Boxing in Iraq

A early match in Iraq

A early match in Iraq

Two summers ago, a company of Marines, a platoon of Danish infantry, and a platoon of Army infantry stared into the desert of Iraq hoping for the hordes of ISIS to come running through the gates. 

It never happened.

The barren landscape these soldiers (I use this term to represent all) looked at day after day on post remained the same, while the bad guys taunted them with their mere existence a few kilometers away. While aircraft and artillery hit nearby targets, the soldiers staved off boredom.

Between the company headquarters and the sleeping area for the soldiers, a perfectly square 15ft by 15 ft concrete platform stood unused. 

This would become the home of Friday Night Fights.

Rank did not apply in this holy 'ring' of competition. A 19-year-old PFC could throw on a pair of gloves and challenge his team leader. The shit talker could be silenced by the unassuming Corporal. It was all fair game. Rifleman versus Mortarman, Sniper versus Machine Gunner. It didn't matter. All were equal once they entered the ring.

The ropes were the crowd. No Floyd Mayweather fighting here... if you ran, you were pushed back into the middle. Full frontal violence was encouraged, and aside from one sore loser, always ended in a manly embrace that can only truly be appreciated after you've been punched in the face. 

The boxing club started with a few soldiers with previous boxing experience. That experience ranged greatly, but it provided enough knowledge to start teaching others how to throw a jab, a hook, a strong cross. 

Others with no experience migrated to the training. We beg, borrowed, and 'acquired' more equipment. A ratty old heavy bag was erected. Gloves with most of the padding gone were cleaned up. We trained at night when it was cool, or during the day when the Iraqi summer sun beat down. 

Then came the fights.

The first was between experienced boxers. Even at the amateur level, boxing is beautiful to watch. They ducked and bobbed and countered for three rounds. It was awesome.

Soon, others were challenged. Some had been training... some just wanted to fight. It could be good natured, or it could be the way for two feuding roommates to settle a matter. 

My favorite was the infamous match between two Machine Gunners.

By definition, Machine Gunners are meatheads. They are generally big bodied and aggressive. They take pride in hauling the heavy weapons and heavy ammunition. The Machine Gunner is a beautiful creature. 

These two were easily the physically strongest at our little camp. Both were in the range of 220lbs - 250lbs. They were monsters of men, and also close friends. 

I can't quite remember how they were matched up. It was probably just the natural progression that the two biggest dudes must fight. 

So we trained. 

I trained one fighters nearly every night, and a Staff Sergeant with boxing experience (and close friend) coached the other. We often trained at the same time in opposite corners, glancing at each other to see what the other was working on. We sparred with headgear, although the real match wouldn't provide such protection. 

The match came. Everyone was there. Marines, Danes, and Army Soldiers stood ringside and sat on the top of nearby buildings. 

They came out swinging. The power of the punches was incredible. Soon, both faces were completely bloodied. Not like a little cut bleeding, but faces totally covered in blood. No one gave in. By the end, they could barely keep their hands up and seemed to just exchange blows. They fought hard to the end and embraced when the final bell rang. It didn't matter who won - It was a hell of a show. 

They hugged each other and left the ring as heroes for the day. It's one of my fondest memories of the Marine Corps. 

What's the point of this story? 

It represents everything that I hope LOD Athlete encourages. You don't need to fight and get your face bloodied - but you do need to compete. We had a gym full of rusted iron we had found, but you can only do so much in the gym before you grow bored of it. 

Compete. Put yourself in a position where you feel the butterflys. Train for the objective, whatever that may be and enter the arena of competition. Win or lose, you won't regret it.