From the Bank to the Boxing Ring

Scott Chaston

© Copyright 2024 by Scott Chaston

Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash
Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

My wife once told me that she admired the stark contrast between my work persona and home life demeanor. She was smart to avoid the word “façade”, but it undoubtedly fit on one end of that spectrum, or perhaps both. At work, I was the boss; elsewhere just a schoolboy with an inability to assert myself. Somehow still, at the age of thirty-one, I found myself descending the back-alley steps of the local boxing gym.

It was a Sunday morning and the gym had not been my first order of business. I’d just given an emergency presentation via teleconference to a room of worried bankers, insistent that the string of recent “runs” would soon reach their doorstep. With a calm demeanor, I talked the board chairman off a ledge and even worked a laugh out of him at the expense of my FDIC counterpart, who was due into the bank on Monday morning for liquidity testing. I’d ground my teeth down to nubs the night before, but not at the prospect of commanding a boardroom. It was the practice fight my boxing coach had set up that kept my mind occupied.

As the door to the gym closed quietly behind me, I walked the short hallway that separated our war room from a storage facility that remained vacant after the upstairs tenants had found a cheaper, more “up-to-code” storefront. The smell of mildew was an unwelcomed reminder of every early morning practice round and, perhaps more importantly, every missed block in my amateur fighting career so far. I set my bag down in the common area and entered the single stall bathroom to relieve myself for the third or maybe fourth time that morning. As I unbuttoned my white dress shirt and removed my cufflinks to reveal the litany of tattoos my mother so badly despised, I couldn’t help but think of Edward Norton in American History X, himself standing in front of a mirror, hand over a swastika tattoo on his chest – an unpleasant reminder of his evolving internal struggle.

Lacing my shoes was difficult as my hands trembled slightly from both the coffee I’d consumed and the adrenaline already pumping through my body. My coach greeted me with a jump rope and told me to get warm. We had three fights that morning, and she thought mine might be first. I skipped for nearly ten minutes before the other fighters arrived, battling THC-induced lethargy that had carried me through my first event of the day.

My opponent, Rishabh, was a twenty-something five-foot ten-inch, one hundred fifty-nine-pound four-year veteran. While I stood five-foot nine inches, one hundred sixty pounds (the extra pound attributed mainly to the prior day’s spicy chicken sandwich and fluffy biscuit chased by a strawberry soda), my year and a half of sparring experience left me utterly underprepared. I watched his coach and he hit mitts before the match in the corner of our gym. I introduced myself but offered few words. A southpaw, his straight left snapped with a speed that made me flinch. My normally weave-oriented style was preemptively replaced by one that lacked not just footwork but head movement as well. I hadn’t taken any steps, no bell had rung, but still I knew. I knew that all my practice, all my repetitions, all my preparation had been for nought. The adrenaline drained me of all energy, both realized and potential. My arms suddenly felt as though they were lined with lead, perhaps poisoned with it too, as every inch of my body tried to reject the actions I would inevitably take to reduce harm and, if possible, inflict it.

My fellow gym goers, Amy and Dan, introduced themselves to their respective opponents while Jess made small talk with their coach. Amy’s opponent, Danielle, was a one hundred eighteen-pound fighter we’d all seen at the last King of the Ring tournament. She fought with speed and a lot of heart, but she was matched to a much stronger opponent. She’d have that same issue today with Amy, who, at one hundred twenty-four pounds, could match my deadlift and nearly my bench press max as well.

Dan, who was our newest fighter, tried to engage with me. Anxiety stunted what little patience I already had for small talk. I ventured he was the type to talk more when he was nervous, and I wanted to be nice, I really did, especially since I was so recently the gym newbie, but I just didn’t have it in me that morning to give him more than grunts.

Scott! Headgear on,” Jess shouted.

I shook out both arms and prepared for battle. Rishabh and I stepped into the ring, he in the red corner and I in the blue, waiting for what would come.


