You never forget the first time you knock a grown man out. It’s a strange kind of thing that sticks with you, like losing your virginity, but somehow more satisfying. I was twelve. My father was getting ready to fight The Guv’nor, the hardest man, and biggest name on the London unlicensed boxing scene.
Dad thought caravan living was too luxurious for his fight preparation. He had to be granite for the 300lb Guv’nor. To Dad that meant sleeping rough and soaking his hands and face in brine like the old timers did. He’d smash a tire with a sledgehammer and grit his silver teeth with every punch that buckled the makeshift heavybag he hung from a tree.
Sleeping rough in the Irish midlands on a pile of straw is a hell worse than Dante himself could have dreamt of. It’s bone cold and soaking wet from the overnight frost. The fear that you’ll die in your sleep keeps you awake. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
It was my job to beg a farmer for dry hay for Dad to sleep on. He need something warmer to wear, so I nicked a heavy sweater from a townie’s clothesline on the way to the farm, then eyed a blanket that I’d grab on the way back.
The farmer was a pork faced fat bastard. He knew what I was before I even opened my mouth. He had perfect Gypsy radar. My short-cropped crow black hair, sky blue eyes, dirty jeans and bootleg trainers, just screamed, “Tinker”.
“If you could spare any hay, there are four children that need it for sleeping. You can see, the ground’s nearly frozen, and that’s no way for a child to sleep.”
“No fucking way for a child to sleep. It’s pathetic, that’s what it is. Your parents should be ashamed of themselves bringing children into this world without the means of caring for them properly. You’d be better off—“
I never got his gem of advice. Being shorter, it was easy for me to up-jab his throat. He didn’t expect it, so there was no way to defend it. It’s a complete shock if you’re not used to that sort of thing.
He held his neck like he was strangling himself. Throat punching is pure bareknuckle boxing. Gloves are not meant to protect the boxer’s brain; they just prevent broken hands so you can fight another day. When you’re fighting without gloves, you want to hit soft areas like the throat and the stomach and avoid busting your hands on the man’s chin or forehead, which are the primary targets of a gloved boxer.
The farmer grabbed a hold of me. The fucker was strong, but not an experienced fighter, so his strength was useless. He rag dolled me around, not really knowing what to do. I knew what to do. Like a savage, I bit his nose, creating some distance for myself to pound his ribs. I wasn’t strong enough to hurt a grown man that way. He got off a punch of his own that burst my nose like a tomato. Eyes filled with tears, blood and snot ran down my face; he had me but he didn’t know enough to finish me.
I struck his Adam’s apple with a vertical fist. He gurgled. This time I threw a short left to the body; and just like dad would do: I pressed the punch through him, like I was reaching in and touching his liver.
Liver shots are a funny thing. You get hit flush on the liver and the pain shuts your body down like temporary paralysis. Your mind is fully aware, but you’re on the ground writhing in pain, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Seconds feel like hours. It’s worse than being knocked out the traditional way where your brain rattles in your skull and turns the lights out like a blown fuse. A well-placed liver shot knocks the fight out of any man.
I came back to the camp with the straw, a jumper, a blanket, a broken nose and a story for dad. He said, “good man, son.”