Hot. Sweat and heat and hurt as fists fly, looking for an opening. Water slick under the plastic coated shin guards, fingers curled in her gloves. Her helmet is tight around her ears and forehead, squashing her cheeks around her mouthguard, which feels dry and heavy in her mouth.
The fight stops, both women pulled back to their starting position as they wait, fists raised, staring at each other until the centre referee drops their hand again. And it’s wash, rinse, repeat.
The other fighter stays in close. She’s older and more experienced, recognising that her opponent will want to use her legs and superior reach to gain points. So she cuts her off, jamming up her kicks before they can land, reaching over and under and around so all the other fighter can do is block, arms working frantically, elbows in tight, impact hard against her ribs. She will be bruised, later, but for now she barely feels a thing.
The fighter is pulled back to her chair, her mouthguard removed, helmet loosened. Her coaches crouch either side of her, both of them talking as one squirts water from a plastic bottle into her mouth. She nods at what they’re saying, but doesn’t really hear them. Her focus is all on the woman in the chair opposite, dark eyes staring back at her.
Time is called. Her helmet goes on, mouthguard in and she is back in the ring. And then it happens. The sensation she’s only experienced a handful of times before, a gift from the gods who govern such things. Everything slows and becomes crystal clear. As the other fighter comes towards her again she steps to the side, easily evading her punch and landing one of her own. It’s so easy it’s laughable. ‘Why can’t she see it coming?’ she thinks, only vaguely aware of her teammates cheering, the roar of the crowd.
Pulled back to starting position she feels calm, as though she is at the centre of a storm, pinpoint, absolute. The other fighter comes towards her, oh so slowly it seems, and she does it again. It is almost as though she has stepped outside herself, controlling things from a distance. A heightened place of awareness where is no fear, there is no pain. There is only step, evade, punch.
And she does it a third time. Her opponent is rattled. She has to change her stance, the way she approaches. And as she does so, the strange feeling is gone and the fight resumes as it was before, all sweat and noise and thudding impacts. Experience wins out, as it so often does, but the girl is elated as she goes back to her chair, teammates coming to hug her and offer congratulations despite her loss, for they have seen what happened. She is still dazed, feeling surrounded by a silver mist, the remains of the battle frenzy like mist over a green field, slowly dissipating.
It was the longest six minutes of her life.