Ran So Hard

By Avi Steinberg
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Feb. 20, 2009

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Tal indeed appears tired; Nakash, on the other hand, seems to be storing up his energy. All this talk is boring him. He stands up, paces, gazes across the press conference room at his opponent, but quickly loses interest. Instead he turns his attention to his own reflection in a full-size mirror, bobs around a bit, throws a little jab. The man wasn't kidding. He's itching to climb into the ring.

•••


When it comes to fighting, Nakash's family story is familiar. His mother--a "typical Jewish mother," he concedes-doesn't like seeing him in the ring. His father enrolled him in Thai boxing when he was 10. He didn't want to do karate, the popular martial art in Israel at the time, because it was too hands-off. Both then and now, Nakash likes to mix it up body to body, in close combat. He's made a career of it. Nakash is in charge of training Israel's combat soldiers and intelligence field agents in krav maga, a martial art developed in Israel. Krav maga, as Nakash explains, is crucial to combat missions that take place in civilian settings.

Nakash's tattoos are pious. The Biblical Hebrew proclamation of communal faith, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord, our God, is one" is etched into the nape of his neck, the letters shaped into a Star of David. To accompany this public display, a statement of private faith from Psalms written in traditional Hebrew calligraphy starts under his upper left arm and out of sight: "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death," and continues under his right arm, "I shall not fear evil, for You are with me."

On a normal Friday night, Nakash has Sabbath dinner with his family. He keeps kosher and respects the ancient traditions transmitted to his family in Israel by his Moroccan and Iraqi grandparents.

•••


Friday, September 12th is not a normal Friday night. Instead of sitting at a table with his family and his fiancee, Nakash is thousands of miles and an ocean away, backstage at the Blue Horizon, sitting quietly on an examination table in a small cubicle thinking about Larry Robinson.

The scene in the locker-room is chaotic. Promoters, wannabe promoters and free-floating boxing dudes jostle each other and talk game to reporters. Guys in sunglasses and three-piece suits with names like "Sporty" hand out business cards. Trainers, doctors, cut-men and blue-blazered boxing officials poke and prod the fighters, who are used to having their bodies treated as semi-public property. Boxers in full, shiny regalia bounce to pounding rap beats, tassles flouncing about their boots. Grizzled old fighters with canes whisper into their ears.

Nakash has no use for pump-up routines. He's placid. Tal is another story. He's pacing madly and mildly freaking out. He sits and taps his feet and then jumps to his feet and squeezes a water bottle into Nakash's mouth.

"Keep your hands up," he says. "You've got to be first to strike. First, first, first."

Then Tal drifts back into the cubicle and throws a combination of punches into the air as though he himself were about to stare down Robinson. Nakash paces slowly outside of the cubicle, exercising his jaw and tapping the wall with his gloves.

With a few minutes remaining before the fight, Team Nakash--which consists of two ring-side attendants in addition to Tal--don Phillies caps. Tal wraps a worn Israeli flag around his shoulders. One of the other team members, Michael Harris--who happens to be marketing director for the Phillies--hoists a large Phillies flag. The team stands in formation, flanking Nakash, prepared to head out through the crowd and into the ring.

Suddenly a man sporting a fire-engine red shirt, a black bandanna hanging from his neck bandit-style, a gaudy faux-diamond belt-buckle and matching be-blinged glasses bursts into the locker room surrounded by a well-heeled entourage. This is Simon "One Punch" Carr. Though he's not on the ticket on tonight, a fighter is never off-duty. He's got big words for everyone.

"I want you, Robinson!" he shouts and points across the room. "You on my wish list!"

Robinson is holed up in his cubicle. One Punch takes this as a cue to continue.

"Sign the contract," he shouts, almost jumping out of his shoes. "Sign the contract! I'm gonna take you down, brother -- I'm gonna knock you out! I'm gonna knock you out and then I'm gonna knock this guy out and send him back to Iz-ra-el. I want both you guys -- first you, then you -- sign the damn contract!"

Tal looks distressed and actually tries to shush Carr. Nakash seems completely oblivious to the tumult around him. Finally, an official gives the signal and Team Nakash heads out of the chaos backstage into the chaos of the arena.

Nakash has been here before and gets a major ovation. He is developing a following. Standing in corners already soaked with blood, sweat, and water from the night's previous fights, the boxers gear up. Robinson wears black trunks and long, blade-shaped sideburns; Nakash is in black trunks embroidered with a white Star of David. Eddie Cotton, who is wearing purple latex gloves, is the ref. The guys at the press table confer on how to spell 'Tel Aviv'. The bell tolls, the talk ends.

After a moment of dancing and jabbing for measurement, the two punchers come out firing. They exchange some serious hooks. Robinson unleashes a flurry of lefts, culminating in a nasty but missed upper cut. They pull back. Nakash lands a hard left. They break again. More wild swings and then, at once, they come at each other again. Robinson misfires on two giant hooks, a left and a right, over the head of a crouching Nakash and then, reeling from his own shifting weight, drops his hands towards his chest and tilts his chin out slightly.

Big mistake. Nakash springs forward and fires a short left hook, punctuated by an even shorter right to the body. Robinson's knees buckle. He falls face first. Then he bounces on his right side and flips flat onto his back. Recovering slightly, he gives referee Cotton a dazed and forlorn look. At the count of six Robinson makes a heroic effort and pulls himself to his feet, but his legs are pure goo; he falls backwards onto the ropes.

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