The buzzer sounded, as is customary in gym settings rather than the traditional bell used for competitions. He moved forward spryly. I inched in a manner consistent with the two hundred fifteen-pound stature I sported back when I was drinking heavily and knew nothing about fitness toward his outstretched glove. Our gloves kissed and we each snapped back, weight seated low in our stances. Customarily boxers’ feet fit together like puzzle pieces, but his southpaw stance put our front toes mere inches from one another. He waved his lead hand like a cobra egged on by the flute of its charmer.

Get rid of that, Scott!” shouted Jess, my short-haired coach whose instruction I was not pleased to hear in the quiet atmosphere of this closed sparring session.

I batted his hand down and jabbed in, leaving some to the air while others – those that followed – met with the large “F” stitched into the center of his headgear. I circled left. That is one benefit to working with a southpaw. An orthodox fighter’s natural instinct is to circle left, but this would typically put one in line with his opponent’s power hand. With a southpaw, the left was not only ideal for foot placement, but kept space between the orthodox fighter’s face and the straight punch of the awkward-footed opponent.

Not too far left, Scott. You’re leaving too much space on the right.”

She was correct, but I have my way of fighting. My short, inflexible arms force me to find success in close with my opponent. By backing myself into the ropes or even into a corner, I could often tempt the other fighter to trap me. Quick hip motion typically allowed me to snap around, placing them in the corner, vulnerable. Jess does not like this move but was unable to coach me out of it.

These unsanctioned fights, or “smokers” as they’re called, are much like a moderately-priced Connecticut-wrapped cigar, fine but unsatisfying. With no judges there are no points. With no points there is no winner. The only way to declare yourself victorious is to render your opponent unconscious, which means these bouts of “practice” can quickly become feats of strength and bravado. I’d overheard Rishabh’s coach before the match saying he was to work on “not brawling so much.” I knew my six minutes in the ring would be hell.

Brawling” as it turned out, had different meanings for Rishabh and me. My desire to fight in close was not shared. His lead jab snapped at my gloves. With every in-step I took, he receded. My jabs were finding a home on the sides of his forehead, but my straight right met nothing but air. The head movement he had shown in his warmup was not as ginger when he was trying to pick his spots, but it was enough when used in conjunction with his deep-seated rear lean to evade my flurry.

Three, Scott! It’s open!”

It was, but Jess gave it away. I threw a sweeping front hook. Rishabh took two quick steps back and leaned with ease like Michael Jackson mid-performance. His retreating was already frustrating me. I lowered my hands half an inch, brushing sweat from my beard to the mat as I did. I rolled my eyes and gave a small shake of the head to express my dissatisfaction with Rishabh’s movement. Before I could reset he did exactly what I feared – he stepped forward a foot and snapped his left hand, a straight shot to my forehead just below the bridge of my headgear. My neck snapped back. My eyes went black for a moment.

I raised my hands and did the only thing I could think to do, stepped forward. Jabbing in, I threw a right hook, left uppercut, and straight right – four, five, two – miss, miss, miss. It was enough to put him on his heels. I continued on. Jab, jab, uppercut, straight – one, one, five, two – miss, miss, miss, miss. His back hit the ropes. He opened his left hip and tried to step closer to the corner. I took a wide step right and blocked him, finally face-to-face, millimeters separating his young, dark face from my ragged, nicotine-stained skin. I threw a left body shot, right hook, left uppercut, right uppercut – seven, four, five, six – hit, hit, block, hit. Finally! He was eating my glove. My green 16-ounce thumbless Stings were leaving prints on his face.

Rishabh tried once more to step left. He gave me a quick straight. I’d lined up too far to my right, forgetting he was a southpaw. I ate the straight, but it wasn’t enough. I followed him through the little space he’d created, tip toing like Snoop Dogg hearing David McCallum’s The Edge for the first time. I tapped him once with the jab to make sure my gloves still worked. Hook, hook, hook – three, four, three – hit, hit, hit. They weren’t clean but they would work.

That’s it, Scott,” Jess offered.

Of course that was it,” I thought, still angry at her suggestion to step closer to Rishabh’s power hand.

