

            “Fortunately, I have another tape of one of her longer matches.  Her opponent was smart enough to do her homework and stay out of the way for the majority of the match,” Renee said as she popped in another tape.

            This tape covered a match between Jennie and another opponent, a fairly known grappler.  Unlike the last tape, she managed to stay out of range of Jennie’s fists, but found it hard to go in for a takedown for that same reason.  She scored a couple of points against Jennie with a few kicks, but nothing spectacular happened until they managed to lock in a clinch and bump into a corner.  She fired a knee to Jennie’s midsection, but Jennie countered with several body shots.  Having stunned her victim, Jennie performed a simple leg sweep, then dropped down on her opponent to deliver what they call a “ground and pound,” which is simple enough, getting on top of your opponent and punching them either into submission or until the referee stops the fight.  Jennie delivered three punches before the referee stopped it.  The other woman managed to come to by the time Jennie’s hand was raised.

            “And that, ladies and gentlemen, is Lisa’s next opponent.  Any questions?”  Renee said.

            “Yes, I would like another opponent, someone with arms that doesn’t look like the Incredible Hulk,” Lisa said.  “I want to trade opponents with Naomi.”

            Naomi laughed.  “That’s okay, I like my opponent.  In fact, after seeing this tape, I love my opponent.  Besides, I’m in a different weight class, remember?”

            “I’d help you out, but I think those arms weigh more than I do,” Xana said.

            “There should be a law against having arms that big.  Somebody tell that senator in California, Arnold what-his-name, that somebody took his arms and he wants them back,” Lisa said.

            “Sorry Lisa, the contract is already signed,” Renee said.  “Besides, she’s one of the next stepping stones you have to cross over to reach the championship.”

            “Championship?”  James asked.

            “Oh, didn’t you know?  Lisa is one of the major contenders for the championship for the heavyweight division.  All she has to do is win two more fights, then she gets to take on the current champ for the belt,” Renee said, with not just a little bit of pride.

            “That’s great!”  James said.  “Lisa, why didn’t you tell me?”

            “Well it never came up,” Lisa replied, trying to dismiss the subject as soon as possible.  “Anyway, I can’t look past my next opponent.”

            Xana and Naomi both rested their feet on chairs in front of them.  “I don’t think anyone can look past her,” Naomi said.  “James, what do you think?”

            “I don’t want to be in the ring with her.  But if Lisa has gotten this far, I’m sure she’ll find a way to win.”

            “Good answer.  I don’t know how she’ll do it, but good answer.”

            “Thanks Naomi, your confidence in me is overwhelming,” Lisa said.

            “When do you fight her?”  James asked.

            “It should be two months from now,” Renee answered for Lisa.  “Normally we would’ve known sooner, but we were waiting for the results from another fight to see if Lisa would be fighting someone else.”

            “But Jackie lost by submission, so I get to fight Popeye’s wife, lucky me,” Lisa said sarcastically.

            “Well movie time is over.  Now it’s time to get in the ring, and figure out how to beat this woman.”

            “With punches like that, how can you beat that woman?”

            “Now, now, Lisa, do you remember what I’ve told you?”

            “Any opponent is beatable, you just got to find the secret.  It just looks like with her, it must be top secret.”

            “Actually, I have a plan on how to beat her, but it’s very strenuous and it’ll require two sparring partners to do it.  And here’s two volunteers right here,” Renee said, looking at Naomi and Xana.

            Suddenly Naomi looked at her watch, then remembered she wasn’t wearing one, then looked at the clock.

            “Actually, I just remembered, Xana and I have an appointment, and we’re running late, aren’t we, Xana?”  Naomi said.

            “Yes!  Our appointment, it’s very important, so we really need to go,” Xana said, still standing there until Naomi dragged her away.  “Bye!”

            Renee watched the two fighters leave, then turned to Lisa.

            “Now that they’re gone, let’s get down to business.  Now obviously the best way to get to this woman is to engage her on the ground via wrestling.  If you try to box with her, she’ll kill you.  So far, no one has even come close to knocking her down that way.  I’m suspecting she won’t know what to do once someone gets her down there.”

            “So I can’t out punch her, so how about kicks?”  Lisa asked.

            “That could work, except for one thing.”

            “What?”

            “Your kicks are usually too high, and they leave you off balance.  The moment you deliver a kick that left you wobbly, she’s going to step in and knock your lights out.  What we’re going to do is go over your striking skills, and then maybe try refining your kicking game.”

            “Okay, let’s work on fighting Popeye’s wife,” Lisa said, regaining her enthusiasm.

            “Sister.”

            “What?”

            “If you were fighting ‘Popeye’s wife,’ then you would be fighting a stick woman named Olive Oyl, someone who never done any physical activity in her life.  This woman is obviously no stranger to hard work, so using that analogy, it would be best to equate Jennie to the sailor man’s sister,” Renee explained, smiling.

            Lisa got the point and grinned back.  “All right, I’ll call her Jennie.”

            “Good deal.”

            As Lisa climbed in the ring, Celeste and George arrived.  They greeted the crew, and introduced themselves to James.  They all took a seat to watch Lisa practice.  This would start to become the regular pattern for the next two months.

            To say that Renee was a intense instructor was as they say, an understatement.  It has been said from those who were trained by her that the only way a fighter could be excused from practice was if she were dead, and had three doctor’s excuses that said so.  One fighter who wasn’t so disciplined had a friend tell Renee that she was sick and couldn’t come to practice.  The reality was she was out with her boyfriend.  It looked like her ruse was going to work, until she saw Renee appear at the restaurant they were dining at, and almost forcibly took her to practice.  The boyfriend attempted to intervene, but a look from the fight instructor changed his mind.

            On the way back, the fighter received an earful of lectures and remarks about her intelligence and commitment, plus threats of what she would do to her and her boyfriend if they did that again.  Since that time, the woman never skipped practice again, and won the middleweight crown.  Hearing this story and others that were similar to it, Lisa had made extra sure she attended her practices lest Renee came looking for her.

 

 

            On Sunday morning, the week of the match, James was reading when he received a knock on his dormitory door.  He opened the door to see Lisa, dressed in a light pink short sleeve dress that went down to her knees.  The dress was made of a lightweight cotton material.  She abandoned the ponytail, and let her red hair settle along her shoulders.  And as always, she was barefoot, her nails painted with pink nail polish.

            “Why hello, Lisa, you’re looking nice,” James said.  “Where are you headed?”

            “Thank you, honey.  This morning, I just realized during all this time we’ve been together, I never asked you to come to church with me,” she said.  “Now that we’re talking about it, I thought you would be on your way to one.”

            “I’ve looked, and I, uh, haven’t found one I liked yet,” James replied, a little embarrassed.

            “Well this morning, you’re coming to mine.  Let’s go.”

            “Okay, let me change first.”

            “You can come as you are.”

            “With you in that dress?  No, let me change into something more decent than a t-shirt and ratty blue jeans.  Uh, does your pastor, I mean do they mind that you-”

            “Go barefoot to church?  No problem!  Aside from a few old folks and the pastor sometimes smiling at me and shaking his head, nobody pays attention.  And in case you are wondering, I do own shoes, and I wear them for only one occasion.”

            “What’s that?”

            “My parents back home.  Mom throws a fit when she sees me without shoes.  Now go change.”

 

 

            After the church service, the two went to a popular restaurant in town for brunch.

            “So how did you like my church?”  Lisa asked as she started on her omlet.

            “Pretty good.  I believe that’s where I’ll go while I’m here,” James replied as he chewed on a piece of French toast.

            “You better, or I’ll come and get you.”

            “I figured you’d do that, regardless if I was going or not.”

            They shared a laugh, then Lisa became serious for a moment.

            “James, honey, you have made it to all my practices, you sat there when Renee would rip me a new one for not performing a move correctly, and actually praise me for doing something right.  You’ve also watched those same tapes of Jennie beating those two women so many times; I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve had dreams of her instead of me.  First, I wanted to thank you for coming and giving me your support, it means a lot to me.

            “I’ve heard what Renee thinks about the match, and what Celeste and George, even Xana and Naomi think about it.  But I realized I never asked you what you think,” Lisa said.

            James placed a hand on Lisa’s wrist.

            “Lisa, I kept my mouth shut because you needed to listen to those who knew what they were talking about.  I’m just a glorified fan who watches you get beat up by the coach five to six days out of the week,” he said.

            “A ‘glorified fan?’”

            “Yeah; after all, I date the fighter.”

            “I’m glad I make you feel special,” Lisa smiled.

            “As far as what I think?  Jennie is a tough woman, no doubt about that, but I think you can beat her.  Just don’t let her hit you.”

            “Dear, I would love to fight my matches without them hitting me.  I’m quick, but not that quick.  I appreciate your confidence in me, though, it means a lot.”

            “Thank you.  What I’m saying though is despite learning some kicking and grappling skills, Jennie is still a boxer at heart.”

            “Yeah, so?”  Lisa said, thoughtfully moving her hash browns with her fork.

            “So she still goes by boxing rules.”

            “Which aren’t much different from MMA rules.  James, where are you going with this?”

            “Maybe nowhere, maybe not.  There’s this one part in that fight with that grappler where she had her back to Jennie for maybe two seconds, but nothing happened.  In boxing, you never attack from behind.”

            Lisa shoveled a mouthful of hash browns into her mouth when she understood.

            “Yes, I remember that now,” she managed to say with a mouthful.

            “I was thinking if you found a way to use that to your advantage, that would be great.  It’s just a thought, Renee may have already thought of that.”

            James speared one of his last pieces of French toast when he suddenly felt Lisa’s toes rub his ankles under the table.

            “Sweetie, I never thought of that.  Thank you,” Lisa said as she pulled her cell phone from her purse.

            “What are you doing?”  James asked.

            “I’m calling Renee.  I don’t think she thought of it either.”

            Renee went to a Pentecostal church where the services lasted longer; a fact Lisa had forgotten when she rung Renee’s cell phone.

            “Hello Renee; yes, I’m all right, I’m not sick, dead, or injured.  I’m sorry, I forgot your church, er, parties a little more than the Baptists do; er, anyway, James came up with an idea!”

            And she shoved the phone to James, who barely swallowed his food in time.

            “Hi Renee, I didn’t mean to interrupt your worship.  I just told Renee about a little thing I saw on the tape,” he said.

            He quickly explained what he saw, then handed the phone back to Lisa, along with a dirty look.

            “So what do you think?  Pretty cool, huh?  Yeah, we’ll need to see a few additional movies along with the other two tomorrow.  Okay, I’ll see you then, bye,” Lisa said, closing the connection.

            “Lisa, you could’ve waited a little longer to tell her,” James said, running the last piece of his brunch through some remaining pancake syrup and putting it in his mouth.

            “Yeah, I could have, but I couldn’t wait.  Oh James, thank you!”

            Without any warning, Lisa grabbed James’ head and kissed him full on the lips.  She then pushed him back, a sour expression on her face.

            “What’s wrong?”  James said.

            “Hash browns and maple syrup do not make for a pleasant combination when you kiss someone,” she said.

 

 

            The night of the fight brought many jitters.  Lisa received her customary set of butterflies; that was normal, whenever she fought.  But from the way Celeste, George, and James felt, one would think they were getting into the octagon to slug it out with her.  As the three walked Lisa to her locker room, the female grappler was starting to feel more nervous with her friends than she was already.

