The Heimpel Files: ‘Fabio’s Lesson’

Here’s the latest Icelandic dispatch from Daniel Heimpel

?Oh his cherry was popped,? says Fabio from the corner of the ring. Blood sputters from my nose and my head is ringing. Fabio has been successful in teaching me an important lesson – you better move your feet, otherwise you?re gonna get wrecked.

The day before, I had been talking with Fabio about Ari, the other trainer at Reykjavik?s boxing gym. In one of Iceland?s first fights, after almost 50 years of being banned, Ari caught eight rabbit punches to the back of his head. His brain started bleeding and he was hospitalized for 3 weeks and pumped with morphine four times a day.

?A catastrophic injury, and that?s what happened to Ari, is very rare in amateur boxing,? Fabio said in his English accent. He was in Ari?s corner the night of the bludgeoning. ?What you have to worry about is attrition, getting punched in the head 100 times a day for 10-15 years. Well then you?ll have problems.?

In the gym the warm up starts how it always does when Fabio is running it. All 15 of us jump rope, and then run with weights in our hands. Run up some wood stairs with Fabio screaming and slapping on the wood railing. Punch the heavy bag. ?You messed up!? he yells ?Do 10 press ups!? Hold out weights at your sides and watch your sweat spatter the floor. Mock sparring. Parry. Slip. Feint.

?You two,? he says to the other American, 40-something with strong veiny arms, and me. ?Let?s do some sparring.?

I wrap my hands and put on the gloves. I put the mouthpiece in my mouth and wait.

I watch two light middle weights go at it. ?Put a second wave on your attack,? Fabio yells. He?s next to me at the base of the ring. He looks at me. ?What I mean by that is throwing your first combination, stepping forward while changing your angle and throwing a second combination.?

?Okay I say.? But when I move I feel like Frankenstein. I don?t change my angle. I walk forward, all my power coming from my arms. No strategy, just the hope that I?ll catch my opponent slipping – knock him down, lift my hands and victory. That?s what Fabio wants to get out of me.

The smaller guys finish.

?Okay Daniel, in the ring,? Fabio commands.

I slide under the rope and stand in the middle of the ring.

?David,? Fabio yells. And the guy who has been hitting the speed bag so steadily, jumping rope so nicely, steps in. He?s taller than me, not by much. He?s young, maybe 20, and his arms look decently strong. But it?s fine.

?David,? Fabio says. ?If he [me] lands some hard punches hold back your temper. And Daniel, listen to what I say, but don?t stop fighting unless I tell you to.?

All the sparring up to now has been light, just jabs.

David and I touch gloves. I walk in towards him. ?Frankenstein.? My right hand is a little low. Whop ? whop. My head is ringing. I lumber forward and throw some punches. Whop ? whop. I swing. Whop ?whop. I pull back and try to assess the situation. Whop ? whop ?whop ?whop. I?m reeling. I push him back. His head shakes. I swing. Whop-whop. I look down, and see the first drop hit the blue mat, big and purple. I feel it coming from my nose now. I swing, and my right glove glances off his head as he comes in. And we hug. I pull back. Red on his shoulder. Red on my shorts.

?Oh his cherry was popped,? Fabio says. The five fighters by the ring look at me. I smile. They smile.

?Usually we?d say keep on going. But this is Iceland,? Fabio says as he pulls paper towels from a dispenser next to the ring.

David and I touch gloves. I step down. Fabio helps me out of my gloves. The blood drips on my wraps and my hands. I walk up to one of the fighters; Dagar, I think his name is.

?It?s a good lesson,? he says. ?Now sparring won?t be the same.?

Nope. I better move my feet.

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