A Young Man’s Game

“MMA is a young man’s game.”

Jerry chucked an empty beer can across the room at the T.V. the moment the words left the commentator’s mouth. He was coherent enough to throw an empty can—this time—because it was the only working television in the apartment, and the last thing he needed was another cracked screen.

In Jerry’s drunken reality, neither of The Big Show’s commentators could have said anything right during the broadcast; one way or another, they were catching some tin across the chin. If I had been allowed in there, I could show them this old dog’s tricks

The chances of Jerry ever getting an opportunity in The Big Show had been locked away in a kennel, according to his Manager. Although Jerry’s Manager delivered The Big Show’s rejection over the years in creative ways, the news never hit him in the gut with any less power; the most recent denial, however, was the knockout blow.

Jerry dreamt about becoming a star in The Big Show, potentially a long-reigning champion, since beginning his trek through MMA nearly two decades ago. Just before Jerry turned thirty—the most promising point in his prizefighting career—a horrific car accident derailed his trajectory. A driver high on meth sent Jerry, for over three years, to the lowest point in his life: financial ruin, crippling depression, and a bum knee in need of multiple surgeries and countless rounds worth of rehabilitation. 

“Be straight with me, Doc. Am I going to fight again?”

The doctor dove within his infinite wisdom of mangled knees and said, “There’s a good chance you could.”

Those were the words that pulled Jerry from bed every morning like the sweet smell of cinnamon rolls; otherwise, he may never have left the safe haven of his sheets, stuffing his face, instead, with pizza and soda until surpassing the super heavyweight division.

Following several successful scraps opposite some of the sport’s bright hopefuls—thanks largely in part to his Manager’s creative matchmaking and promoting ability—Jerry, again, found himself as a blip onThe Big Show’s radar. 

“I just got word that The Big Show’s scouts will be on hand for your upcoming fight. Isn’t this great!” Jerry’s Manager was bursting with self-satisfaction.

It was great then, and it was still great as Jerry made his way toward the cage. The crowd’s wail of disdain for Jerry, the outisder, muffled when he noted The Big Show’s scouts seated in the second row. They came for a show, and they’re not leaving without one.

After the entirety of three grueling rounds, Jerry and Stevie “Sledgehammer” Cortez wore their effort in one another’s blood as well as bruising and swelling from head to toe. Who in their right minds would doubt either of their desire?

Jerry’s Manager approached the marred martial artist while being attended to by the physician backstage. He didn’t beat around the bush, “They passed. Sorry, man.”

“Did they say why?”

His Manager shook his head; the crow’s feet in Jerry’s eyes appeared as he forced a smile onto his weathered face, aware his age was a deciding factor.

Prompted from Fandango’s One Word Challenge at: https://fivedotoh.com/2020/01/06/fowc-with-fandango-creative/.

Also prompted from the Word of the Day Challenge at: https://wordofthedaychallenge.wordpress.com/2020/01/06/wisdom/.

Flash Fiction: Killer Cardio

It was Friday, which meant: cardio day; Evan’s least favorite day of the week.

Pummel him with punches, tenderize his legs with kicks; slam him, choke him, bloody his face: all were better than burning lungs. 

Dragging well behind all of the other team’s members, Coach tried lighting a fire under Evan’s ass:

“Lollygag and find yourself in a bodybag.”

Word count: 60

Prompted from the Weekend Writing Prompt #138 at: https://sammiscribbles.wordpress.com/2020/01/04/weekend-writing-prompt-138-lollygag/.

Sweet Chin Music

When Michael told his parents the big news, he knew they would not share in his joy.

It was best to tell them now, so they could begin moving forward—with Michael, as his parents always did—instead of lying, which he briefly debated, and filling his journey with more emotional angst than necessary.

Michael’s words floated into the living room’s air like a butterfly and stung like a vicious uppercut, “I’ve decided, for now, to leave school and turn pro. I already have a fight lined up next month.”

The “for now” Michael inserted didn’t soften the blow. His parents’ facial expressions bounced between disappointment and horror; he received similar looks after he announced his interest in competing as an amateur mixed martial artist last year. They assumed Michael was just going through a phase—much like his wild craze of collecting baseball cards as a young boy.