            “I’ll be all right, really,” Lisa said, attempting to calm them down.  “I’ll be doing everything Renee told me to.”

            “Just make sure to keep your guard up,” George said.  He was a 6’4” man with a thin build and short brown hair.  Like his girlfriend Celeste, he also was an English major at the university.  Some of Lisa’s fights made him a virtual nervous wreck.

            “Remember that right jab she has.  Come to think of it, don’t forget her left either,” Celeste said.

            Lisa brought the tape of her opponent’s previous fight home to study it some more.  What she didn’t plan on was Celeste watching it with her every time she popped it in the VCR.  As a result, she received endless commentary from her roommate on the bout.  With a possible championship bout on the line, it seemed like everyone around her was apprehensive.

            “I remember, you two.  I’ll see you after the fight,” Lisa said.

            The three started to leave, George tugging Celeste away when she was slow to get the hint.  Lisa reached out and touched James’ shoulder.

            “Not you, I need you to calm Renee down,” she said.

            “Renee?  What about me?  I’m almost shaking!  What can I do?”  James said.

            Lisa opened the door to the locker room, and pulled James into the room with her.

            “You can give me a kiss for luck,” she said, as she pulled him close and gave him a deep, long kiss.

            Suddenly James wasn’t shaking anymore.

            “Feel better?”  Lisa whispered.

            “Lots,” James replied.

            “Good.”

            “All right you two, knock it off!  Save it for after the fight,” Renee said from within the room, getting a smirk from Lisa and startling James.

            “Knock her out,” James said as he turned to go.

            “Better her than me,” Lisa quipped.

            As James left, Renee said, “Come on, Lisa, Ray needs to give you a rubdown, and I need to give you a rundown on our strategy.  Hmmm, it looks like you’re already relaxed.  Maybe I should have James give you a big kiss before every fight.”

            “Sounds like a good idea to me,” Lisa replied.

            “Of course you’d think so.  Well Ray is going to give you a massage anyway.  If you up against Jennie real tight, she’ll break you on the first punch.”

            After the massage, some final stretches, and a pep talk from both Ray and Renee, it was time for Lisa to change.  Her fight togs were nothing fancy, just a black sports bra and black biking shorts.  She put her hair into its familiar ponytail and replaced her eyeglasses with contact lenses.  She put in her mouthpiece and crotch guard, and black fingerless gloves, did some final warm-up exercises, then knelt on the floor and delivered a quick prayer for the safety of her and her opponent.  A knock on the door told her it was time.

            The arena was as full as expected, considering the importance of the bout.  Lisa’s fight was actually the last of four for that evening, the order determined by weight class.  The realization actually hit her that her fight was the main event, the fight the majority of the paying customers came to see.

            The ring announcer called her name first, and she realized like the first time that she had a sizable fan following.  Even as long as she had been competing, she had a hard time believing they were cheering for her, not anyone else.  Then like she was trained, she put that aside, and walked to the octagon with a confident air, her two trainers walking beside her.

            She sat in her corner as they called Jennie’s name.  Unlike Lisa, who just went by her birth name, Lisa Lane (without the middle name, Louise), Jennie chose to have the nickname, “Fists of Thunder.”  Fitting, Lisa thought, considering how she won her fights.  Jennie trotted toward the ring with her entourage, raising her gloved hands up in the air like she was an actress in a “Rocky” movie.  She wore a blue sleeveless T-shirt and blue boxing shorts with a white stripe down each side.  Instead of boxing shoes, she had on blue wrestling shoes, the type that was worn in collegiate wrestling matches.  The woman even looked bigger in person than she did in the tapes Lisa and company saw of her.  Lisa reminded herself she had a strong build too.  If she were a weakling, she wouldn’t have made it this far.

            Though she wasn’t superstitious, Lisa had one ritual she performed each time before a fight.  She looked out in the audience until she found her family.  She waved to them, happy that they were able to get her mother out of the house.  Maybe now that she realized her baby wasn’t going to get killed, she’ll come more often.  She smiled and waved, then looked for James, Celeste, George, and Xana and Naomi who fought earlier that evening and emerged victorious.  She found them all sitting together, on the other side of the cage from her family close to the front.  Xana and Naomi now in street clothes were sitting beside James.  Maybe they were still checking him out, who knows?  She smiled and waved to them all, blowing James a kiss.  Then the referee called both fighters forward.

            As the referee briefly went over the rules, Jennie holding true to her boxing heritage, tried to stare Lisa down for a psychological advantage.  Lisa either looked down or at the referee during the exchange; she never was much for the pre-match “mind games,” claiming it was a waste of time for her.  Either you’re ready or you’re not.  If you are, no amount of making faces will change that.  Instead, she was still working out her fight strategy in her head.  The referee finished and both returned to their corners.  Lisa took a few deep breaths while Renee and Ray gave a few final words of encouragement.

            And then the bell rang.

            As a mutual sign of good sportsmanship, both fighters walked forward and touched their left gloves together; then they stepped back and started fighting.  They first tentatively started circling around, looking for the right opportunity to launch the first attack.

            Knowing that there wasn’t any way they could compress years of boxing training in two months, Ray and Renee concentrated more on defense, i.e. blocks, parries, and avoidance.  Any attempt to engage Jennie in a regular stand-up slugfest would be fatal.  Body blows and low kicks would have to do until Lisa could manage to get closer.

            Jennie seemed to be faster than her tapes had indicated as she charged in with a basic one-two combination consisting of a left jab and right cross.  Lisa caught the first one on her right forearm, and stepped out of the way of the second one.  She managed to move forward and deliver a kick to Jennie’s right thigh.  It felt like kicking a telephone pole.  Unaffected, Jennie stepped forward with another punch.  Lisa parried and followed through with another kick, this time it was farther up at waist level.  This time, the reward for Lisa’s labor was a small grunt from Jennie.

            Jennie was hurt, but not stunned, and she replied with a direct charge of attack toward Lisa.  Lisa realized that circling around to Jennie’s backside would be very difficult if not impossible, and Jennie’s strategy was apparently the best defense was a strong offense.  Apparently, someone had tried the attack from behind tactic before.  Even more frustrating was the fact that Jennie’s method of attack keeps you on the defensive until you tire or make a mistake, and then she struck.  The worst thing she could do was pin you in a corner, and an octagon has eight of them.

            Lisa shuffled to the right, then to the left, but Jennie swiftly pivoted in the center, her weapons cocked, and ready, prepared to add another grappler’s scalp to her list of victories.  She heard the bell that signified one minute; it was time to try to gain at least a few points before the round was over.  She was also aware of her coach and trainer yelling something to her.  As soon as she backed away from Jennie, she’ll find out what it was.  She took one step back, and felt the bars of the cage against the sole of her foot.  Lisa saw the small grin on Jennie’s face; she had her cornered.

            Jennie fired a right, then a left, then a right again, all blocked and parried.  After the second right, Lisa took a chance and shot to the left for an escape and a possible reversal.  However, this was what Jennie was waiting for.  She fired her right again, clipping Lisa on the side of her forehead.

            Stars appeared in Lisa’s head as the blow hit.  More by instinct than strategy, she backpedaled and put her guard up.  Jennie, smelling blood, charged forward to finish it.

            Then the bell rang.

            Lisa breathed a sigh of relief as she returned to her corner.  Ray quickly checked the spot where Jennie hit her while Renee gave her some water.

            “Are you all right, hon?”  Renee asked.

            “I’m fine, but I think I’ll have a splitting headache though,” Lisa replied.  “She can hit!”

            “She has a formidable offense, but once you get her inside, you’ll have her.  That’ll mean you may have to eat a few of her punches, because she’s not leaving you too many openings, front or back.”

            “You need to look out for those corners,” Ray said.  “She’s trapped a good number of her opponents that way.  But she underestimated your speed.  That’s why she was only able to clip you.”

            Lisa looked up at her boxing trainer.  “She clipped me?”  She asked.

            “Yeah, if she gave you a solid hit, the match would’ve been over.”

            “Just stick to the plan, Lisa, that’s all you need to remember,” Renee interrupted.

            The bell rang, starting the second round.  Lisa got off the stool to face Jennie.

            “Go get her, kid!  You can do – ow!”  Ray said, just as he received an elbow to the ribs from Renee, along with a dirty look.  “Oh, I said too much about the punch, didn’t I?”

            Lisa had two main lines of thought when the round started.  One was to take this woman down to the ground so she could fight her on her terms, and two, to not get hit like that again, even a clip.  In fact, Ray’s remark gave her an idea that may take care of both dilemmas.

            Jennie started her attack, but Lisa halted it with another kick to the waist, and a right jab to Jennie’s head.  The blow barely missed Jennie’s head, hitting her on the shoulder instead.  Since Lisa threw no punches during the last round, Jennie was caught by surprise by the blow, even though it was harmless, containing no knockout power behind it.

            Lisa faked a lunge, and then jumped back as Jennie threw a left cross where her face would’ve been.  She kicked at Jennie’s left knee, but the boxer didn’t seem to notice.  Instead, she gave a half-grin; now it was her turn.

            Jennie advanced forward again, this time to finish what she started last round.  She threw a few punches as she gained ground, Lisa dodged or blocked them as she gave up ground.  Eventually, Lisa found herself trapped in another corner of the octagon.

            Inwardly, Jennie’s mouth watered for this moment.  She had Lisa where she wanted her.  A couple of combinations, and this fight will be over.  This time she’s prepared if Lisa made any sudden moves to the left or right.

            As she started firing jabs, Lisa surprised her.  Instead of dodging to the left or right, she dropped down.  Before she could react, Lisa charged forward, driving her right shoulder into Jennie’s midsection, grasping the back of her thighs at the same time.  With a loud grunt, she stood up, holding the surprised striker over her shoulder.  Lisa then started walking to the other side of the octagon.  Though it looked to the audience (who was cheering wildly) like she was showing off or showboating, she was actually doing it to gain momentum.  One of Lisa’s favorite MMA fighters, Matt Hughes, had made himself famous with this move.  She had wanted to try it.

            Once she reached the other side, she fell forward, slamming Jennie’s back to the mat, making a loud slam that seemed to reverberate throughout the whole arena.  Lisa got up, ready to pepper Jennie with a few jabs of her own to secure a submission when the referee threw herself between her and the other fighter.  At first, Lisa didn’t understand what was wrong, despite the cheering audience in the background.  Finally, she heard Renee’s voice calling to her.

            “Lisa, you knocked her out!  You won!”  Renee yelled from her corner.

            “I – won – already?”  Lisa asked.  She turned around and saw Jennie lying on the mat, her eyes rolled back in her head as her trainer and coach tended to her.  Yet it still didn’t register, even when both Renee and Ray ran from their corners and gave her a kiss and a huge hug.  When she felt her arm being tugged and raised over her head by the referee, the reality of the situation finally sunk in.

            “I won!”  Lisa said.

            After the referee announced the winner by knockout in the second round, Lisa’s friends and family entered the ring.  James hugged and kissed her, then started talking excitedly.

            “That was great, honey!”  He said.  “I saw Matt Hughes use that same move in a match once.”

