Send out the despised.
They’re calling for her.
Send the dark horse. The rabble. Send the underdog.
Is she a long shot?
Maybe. The sports columnists believe it, anyway. But they eat up that Cinderella stuff. They love her long neck and her pauper’s story.
Is she beautiful?
I don’t speculate. I don’t appraise her grace or her appearance. It’s not my place to say whether she turned out right. She is what she is.
I made her.
Once, I was Buck Etten, international light-heavyweight champion, three-time belt-defender, spokesman and fight promoter for Torment Entertainment. I was a legend.
She was nothing. She was an orphan, crouching in the gutter. But then, everyone was nothing once.
I found her in one of the favelas when I was studying jitz in Rio. She was playing in the street. I gave her a steel coin and she thanked me. Her hair was cut short to keep the fleas off and I thought she was a boy.
In the sports columns and on the fight cards, they call her the Last Duchess. Cold Princess. Ice Baby. If the nicknames bother her, she doesn’t mention it. She folds the paper shut and reaches across the table for the milk. She doesn’t say much.
She doesn’t give interviews. The press writes filler copy about her shyness. On the pre-fight tapes, she never talks trash or brags about her takedowns. She just sits in her folding chair and stares into the camera.
She says, in the privacy of our gym, “I don’t want to be famous.”
But I know better. Everyone in this business wants some glory—some kind of recognition—even just a little.
I’m not pretty-looking. I know the terrain of my face. I was there in the ring when Arnofski the Destroyer went down, but first he cracked my cheekbone. I took the belt from Big John Turman, smiling blood through broken teeth. I’m well-acquainted with the shape of my ears, pulpy with ruined cartilage, my dented nose. She doesn’t shrink from me.
When I first presented her, she fought in vacant warehouses. She fought girls two weight classes up. She did it for me, but she couldn’t have bested them all if she hadn’t wanted it. A little?
Tonight, she’ll catapult toward the greatness. She’ll vault that last hurdle—a big, rawboned beast called Marta Gregg, and when she stands in the center of the cage, with the belt raised above her head, the announcer will put his mic in her face and she will look out at the crowd and smile as they say my name. They’ll say, this is my finest student, and she’s done me proud.
Undefeated is a fragile word, like spiderweb or seashell. A temporary state. Contenders cling to that promise as long as they can hack it, and then one day it leaves them bloody on the mat. I know it only too well. I’ve felt my iron grip falter and then, let go. She has never let me down.
The music changes and other one comes out, loping like an ox, features heavy, seething with the blunt rage of combat. But not my girl. She is the valkyrie in attending, standing on a sharp precipice. She knows my tricks, but more, she has her own private genius. She knows the mysteries of joints and bones. Every position is another angle from which to break someone. You can’t hold her down. You can’t submit her. Other girls snort and plunge like free-range cattle. She is a lynx.
She steps onto the mat and pauses, feeling the vinyl with her toes. She takes her corner, shifting from foot to foot, but it’s not the taut fidgeting of nerves. She is not considering Marta “The Maelstrom” Gregg. Her only concern is the official, in his black gloves. The moment when his hand comes down means everything to her. I mean everything to her.
The floor manager is waiting for the signal. He slams the gate and shoots the bolt.
I stand in the refuge of her corner and white-knuckle it, wait for fame to love her back.
That’s my daughter.