His parents believed: a full slate of classes and first-seat in the college’s symphony would distract Michael from training. Wrong.

Truth be known, Michael was an artist—mixed, martial, or otherwise. Anything creative he approached with curiosity—from the strings on a violin to the chins of opponents—hummed in perfect harmony. Michael’s mother signed him up for violin lessons at the age of four, and his father enrolled him in Jiu-Jitsu at eight; both, he grew to believe, were as vital to his survival as oxygen—until he scratched the itch he got for cage fighting.

Once Michael’s instructor, and owner of Deadbolt Jiu-Jitsu, added a beginner’s MMA class to the weekly schedule, it spawned his intrigue in the sport. Much like his violin teacher noted a prodigious talent early on, the MMA coach coaxed Michael into planting his green, though lush with confidence, skillset inside a cage.

Michael was hooked at the sound of the bell—the crowd, the noise, the rush. A close decision loss only poured gasoline at the thoughts sparking in Michael’s mind: How far could a cage fighter travel in their career? Could they even have a career to begin with? 

During the last couple months of high school—when Michael was to be applying for colleges—his attention to the strings had snapped. He didn’t hate the violin; he’d just fallen in love with orchestrating violence. Where Michael’s effort toward filling out applications wained, his mother picked up the slack, and he was accepted, along with a generous scholarship, to Long Beach State’s music program.

“Good,” was Michael’s response every time his parent asked how things were going. 

He didn’t want to tell them that he had won five straight fights, or his grades had settled on a losing record. Following Michael’s most recent victory—a slick triangle submission over an undefeated prospect on everyone’s radar—several managers and promoters informed the blossoming up-and-comer that they could increase the value of his stock if he chose to go pro. 

Michael showed his parents some footage from his latest outing, hinting at an imminent return, while home for the summer from his freshman year. Dad was visibly impressed when the referee forced Michael to unlock his stranglehold, and Mom covered her face and watched through the small cracks between her fingers.

“I don’t know what you get out that,” she’d say. She said the same thing, however, when Michael competed in Jiu-Jitsu tournaments as a white belt; however, by the time he was a purple belt, she was the loudest voice in the venue.

Two weeks before the fall semester drew students back to the campus, Michael delivered the direction of his new dream—one of four-ounce gloves, face-punching, ring card girls, bundles of cash, and the allure of championships—would be taking him.

As if in a game of musical chairs, there was only one seat left, and it belonged to MMA.

Prompted from Fandango’s Word of the Day Challenge at: https://fivedotoh.com/2019/12/30/fowc-with-fandango-musical/.

Six-Sentence Story: Crystal

Eleven rounds in to a fifteen round practice and Eli questioned whether he had it in him.

Prior to the start of the twelfth, one of the team’s veterans, Theo “This Guy” Higgins, recognized Eli’s distant stare—a look of uncertainty and despair—through a mask of sweat.

Higgins pulled Eli back into reality with a pop on the shoulder using a sixteen-ounce Everlast club, “You got this man,” he began. “Survive these next four rounds, focus on cutting weight next week, get your hand raised, and it’ll all be worth it.”

Easy for a dude who’s been doing this for nearly twelve years to say, though Eli only nodded his head in return because he knew Higgins, a former Champion with seven title defenses, was right.

“If it were as simple as looking into a crystal ball,” Higgins continued while stepping back onto the mat, “we wouldn’t have to prepare for every possible scenario inside the cage.”

Prompted from Six-Sentence Story at: https://girlieontheedge1.wordpress.com/2019/12/29/sundays-six-sentence-story-word-prompt-88/.

Flash Fiction: A New Strategy

“I just found out that they’ll be using the small cage next weekend.”

“Whatever.”

Coach was ready for Kevin’s nonchalant response and fired back, “If catching a shin across the side of your head sounds good to you, then, sure, whatever.”

“Coach, I’m just saying: a fight’s a fight. Right?”