            Lisa just smiled as she looked back toward her opponent.  She was helped back on her feet by her coach and trainers.  Lisa walked to her, gave her a hug, and made sure she was all right.  Jennie smiled and gave her thumbs up when Renee came over and whispered in her ear.

            “One down, Lisa, two to go,” she said.

            “Yeah,” Lisa replied, grinning.

            Lisa was happy that she won, and she knew later on she’d be excited.  But right now, she needed a long hot shower and a nap.

 

 

            At a local steakhouse in town, in a private room, an after-fight victory dinner was held.  Introductions were made (in the case of James and Lisa’s family), stories were shared, and all had a good deal of fun.  Finally, it was time for everyone to go home.

            First, Lisa’s family left.  After they did, Lisa couldn’t pull her slides off her feet fast enough.  Then Renee and Ray left, informing the rest of the crew that there will be no practice the next day.  Then the fighters in Renee’s care left, giving Lisa as well as Xana and Naomi another hug of congratulations.  Finally, only four of them were left; Lisa and James, Celeste and George.  At this time, they were in the parking lot.

            “Hey you two, George and I were planning to see a late movie.  Interested?”  Celeste asked.

            “I don’t think I have enough energy left for a movie,” Lisa said.  “You two go ahead.”

            “All right, I’ll see you when I get home.  Bye James.  Lisa, again, good fight.”

            “Thanks.”

            The couple left, leaving Lisa and James all alone.

            “I thought they’d never leave,” Lisa said, chuckling.

            “Who, Celeste and George?”  James said.

            “No, everybody, except for you, of course.”

            “So what do you want to do?”

            When they arrived at the apartment, Lisa collapsed on the sofa and placed her bare feet on the coffee table in front of her.

            “Would you like me to get you a drink?”  James asked.

            “That would be great, thanks,” Lisa replied wearily.

            James grabbed a soft drink for Lisa and himself out of the refrigerator, then walked back to the living room.

            “That was some fight tonight,” James said on his way back.  “She was huge!  Those tapes don’t do her justice.  Still, you really took care of her, eh, Lisa?  Lisa?  Lisa?”

            The only response James heard was the sound of heavy breathing as he saw Lisa, fast asleep.

            “If I fought someone like that, I’d be wiped out too,” James said.

            He put both drinks back up, then grabbed an afghan, and covered Lisa up with it.

            “Goodnight sweetheart,” he whispered in her ear as he kissed her on the cheek.

            He turned off the lights, and went home.

 

 

            “And this is your next opponent, Louise ‘Iron Joint,’ or more precisely, ‘Iron Elbow’ Garland,” Renee said to Lisa as they and some of the crew prepared to watch some “movies” of Lisa’s next adversary in action.

            “‘Iron Elbow?’  What kind of name is that?”  James asked, then realized that this was Lisa’s training session, not a question and answer forum.  “Sorry.”

            “That’s all right, James, it’s a question everyone asks when they hear that name.  Once everyone finds out, they never have to ask again.  It’s been told that she’s one of the best knockout artists who never uses her fists.”

            Naomi raised her hand.  “I don’t mean to interrupt either, but I have heard of this woman’s reputation, but I’ve never saw her either.  All I know is she wins the majority of her matches by knockout without throwing a punch.  What does she do, slam them on the mat like Lisa did with Jennie?  If so, I’m going to start doing it,” she said, giving Lisa and Xana each a high-five.

            “You could literally say with Louise, fighting is her life,” Renee began as she flashed a picture of Louise, who was a 5’9” woman with short black hair.  Her build didn’t have that bulky muscular look that Jennie had, but one could see the muscles were very well toned.  With the picture showing her dressed in a black tank top and shorts, she reminded Lisa of a feminine version of Bruce Lee, except for lighter skin, and a pair of black glasses, the frames similar to what Lisa wore.

            “I can say that too,” Xana said.  “How does that make her special?”

            Renee shook her head.  How did these two become a part of Lisa’s regular practices?

            “I know we say that as a cliché, but with Louise, there’s no debate,” she replied.  “Her parents were missionaries in Indonesia for a number of years, that’s where Louise was born.  While she was growing up there as a child, she learned a martial art by the name of – here we go, poekoelan tjimindie tulen, a native martial art.  I hope you heard the name correctly, because I don’t think I’ll be able to repeat it.  Anyway, by the time she earned a black belt, her parents moved again, to Thailand.”

            Lisa raised her hand.  “I can see where this is going.  Let me guess, she learned Muay Thai when she got there?”  She asked.

            “That’s right, Lisa, and as you can guess, she became very good at it.  Finally, her parents returned to the states, where they planted a church, and somebody mentioned to Louise the sport of mixed martial arts.  The reason you haven’t seen much of her if at all, was because she’s relatively new to the area.  As you know, our conference is a little larger than most, but hers was smaller, so it didn’t take her long to devastate the competition.  Then she started eliminating the competition here.  She is good, very good.”

            “How good is she?”  Lisa said.

            “I’m glad you asked,” Renee said, smiling.  “Despite her kickboxing training, Louise is primarily a grappler.  She is good at throws, and as you can imagine, she has good balance.  Regarding her striking, oh, did I mention she practices Krav Maga too?”

            “No, but I’m still wondering what her knockout secret is.  It’s apparent she knows those martial arts that are hard to spell,” Naomi said.

            “I’m getting to that.  Krav Maga uses a lot of knees and elbows in striking.  Louise realized that she couldn’t use the same type of strikes she uses in – the name I said before, and Muay Thai is used a great deal in MMA, so she decided to specialize in using her elbows, shins, knees, and forearms to strike with.  And she became very good at it.  Xana, tell everyone how powerful a Muay Thai fighter’s shins and forearms are.”

            “In Thailand, the professional fighters make them as hard as a baseball bat, very tough,” Xana said.

            “Granted, to use these limbs, you have be close to your opponent, but the advantage is no one can see them coming.  All right Ray, play the tape,” Renee said as she sat down while Ray pushed play on the remote.

            On the screen was a bout between Louise and another opponent, who seemed to be primarily a striker, a kickboxer in particular from the way she led her attack.  Louise just blocked her blows and kicks while moving in closer to her opponent.  Once they were close, the other woman prepared to attempt a takedown when Louise suddenly slammed her right elbow into her jaw.  The kickboxer suddenly collapsed to the mat, and Louise walked confidently away to her corner.  The referee declared her a winner by means of knockout, and Louise raised her hands in victory.

            “Wow,” Lisa said.  “You were right, I didn’t see that coming, only what happened after she delivered it.”

            “That was also the worst case scenario,” Renee said.  “That kickboxer was a little naïve when it came to Louise’s skills.  Now this next one shows her with an opponent who’s more of a grappler.  This will be a longer match, all three rounds, in fact.”

            Ray played the tape again, and this time it featured Louise and an opponent who had a bit of a height and reach advantage, and she was known for her grappling skills.  The two started wrestling from the time the bell rang.  The match appeared rather even, with each exchanging holds, takedowns, and positions.  Louise made it a point whenever she had a chance to continually pepper her foe with elbows, forearms, and knees.  The blows appeared to have little effect until the third round.  Louise still looked fine, but the other woman was bruised and bleeding from a few cuts on her face.

            In the last quarter of the round, both fighters stood on their feet to face each other.  Louise suddenly pushed the other fighter against the side of the cage and delivered several fast knee lifts into her chest.  She then spun around and landed a forearm to the woman’s jaw.  The female fighter fell into a heap at Louise’s feet.  Louise pumped her fists in victory, not even bothering to wait for the referee’s decision.

            “Hey, that preacher’s kid can hit!”  Celeste said.  George nodded in agreement.

            “And without using her fists or feet, that’s very impressive,” Xana said.

            “As a sidebar, Louise also served as a bodyguard to her family when the natives were sometimes a little less than friendly,” Renee replied.

            “Did they run into very much opposition – her father’s church, I mean?”  James asked.

            “I think they didn’t have any problems when it came to collecting the offering,” Lisa replied.

            Most of the group was almost rolling on the floor with laughter, and this time it was Lisa who exchanged high-fives with everyone.  Even Ray and Renee were giggling, even though they were shaking their heads.

            “Very funny, everybody,” Renee said.  “It just so happens that I have met Louise and her parents; they’re pretty nice people.”

            “You met them during a match?”  Lisa asked.

            “No, I met them at church during a mission conference.  Louise has heard quite a bit about you, and not from me either.  Right now, she’s probably watching every tape of you that’s been created of your matches.”

            “I don’t know if I should be flattered or concerned.”

            “I would say a mixture of both.  Okay, movie time is over; let’s hit the mat and see if we can develop a quality practice here.”

 

 

            After practice was over, as usual, everyone left to go his or her own separate ways.  Naomi and Xana, who managed to find reasons to stick around while Lisa was going through her drills, fled the scene before Renee could ask them what was so important that they needed to hang around someone else’s practice.  George and Celeste went to the library to study, while Ray had a show on TV he wanted to watch.  Lisa and James stood in the parking lot.

            “I’m sorry baby; I’d love to have you over, but I have a test to study for tomorrow, and a tape of Louise to watch later.  You would make a nice distraction though,” Lisa said.  “Rain check?”

            “Not a problem, we all have to study sometime,” James said.  “As nice as school is, it would be nice to graduate sometime in the near future.”

            “Thanks sweetheart,” Lisa replied as she lightly kissed him on the lips.  “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

            They said their goodbyes, and James found himself alone in the parking lot.  He was about to open the door to his car when he heard his name.

            “James?”

            He turned around to see Renee standing in the doorway.

            “Renee, I didn’t see you; you almost startled me.  You just missed Lisa,” he said.

            “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you, and it’s you I wanted to talk to, not Lisa,” Renee said.

            “Is something wrong?”

            “Not at all; I just wanted to say some things.  Do you have someplace you need to be right now?”

            “No, not tonight.”

            “Then let’s go to my office.”

            Renee’s office was much nicer than James expected for being inside a gym.  The office had a black leather sofa and chair, and a nice wooden desk with a state of the art computer on it.  Renee herself had showered and was now wearing a blue jean skirt and a black sleeveless T-shirt.  She sat on the sofa and propped her feet on the coffee table in front, still bare and displaying her glossy black toenail polish.

            “You don’t wear shoes either?”  James asked.

            “I used to,” Renee giggled, “but my teacher, Loretta DeGarmo is her name, is to blame for my shoeless state.  She once said that the best way to toughen your soles is to live without shoes.  I thought she was crazy at first, especially considering the type of training she took us through, but the more I did it, the less I saw a need to wear them.  When I found myself walking on hot pavement in the summer, and deep snow in the winter without a second thought, I realized she was right.  Plus I spend most of my time either training fighters in a sport where shoes are hardly worn, and I do some personal training –my ‘other job’ – and you really don’t need shoes for that either.”

            “Huh,” James said.

            “I also found that a habit like this can be contagious.  I suddenly saw Naomi and Xana leave their shoes at home, and I eventually saw all of my fighters do it.  Lisa was the only exception.”

            “The exception?”

            “Yeah; being a farm girl, it was nothing to her.  When she realized we didn’t wear shoes either, she was ecstatic.  Which brings me to what I wanted to talk about tonight.”

