I’m walking around the outside of the arena, dragging my fingers along the damp stone wall and kicking water up into the very humid nighttime air when I hit a puddle. I can feel the moisture making my hair frizz up like a halo around my head. It’ll be a mess of curls when I finally head inside.
The arena’s a big cylindrical building made of a dark, rugged rock and the windows that line the first floor are letting an artificial green light leak out into the street. It bounces pleasantly against the warm glow of the lamp posts and I reach my hand out to look at the green on my skin. I’m excited for that light -- it’ll help me focus.
I wander around the building for a while as people file in. When I start to hear commotion from inside, I know it’s time. I’m going to need to ease into the chaos with everybody else. Arrive late, and you have to do it all yourself (which is nowhere near as fun).
I pull my hair into the high pony-tail that I always wear for fights and head in.
The door knob is slippery in my hands and the AC hits me like a wall. The fight coordinators have to keep it cold for the crowds, of course, but everything on me is damp now and it’s all going to freeze. I decide I’ll have to let that sensation amp me up.
The main arena is already lined with people chatting and waiting. The big cage in the center of the room is already complete with the more eager fighters and spectators joking around wrapping their fingers around the wire.
I head to my right, to the box where the shoe-in fighters go to wait their turn and finally, I spot a familiar face.
Sophie’s up at the box with a clipboard jotting down details for a couple of boys in front of her. They’re built like lacrosse players and their neutral clothes stand out against the sea of black and piercings that’s standard for fight crowds like this: new faces.
I catch Sophie’s eye when she finishes with them and she waves me over with what can most aptly be described as a customer-service smile. She’s a hairdresser by day, probably uses that same smile with everyone. Tonight I’m grateful for that distant smile. Tonight I want to be around people who don’t know me.
I peer over people’s shoulders, half listen and half laugh at the jokes shouted out around me and mostly just enjoy the noise of the arena for the whole hour before my fight.
The announcer calls the next match over the speaker, “fight number 23: Em Lightbody and Jessica Lewis” he exclaims. His voice is professional and just as excited as it should be. As I make my way from the box to the rowdy mob around the cage, I try to decide if I’ve heard this announcer at a tourney before. My fight’s up next.
It always toys with my nerves to watch the fight before mine, so I spend the whole match focusing on how much I like this arena -- how in fights to come, I’ll miss the way these lights make everyone’s metal piercings glitter green.
“Fight number 24: Kin Malcolm and Nina Ortiz,” the decidedly new-to-me announcer voice booms and I shift my weight onto the very front of my feet. As I skip up to the platform, I hear Sophie holler from the box, ”let’s go Kin!” Her customer-service smile now replaced by something more vital. The whole group around her roars.
I fix my hair again and step into the cage. The arena becomes harder to see through the metal and mess of fingers wrapped around the webbing. In front of me is a pretty, brunette girl with her hair in a braid down her back. I realize immediately why they paired us together; she must be slow. To the untrained eye, we look like the same weight class but she’s more muscular than I am and carries weight in places I’m slender. With an advantage like that, we’ve been pitted against each other for two reasons; we look deceptively similar, which makes for a fun watch and, compared to me, she must be slow.
The buzzer sounds, fingers around us tug at metal in excitement and some part of me registers that Sophie is still yelling her support. Nina raises her firsts at eye level and ducks down low. I do the same, with less commitment. I let my feet step heavily over the mat -- maybe it’ll fake her out. She looks more confident suddenly (probably realizing her weight advantage) and she lunges at me with a jab. I duck, take a quick step around her right and throw my right elbow back without looking. I’ve hit her right under her right shoulder blade and she whips around, barely reacting. Then she’s on her right foot -- left -- right again, and I’m backing up. Another jab, I grab her wrist and pull her forward with all my weight and put my right leg out in an effort to trip her. It works, but I don’t want to get on the floor with her so I just stand there and watch. Weird move she makes next: instead of standing back up, she reaches out with both hands to grab my ankles (which would hurt if it worked -- my mind conjures up an image of my feet being pulled up and my head falling backwards onto the mat). She is slow though. Too slow. I dodge her hands -- by a lot -- and jump with both feet and a lot of pressure onto her back. She yells a bit and taps out.
The excitement of the fight makes my ears ring. The enthusiasts crowding the fence shake it fervently -- so fervently I suspect they thought Nina had an easy win in her hands. I try not to let crowd reactions affect me, but part of me can’t help but be glad I’ve proved them wrong. People clap my shoulders and holler in support as I make my way back to the box, where Sophie greets me with cheers and a rough shove on the shoulder. The newbies from earlier, clearly a few drinks in now, flank her on either side and look impressed.