Don’t drop your hands on that hook.”

I did. I dropped my right hand when I was throwing the left hook. He snapped another straight. It was short but it landed. Square on the bridge of my nose – it landed.

EEEEEEHHHHHHH!” The buzzer sounded, ending the round.

Those first two minutes passed in the blink of an eye. That’s how it happens. The first is always the shortest. We tapped gloves and I turned toward my corner. Amy had slid a stool under the ropes as Jess climbed through, moving like a marionette with her bad back and knee keeping one straight line. She squeezed water from my bottle into my mouth.

You’re doing a good job circling left, but you’re going too far left. At some point you need to step right and let that straight go.”

I understood what she wanted, but there was no way I could step in front of his power hand just to make an attempt at landing my own. He could pull his back a lot faster than I could, giving him the opportunity to land two to my hopeful one.

Fifteen seconds!” yelled Dan, standing on a wooden box with my phone in his hands, filming.

Stand,” said Jess authoritatively.

She left the ring with a clumsy roll through the bottom rope.

Maybe he’ll only want to do two,” I told myself as I stepped forward.

We hadn’t officially agreed to anything. There was a chance this would be the last round.

EEEEEEHHHHHHH!” The buzzer sounded again, signaling the start of round two.

Jab in. Burn a few,” Jess offered.

I was burning everything.

You have to step right, Scott.”

I was not stepping right.

One, one, two,” she said, her voice was barely above a whisper. The gym was nearly empty. I threw three quick jabs – one, one, one. Two connected. Was Rishabh getting tired? He jabbed back just as quickly, two of two connecting.

He’s got a 100% success rate. My defense is shit,” I thought to myself.

I stepped forward. One, two, four – block, miss, miss. He backed up against the ropes, I gave him a flurry. Three, four, three, two, one. They all connected. He threw that short straight. This time I blocked it. He opened his stance again. I blocked him, eating another short straight in the process. He stepped back again, this time into the corner. Four, three, four, three. He was shelling. His only move was to press forward, pushing me, which he executed perfectly, following up with a short jab, which I caught under my arm. I threw my right while gripping firmly his arm firmly under my own. Rishabh leaned back and hooked my arm as well.

No holding!” his coach yelled.

We were both holding, but I assumed it was aimed at me. His coach turned to him, perhaps after seeing my expression of contrition.

No pushing. We came to box, Rishabh,” he said, extending his palms outward in a shoving motion while shaking his head.

We were positioned perfectly for me to see the clock. It’s a cardinal sin in boxing to take your eye off your opponent, especially to see the time remaining, but I needed to know. One minute.

We can jab our way out of this round,” I told myself.

I circled left, jabbing somewhat in Rishabh’s direction. He circled too, seemingly happy for the break. I could tell he was still trying to line up his right. My neck tingled thinking about catching one of those again.

It wasn’t Rishabh’s hands that impressed me, it was his head movement. It was finally back to its pre-fight form. He dodged, weaved, and ducked one shot after the next. Despite being praised for my own head movement at the gym, I often weaved one punch only pop up into another, likely stronger blow. Rishabh double-ducked my jab and straight, rhythmically rolling his head with his eyes still pointing straight up.

Control the ring, Scott!”

Jess’ instruction shot through the atmosphere of exhaustion both Rishabh and I had created near his corner. Jess hated when I was too close to the ropes or the corner, but with Rishabh’s constant retreating, I felt my only option was to lure him into me. I stepped to my left, brushing up against the ropes, slowly turning my back to the wall, from which hung an American flag, an odd decoration in the female-run below-grade gym. Rishabh saw me waiting for him on the ropes. Hesitantly he moved forward, fists up around his eyes.

He jabbed twice. I stiffened my neck, fresh from a recent MRI, and took his shots on the forehead. When he lunged forward with his straight left, I side-stepped, turned and lightly shoved myself in his direction, bumping him into the ropes with enough shoulder to make my move but not enough to get a warning from either coach. He turned to face me and shelled. I let another flurry go. One, two, three, four, three, four, eight, four. I was hitting him, but I wasn’t landing much – not cleanly anyway.