            “Am I being too much of a distraction or something?”  James asked, a little wary.

            Renee laughed.  “James, don’t be so paranoid, you’re not a distraction.  In fact, I believe you have been one of the best things for her,” she said.

            “Really?”

            “Yeah.  I understand the relationship between a coach and her fighters is supposed to be professional and only dealing with the training and match aspects, but – what are you smiling about?”

            “I heard the story about that fighter who snuck out to be with her boyfriend instead of practicing,” James said.

            “Yeah, would you believe her boyfriend was a business and pre-law major?  You would think someone like that would understand the meaning of contracts.”

            “Contracts?”

            “When I agree to sign a fighter up to be in my corral, for lack of a better term, they are free to finish their schooling or do what have you in their personal life; but five to six days a week for two hours, their hide belongs to me.  The fighters sign a business agreement with me, and I have a business interest to see that contract fulfilled.”

            “Well I can see why you were going to drag that girl back to the gym,” James replied.  “By the way, what happened to her after she won the middleweight title?”

            “She retired.  She later thanked me for dragging her back to practice.  By the way, her boyfriend dumped her not long after that incident when he realized she was becoming serious about her fighting.”

            “I see,” James said.

            “My point is, I look out for my fighters as much as I can, because I’ve discovered if their personal life is out of whack, then more than likely their game will be too.  If that makes me into some sort of a mother hen, so be it.  But my results have been pretty good, and nobody argues with that,” Renee continued.  “When I first saw Lisa, she was participating on the school’s wrestling team.  She was long and lanky, but she was very strong and able to take punishment.  I saw she had an intuitive talent for thinking on her feet.  If someone got her in a tight spot, she would come up with a new move or takedown right on the spot.  I saw her and I knew I was looking at someone with the raw potential to win it all.  I have great respect for the sport of collegiate wrestling, but I thought her talents were being wasted there.  I came up to her after she breezed through a couple of matches and talked to her about joining the world of mixed martial arts.  To say she was enthusiastic was an understatement, she almost squeezed the life out of me!”

            “I agree with you, she’s very strong,” James replied.

            “Sometimes she forgets that when she’s excited.  She can break a bone without thinking about it.  Meeting with her, I also saw someone who was pleasant, intelligent, and understood perfectly the coach/player relationship.  The only drawback was she was a little naïve on a few things.  College life can be rough on a person if they’re not careful, and there were a few things she learned the hard way.”

            “I think I know where you’re going with this; you mean men and/or dating as one of those things?” James asked.

            “Precisely.  Like I said, I like to keep an eye on my fighters, and with college-age women, I like to update their parents on how they do too.  That is, the ones who realize that they’re not fighting to the death or something crazy like that.  As you already know, Lisa is a pretty attractive woman, which has attracted all sorts of guys to her.  The good, the bad, and especially the ugly.  Unfortunately, she had a few too many encounters with the last two.  They didn’t beat her, sometimes I wish they did so she could pound them into a pulp, but they took advantage of her like scum likes to do.

            “They would flatter her, then take advantage of her, and make her another notch on their belt or bedpost.  Lucky for them she’s not a vindictive person, or I’d be up to my neck in assault charges.  Luckier for them I don’t have the time to look for them or I’d be facing charges for manslaughter.

            “When she would get used by one of these jerks, it showed in her practices, and sometimes in her matches as well.  At the end of last semester, I finally had to sit down and have a talk with her.  I told her to forget the boys and concentrate on school and the championship, they’re not worth it.  I didn’t want to generalize like that, but with my schedule, I don’t have time to give a crash course on proper dating and who she should avoid.”

            “And this is where I come in,” James said.

            “Yeah; you wouldn’t believe the tension that was in the air when you stepped in this gym.  When you said you knew who Susan Davidson was, and she was one of your favorite fighters, the whole place relaxed.  You’ve met Xana and Naomi of course.  You know why they hang around?”

            “I sort of wondered.”

            “To make sure you’re the real thing.  Some time ago, Lisa was dating some guys who didn’t think much of the sport.  Even worse, they criticized them while they were training in the ring.  Long story short, it got ugly.  I believe Xana knocked one guy out in about twenty seconds; and Naomi sent another guy to the emergency ward.”

            “You mean they’re here to beat me up if I get out of line?”  James exclaimed.

            “At first, I think, but now I believe they like you.  After they beat up Lisa’s ex’s, they took it upon themselves to look out for Lisa.  I can’t even get them to leave the gym now.  Anyway, I said you should stop feeling paranoid. Since she started seeing you, there’s been a dramatic improvement in her performance.  She even smiles while lifting weights, which is a little weird to me, but oh well.”

            “Wow, I’m flattered,” James said.  “So do you always have this talk with the men Lisa sees?”

            “No, because you’re the first one.  I also assume you’ve conducted yourself in a gentlemanly manner?”  Renee asked, arching her eyebrows as she asked the question.

            Now James felt like he was being grilled by a parent; being asked what his intentions were with their daughter.  However, he felt he didn’t have anything to hide, and his intentions were honorable, so he told Renee everything.  The coach sat back in her sofa and nodded her head in approval.

            “I thought you were a honorable man,” Renee said, “and I was right; actually you’re more honorable than I thought, especially concerning your promise to yourself.  Very good, I’m pleased.  You’ll be very good for Lisa.”

            “Why do I get the feeling if I was less than honest in my intentions or hurt Lisa in any way, you, Naomi or Xana would come and get me?”

            “Because it’s true,” Renee said with just enough of a grin to not look completely threatening.  “Lisa is going to win the heavyweight title, and I don’t want anything in the way that interferes with that, and most of all, we do not want to see Lisa hurt again.  Of course, I don’t expect that from you.”

            “I assure you, Renee, I would never dream of hurting Lisa, nor keep her from her dreams.  I care for her far too much to do that.”

            Renee’s grin widened into a smile.  “Then we’re on the same page then,” she said.

 

 

            On the night of the match, Lisa found that the attendance for that night was even bigger than her last fight.  It reminded her of the NCAA basketball championship.  The opening games were good attendance, but by the time the field narrowed down to the final four, it would be standing room only.

            She did her usual ritual of locating her family, then James and her friends.  Last time, James, Celeste, Naomi, Xana and George were seated in the fourth row back.  This time, they were seated as close to the front as spectators can be, except for trainers, coaches, medical personnel, and the color commentators.  She was even able to locate Louise’s family.  The pastor and his family sat there proudly.  It was easy to see how pleased they were of Louise’s accomplishments.  It still seemed funny to Lisa seeing a pastor watching the match.  She wondered for a moment: how does her pastors here and back home feel about her doing this?

            Shaking the thought from her mind, Lisa finally looked at her opponent.  In contrast to Lisa’s appearance, Louise had short black cropped hair, a black tank top, and black gi pants with a black belt tied around the waist.  She was barefoot as well.  Dressed in her usual black sports bra and biker’s shorts, Lisa felt in a way like she was going to fight a mirror image of herself.  They were almost the same height and weight, slim, but very muscular, and according to Renee, very well respected.  But the similarities end there.  Louise was a martial artist and kickboxer who had literally been trained all over the world, while Lisa was just a simple wrestler from Iowa, who traveled to Niagara Falls in Canada on a vacation a few years ago.

            The referee called for both of them to meet in the middle for the general rules and instructions.  Unlike with Jennie, Louise didn’t attempt a psychological stare down; instead, she just looked casually around the ring until it was time to return to their corners.  With a half-smile, she looked at Lisa.

            “I’ve heard a lot about you,” she said.

            “Oh, thanks, same here,” Lisa replied.

            A moment’s glance between them confirmed one thing – this was going to be one of the longest fights of their lives.

            As Lisa returned to her corner, she said to Ray and Renee, “Any last minute words of advice?”

            “Mine is the same as always; when you see a shot, take it,” Ray said.

            Lisa nodded.  At the right opportunity, the boxing skills would come in handy, but with Louise’s Muay Thai skills, a slug out would clearly be to her advantage.

            “Just stick to your game, don’t fall victim to hers,” Renee said.  “You can match her grappling skills, just don’t leave yourself open to her elbows and knees.  You two will be going at it all three rounds, so don’t expend too much energy until you need it.  Now let’s do it, I’ve made reservations for the victory dinner at that new restaurant, so don’t mess it up.”

            Lisa smiled and patted her coach on the arm.  She could always count on Renee to lighten up the moment to relax her a little.

            The bell rang, and both fighters touched gloves.  Louise started bouncing on the toes of her feet like a kickboxer, while Lisa settled into a crouched wrestler’s stance.  Louise threw a few jabs and kicks that didn’t necessarily hit the target or made that big an impact if they did, but similar to what they do in Muay Thai tournaments, it was a way of feeling out the competition.

            Lisa remembered what Renee told her the first day of practice about Louise.  She was a very good tactician as well as a good fighter.  She would obtain tapes of her next opponent, and watch and study their movements almost to the point of obsession.  If no fight footage were available, she would see in person as many of her opponents’ fights as possible.  By the time she was scheduled to fight, she would know as much about the other woman’s moves as the woman did herself.

            Knowing that, Lisa in addition to seeing tapes of Louise, also watched tapes of herself.  This way, she would be less likely to repeat any of her habits that Louise might use against her.  Not that it was easy.  Viewing a tape of your opponent to look for her weaknesses was one thing, but viewing your own fights to look for your own weaknesses your opponent may exploit was another.

            Normally a counter-attacker, Lisa did something that was a little out of character and lunged first, aiming to grab her waist, and pick her up to operate a takedown.  Louise almost didn’t see it coming.  She had just enough time to drop down and lock up with the wrestler, extending her legs behind her so Lisa couldn’t grab them.

            Though they were equally matched in strength, Lisa had the momentum, so eventually Louise found herself backpedaling, her back against the cage.  Once her back hit the cage, she saw this as an opportunity to deliver a knee lift to Lisa’s face.  Lisa saw this coming, however, and grabbed her leg in mid-flight, managing to pull Louise back, avoiding her overhand right which was thrown more by reflex than planning.

            Already, Louise saw she was in trouble for this round.  The match barely started, and already Lisa had taken away her standup game.  She realized what her opponent was trying to do, take her to the ground.  Though she was credited as a good wrestler, her best game was in the standup and in the clinch, where she did the most damage.  Obviously what she needed to do was to stay upright and wear her down with several elbow, forearm, and knee blows.

            That was for later.  Right now, she looked and felt ridiculous hopping on one foot in the middle of the ring, unable to make contact with her fists.

            To Lisa, she felt in control.  From her position, the next step would be to attempt a takedown, which she planned to do, just not the way that’s expected.

            Louise was growing frustrated; not with Lisa, she knew from what she saw in previous matches how inventive she was, but with herself.  She felt she should have saw what was coming, but that wasn’t the case, because Lisa didn’t do what she normally did.  At the moment, all she could do was wait for the expected takedown.  Louise thought she saw a twinkle in Lisa’s eyes, and realized – again, too late – she was doing something entirely different.

            In the space of a couple of seconds, Lisa dropped Louise’s leg, then charged and wrapped her arms around her waist, jerking her up in a bear hug.  In a smaller version of what she did against Jennie, she turned the other way, gaining a little momentum as she slammed the martial artist to the mat.

