Why Can't We Be Friends? - My Big Fight Experience

(Me with Spike) I was encouraged to write this post by Joe and Dave. So props to them first off. If you didn't know (and why would you?) I box to stay fit. I absolutely adore it. Most people see the gym as a chore - I get excited on the days I know I'm going to the MMA Clinic. I took up boxing three years ago. I went to see Stewart Dollery (Cork's best physio) to fix my groin, which I'd torn asunder playing football. During one of our sessions he mentioned that he was opening an MMA gym, and told me to take it up. I'd always wanted to try boxing. One of my all time top 5 sporting heroes is Steve Collins, and him beating Chris Eubank left an indelible mark on my young brain. Even before that, I remember as a 9 year old jumping around my living room screaming with joy when Michael Carruth won gold in Barcelona '92. I'd always wanted to do it. But I didn't. And here's why. I was scared to. Genuinely. I had this impression that I would walk up to a gym, they'd laugh at me, some guy would beat the shit out of me, and I'd go home crying. What business did I have in a boxing gym? I was a fat short dude who'd never been in a fight in his life. A boxer I most certainly was not. I remember voicing those concerns to Stewart (there's something about a guy intensely massaging your groin area that makes you open up, even to a relative stranger), and I'll never forget his response. "Fuck that, boy. You'll be grand." And that was all I needed to start boxing. My first coach was Hicham. He was an affable Parisian, and his enthusiasm rubbed off on me immediately. I'd played Gaelic football, hurling and football all my life, but this was different. I'd come home from training with every muscle in my body sore. I had pains in muscles that I didn't even know I had. Hicham pushed us hard, but I loved it. About a year after I started I fought for the first time. I won a narrow decision in a battle with Stuart O'Riordan, and I loved the experience. So I said I'd do it again. This time though was more about me getting fit. I had ballooned a bit before Christmas, so I decided to fight in order to get my weight down. I tipped the scales at 85 kilograms on New Year's Day. It was a bit of a wake up call to be honest. And with the ginger strands of my beard I was starting to resemble Gimli from the Lord of the Rings. Not an attractive look. So I took to training 4 or 5 times a week, and eating a healthier diet. Chips and chocolate went out the window in favour of eggs and chicken. Pints of Beamish for pints of water. The weight started falling off instantly - within four weeks I'd dropped 6KGs (just under a stone). Six weeks later I was down another 6. I got down to 73KGs and my weight loss plateaued, thanks I think to putting on more muscle. I was feeling good, looking good, and I was ready for war. A week before the fight though my opponent got injured in training. It happens - it's a combat sport (that being said I've never been injured from boxing. However I have a laundry list of injuries from my football days). I was close to pulling out myself then, as I had trained for the last two months with this guy in mind. It was an evenly matched fight, we were both of the same standard, similar height, weight and reach. It would have been fun. Stewart though told me not to worry, he'd find someone for me. He text me on Monday. "Got an opponent for ya". "Great, who?" "Ben" Shit. Ben Sheehan is one of the MMA Clinic's rising stars. He's a very talented athlete and is going to be a big star in Irish MMA in the near future. What business do I have getting in there with this guy? "Yeah go on, ok" (Post fight with my opponent Ben) I'm watching the text send, wondering what the hell I've gotten myself in for. Wondering why I sent it. Why I didn't say "thanks but no thanks" and phone for a pizza. I turn up for training on Monday, and tell the lads that I have a new opponent. The verdict is unanimous. "The dude's a beast" "He's super fit" "He hits hard" "I like lamp" "Watch out for his right hand" Shit. Before long, it's fight night. It's a strange feeling before the show starts. All the fighters are in the venue, some are chatting, others eating, a few are napping. Others step into the ring, sizing it up. I remember this feeling from my school play days - waiting for the crowd to fill up, nerves building, trying not to burn too much energy on nerves. Unlike my school play days though, I know in a few short hours I'm going to get hit in the face. Quite a lot. And it will hurt. I try not to think about it. I keep myself busy throughout the night to take my focus off my nerves. I help Clara (one of our wonderful coaches) to corner a few of the lads. Basically hold a towel and pass her a bottle of water in between rounds. But it keeps me distracted. I'm the 9th fight on the card. I watch the fights fly by, my date with destiny fast approaching. My heart rate is flying up, and I'm as nervous as all hell. 6 fights are down. I head to my dressing room and get ready. I put on my boots, I wrap my hands. I put my mitts on, my old friends. We've been through a lot. I need a new pair. But I'm attached to them. Every time I put them on, it's like meeting an old friend. We instantly hit it off. Within seconds they're not my gloves any more. They're just a part of my body. Cian warms me up. "One-two and move". BAM BAM BAM. "AGAIN". BAM BAM BAM. Three movements. Left hand, right hand, move. BAM BAM BAM. "SIX THREE TWO" he shouts. Right uppercut, left hook, straight right. BAM BAM BAM. Move. Hands up. Chin down. BAM BAM BAM. I'm ready. Or am I? I don't even know. Lisa is running things behind the scenes. "Be ready in four minutes Roar". I nod. Cian holds up the pads again. "One-two and move". I take a drink of water. Gum shield goes in. I bounce on my toes. Another drink of water. Lisa comes back in. "Let's go". Shit. Something happens to me though as I step through the door. It's something I've never experienced before. Not even in my last fight. I feel like I've stepped out of my body, and I'm watching myself. I'm watching this guy wait for his music to play, I watch him swagger to the ring. This isn't me. I am of course familiar with the term "out of body experience". I'd always thought it was bullshit to be honest. Not any more. 100% focus. 