Authors: Holly Hart
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Fight. Fuck. Sleep. Repeat.
That’s my motto. Has been for years. If I had a marketing team like the fighters the league think stand a chance of beating me, my name would be on every lip in town.
You want to know the reason all the guys they let in the cage with me always lose? It’s simple. They believe their own hype. I don’t have to, because I know it’s true. You let yourself forget how you got here, or what demons are driving you to fight – you’ll get yourself beat.
I don’t. Can’t.
But like I said, why should a bunch of parasites get to leech off my success? As long as I've got a naked chick in my bed each night and enough cash in my pocket to buy my booze, I'm happy.
The calm silence in my dressing room was drowned out for a second by the baying howls of the vicious crowd as the door clicked open to reveal an anxious, lanyard-wearing teen poking her head round the door.
"Mr. Regan, you're up next."
I'll admit I never did get much of a contract. That’d take lawyers, and like I said, I don't do parasites. But here's the thing: I
have one, and I was in no mood for being disrespected.
"The only Mr. Regan I know is me da’," I said, my strong Dublin burr coming to the fore, "and he's been dead these years now." Okay, so I was laying the accent on a bit thick, but could you blame me? American chicks dig an accent, particularly an Irish one, and I’m a sucker for an American girl.
The girl gulped. "Yes sir."
"It's Conor – at least to pretty ladies like you. Come in, would you girl, that racket's doing me head in."
I caught her studying me in the mirror. I couldn't blame the lass. She could see a man in the prime of his life. I knew, because I caught him staring back every time I looked in the mirror.
I had a hundred and seventy pounds of muscle and not an ounce of fat on my six-foot frame, with abs that were ridged like the stone cobbles on any village street back home. Small, brunette and sexy – she was the kind of girl I reckoned I could throw around the bed with ease. Just the way I liked 'em.
"Like what you see?" I grinned. "Play yer cards right, you can have it. What time do you get off?"
The girl flushed a bright, crimson red, but even her embarrassment couldn’t hold her eyes back from momentarily flickering downward, toward the prominent bulge in my fighting shorts. I sometimes felt like a fool wearing them, but at least they had the side-benefit of showing off my not inconsiderable package…
None of these women were any different, not to me, not since Rachel, but every one of them was perceptive. Perceptive enough to see me and know I'd give them the best fuck they'd ever get.
I could see it in her eyes. She knew it too.
"I –," she paused, "I mean, we, can't fraternize with the fighters…"
I whistled. "That's a big word for such a little girl. But tell me, lass, where's me drink?"
Her face was a riot of confusion as she stared at an open mini-fridge stocked with ice-cold energy drinks and bottles of mineral water. "Your drink?"
," I mimicked. "I like to have a bottle of whiskey at my side before every fight. It’s not so much to ask, is it? And none of that American muck, mind. A bottle of Jamesons will do me grand."
"Jamesons?" The girl repeated like a lost puppy.
"That's right. It's Irish," I added helpfully.
She checked her wristwatch, blanching as she noted the time. "Certainly, Mr. – Conor," she corrected herself. "I'll find some."
"A bottle." I insisted.
"Right, a bottle," she repeated hastily. "I'll have it waiting for you the moment you finish in the cage."
"You mean, after the fight?"
The girl drummed her fingers against her thigh nervously, aware that every moment she dallied was another moment that I wasn't walking down to the Octagon. "That's right, after. You mean – you want it now?"
"It wouldn't be too much trouble, I'm sure," I winked. A particularly violent roar from the crowd ripped through the building, shaking my dressing room. "You'd best hurry now, so you had. Wouldn't want me taking too long, now, would ya? Sounds like they’ll be ready for me soon…
The girl – Shannon, I belatedly noticed from the name tag on the lanyard dangling around her neck, stared at me open-mouthed. I knew exactly what was going through her head. I was the underdog –
people like me
weren't supposed to be making demands like this, and certainly not three minutes before they were supposed to be in the cage.
No, people like me are hired to be punching bags, and we were supposed to be happy about it – even as our battered bodies hit the floor. But the CFL – the Champion’s Fighting League – have no idea who they've hired this time...
I broke myself out of my daydream and looked meaningfully at the watch on Shannon's wrist. "You'd better run…"
She took off like my voice was a starter's pistol, leaving me to sit back in my chair and roll her name across my tongue. "Shannon." It was a good Irish name, though if I was any judge, she didn't look to have a lick of Irish in her.