“The smaller cage, by design, will nullify much of your wrestling; this dude you’re facing was a former Muay Thai Champion.”

Before Kevin could question what was next, Coach grabbed a pair of mitts, told his student to meet him on the mats, and devised a new game plan.

Prompted from Carrot Ranch’s Flash Fiction Challenge at: https://carrotranch.com/2019/12/26/december-26-flash-fiction/.

Six-Sentence Story: Pine

Mike pulled his hunk-of-junk Honda Civic into the usual parking spot. Mike’s training partners, who were much more reliable than his car, were huddled around and chatting lightheartedly, knowing full well that all hell was about to break loose.

Sparring days at O’Malley’s MMA were nothing short of pure chaos, which was exactly what Conner O’Malley, the late founder of the facility, expected. Ever since O’Malley passed away several years ago, Mike, who was willed the gym by the no nonsense, warm-hearted coach, and his crew of training partners continued with the same weekly regiment—especially on the days they’d spar. With his own two hands, O’Malley laid the concrete foundation, constructed the building using pine, rolled out some mats, and hung a few heavy bags, and the half dozen fighters nearly leveled the place when instructed to “go live.”

Who knew: a gym built from Christmas tree wood would be a treasured gift that’d keep on giving?

Six-Sentence Stories are prompted from Girlie on the Edge at: https://girlieontheedge1.wordpress.com/2019/12/25/its-six-sentence-story-thursday-link-up-87/.

Returning From the Dead

Darren couldn’t have smelled his favorite food if it were placed beneath his nose; his nasal cavity was clogged with shattered bits of bone and cartilage.

Coach’s voice could be heard in the distance, but, as the seconds moved along, Darren felt less less and less like the self he had sharpened for the past six-weeks. A dreamlike sequence—where the victor collected all the spoils—awoke into a prizefighter’s worst nightmare. Coach’s word’s were impossible to discern through all the banging on Darren’s eardrums. 

Darren detached from the possibility of being stuck in a state of slumber when his extremities, which were much heavier than he ever remembered, began coinciding with his consciousness. Coach instructed Darren to stay down. Darren would have obliged—he always listened to Coach—but the words didn’t completely register; therefore, he strained to get closer to Coach to better understand. A hand covered in latex pressed against Darren’s chest and guided him flat against the canvas.

As lucky as Darren was to have Coach in his life, he, at the moment, searched his memory’s archive of Coach telling him he had a twin; the pair hovered over him with looks of grave concern painted on their weathered faces. The lights surrounding Darren blurred into a blinding array, reminding him of the nights he’d driven home following a full shift at the lumber yard and an exhaustive sparring session in the gym—all while cutting weight for an upcoming title fight. The more things pixelated into view, the less Darren liked the picture.

When Darren attempted to ask What happened?, he realized: the sweetness of victory had soured into a thick mouthful of copper behind loosened teeth. A mixture of coughing blood and a slow return to his vocabulary bank made Darren’s speech an incoherent babble. At the onset of trying to form words, Coach and the cage side physicians were pleased that more signs of recovery were present.

Finally, Darren, sitting upright on a stool, asked—for what he believed to be the fifth or sixth time—“What happened?”

“You got caught with a head kick,” Coach responded.

Prompted from Dee Kelly’s Word of the Day Challenge: https://wordofthedaychallenge.wordpress.com/2019/12/24/babble/.

All or Nothing

Garret Hills hadn’t attended a single Jiu-Jitsu class in over a month; his longest break since walking through the doors of Ronaldo Baca’s Jiu-Jitsu Academy about a decade ago.

“Sensei Baca was asking about you again yesterday,” Tommy Jacobson informed when he finally caught up to Garret.

“Tell him I’m fine.”

“He’s sure you’re fine,” Tommy responded. “He just misses you on the mats.” When Tommy, a fellow brown belt who rose the ranks alongside Garret, realized the two were nearing the edge of the high school’s campus—and the lunch break was almost over—he asked, “Where are you going?”

Garret explained, “My parents still don’t know I’m training MMA. If I spend the last month of the school year leaving during lunch once or twice a week, I can make it Downtown, spar with some high-level dudes near my weight, and not have to worry about whether or not I’ll graduate.”