            After she landed on the mat, Louise took her arms and hands and prepared herself for what she thought was coming next.  She wasn’t wrong, as Lisa sat on her midsection to apply the ground and pound.

            Then the bell rang.

            Lisa skipped back to her corner, happy with how well she’d done this round, while Louise rose, both frustrated and confused with what happened.

            “Whatever you’re doing Lisa, keep doing it!”  Renee said.  “She looked a little confused last round.”

            “I’m just showing her she shouldn’t believe what she saw on film,” Lisa replied.

            “Remember she’s a quick adaptable fighter,” Ray said.  “She’s already noting those changes to your game already.”

            “That’s what I’m counting on,” Lisa said with a smirk.

            As she sat in her corner, Louise knew if this first round was the only round in this fight, she would have lost from being way behind on points.  Upon more reflection, she realized Lisa must have retooled her game enough to throw her off.  She may have to throw those hours of watching tapes of her in action out the window.

            The bell rang, and both headed toward the center of the ring, Lisa moving faster.  Louise braced herself for another lockup when Lisa surprised her yet again with a right jab to the jaw, and a left kick to the right thigh; and then locked up with her.  That’s it, Louise thought, forget what you watched; just fight her.  That revelation came to her just in time as she dropped low to avoid another takedown.

            In fact, Louise took advantage of her position and pushed Lisa to the cage wall.  If she couldn’t take her down, she could pummel her with knees, elbows, and fists to wear her down some.  Lisa came to that conclusion as well, so she wrapped herself tightly around Louise so those blows would not be possible.

            As the first round was a sneak attack of sorts, the second round became a physical chess match between two equally skilled opponents.  Each had a counter move to whatever hold the other applied.  Finally, Louise managed to tear herself loose, and tried to wage a long-distance attack with a few jabs and a couple of kicks.  The punches were blocked, but the kicks landed on Lisa’s legs.  They stung, but that was all.  Actually, neither one at that point had much energy left to try anything.  They considered the bell a blessing.

            Louise walked back to her corner a little spent, but much more satisfied about her performance in the second round.  Now she had to find a way to put her away in the final round.  Lisa wasn’t disappointed with her performance either.  However, Ray was right about how quick Louise adapted.  Any sign of her suffering from her first round “surprise” was gone.

            “Right now, you’re doing pretty good,” Renee said.  “Because of what you did in the first round, you’re ahead on points.  Short of a big rally, the only way she has of winning is to knock you out.  That may mean you’ll have to keep away from her for five minutes.”

            Lisa looked at her opponent, then back at Renee.  “Avoid her for five minutes?  First off, I’m too tired to do that, and second, whenever she’d catch me, she’d clobber me with one of those elbows of hers.  I can still feel the blows she gave me last round,” she said.

            Renee smiled.  “Then you know what to look out for.  You can’t outstrike her, but you can outwrestle her.  Just reach for whatever reserves you have in your tank, and hang on.  I know you can do it.  Let’s go.”

            As the bell rang, Lisa left her corner just realizing her coach had read her mind again.  It just so happened she was pondering the idea of playing keep away for that last round.  Instead of telling her outright that she shouldn’t do that, she manipulated Lisa into dismissing the idea herself.  Glancing at Louise in the corner, she could see that nothing would please her nemesis more than to chase down the grappler and pound away at her until she was knocked out or submitted.  She thought of one last “surprise,” but the timing had to be just right, or it wouldn’t work or backfire badly.

            Louise left her corner with one mission – to knock the redhead out or make her submit.  Very few of her prior opponents have stood up to her elbows and knees, and she couldn’t hold on to Lisa enough to score any significant ones.  Plus she was too good a wrestler to submit her, so she would need to rely on her Muay Thai kickboxing skills to defeat her.  And unlike the ex-boxer Lisa faced in the last match, Louise knew she had a few more weapons than Jennie did.

            Lisa saw Louise coming out of her corner quickly and with a stance that told her she was going to revert to kickboxing to finish this match.  If there were any doubts, Louise confirmed them with a left jab and a roundhouse right kick that Lisa would later swear the breeze from the blow blew through her hair.  Narrowing avoiding both blows, Lisa crouched down in her stance while Louise stalked her around the octagon, throwing punches and kicks.  She threw them too fast for Lisa to grab a limb, and one attempt for a takedown almost proved suicidal as Louise countered her crouch with a front kick that would’ve took her head off had it connected.  She took small solace in the fact that Louise was running on fumes herself, but she kept in mind she still had plenty of juice left to knock her out.

            Louise had backed Lisa slowly against one of the corners of the octagon, and saw this as her prime opportunity to finish her.  She threw a left jab and a right jab to keep her at bay, with a left kick on Lisa’s right thigh.  As she saw Lisa wince from the stinging blow, she left in the air to deliver a flying right knee to her jaw.

            Lisa finally heard opportunity knock, if only faintly.  She sidestepped Louise’s knee, barely, just brushing her earlobe, and grasped her around the waist.  She felt her foe brace herself to prevent another body slam, but it wasn’t what Lisa had in mind.  She quickly switched from her supposed bearhug to a sleeper hold.  It was all Lisa could do to hang on as Louise bucked, twisted, and thrown elbows to break free, but if she could hold her for ten seconds, she might be able to end this match.  The seconds moved slowly in Lisa’s mind, but finally she saw Louise’s movements become slower as she lost consciousness. 

The referee rushed in and declared her out, and Lisa laid her gently on the mat.  For a split second, she considered joining her, because she was exhausted.  She was barely aware of Renee lifting her in the air through all the excitement.  She glanced over at Louise’s team reviving her.  As expected from waking up from a knockout hold, Louise awakened with the sudden comprehension that the match was over.  After Renee put her down, she walked over to see if she was all right.  When she seemed okay, and the referee raised her hand in victory, Louise came over, congratulated her on a great match, and whispered in Lisa’s ear.

            “When you win the championship belt, I’ll be the first to demand a rematch,” she said, then smiled and walked away.

            The remark struck Lisa rather strange, and she relayed the remark to Renee and the rest of the crew at the victory dinner.  Renee chuckled when she heard it.  Lisa gave her a puzzled look.

            “Don’t you get it?  She thinks you’ll be the next champion!”  Renee said.  “It’s actually a compliment.”

            “Oh,” Lisa replied, now seeing the obvious.  “I guess I was too busy thinking about the rematch.”

            “Looking forward to it?”  Naomi asked.

            “No,” Lisa said.  “Belt or no belt, I’m not looking forward to fighting her anytime real soon.  I’m definitely not ready or equipped to take her on any sooner than a year from now in my opinion.”

            “Well look at it this way,” James said, “if the current champ is not as good, you’ve got the title in the bag.  What do you think, Renee?”

            “Let’s wait and see,” Renee said.

 

 

            After the match with Louise, there was a longer length of time than usual before she faced her opponent for the upcoming title match; so she had a few extra days of vacation before she resumed the usual grind of working out and training.  During that time of training were a couple of life changes as well.  The holidays came and went, and at a time that seemed more like the next week than the actual four months that followed afterward was graduation.  Celeste and George received their degree in History, and landed a job at a local company doing research.  James received his secondary education degree and took a teaching job in town at a local high school teaching an introductory course to agriculture.  Meanwhile, Lisa received her degree in Agriculture, but she didn’t seem to have much time wondering what to do with it.

            At the level of competition she was fighting in, money wasn’t a problem for Lisa, receiving more than enough to pay for classes, tuition, books, a nice apartment, and a nice car.  Now that she was now an official college graduate, she was now in Renee’s words, “thrown to the wolves.”

            Because of a few clauses in the contract that Lisa signed with Renee, Lisa would be taken care of monetarily, and in other ways.  One of those ways was that no sponsors, merchants, even a college buddy would use, endorse, or advertise in any way Lisa’s occupation until she graduated college.  That wasn’t a problem for Lisa, since she liked keeping a low profile.  Almost as soon as her diploma was placed in her hand, and she shook the hand of the college president, people came from nowhere wanting her to endorse their fight wear, advertise an energy drink, even appear on local TV to do a few commercials for a gym (which frightened her at first, then later angered her because she’d never even heard of the gym, much less even went there).  Suddenly discovering that she was discovered, Lisa ran to Renee pleading for help.  Her coach and manger took it all in stride, showing her who to go with and who to avoid.  Lisa followed her advice on all of that, however she did make one decision on her own.  A shoe manufacturer in town wanted her to endorse their latest stock of sports shoes.  Lisa had to explain more than once that not only did she not wear shoes when she fought, she did not wear shoes period.  Telling the man that he needed to watch her matches more closely, she forcibly restrained herself from throwing the man out the door onto the sidewalk.

            Not living on campus anymore, the foursome found apartments to live at; Lisa and Celeste rooming together at a nice apartment not far from campus, and George and James living in separate apartments a little farther out, James’ place not being far from the school he taught at.

            One Saturday morning, not long before Lisa had to take off for training, her and Celeste were sitting out on the front deck, watching the people go to and fro to their various appointments on the downtown streets below.

            “You and George are getting mighty serious, aren’t you?”  Lisa said as she took a sip of her green tea.  She wore a white tank top (actually a men’s undershirt), silk like white lounging pants with large blue lilies painted on them, and an ankle bracelet and a toe ring being the only things she wore on her bare feet.  Celeste was dressed in blue jeans, a white T-shirt with a picture of a rolling field with wildflowers and blue skies placed on it, and white running shoes.

            “Yes we are,” Celeste said as she took the last bite of her omelet.  “It’s only a matter of time before one of us brings the subject up and pops the question.”

            “What’s taking you?”  Lisa smiled as she finished off her omelet.

            “Lisa, you know how much of a non-traditionalist I am.  Me, I would just flat out say, ‘let’s get married,’ set a date, and get it taken care of.  But I think George is doing all the usual stuff, like saving up to buy me an expensive ring, getting the words right in his proposal, and waiting until the ‘mood’ is just right, like all that stuff you see in the movies.”

            “That doesn’t sound too bad.”

            “No, but I’m a practical gal.  I just want to tell him how much I love him, and to set a time to get hitched so I can start picking kitchen curtains for the house I want to live in.”

            “Then maybe you should go ahead and tell him.  It’ll save him the expense of buying a fancy ring at least.”

            “Yeah, you’re right, I should do it before he ends up hiring a small orchestra to play next time we go out to have dinner.  Meanwhile, what about you, girl?”

            “What about me?”  Lisa asked innocently.

            “Aren’t things between you and James going pretty good?”

            “They’re going wonderful.”

            “They should, considering what he did.”

            “You lost me, what did he do?”

            “You remember after he graduated, actually before, he received all these offers from schools saying ‘come teach for us’?  Some of them even offered a nice salary as far as teachers are concerned.  But what did he do?  He took a job at a school not far from here.  Not far from you.”  Celeste concluded with a sly grin.

            “I told him that he could get a job anywhere he wanted, I would come and visit him.”

            Celeste laughed.  “And hear you moan and groan every night?  No way!  Actually, George and I remained in town for the same reason.”

            “You didn’t want to leave me?  Gee, I’m flattered,” Lisa said.

            “Call it a chance to witness history in the making.”

            “History?”