100% determination. Jamie slaps me in the face, an odd tradition we've developed over the past few years before we both fight. I'm in the ring and Clara puts on my head gear. I'm ready. I meet Ben in the centre of the ring. We touch gloves. Donie the time keeper rings the bell. It's on. It's tentative at the start. A feeling out process as we trade jabs. Ben hits me. It hurts. I hit him. It barely registers. Everything I've been taught goes out the window as Ben marches forward with the determination of a Terminator. He hits me with a vicious right hook that lands behind my ear. It fucks up my equilibrium and I wobble. He hits me again. I fall. Shit. "One. Two. Three" I hear the referee start his count. I'm on my knees. Gasping for air. I'm trying to make sense of what happened. I can't. I must now decide to stay down, or get up and take more punishment. "Four. Five. Six" I could just stay there. The fight would be over, I could go get a beer. A beer sounds good. Stay down Roar. "Seven. Eight" Roar doesn't stay down. I watch him get up. The referee comes over. "Are you ok to go on?" I nod. "ARE YOU OK TO GO ON?" "Yes", I respond. Not believing the sound that came out of my mouth. Did I really just say that? Ben and I meet in the centre of the ring. He hits me again. And again. I catch him once or twice. And mercifully, Donie rings the bell to end the first round. 60 seconds of a breather. Clara takes out my gumshield gives me water. "Straight punches Roar. Your hooks aren't landing. Straight punches." I nod. My gumshield goes back in. "Seconds out, round 2" Our MC John McHale gets us underway again. I land a few punches and I gain a bit of confidence. I give a better account of myself, but Ben's shots are still landing, and they hurt. He gets me up against the ropes and the punches rain down. I'm taken aback by the ferocity, the accuracy, the power. Donie rings the bell. Just one more round, Roar. I can't breathe in between rounds. I think back to my yoga classes, my instructor Fiona telling me to fill my lungs. "Inhale... and.... exhale fully". I try. It doesn't work. I'm still gasping for air. Clara gives me my instructions. "Hands up, move, don't just stand there." I nod. My gumshield goes back in. "Seconds out, round 3" I'm breathing out my ass as I walk towards Ben, and we touch gloves. I have nothing left to give. Ben hits me. He swarms at me. The lactic acid in my arms is making them drop. He's hitting me and I can't do anything about it. He hits me hard, and I fall. Shit. The referee has seen enough. "That's it", he says, "go back to your corner". Clara takes off my headguard and I feel like crying. "I'm so sorry" I say to her as she hugs me. "Don't be", she says. The referee pulls me away from my corner and brings me to the middle of the ring, where Ben is announced the winner by John and the ref raises his arm. I remember what that feels like. It feels good. I'm happy for Ben, he fought his heart out and deservedly won. I hug him. "Thanks buddy, you're a beast. Great fight man. You're so so good." "Thanks Roar", he says. I jump off the ring and people come up to hug me, and tell me how good I've done. I feel like shit in the immediate aftermath. I feel like I've let everyone down who came to see me. I'm not allowed to feel like that for long. "I'm more proud of you right now than when you won the last time. Hold your head up high, you're a warrior" says Stewart, and it's exactly what I need to hear. I meet my family, and my fiance, wondering how the hell they managed to watch that. Hugs all round, plenty of congratulations from them all. I walk back to the dressing room and slump on a chair, absolutely exhausted. Physically and mentally. I'm back in my body by now. Did I really just do that? I have no time to sit around and feel sorry for myself. My buddy Dave fights in the headline bout. I help him get ready, and I walk behind him with his title belt on the way to the ring. He loses a close bout, but I'm proud of him, he fights really well. I go back to my dressing room and get changed out of my smelly gear. It's over. It's done. I fought, and I fought well. I was beaten by a better opponent, and I can live with that once I gave 100%. And that I most certainly did. Would I do it again? Hell yeah. In fact, I'd encourage anyone to do it. Boxing has literally changed my life in the most positive way. I'm fitter, stronger, healthier, better because of it. And it's never too late to start. I took it up aged 27, and my biggest regret is not starting sooner. Even if you never fight, boxing will get you in better shape than anything else you'll do. In no particular order, I want to thank Stewart for putting it all together Clara for being in my corner Cian for warming me up My boxing coaches Darren, Clara and Nick, my Muai Thai coach Kieran and my strength and conditioning coaches Stewart and Sean Lorna for pushing me Ben for stepping up on late notice to ensure I still had a fight Devina, my fiance, sorry for putting you through that! Spike O'Sullivan, a champion inside and outside of the ring Everyone who came out last night to see me fight And all the fighters on the card, each and every one of them a warrior. I can't wait to do it again! Ruairi ANDY WILLIAMS!

More from Sport