I can change that…
Still, if it came to it – she'd do for a night. Shannon was a bit meek for my tastes – I liked my girls with a little bit of fight in them. But then again, I wasn't planning on marrying the lass…
The flimsy wooden dressing room door clattered against the wall as Shannon burst through. She’d returned far sooner than I'd expected, and she was triumphantly clutching a familiar green and gold bottle, too. She thrust it into my hands. "Here," she panted, "here you go. Please, can we go now?"
"Ack girl," I grunted, unscrewing the red-topped bottle and taking a deep, restorative sniff. "You couldn’t get a fresh one?"
She looked at me desperately, begging me to move. "I had to grab it from the bar upstairs." She gasped, "I'll get you a fresh one later – but
," she hissed. "Can we go!"
I grabbed a tumbler from atop a silver tray and poured a stiff three finger measure of the hazy amber liquid. "Who lit a fire under your arse?"
She looked at me uncomprehendingly.
"What's the hurry?" I clarified.
"My boss is going to kill me," she moaned. "If I don't get you cage-side like, yesterday. Pereira’s down there already. The crowd's waiting."
I turned and stared at her urgently. I could feel my eyelids flickering as I processed what she'd said. I should have felt victorious – after all, my plan had worked, and I – the underdog, or so the blogs said – had my opponent waiting for
, instead of the other way round. I just hadn’t expected the man waiting for me in the cage to be the CFL’s reigning champion – Andreas Pereira.
But instead an undercurrent of electric agitation was coursing through my body, forcing the hairs on the back of my neck to stand on end.
"Pereira? I thought I was fighting Diaz?"
This changed everything. I'd prepared to fight a big, heavy bruiser – not a
like Andreas Pereira. Shannon stared at me, for a moment even forgetting her desperation to get me to the cage. "Don't you,
, check your email?" She blurted out, clearly flabbergasted.
"Only if I can’t find something to fuck, eat or drink. So I guess not, no."
"What about your manager – didn't he ring you or something?"
I gestured around the empty room. "Manager? Do I look like the kind of guy who carts one of those leeches around everywhere I go?"
Shannon started walking, apparently deciding that pleading with me to move was a losing strategy. I took a big swig from the whiskey tumbler in my right hand and followed, savoring the sight of her sashaying ass almost as much as the warmth of the harsh alcohol burning its way down my throat. I smacked my lips together and reached the tumbler toward Shannon.
"Perfect. Want some?"
"Are you sure that's a good idea?" She replied without breaking stride, turning to look at me over her shoulder. "Don't you need to, like, lay off the booze?"
"I guess we'll find out…"
Fool what you want?
We stifling fools,
Fool what you want?
Your life or your jewels?
the vibrations from thousands of stomping feet physically reverberating up from the concrete floor, through my bare feet and into my chest. Not even my fight song, now pumping through the arena’s sound system speakers was loud enough to drown them out.
If the sound system couldn’t do it, then the heavy stainless steel doors that lead down into the converted basketball stadium hosting tonight's fight definitely couldn’t contain the thunderous clamor of the twenty-thousand strong horde of spectators crammed into the seats behind them.
"Ladies and gentlemen," the fight announcer screamed down the microphone. "At long last – put your hands together for the challenger, the underdog from the Irish bogs – Cooooonor Reeeegan."
The doors swung open, and the visceral roar of the crowd, now unleashed, hit me in the face. They were drunk – drunk off the liquor in their cups, the violence they were watching and the thrill of being part of a mob of men – depraved animals, all of them – who had the audacity to revel in the depravity of the kind of perverse, bizarre spectacle that pitted two men against each other in a cage for their amusement.
My lip curled derisively as I wondered to myself whether these pasty, scrawny men bragged to each other about what they'd witnessed when they huddled around the water cooler in the office on Monday morning…
What do your wives think? Do you bring them? No – I guess not. You don’t want them to see what a real man looks like, do you?
"You want me to take your glass?" Shannon asked. She'd retreated to the shadows behind the doors – out of sight, and as far as I was concerned, out of mind.
"Not yet," I grunted, beginning to walk down the steps. "Down by the cage."
"I'm not supposed…" Shannon started, cutting herself short as I glared at her. "You got it," she quietly agreed. She’d finally come around to the realization that it was pointless fighting me when my mind was made up, and meekly followed in my footsteps.
My fight song's hip-hop lyrics pumped through the air, barely covering the boos, the hissing, and the shouted jeers that were aimed at me by a crowd that was firmly on my opponent's side.
They didn't like that I was late.
They didn't like that I was Irish.
Hell, they didn’t even know who I was.
And they sure as hell didn't like the fact that I was disrespecting their hero – the Champions Fighting League heavyweight title-holder, Andreas Pereira.