The ninety-minutes one way to Dangerous Minds MMA offered Garret more knowledge about playing punchy-face than the resources his hick, podunk town had available. Those whom studied under Baca were blessed to have a championship-caliber Jiu-Jitsu player in their backyard, but there were only a handful of people Garret was aware of who even knew what MMA was; most seemed to think it was a caged rendition of professional wrestling. A tactical offense on the ground wouldn’t be enough for success in the game on inches; Garret additionally required: wrestling, for dragging a foe into his domain; an ability to serve—and eat—some punishment on the feet; and an even blending of all these facets into a hitman for hire. Garret, a freshly minted eighteen-year-old with aspirations of superstardom under bright spotlights, believed he had outgrown the comfort of his Gi as a child leaves their favorite blanket in the rearview mirror by adolescence. 

Garret sharpened the techniques he acquired from those at Dangerous Minds MMA with Josh Harvey, a recent dropout who mirrored Garret’s passion for MMA. Josh figured: if his brain could fend off books, maybe it would work similarly against hooks. Though Harvey’s athleticism wasn’t polished with potential, the twenty-pounds of mass he owned over Garret, along with a grit that pushed him to never quit, made him, what Garret dubbed, “a flesh Kong toy”—mobile and difficult to destroy.

The pair of rogue training partners had scheduled their debuts, six-weeks from the present, at Danger Zone 45, a promotion that hosted an event each month in Downtown’s Tower Theatre. Both Garret and Josh absorbed the energy resonating—affirming their new career path—throughout the venue from Danger Zone’s previous show, and Garret left, fully invested, with premonitions of his hand raised in the promotion’s ill-constructed cage. 

While Garret and Josh expanded their gas tanks, pounding semi-paved, gravel, and dirt roads around their quaint town as the beginning of summer—and their first step toward the end of a rainbow shaded in bruises and blood—drew near, Sensei Baca pulled alongside the two in his silver Nissan Sentra. It had been a couple months since he’d seen Garret, and the string bean with incredible dexterity he remembered had added several layers of hardened muscle to his exterior.

“Come see me at the academy soon, Porra!” The Brazilian’s infectious smile was the exact same as the last interaction shared with Garret.

“Will do, sir.”

The next day, before Garret’s afternoon escape across county lines, he stopped at Baca’s Jiu-Jitsu Academy. Baca approached Garret with the same wide, toothy grin flashed from the previous day. With each step, it registered to Garret: one of his hands is behind his back. He readied himself for one of his instructor’s infamous, random tests—a pop quiz for combat.

When Baca’s missing hand came into view, so did a small box, which he handed to his student. Garret lifted its lid. Inside was a yellow and blue—the colors of Baca’s school—rash guard. In white lettering—across the front and back—were the words “All or Nothing.” 

Garret repeated, “very cool,” several times as he examined each side of the rash guard, hoping some further explanation would better steer his reaction.

 “Porra, I’m expanding my academy; I will offer No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai.” Baca continued, “My cousin, Paulo, is a three-time gold medalist in the No-Gi Global Jiu-Jitsu Games, and a friend of mine, Bak Ken, has told me his willingness to pass a rich education of stand up down to my students.”

“This is fantastic!” Garret brought the rash guard back into view and asked, “What does any of that have to do with this?”

“That’s now your nickname, Porra. There is no gray with you, it’s either black or white. If I didn’t add some training other than Gi Jiu-Jitsu, I’d probably never see you again,” Baca chuckled. “It’s important you continue commuting—until our classes grow—Downtown for the time being, but maybe you can talk some of their guys into the quiet life and they could teach a seminar here.”

Sensei Baca’s support fueled Garret with the confidence to dismantle his upcoming opponent and march through every warm body placed before him.

Garret bowed at his Sensei, tightened the imaginary belt around his waist, and thanked him with a gracious, “Oss!”

Prompted from Fantango’s One Word Challenge: https://fivedotoh.com/2019/12/21/fowc-with-fandango-rash/.