“Well we all know you’re going to win the championship.  I know it, George knows it, Renee knows it, heck, even your last opponent thinks so.  I think James does too, but for him, I don’t think it’s the only reason he’s still here.”

            Lisa found a grin growing, but she attempted to disguise it by taking another sip of tea.

            “And don’t try to hide it either girl!  I saw that grin!”  Celeste exclaimed, pointing at her.

            “All right, I’m glad he didn’t move.  There, you happy?”

            “Better than you boosting up our phone bill every night.  Anyway, it’s time to change into your working clothes, James and George will be here any minute.”

            After a quick change, the two men drove up, and all four drove off to the gym.  When they entered, they saw as always Naomi and Xana hanging around as usual, their respective training sessions long over.  James turned to Lisa.

            “I thought I passed the acid test a long time ago.  Why are they still here?”  He asked.

            “You passed, but they found they liked hanging around the gym.  In fact, the two of them recently bought a house not far from here.  Renee may never be rid of them,” Lisa replied, smiling.

            “Isn’t one of them up for a championship fight also?”  George asked.

            “Not for a month or so.  Naomi still has about three opponents to go through, and Xana’s weight class is so glutted with contenders, it may take her a while before she’s up for the big match,” Lisa said.

            “So they come to see you do it,” Celeste said.

            “I guess so; I never thought of it that way before.”

            Renee and Ray met them and waved them all to take a seat.

            “Well here we are, a week away from the championship,” Renee said.  “How are you feeling, Lisa?”

            “Until you said that, I was fine,” Lisa said.

            “Get used to it; before the week’s out, it’ll get worse.  Before we get started, we need to do a little housekeeping.  Yesterday, we were nothing, barely a footnote; today, we’re suddenly the biggest rage since the star player on the college’s basketball team was selected by the pros.  Lisa, I can’t keep the local press back any longer, you’ll have to do at least one interview with them.”

            Lisa sighed.  “What do I say to them?”

            “Just answer the questions truthfully and keep them short.  Tolerate the stupid questions, and before you know it, it’ll be over.  They’ll probably show clips of your earlier matches, so they may not use much of what you say anyway.  Oh, and no smack talking about your opponent; leave that for professional wrestling and male boxers.  Always give your opponent the utmost respect, and don’t bother discussing your game plan for the match.  Almost no one except me and other people involved in the fight game will know what you’re talking about anyway; just say you’ll do your best.”

            “What do I wear?”

            “Wear what you normally do when you’re not fighting or practicing,” Renee laughed.  “Discussion about your footwear or the lack of it should take up a quarter of the interview.  Now regarding the rest of you, including myself, they’ll be a reporter behind every bush wanting to ask you something about Lisa.  I was able to avoid two of them myself this morning, but they’ll catch me eventually.  When they do catch you, just give an intelligent answer and smile.  Hopefully they’ll leave you alone after that.”

            “I don’t want to talk to them,” Lisa said stubbornly.

            “If you don’t talk to them, I’ll have Xana do the interview about you,” Renee said.  Lisa glanced at the kickboxer, who just smiled back.

            “All right, I’ll talk to them, just set up a time for me,” Lisa resigned in defeat.

            “Okay, I knew you’ll see it my way,” Renee said.

            “Funny, most people would almost sell off their grandma to get behind the camera.  Here you have a chance for an interview on TV, and you back off,” Celeste said.

            “That’s because Lisa is not ‘most people,’” James said, giving Lisa a hug.

            “I rather fight, not talk about it,” Lisa said.

            “Speaking of fighting, tell me what you know about who you’re facing,” Renee said.

            “How about so I don’t embarrass myself, you go ahead and tell me again?”

            “Now that I think about it, I think I was telling you about it on the same day you were presented with that offer for doing a local commercial for those energy bars.”

            “That’s right; didn’t they give you a year’s supply of those?  Have you decided yet?”  Ray asked.

            “They taste like cardboard,” Lisa replied, her face twisted in disgust.

            “I must agree, they do taste like cardboard,” Celeste said.  “She had me and George and James try one.”  The two men nodded their heads with a similar sick expression.

            “But the commercials have all the local athletes peddle them,” Naomi said, confused.

            “Yes, but you never see any of them eating one,” Lisa said.

            “So you’re not going to do the commercial?  I was expecting to see you in the movies.  Naomi and I volunteer to do all your stunts,” Xana said.

            “Hate to break it to you, Xana, but neither of you two look anything like Lisa,” Renee said.

            “So, they’ll use special clothing and lots of makeup.  They do it in Hollywood all the time.”

            After the group stopped laughing, Renee said, “Why don’t we concentrate on getting Lisa past this match, then we can talk about her academy award nominations, okay?”

            “So tell me about my opponent again?  I have watched the tapes on a regular basis, but I need all the info I can get,” Lisa said.

            “All right, your opponent’s name is Lu Chi.”

            “Lucy?”  George said.

            “No, Lu Chi.  I think her friends call her that for short, although it’s already short.  It’s been said she has the fastest legs in the region.  She holds a second-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and she had won many competitions with her lightning fast kicks.  Xana, our resident kickboxer, has seen her in action once.”

            “She doesn’t use her hands much, though she can throw a good punch, but she kicks so fast, you never see them coming,” Xana commented.  “Just ask the number of people she’s knocked out.”

            “Before I play the tape in, there’s something else I’ve heard about this fighter; she’s very moody.”

            “Moody?”  Lisa said, confused.

            “Yeah, she kicks as hard as she feels.  Rumor has it that she had a fight with her boyfriend at the time before a fight, and she carried that anger into the ring.  Smashed her foe’s ribs and jaw in the first round.”

            “If I was that boyfriend, I’d run,” James said.

            “I think he did,” Renee replied.

            “So I’m going to be facing someone who is as predictable as the weather?”  Lisa stated.  “I guess that means on top of training, I need to hope she’s in a good mood?”

            “Even in a good mood, she’s still devastating.  What you need to do is to stay out of range of her kicks, and find a way in; similar to what you did with Jennie, but different range.”

            “And from what you see of her on the tape, she’s almost all legs,” Ray said.

            Lisa sighed.  “Well, if they said it was easy, everybody would be here.  Let’s watch the tape again, and see what I can do.”

            “That’s the spirit,” Renee said.  “Oh, one more thing before we start.  On the night of the match, it is very important that you should up a half an hour earlier than normal.  Don’t bother asking me why, just do it, okay?”

 

 

            The practice went a little longer than usual at Lisa’s request, because she insisted on performing some speed drills to improve her attack and possibly the avoidance of the champion’s devastating kicks.  After it was over, George suggested that they go out and have an early dinner.  While they were at the restaurant waiting for a table, George and Celeste went over to the large aquarium to look at some exotic fish, leaving Lisa and James alone for a few minutes.  James looked down at Lisa’s feet, which as usual were bare, except for the toe ring, ankle bracelet, and pink toenail polish, which matched the pink and black sleeveless blouse and pink skirt.  He smiled.

            “What are you grinning about?”  Lisa asked.

            “I’m grinning about the fact that we’re in a nice restaurant, and no one seems to notice that you’re not wearing shoes,” James said.

            “Well I’m a celebrity now, I can get away with it,” she replied, laughing.

            “Before the waiter returns with our table reservations, there’s something I want you to know.”

            “What is it, baby?”  Lisa replied, her face now serious.

            “In a few days, you’re going to be fighting one of the biggest fights in your career.  I have faith that you’ll win, no matter what the competition you’re going to face.”

            “Or what mood she’s in?”  Lisa interjected, grinning.

            “Yeah.  But win, lose, or draw, you’ll always be a winner to me.  You’re my champion.”

            Lisa started blinking.  “And now you’re going to make me cry.  Thanks a lot,” she said.

            “Anytime.  Ow!”  Lisa hit James in the right shoulder with her fist.

            “Your support, your – everything has been very important to me, and I don’t think I would have done it without you.  But if you say anything to make me cry in a public place again, I’m going to break your arm, got it?”  She said.

            “Got it,” James said smiling.  “I’m glad I didn’t say anything more gushy, I would have problems eating dinner.  I’m right-handed, you know.”

            “I guess that means I’d have to feed you,” Lisa replied in a soft voice, drawing James’ face to hers.

            “All right you two, break it up, our table is ready,” Celeste said, returning with George.  “Save all that for after dinner.”

            “Yes mom,” Lisa said.

 

 

            The night of the fight came quickly for Lisa, and where she normally had butterflies in her stomach before, on this night it seemed like a whole nest of them had taken up residence in her belly.  Her and the gang arrived at the auditorium earlier than normal like her coach suggested, and they sat around in her locker room wondering why Renee made such a request.

            “I don’t know why Renee had us arrive earlier; I’m nervous enough,” Lisa said.  “I always arrived on time before.”

            “I’m guessing she has a big surprise,” Celeste said.

            “What could that be?  I didn’t think there were any surprises left.”

            In answer to Lisa’s question, Renee stepped in the door and stood right by it.

            “I supposed you’re all wondering why I called you here,” she said, giggling.  “I always wanted to say that.  Anyway, you’ve heard me mention my teacher from time to time, and the torturous training she put me through.  Well for this special occasion, she thought she’d come, watch the match, and root us on.  I now present to you, Loretta DeGarmo!”

            She stepped aside, and into the room entered a large 6’3” Hispanic woman with long wavy brown hair.  She wore a long sleeved light blue top and navy blue slacks with blue toenail polish on her bare feet.  Even though she was covered up, an observer could see how powerful her build was, attributed to a regular regiment of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, training other fighters, and power lifting.  Her pretty face glowed with a large smile as she saw Lisa and gave her a hug, then meeting and greeting the rest.

            “Lisa Lane, Renee’s star pupil,” she said.  “I’ve been wanting to meet you for some time.”

            “I’ve been wanting to meet you, too,” Lisa replied.  “I bet you have plenty of stories about my coach here.”

            “I do, but we don’t have time.  Your time is going to be spent chatting with someone else.”

            “Who?”

            At that time, another woman entered the room.  She was six feet, with long blond hair, and a trim, muscular build.  She wore a bright, sunny smile, and a pink one-strap tank top and a short white skirt.  She was also barefooted with white frosted nail polish, but with her, the shoeless lifestyle was her trademark.  Lisa and all three of her entourage stared at her with eyes widened and jaws dropped open.

            “Susan Davidson!”  Lisa said at last in shock.  James was speechless.

            “That’s me,” Susan replied with a small giggle.  Her, Loretta, and Renee walked over and sat on a bench across from Lisa and her group.

            “Ms. Davidson, I’ve been a big fan of yours since you started kickboxing,” James said, after managing to find his voice.  “It’s great for you to come here to see Lisa’s title bout.”

            Ms. Davidson?  That title goes to my mother.  Just call me Susan.  Lisa, I’ve been following your progress ever since Loretta has told me about you.”

            “Really?”  Lisa managed to say.  “I didn’t think anyone knew who I was until I won that last match.”

            “Oh, you have more fans than you think.  As for the media, just continue to live your life and smile at them every once in a while so they’ll have something to write about.  And my advice about the energy bars?  If they taste like something you wouldn’t feed your dog, don’t do the commercials.  That’s not how you got where you were, anyway.”