In my defense, I hadn't known that I was fighting Pereira…
I wouldn’t have acted any differently if I had.
I took the steps two at a time, holding my left arm up in the air ironically, as if to accept the crowd's adoration. I took another swig from the tumbler of Jamesons as I ran, washing the fierce liquid around my mouth until it burned, and then my right-hand joined my left in the air.
"Look at that cocky fucking mick…" A wit shouted to my left. "Couldn't keep himself away from the booze for a moment, could he?
"Fingers crossed Pereira batters that smug grin right of his face," his friend agreed.
"Fuck your fingers," the man hissed, "I've got my house riding on it…"
"The mick's drunk," his friend laughed. "It's a safe bet."
I slowed down once I'd jogged past most of the cheap seats. Their occupants were weak and insignificant. The VIP tables that surrounded the cage were where the movers and shakers sat – and while they were equally as weak, they sure as hell weren't insignificant.
I'd started cage fighting back home in Dublin, and back then I'd never expected to find myself here, in front of twenty-thousand screaming MMA fans, and about to fight for the heavyweight title. In those early fights, often just held beneath a concrete underpass, the VIP's were mainly low-level drug dealers – their dates just pit bulls on chains.
Tonight, rap icons sat next to tech moguls, football players mixed with basketball superstars – and mobsters were everywhere. And, drawn by the fatal attraction of immense wealth, power, sex appeal and bling sat the city's most beautiful women.
I've come a long way from dealers and dogs on street corners…
But not far enough. Not yet.
I kept my eyes fixed straight ahead of me – glued to the Octagon. If I’d looked away from the cage – and more specifically, its vicious, muscled inhabitant, it would have been treated as a sign of weakness. I've been called a lot of things in my time – a drunk, a womanizer, a man whore… Most of them were accurate. But no one's ever had the balls to call me weak.
Andreas Pereira, three-time CFL heavyweight title holder, the man who'd won jiu-jitsu gold at the London Olympic Games, and the youngest Brazilian to ever deadlift six hundred pounds – yes, that fucking Andreas Pereira – looked me dead in the eyes and deliberately let me know what he thought of me by spitting a mouthful of saliva onto the mat.
The commentator somehow managed to hide his surprise. "Looks like the temperature in the octagon is rising, folks…"
I nodded at Pereira and winked, more determined now than ever to show this flash fucker who was boss. He might have all the titles, all the medals and all the money – but when the Irish get their blood up, no one stands in their way. I raised my whiskey at the Brazilian grappler, smiled in salute, and knocked back the rest of my glass, embracing the warmth of the alcohol as it started coursing through my veins.
"Shannon, where's you gone girl?" I slurred, my Dublin accent coming to the fore as I overextended my left leg and artfully faked a stumble. "Take the glass, will ye? And be a doll, have another one waiting for me when I've finished beating this punk senseless…"
Shannon appeared from somewhere behind me and relieved me of the glass tumbler. "You sure?" She said nervously. "You sure you're okay to fight?"
I grinned back cockily. "Lass, you just worry about getting me another one of those – I'll worry about the fight. How's that?"
She nodded doubtfully and disappeared, bearing an expression of barely concealed panic on her face. For a girl whose job it was to stage-manage athletes – and not just any athletes, but the hardest-charging, most aggressive, and easily the most wantonly sexual athletes on the planet – mixed martial arts fighters, Shannon was a bit…meek.
Then again, I hadn't met a girl who could match me in years – not really, anyway. Not since…
I couldn't think about
now, not unless I wanted to end up distracted, battered and broken on the floor of the octagon.
"Folks, it's the fight you've been waiting for, it's the rager in the cage – it's fight night. It's Regan versus Pereeeeiraaaaa!" The announcer screamed, singsong, into his microphone. The fact that I was definitely second billing wasn't lost on me. It didn't bother me, not at all – if anything, it got me more fired up.
I was gonna give as good as I got. I was gonna show 'em how the Irish fight.
I closed the last ten yards toward the cage, with mobsters and celebrities on their feet applauding to either side– men and women alike holding their cellphones up to snap a photo of me – a lamb on the way to slaughter. Or so they thought.
"Hey, Irish – come for photo." A low, gruff Russian voice growled.
does he really think that’s the way to ask for a picture? Fuck him
If I’d known then what I would later, maybe I would have acted differently. Hell, who was I kidding. I just kept walking. At least, my body did, because out of nowhere my mind was catapulted somewhere else entirely.
