Excerpt from CH3: She Who Laughs Last
The Absolute Best
The bell rang out loud and clear and every apprehensive thought vanished from Dempsey’s mind. The crowd was still screaming, but it sounded faint and distant. Instead, Dempsey heard his own rhythmic breathing and the scratching sound his wrist tape made when it brushed against his leg.
He knew things wouldn’t go smoothly ten seconds into the fight.
Toasty charged out of his corner with purpose, his knees bent as if to shoot for a double leg takedown. Reacting instinctively, Dempsey by put his hands on Toasty’s shoulders and pushed his hips backwards. He sprawled perfectly, but Toasty was feigning. Toasty hit him with a hard open palm stiff-arm that snapped Dempsey’s head backwards as he scrambled to his feet. The blow landed flush on Dempsey’s eyebrow. Instantly, warm blood dripped down Dempsey’s face and into his eye, impeding his vision.
Dempsey shot in for a takedown of his own but was blocked. Backing up, he wiped blood from his eye and shot in again, like a mongoose going after a snake. Again he was blocked. Toasty expected him to shoot, and was ready to sprawl every time. The only way to get the fight to the ground was with the element of surprise.
Dempsey went into the guard position and leaned forward, breaking away and kicking Toasty off. Toasty stood and went to grab Dempsey around his waist for a belly-to-belly suplex, but Dempsey drove him into the turnbuckle of the ring instead. As Dempsey tried to take Toasty down, Toasty grabbed the ropes.
“Let go of the ropes!” hollered the referee. Toasty cursed and released his grip.
Dempsey whipped out a stiff kick, slamming into Toasty’s ribcage under his left arm. Grinning, Toasty ate his pain as he caught the kick. Ignoring the easy opportunity to take him to the mat, he stepped forward and pounded his right fist into Dempsey’s solar plexus.
Bile stung Dempsey’s throat and crept up his oesophagus. He fought down the urge to vomit in front of twenty thousand people. This was not going to be a shoot between gentlemen, but he was OK with that.
He already had Toasty’s timing down.
Toasty was a scrapper and a tremendous fighter, but he did everything full throttle. He made his way on brute force and heart, and it was evident that he wanted to beat the will to win out of Dempsey before they went to the mat.
Unpredictability when fighting, just as in war, was always the best strategy, Dempsey thought. Toasty expected him to shoot, so Dempsey faked a takedown, and when Toasty sprawled backwards with his head low, Dempsey turned his body and swung his palm with an upward hook into Toasty’s nose. It exploded with blood.
The crowd fell silent, and for the first time since the bell rang out in the arena Toasty was nervous. He staggered back. The referee stopped the action briefly to check the damage to Toasty’s nose. Toasty waved off the ringside physician, but the referee insisted.
“Oh yea, that’s a break,” said the doctor, looking Toasty seriously in the face. “Are you sure you want to continue?”
“Damn sure,” said Toasty through gritted teeth, his bright blue eyes contrasting shockingly with the vivid red. Blood streamed from his nose into his mouth and onto his chest as he charged in.
Dempsey got low and wrapped both hands around Toasty’s waist, spinning him against the ropes. He let loose with a slurry of heavy punches, one of which connected with Toasty’s liver. Toasty gasped and leaned against the ropes.
Like a baseball player sliding into the base, Dempsey slid forward and seized Toasty’s ankle. He wrapped his legs around Toasty’s thigh and brought him
down to the mat. Swiftly, Dempsey stuck the toe of Toasty’s wrestling shoe into his armpit and twisted him into a heel-hook.
The sound was sickening; it reminded Dempsey of the sound of tearing a chicken leg from its body. Toasty cried out in pain and for the first time in his life, Dempsey knew Toasty was vulnerable. He continued to put pressure on the ankle, turning it in an unnatural angle. Trying to break the hold, Toasty put the heel of his free leg on the back of Dempsey’s thigh and pushed hard. The sweat on Toasty’s leg made the escape easy. It was only then Dempsey realized why Toasty had warmed up so much backstage. He wanted his skin slippery, and his joints loose, for moments like these.
Toasty got to his feet quickly. When Dempsey tried to rise, Toasty drove his knee into the side of his head. The crowd reacted to the illegal shot with a collective boo, but the referee didn’t seem to care. Toasty jumped on top of Dempsey and straddled his chest, hitting him with shot after shot, digging his knuckles into Dempsey’s ribs and kidneys. When Dempsey tried to cover his ribs with his elbows, Toasty worked over his head and face with open hand palm shots harder than any punches Dempsey could remember.
Dempsey felt consciousness slipping and he turned his head away. Before his eyes closed for what would have been the last time that match, he saw Aaron in his corner. Aaron was calm and composed, mouthing something. Dempsey made out two words.
Dempsey felt himself relax, oddly at ease with the situation. He now felt little pain as punch after punch landed on his head and body. Putting his hands against Toasty’s waist, he pushed towards the arena lights with everything he had. Toasty stopped swinging and tried to correct his balance, but it was too little, too late. Dempsey shoved him over and stood. The crowd roared with approval of this last-minute show of courage.
The incessant buzzing in Dempsey’s ears finally stopped and he could hear Aaron over the crowd. “He’s getting tired, he can’t breathe through that nose. Shut him down now. He’ll kill ya he gets the chance!”