Rough Mates of Mine

By David

I’ve been in a boxing ring twice. My career ended 1:1, both decisions coming as the result of a knockout. The first rumble was part of my initiation as a third former (freshman) at Wellington College. For American readers, “college” in New Zealand means high school. I was a Firth House boarder which allowed more time for harsher and more prolonged initiation rituals, all aimed at inflicting pain or humiliation or both. My task was to fight Brian, the biggest fifth former (junior classman) in the school, an expert rugby player and never beaten at boxing. Witnesses to the event told me that my predecessors had survived best by taking a few hits until their nose or some other site started to bleed. They had then fallen over and begged for mercy. They said that I would be well advised to do the same thing.

I am unsure whether or not I agreed with their plan. The idea of taking the first few hits had very little appeal. Anyway, on the first Friday of school I was taken to the Aero Club where most initiation ceremonies were performed. Gloves were fitted and a bell rang. Brian advanced across the ring. He was huge, muscles everywhere, my death in his eyes. I closed my eyes. Better not, I thought, bear witness to my passing. In a final act of defiance I swung my right arm as hard as I could.

I’m told it was the Aero Club’s best and cleanest punch. I’m told it landed square in the middle of Brian’s perfect face. I’m told Brian crumpled to the floor on his muscle bound bottom, clutching at the blood spurting from his aristocratic nose. I’m told this because I still had my eyes tightly closed waiting for Brian’s assault. When I did look, Brian was on the floor surrounded by distressed sycophants, concerned at how they would repair their hero so the teachers would not know. None of them spoke to me, afraid that their conversation may be taken as approval for what had just taken place. I took my gloves off and left determined to convey the impression of “no problem, just another day’s work”.

I’ve mentioned Kahui and Donald on Swimwatch before. They were my Te Reinga mates. We hunted together, swam together and ran cross country together. We had our share of success, winning the provincial high school team cross country championship, earning good money from selling deer and wild pigs and I swam for Hawkes Bay and won an Auckland provincial (state) championship. One activity we did not share was their passion for boxing. They were good; both New Zealand junior gold medalists. They trained most nights in the Pohataroa Station (farm) shearing shed. It was two miles from our homes. I used to run up there and do their dry-land and weight training. I stayed well clear of the ring though. They would have murdered me.

Their coach was local school teacher, Mane Mokomoko. He was a tough bugger who later fought for New Zealand in the Vietnam War. I pity any Vietcong who came across Mokomoko on a dark night. Being that I knew better than to fight Kahui or Donald, Mokomoko suggested I might like to box Mavis Stone. She was no push over, a tough and skilled fighter who had also won secondary school shot put titles. Eventually social pressure and Mavis’ assurance that she would go easy on me forced me to agree. I entered the ring, a bundle of nerves and contradictions: on one side, a woman intent and capable of causing me bodily harm, and on the other, a mother whose clear instruction was to never hit a woman.

As we closed I swear I never saw it coming. Mavis hit me with the force of a dozen Mac trucks. I do not know how many of you have read Mohammed Ali’s biography, but in it he describes the confusion caused by a hard hit. He likens it to entering a room filled with floating serpents, alligators and butterflies. I didn’t see any serpents but I was certainly locked in a pretty dark and small room at that moment. When the confusion cleared I was on my knees and my blood was drip, drip, dripping on to the shearing shed’s lanoline and sweat stained wooden floor. Mavis had won by a knockout in just nineteen seconds.

Mokomoko sent us home that night with the instruction that we had to hop the first mile on one leg and the second mile on the other leg. Donald and Kahui barely made it such was their glee at my puny performance. The next morning I was unsure whether my nose, legs or pride hurt the most. The twenty five mile trip to school was longer than usual as Donald and Kahui told each new passenger the story of last night’s training. Sometimes your mates can be rough buggers.