That’s it, Scott!” I heard Dan yell from behind my camera phone.

Keep him there!” Amy chimed in.

His gym-mates were shouting as well, but I didn’t recognize their voices and they therefore got lost in my adrenaline-fueled flurry. Jess wasn’t saying anything. She still wanted me in the middle, controlling the ring. I just don’t fight like that.

EEEEEEHHHHHHH!” The buzzer sounded off, ending another tough round.

Rishabh and I slapped gloves again and returned to our corners. I wiped my nose on my green leather fist and stared at it, my face throbbing. Blood.

Yeah, you got a little something leaking there,” Jess said, a little too happy about the situation.

That’s how coaches are. They think these moments make you tougher, better; make you hungrier. Maybe they do for some. In that moment I just wanted a dry shirt, a cup of coffee, and the Ian Flemming novel I was nearly through.

Jess poured a couple sips of water into my mouth before I raised a glove to tell her I was good.

You’re doing a good job of getting him up against the ropes, but then you’re getting too square. Remember he’s a southpaw. You’re used to squaring up and hitting heavy on the right. He’s catching you with that straight left every time. You need to work the center of the ring more. Jab, jab, step right straight. You’re setting it up, but you need to step closer to his left to get that two of yours off.”

Fifteen seconds,” Dan said quietly to Jess.

On your feet,” she told me.

I stood, hoping the third round would fly by faster than the previous two. Two minutes in the ring is an eternity when you’re tired. I looked at Rishabh. He was tired as well. I knew I could work him, but I couldn’t drop my hands. Tired or not, he’d land that straight left if it was open, and my head was still stinging from the last one he’d given me.

We met in the center and touched gloves again.


I took a page from his book and backed up before anybody even got started. He might see it for what it was – exhaustion – or he might welcome the opportunity to take a slow start. My gamble paid off; he didn’t advance. We circled – me with my gloves by my chin, him with his snake-charmer arm outstretched. We each moved our head side-to-side and up and down, each showing our audience that we were indeed intending to fight, but not just yet.

I was first to move, jabbing in twice, burning two to the air. He moved back, his jab hand keeping me at distance. I threw a low body shot that I had no intention of connecting with. He used a lot of energy to dodge what would have otherwise grazed his hip protector. I started to wonder what these next two minutes would be.

He’s tiring himself out,” I thought before quickly realizing “it’s only three short rounds. If I can do it, he certainly can.”

Rishabh’s attitude changed once my initial step in was abandoned. He took the offensive. He was only throwing ones and two, but his connection rate was much higher than mine. I ate jab after jab, only avoiding the straight left by retreating myself and circling left.

I hadn’t managed to hook Rishabh’s heel the whole fight, and now, with him coming for me, I wasn’t going to attempt a move that could bring us closer. I heaved a lead hook, creating enough space as he leaned back to view the clock from over his shoulder. Ninety seconds to go. I could smell the coffee waiting for me at home. I could even smell the aged pages of Flemming’s Thunderball, which I acquired from a local estate sale.

My slow-motion fantasy was cracked by the whipping left hand of Rishabh, which caught me squarely on the bridge of my nose. Everything went black – maybe I closed my eyes, maybe my brain reset itself. A bolt of lightning shot down my spine and into my calves, which wobbled slightly. The dark screen slowly broke with pinholes of light forming ever-growing stars until sight finally returned, along with the scene in front of me that now played out at full speed. Rishabh saw the damage his strike had done. My back was on the ropes. No legs under me to switch positions. He could really get me here if he continued to throw from his distance, but he didn’t. I don’t know why he hesitated. I had nowhere to turn. My only option was to walk straight into him, hands up, hoping not to eat another one lest I come to in the back of an ambulance.

With my hands up I charged forward, the balls of both feet digging into the mat. He didn’t have time to retreat. Rishabh raised his own gloves, shelling as I moved him on his heels like a veteran offensive lineman making a hole for the running back.

