Hard Road

We stood behind the drawn curtain at the top of the stairs, Alex in front with Doc and myself behind and slightly to either side of him, and listened as the ring announcer began his spiel. Alex was bouncing from one foot to the other and breathing noisily through his nose while I massaged my hand and Doc stood as still as a statue. Behind the closed door of one of the numbered rooms behind us Kofi lay in wait, the hometown hero getting the honour of the second introduction.
 
“Alex,” Doc said quietly as the buzz in the arena grew steadily louder, “you’re making me tired just looking at you.”
 
“Then it is a good thing you are not the one fighting,” he replied without looking back. The constant movement was giving me motion sickness. “I am tired of being held back. It is time for me to be unleashed. What is taking so lo—?”
 
He was cut off by the initial guitar strings of Hard Road by Sam Roberts booming out of the speakers in the arena, followed closely by the curtain being pulled back by a brunette ring girl dressed in impossibly tight red shorts and bikini top. She flashed us a dazzling smile and turned to lead the way down to the ring as the crowd rose to its feet.

Alex moved to the edge of the top step, surveyed the packed arena slowly, and then began his descent as the first line of the song played. An icy shiver snaked its way from the base of my spine to the top of my head as I followed in his wake.
 
Feel, feel it grow
In your mind
In your mind
Life is how you live it
Through time
Through time
And there’s no desert sun
That is hot enough to feed your fire…
 
A few fans reached out and slapped Alex on the back as he passed by, offering words of encouragement to go along with the polite applause coming from the rest of the stands. There was no hatred for Alex in those people; they simply wanted the other guy to win. There were more inappropriate comments directed at the ring girl than at the fighter she was leading as we continued our slow progress.
 
… and the sun dies until its reborn
But there’s no road
That ain’t a hard road
To travel on

 
“Good to see Cara hasn’t lost her musical touch,” Doc yelled into my ear. I smiled as I saw more than a few heads in the crowd begin to nod along to the song.
 
“You’d almost think she had a good role model in the house growing up,” I called back.
 
“Yeah, almost.”
 
Got lost on the way
But you found the road again
Stay true to your friends
Cause they’ll save you in the end…
 
I thought that Alex hadn’t been listening to the lyrics, that he was completely wrapped up in his thoughts and emotions surrounding the imminent battle, but when he glanced back at me after that line and smiled I knew I’d misjudged him once again. I returned the smile and began to think that maybe I should arrange a meeting between DJ Spike and Cara to discuss possible career paths.
 
There must be something in the air
In the air
Some kind of answer to my prayers
To my prayers
Some kind of answer to my prayers
Been dying since the day I was born
Cause there’s no road
That ain’t a hard road
To travel on…
 
We reached the ground floor and ascended the metal ring steps, the ring girl sitting on the middle rope to give us more space to enter between it and the top rope. Alex went through first and strode confidently to the middle of the ring as Doc and I remained in the corner.

He shadow boxed in time with the music for twenty or thirty seconds before performing a deep bow to each side of the arena as the applause grew steadily louder. Alex allowed a wide smile to appear on his lips before strafing around the ring in a wide circle.
 
… And you try to find a love that'll see you through your darkest days
And her soft brown hair is as long as the Canadian highway…
 
Alex didn’t pause in his laps around the ring but he still managed to catch my eye in order to give me a wink. Doc chuckled softly but managed not to say anything.
 
“Don’t start with me, old man.”
 
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” he replied as he took in the scene around us like a child in a toy store. “I suppose whatever that’s about is the reason you’re not interested in another late night rendezvous with the racy reporter?”
 
“I thought you weren’t going to start?” He held up his hands in mute apology but was unable to put away his smile. “And her hair isn’t quite as long as the song implies. But I imagine you’ll meet her soon enough, if things continue on as they have been.”
 
“Well that is welcome news to these old ears of mine,” he said before returning his attention to Alex. “I do believe that young man has enough nervous energy to power the entire island. We should put him in a hamster wheel or something.”
 
There must be something in the air
In the air
There must be something in the air
In the air
There must be…
 
The music faded down to a whisper before going completely silent. Alex finally joined us in the corner, not the least bit out of breath. As he stood facing us, calm finally began to return to his body and a relaxed smile let me know that he’d returned to at least the neighbourhood of normal. Then The Killer’s entrance music hit and all heads turned to the curtain at the top of the stairs.
 
A second ring girl, this one blonde and equally skimpily dressed as the first, pulled back the curtain with a flourish to reveal the menacing outline of a hooded Kofi Agyeman. He let the first few lines of the song play out before moving into the spotlight and raising his arms above his head to wild cheering from his loyal fans. It took me a few moments to recognize the song but when I did I had to shake my head in disgust.
 
“What?” Doc asked, catching the movement out of the corner of his eye.
 
“The song is called Let’s Get Dirty,” I said with a sigh. “Appropriate, no?”
 
He didn’t bother to reply as the crowd began to stomp their feet in time with the beat of the remixed and heavily edited Redman track. Kofi and his crew took each step in time with the beat, like jerky toy soldiers marching to war. The crowd only fed off of this and their thudding feet shook the ring beneath us. All in all, it was quite the impressive entrance.
 
They joined us in the ring and it was Kofi’s turn to stand in the middle of the canvas. He threw back his black hood and nodded his head along to the music, an ugly sneer painted on his face like carefully applied makeup. As the music began to fade the crowd took up a chant, quiet at first but growing and expanding until it filled the entire arena.
 
“Kofi! Kofi! Kofi!”
 
They didn’t quiet down until the ring announcer was halfway through thanking the evening’s sponsors. Sensing that the crowd was ready for blood, the slender man hurried through the final introductions before escaping the ring and taking his seat next to the timekeeper in the front row.

Then it was time for the final face to face in the middle of the ring as the referee gave Alex and Kofi his final instructions. Then, in a flash, Alex was back in our corner, Doc was shoving the mouth guard into place, and Doc and I were making our exits, leaving Alex in there on his own. I wanted to slow things down, to have more time to tell Alex everything he needed to hear, to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything crucial.
 
But then the bell rang and the fight was finally on.

The End

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