            Renee got up.  “I just remembered I have two fighters wandering around the arena.  I need to bring them here to meet you two or they’ll have a fit.  Be back in a minute.”

            As Renee left the room, Susan turned back to Lisa.  “I wish I could say I’ve been in the same place you are, but my title match isn’t for a while yet.  But we can talk about fighting in a minute.  So this is your man that Renee told me about?”  She said, motioning to James.

            Lisa reached out and rubbed James’ back.  “Yes he is; he’s been a real dear cheering me on.  Celeste and George here has been a great help too,” she said.

            “Yeah, someone has to keep her out of trouble,” Celeste remarked.

            “I’d love to show off my guy, but he’s back home checking out prospective accounting firms,” Susan said.  “Look, we’ll have plenty of time to talk later, and I don’t want to mess up your preparation for this match.  My only word of advice for tonight is to stay with your game.”

            “Stay with my game?”  Lisa said.

            “Yes, it’s what got you here in the first place.  And Loretta and I will be at ringside cheering you on.”

            Loretta leaned forward and said to Lisa in a low voice, “She’ll won’t admit it, but Renee actually brags a lot about you.”

            “Now I know you’re kidding,” Lisa said.

            “Renee puts a lot of confidence into her fighters, and she’d never bother with those who aren’t good.”

            Lisa took a moment to consider Loretta’s words when the door opened and Renee returned with Naomi and Xana.

            “Naomi and Xana, this is Loretta, the coach who trained me, and this is-”

            “Susan Davidson!”  They both cried in unison before they rushed to her side and gushed over her.

            Renee shook her head and rolled her eyes.

            “I can’t take these two anywhere,” she moaned.

 

 

            After everyone had left the room, Lisa started preparing herself for the fight performing her usual ritual.  After she did her customary prayer, she opened her gym bag and rooted around for a small box.  She smiled to herself when she found it, and placed it into the pocket of her robe.  Renee poked her head in the door and informed her that it was five minutes until fight time.  She stood, took a few deep breaths, and walked out of the locker room.

            When she heard the cheering crowd, Lisa remembered the other piece of advice Susan gave her: smile and wave to the crowd, it’ll take some edge off the fact that you’re scared to death.  As she waved, she saw some familiar people, people she knew from college, hold signs up for the crowd and the television cameras to see.  They said things like, “Go get them Lisa!” and “Lisa is a real knockout!” (she could’ve swore that last one was held by an ex-boyfriend, but she wasn’t sure.  

Normally she looked for her loved ones out in the audience after she got in the ring, but since it was a bigger attendance than usual, she thought she’d start looking when she came close to the front rows.  As she started to look, she saw a surprising sight.  Sitting not far from ringside was Louise, the woman she last fought to get to this point.  Louise saw her, smiled, and gave her thumbs up.  Lisa smiled back and nodded.  The possibility of a rematch with that woman was nothing she wanted to think about now.  She next saw her family, who also had their own signs to show to the camera.  One in particular said, “Kill ’em Lisa!” held by her mother.  Her mother?  Lisa found herself staring at the sight a few seconds until a gentle nudge from Renee and Ray reminded her to move forward.

            “Everyone gets into the act during these types of matches,” Ray whispered in her ear.

            Lisa nodded, still stunned at the sight.  Refocusing, she entered the octagon, and got to her corner, checking the small box in her robe one final time before she took it off.  As she did so, she looked toward ringside, where both her coaches would be sitting (not that they would, they’ll be standing the whole match), her fellow fighters Xana and Naomi, her close friend Celeste and her boyfriend George, and her special guests Susan and Loretta.  James was there as well, his seat at an angle which almost placed him behind two reporters, one for the local newspaper, the other for the local television station.  She kept looking until she got James’ attention.

            “This should be an interesting match,” the newspaper reporter said.  “Think our girl has a chance?”

            “I think so,” the TV reporter said.  “Of course this woman she’s facing isn’t a pushover either.  Hey, she’s looking this way.”

            Once Lisa caught James’ attention, she silently mouthed the words, “I love you,” which caught the attention of two others as well.

            “Hey, did you see that?”  The TV reporter said.  “She said she loves me!”

            “She wasn’t talking to you, moron, she was talking to some lucky guy behind us,” the newspaper reporter said as he looked at James, who repeated the message back to Lisa.  “Hey, is she your girl?”

            “She sure is,” James replied.

            “I’d consider myself lucky if I had a woman like that,” the TV reporter said.

            “Yes, I’m blessed,” James said.

            Lisa performed a few stretches and a little shadow boxing to loosen up and relieve her nervousness.  Suddenly there was a loud cheer as her opponent approached the ring.  Over the loudspeakers, the song “She’s Got Legs” by ZZ Top started to play.  The fighters have the choice of choosing their own intro music, but Lisa always declined, saying she had too many concerns with the match itself to be concerned about having a theme song.  The procedure always seemed a little more like it should belong in professional wrestling with its theatrics instead of the real thing.  Apparently, from the way the champion and her entourage walked down the aisle, she didn’t share the same view.  Lisa did a quick mental checklist about her as she watched her walk to her corner.

            Lu Chi, the product of a Japanese father and Hispanic mother, stood roughly the same height as Lisa, but most of it was legs.  After winning the area Tae Kwon Do tournaments three years in a row, she turned her attention to Mixed Martial Arts.  It was said she was a decent grappler and a strong puncher, but those two skills were hardly seen in action.  Her main weapon was her kicks that she could send from almost any angle at lightning speed.  To add more fuel to the fire, she expanded her repertoire of kicks not just from her primary martial art, but from a number of other martial arts as well.  Last year, she kept her championship belt by scoring a massive knockout by means of using a tornado kick, which was used in a few styles of Kung Fu.  The kick took everyone by surprise, especially the challenger, who had to sit out of competition for a while with a broken jaw.  The fighter’s moodiness not only extended to how she fought in the ring, it also influenced the way she dressed for a match, which bordered on provocative.  For one match, she dressed in a black bodysuit that was so sheer it was transparent.  She had a black sports bra and shorts underneath, but according to rumor, her coach insisted on her wearing them, lest the referee would site her for wearing inappropriate clothing.  With her long black hair, an attractive face, and of course, her muscular legs, she was a fighter with the looks to pull it off.  On this night, however, she wore a yellow sports bra and yellow boxing trunks that looked similar to what Muay Thai boxers wore, with the hanging short tails framed in red.  In her humble outfit, for a moment, Lisa felt a little underdressed.  Upon seeing her contender for her crown, Lu Chi’s eyes fixed on Lisa’ face like a laser beam, following her everywhere she went.

            In a recent interview about the match, Lu said she was going to “destroy” Lisa.  When asked her thoughts, Lisa just said she will do her best and go on from there.  Renee discouraged “trash talk,” saying to save the game for the ring where it really matters.  Lisa remembered after she gave her answer, the sports reporter switched to other subjects, like was it true she didn’t wear shoes.  She didn’t think her comments made for an exciting interview, but from the way the reporter and the cameraman looked her over, they seemed more interested in showing her physique than hearing her answers.

            Finally, the announcer introduced the fighters, accompanied by the cheering of their fans.  Lisa was ready to get this over with, in many ways.  The referee called for the two fighters to meet out in the center of the ring for the customary rules and a reminder that he was there to be listened to.  Lisa courteously listened, but she couldn’t help notice the stare that Lu Chi gave her (then again, it was hard not to notice when the stare was six inches away from your face).  It made Jennie’s staredown look like a friendly greeting.  It reminded Lisa of a cross between Clint Eastwood staring down a bad guy before a shootout in one of his “spaghetti westerns,” and a hungry pit bull eyeing its dinner.  If the current champion heard anything that was said, she didn’t show it.  When the referee finished, Lu Chi turned around and walked straight back to her corner.  Lisa returned to hers wondering if Lu Chi was normally this intense outside the ring.

            The bell rang, and both fighters came out.  They touched their left gloves together; Lisa in her show of good sportsmanship while Lu Chi seemed to do it more out of obligation than anything else.  They circled around, each looking for an opening, when suddenly Lu Chi’s right foot snapped out and struck Lisa on her left thigh, stinging her.

            “Ow!”  Lisa said, both stung and surprised.  Some light laughter came from the audience and Lu Chi’s corner crew.  Lu Chi herself had a tight grin on her face.  It wasn’t characteristic for Lisa to give voice to her pain during a match, but that kick was so fast, it didn’t leave much time for her to compose herself.  What it did do was prompt her to shoot a few jabs at Lu Chi’s face before she tried that again.  The champion’s defense proved to be as good as her offense as she blocked the punches and delivered another quick kick at Lisa’s right thigh.  Lisa raised her leg to block the blow, but it still stung.  She heard of this strategy used by kickboxers; center in on a particular part of the body, such as the leg, and keep hitting it until the opponent is so bruised, their mobility is hampered, and they’re left vulnerable to the attacker.  Having no desire to be maimed and left to be picked off, Lisa tried charging in to neutralize Lu Chi’s standup game to at least score a takedown.  That’s when she was introduced to a few jabs and a right cross from her opponent.

            Ah, so she can punch, Lisa thought, shaking off that last punch.  Not as much stopping power as Jennie’s blows, but not something she wanted to be left open to for a extended period of time.  Lu Chi’s kicks however, were like being hit by baseball bats.  Regardless of whether they hit or even blocked, they still hurt.  Lisa charged in again, and met with a knee to the left side.  She blocked a left jab and backpedaled to reassess her strategy.

            The two combatants circled around until Lu Chi suddenly leaned back like she was attempting a cartwheel or flip, coiled up, spun around making herself momentarily airborne, and delivered a flying right roundhouse kick that seemed to come out of nowhere.  Lisa barely saw it coming.  She jerked out of the way, but not before she was grazed by the first two toes on Lu Chi’s right foot as they brushed her forehead.  The audience gave a collected “whoa” as Lu Chi came back down to earth.  She took the time to give a smug look to someone in the audience, but it wasn’t toward anyone’s corner.  That was the last of Lisa’s concerns at the moment as she attempted to regain her balance as Lu Chi advanced to pepper Lisa with a few punches.  Lisa managed to block them, but she was placed on the defensive as Lisa charged her with punches and low kicks until the bell rang.  Lisa walked back to her corner with a dazed look on her face.

            “How are you feeling?”  Renee asked as she gave Lisa a bottle of water while Ray massaged her shoulders.

            “For someone who was almost decapitated, I feel great,” Lisa replied.  “What was that?”

            “It looks like Lu Chi added some capoera moves to her arsenal.  She must’ve incorporated that kick for this match.”

            “Did you say she fights according to her mood?”

            “Yeah.”

            “Well someone needs to tell her I’m not her boyfriend, so she needs to take it easy on me.”

            “By the way, unlike her previous boyfriend, her last one wasn’t able to get away, according to rumor.”

            “So he’s watching this from a hospital bed?”

            Renee chuckled.  “If you still have a sense of humor, then you’re still all right.  Remember what I told you about fighters like her?”

            “Their biggest weapons can be their biggest weakness,” Lisa repeated by rote.  “Yes, I’ve been working on that.  The question is which weapon do I exploit?”

            “The one that has the biggest potential.  With the exception of that last one, she’s been trying to soften you up so she can deliver her best weapons.  Look for those in this round; just look out for everything else.”