Rishabh tried to dig in, but I had the sturdier build and easily put him off-balance with another shove of my shoulder. This move would only work if I followed it up with punches. My forearms were jelly, but they could still move. One, one, one – miss, miss, miss. I was just trying to push him back further. It worked. Rishabh retreated into his own corner. I squared up, this time more careful with my foot placement. Three, six, one, six. Rishabh blocked my lefts and dodged my rights but couldn’t escape. I threw heavy hooks to his body, and he was forced to eat them. His small arms weren’t providing enough protection from my blows. Finally, he slipped left and shook out from my trap. I followed, too damaged at this point to be worrying about his straight. I was throwing from my chest, but I’d proved my power and now Rishabh had to respect every shot. We quickly covered twelve feet and he was back against the ropes.

This was my chance to put him on his heels for the rest of the fight. If I could give him a few more big shots he’d be as scared of my hands as I was of his. I dug deep, channeling my inner Gervonta Davis and threw big uppercuts from my hips with the goal of striking four knuckles on his sternum over and over and over. Rishabh shelled well, his forearms and elbows taking most of the damage. He struck me again with a short, straight left. I journeyed back to the dark place for a moment but came too with my hands flying in all directions. I threw hooks, jabs, straights, uppercuts – not many landed but he remained overwhelmed. He tried to step back further, but the full weight of his body was resting against the ropes. Rishabh’s back foot stepped beyond the edge of the ring and suddenly he dropped to one knee. I towered over him, my right hand loaded. He looked up, scared, waiting for me to finish him off. Luckily for us both, I had enough discipline not to unload on a downed fighter. I pulled back and stepped away. His coach let out an audible sigh of relief as he watched his best fighter get back to his feet unharmed. I was pleased with myself for having forced his mistake.

His coach looked to me and nodded, affirming that Rishabh was alright and ready to continue. The clock behind him read fifty seconds once Rishabh reset. I knew we could easily jab the air between us for the remainder of the match, but would he want that? Did I want that? I had proven my strength. Certainly, I could keep Rishabh at bay with my ones and twos and force a clean ending to this brawl.

Circling left, I intended to do just that, jabbing twice to the air. Rishabh answered in-kind with a pair of short jabs at my gloves. The heigh difference between us was not nearly enough for him to be striking that low. He wanted a smooth ending as badly as I did. We danced again, covering 360 degrees of canvas, with not a single additional punch thrown.

Thirty seconds!” Jess yelled.

Do something!” Amy loudly suggested.

A switch within me flipped. Rishabh’s eyes grew wide as I advanced, perfectly square, jabs and crosses flying with even less defense than I had exhibited before. I struck him twice in the nose, once with each hand. He backpedaled so quickly he nearly tripped himself before reaching the ropes. I stepped back into the danger zone, my head perfectly in line with his power hand, but I intended to throw consecutive punches for the remainder of the fight. One, two, five, four, five, six – my strikes forced his tight shell again though they were not returning to my own face for protection. I was a perfect target for him, but he had nothing left. It took every ounce of energy within Rishabh just to stay shelled.

TEN! NINE!...” I could hear Dan begin to yell from where he was recording.

I kept on it. Three, six, five, six.


Just as when Rishabh had mis-stepped, my right hand remained loaded when the buzzer rang.


It was over. Finally. Rishabh and I embraced right there on the ropes, his sweat becoming mine and mine his. I ripped the Velcro from my wrist, pulling a wet fist out to meet that of his coach. We exchanged nods as I undid my headgear and became a banker once again. He turned, headgear in hand, cocked his head and let out a long burst of air. His smile and eyes said enough, we high fived and hugged again, both happy to have survived.

I have been writing my entire life but only recently embarked on the journey of publication (with no luck just yet). I am a banker by trade, but amatuer boxer and creative writer in my limited spare time. Born just outside of Boston, and residing in the city for the past fourteen years, I am a fan of history, spy novels, and anything that explores identity and sense of self. 

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