            Lu Chi sat in her corner rather confident she won that round, even if she didn’t end it with her “secret weapon.”  She was slightly disappointed that she had to attempt it on Lisa, and not on the woman she expected to fight that night.  Meanwhile in the audience, Louise saw the look Lu Chi gave her and got the message; that kick was for her.

Tabbed by some fans as the biggest rivalry that hasn’t taken place, the crew of the two fighters, along with some speculation of the fighters themselves wondered how Lu Chi’s Tae Kwon Do would match up against Louise’s lesser known but equally formable martial arts skills.  Some thought Lu Chi would knock Louise out from a distance while others thought Louise’s elbows and knees could finish the champ off once she got inside.  Lu Chi thought it would be an excellent opportunity to find out after Louise disposed of the wrestler and fought this anticipated match for the championship.  However, Lisa surprised everyone in both camps as she ended up winning, everyone except Louise.  She sensed Lisa’s game was stronger than those in her camp or Lu Chi’s gave her credit for.  Once Lisa defeated her, Louise predicted that Lisa would be the next champion, and her and Lu Chi would have to fight their potential rivalry fight in possibly a non-title bout, then she’ll have a rematch with the wrestler who outfought and outsmarted her.

            Lu Chi sat in her corner watching Lisa.  She would pose no threat if she can’t come close.  It would be just a matter of pounding her some more with a couple of punches and low-level kicks, then deliver another roundhouse kick to send her to the mat.  Just like she did in those Tae Kwon Do competitions, it worked every time.  Then after some more preparation, she’ll take on Louise and show her no obscure martial art from Indonesia is a match for the more popular one from Korea.  That would be later; right now, this wrestler needed to be put to sleep.

            The bell rang again, and both fighters entered the octagon once more.  Lisa realized that short of a miracle or eating more punches and kicks than should be necessary, going inside would be very difficult, possibly suicidal.  Fighting it out with her toe-to-toe would be equally futile and would result with her lying on the mat.  A quote entered her head as she left her corner; “If Mohammed couldn’t come to the mountain, then . . .”

            Lu Chi charged Lisa, throwing more kicks and punches, seeking to throw her off balance like the end of the first round, but Lisa was ready to block or parry the assault, managing to return a few punches and clumsy kicks in response.  Finding herself being cornered, Lisa made a mad dive for Lu Chi’s leg.  Lu Chi moved out of the way, leaving Lisa on one knee and vulnerable.  Lu Chi’s mouth watered; this was the kill shot she was looking for.  Without warning, she launched a right roundhouse kick at Lisa’s head.

            Lisa shot her hands up to intercept, not block the kick.  She caught the kick just as it would have made contact, and rolled with the blow.  In fact, she literally rolled her body on the mat, and then locked her legs around her opponents’ legs to secure herself.  Lu Chi saw what was going to happen, but it was too late to do anything about it.  Suddenly the pain hit her hard as she slid to the mat, feeling the effects of Lisa’s leg lock.

            Lu Chi used her remaining leg to try to hit Lisa’s head or side, but Lisa managed to keep out of reach.  Lisa also managed to move her ankles out of the champion’s reach.  Lu Chi then tried to strike Lisa’s legs with the heel of her other foot, but Lisa shifted her position so the blows wouldn’t be as painful.  Lisa then started rocking her body, which made the hold more painful.  Finally, seeing no relief in sight, and a reversal out of the question, Lu Chi reluctantly tapped out.

            Lisa knew as Lu Chi stepped out of the way of her attempted takedown and made herself a sitting duck kneeling on one knee that timing was the crucial factor to this next move.  Attempting to block her next kick with her arms would be the same as blocking a steel pole or baseball bat.  If she were too slow, they would be reviving her just in time to see Lu Chi’s hands upraised for successfully defending her title.  She had to catch the blow and yield to it.  She also had to time her rolling leg lock just right.  She didn’t want to break Lu Chi’s ankle from rolling too hard, just enough to incapacitate her and gain a submission.  The way Lu Chi kicked and bucked, Lisa wondered how long she could hold her.  When the referee signaled that the match was over, she let go of the ankle and fell back on the mat.  It was finally over.

            Lu Chi was stunned.  She was defeated, beaten by a common wrestler.  She took one of her best weapons and used it against her.  She was told not to underestimate Lisa, and just when she thought she was one good kick away from ending the match, she slapped a leg lock on her.  For the remainder of the evening and a few days afterward, the former champion would be running through her mind how she could’ve fought the match differently.

            Lisa of course, didn’t stay on the mat long.  Renee ran in, pulled her to her feet, and carried Lisa on her shoulder while pumping her fist in the air.  Ray was a little more subdued, but not much as he hooted and cheered.  In the audience, Lisa’s family cheered and her mother cried.  On the other side, Naomi and Xana kissed and hugged anybody who was within reach, including strangers.  Susan and Loretta gave each other and James, George, and Celeste a high five.  Louise just sat in her seat, looking at the new champion and the former champion and said, “Told you.”

            The television announcer entered the ring, and asked Renee if she could put Lisa down so she could talk to her.  The coach shrugged and said sure, putting Lisa down.  Lisa gave him a mumbled thank you, clearly embarrassed by the scene.

            “So Lisa Lane,” the announcer began, “you are now the new champion.  How does it feel?”

            “Feels good,” Lisa giggled.  “First, I want to thank God for the victory, along with my coaches and friends and family and – you know what, I’m sorry, but there’s something else important I need to talk about right now.  James, could you come here, please?”

            James took a second to comprehend what she just said.  Did she just ask me to get in the ring?  The crew helped him up, and then escorted him to the ring.  It did little to underscore the fact that every eye in the audience along with who knows how many were watching by means of television were on him.  His legs felt rubbery as he staggered through the door of the octagon.

            As James approached, Lisa whispered to Ray to get her robe.  Confused, he did so and handed it to her.  The equally confused announcer attempted to say something, but Lisa motioned him to wait.  She then took both of James’ hands.

            “Baby, I just wanted you to know that I won this match and the championship in a large part because of you.  I love you,” Lisa said.

            “I love you too,” James replied, seeing the cameras flash and hearing his voice amplified by the microphone.

            “I know you do, baby.  In fact I was wondering . . .” Lisa said as she got down on one knee, and pulled a small box from the pocket of her robe, opening it with one smooth motion.  “ . . .if you would like to spend the rest of your life with me.”

            Suddenly all the cameras, the announcer, and the audience didn’t matter to James anymore.  The only things in the world that existed were the ring, and the sweaty, but lovely face above it.  What other answer was there to give?

            “Yes!”  He said, as the two embraced, nearly crushing the announcer in the process.

            The audience cheered, cried, or did both, as in the case of Lisa’s family.  Celeste stood there in shock.  In tears, she told George she was going to kill her for surprising her like this.  George, who had plans to pop the question himself soon, just smiled.  Susan, reminded of her oncoming wedding, wiped off a tear while Loretta, a big softie, did the same.  Xana and Naomi on the other hand were basket cases, cheering, crying, then protesting they need to get out more to find some good men.  Louise, smug a moment ago, was stunned.  She wiped a tear away, thinking that this woman is full of surprises.  Renee and Ray looked at each other, and then looked at Lisa before running to the couple and hugging them.  They never saw it coming either.

            In an attempt to get the post-show back on track, the announcer wandered over to Lu Chi’s corner to interview her.  The former champion just recovered from seeing the sudden proposal, and was on her way to congratulate Lisa on a good match and on her future nuptials.

            “Well Lu, that was an unexpected turn in the second round, wasn’t it?”  The announcer asked.

            The former champ gave him a dirty look.

            “Why are you talking to me?”  She barked.  “I fought, I lost, no big deal.  This woman-” she pointed at Lisa, “-just proposed to her boyfriend on TV and in front of all these witnesses.  That takes courage.  Go talk to them.”

            She left to congratulate Lisa.  The announcer stood alone in the octagon and sighed.

            This is going to be a long night, he thought.

 

 

            The sun was setting in Honolulu, and the hotel room gave a beautiful view of the sunset.  James stood outside on the balcony watching it go down.  They arrived at the hotel not long ago, just in time to see the sight.  Even if he missed the sunset that night, he had four other evenings to see it there, a wedding gift courtesy of Renee and Ray.

            Thinking about the wedding, James mused that the catching of the garter and bouquet could’ve been fight events of their own.  For a custom that had only a symbolic meaning and superficial substance to it, the bachelors and bachelorettes scrambled after those items like they were a winning lottery ticket, or more to the point, a fumbled football.  He chuckled at how Xana and Naomi would’ve killed each other catching that bouquet if Renee didn’t get it.  He also remembered how Celeste was letting George have it for letting the garter just whiz by him.  He later told James he didn’t need to catch anything; he already had the ring and the date in mind, along with when he was going to propose.  Good old George, always planning ahead.

            “You out stargazing again?”  A voice came from inside the room.

            Lisa emerged from the room onto the balcony, having just changed clothes.  She was wearing a black bikini top (or was that a bra?), a short blue jean skirt, a gold ankle bracelet, and of course, no shoes.  But then again, James didn’t expect anything different.  In fact, he grew to like Lisa’s natural footwear.

            “You didn’t bring any shoes with you at all, did you?”  James asked.

            Lisa gave him an indignant look.  “Now why would I want to do a silly thing like that?  I don’t need them.”

            James gave her outfit a look over.  That was a bra!  “Well, you aren’t wearing much,” he remarked.

            “That’s all right,” she whispered in his ear.  “The rest of this week, I’ll be wearing less than that.  Come to think of it, so will you.”  Her hands started slowly unbuttoning James’ shirt.

            “Hey, we’re out here on the balcony, people will see us!”  James exclaimed.

            Lisa looked around for a moment.  “You’re right.”  Then she bent down and placed James over one shoulder.  “We’ll take care of this in the bedroom.”

            “Whoa!”  A surprised James said.

            “I’ve been waiting a long time to do this, and now nothing is going to stand in my way.  After we get in, I’m going to throw you on the bed and rip your clothes off.  Then I’m going to deflower you so bad, you’ll think it’s a felony.  Then I’ll let you rest for a bit, and then I’ll do it again.  You’re going to have trouble walking the next couple of days, fella, so get used to it.  You’re mine, James Clark, all mine.”

            James laughed, barely remembering to duck his head down, lest it hit the doorframe as Lisa brought him in.  “I knew I should’ve asked the others for wrestling or kickboxing tips before we took off,” he said.

            “It wouldn’t have done you a bit of good,” Lisa said huskily as she dropped James on the bed, and then pulled his shirt off with one swift jerk.  “I’ve beaten wrestlers and kickboxers before, remember?”

 

[Author’s Note:  I dedicate this story to the true women mixed martial artists and submission wrestlers out there, who despite their tremendous contribution to the sport, truly have an uphill climb claiming to others that their sport is just as legitimate as any other sport, and just as legitimate as their male counterparts.  So to women like Olga Bakalapoulous, Debi Purcell, Mayra Conde, Stacy Jett, Erin Toughill, Helen Van Mott, and others that I haven’t named, those who are fighting now and those who blazed the trail, I salute you.  I hope this piece of fiction fits your standards, and gives you the credit you deserve.]

 

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