A scent I hadn't come across in years wafted through the air and filled my nostrils, yanking me back through time. It was an expensive scent – Chanel No 5: a perfume that smelled like jasmine and sandalwood – along with a hundred other things I hadn't heard of before I met
I turned my head an inch, so I didn’t break eye contact with my opponent, but instead of the heavenly sight of the girl I’d come so close to marrying, all I saw was the snarling, brutish grimace on the face of a thick, scarred Slavic gangster filling my vision – the man I'd just ignored.
And then, behind him, I caught the briefest glance of a woman dressed all in expensive leather and silks, her delicate face turned away. She was the only person in the entire stadium, it seemed, who could have cared less about what was about to happen in the cage. She was better than this, a cut above the filth and muck and assorted human detritus that filled the room. It seemed like there were a million places she’d rather be, and I knew I’d follow her to every one.
An iron band closed around my innards. I wouldn’t flinch if you put me in a cage with a fighter with a hundred pounds on me, or a man who’d never lost a fight. Even now, years later, this girl could reduce me to jelly as easily as she could blink.
It can’t be her.
The hair was the wrong color, was cut short, and now hung around her shoulders, instead of cascading down her back in a shimmering auburn waterfall. It was just a smell, and hell – it was the most famous perfume in the world. My body kept moving, on autopilot and she was gone from my sight.
The lovelorn desire of an eighteen-year-old which had first carried me to America chasing after a girl screamed that I should stop, turn and check.
The relentless, emotionless uncaring machine I'd molded myself into cut that urge off at the knees.
I kept walking.
I stepped through a cage door that swung open ahead of me and, nonchalantly patted the referee on the arm as though he was my employee, not the man who might stand in the way of a bloodthirsty animal hellbent on smashing my head against the mat – and me.
"You've been drinking, punk." My opponent said matter-of-factly, pushing his face up against mine.
I wrinkled my nose and pushed his face away. "Whoa, laddie – how ‘bout you brush your teeth before you get in my face like that."
The thick, muscular Brazilian's right hand jumped toward his face like it was being yanked by the line of an invisible fishing rod, and for the briefest half-second, I thought he was going to check. I had every intention of pushing his temper further, but I already had the piece of information that I wanted – Andreas Pereira was right-handed.
"What the fuck did you just say to me?" The Brazilian growled, lurching toward me with his fist clenched and his ugly, brutish face set in a snarling, hyena-like grimace. The harassed looking referee rushed between us, putting a hand on both our chests and struggled to push us apart.
He was a middle-aged white man in his forties, with an emerging bald patch and the faintest hint of an expanding gut poking over the waistband of his pants, which threatened to split at the seams at any moment. We all knew that if it came to it, he didn't have a chance – we'd bash each other's heads in, and he'd just be collateral damage.
"Hey, champ – leave it for the fight." I grinned cockily. "Anyone ever told you you've got anger problems?"
Pereira's face went puce red and he snarled back, baring his teeth like a feral animal. "If they have, they regretted it…"
I cracked my knuckles, my neck and casually bent over, deliberately taking my time and allowed a deep stretch to penetrate my hamstrings before I stood up to reply.
"Listen, Andy," I said in a faux-serious tone of voice. "This is exactly what I'm talking about. You hold on to all of this anger, you're going to have health problems. Take it from someone who knows, me ma had terrible blood pressure from all the shouting and one day… Poof! Heart popped, and she was gone, up in heaven with her da’, where she belongs."
Actually, I was lying. My ma's a heroin addict, and for all I know, she's still walking the streets of Dublin spreading her legs for anyone who'll give her twenty euros. But Andy wasn't to know that now, was he?
"Who the fuck are you calling Andy?" The Brazilian growled, in a voice so low it could easily have been mistaken for the sound of gravel being crushed in a stone mill.
I pulled myself back, adopting an insulted expression. "Andy, please – I thought we were friends?"
The big, dumb, brutish South-American fighter seemed to know I was mocking him, but true to form, he only had one response – to turn his aggression up to a hundred. "Just you wait till the clock starts, punk. Where the hell are you from, anyway? How's a scrawny little white guy like you gonna lay a hand on me?"
"Listen Andy, if your fighting is anything like your breath, I'll be fine."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
I grinned. Even if it was a cheap shot, and childish, and
arguing with the big Brazilian fighter was a bit like arguing with a three-year-old with learning difficulties, I was still enjoying myself… "Easy – it'll stink."
Andy blanched as he realized he'd wandered into another verbal trap, but before he had a chance to respond – most likely by barreling into me and knocking me to the floor, the commentator grabbed the mic, and the CFL theme music started blaring through the speakers.
"Folks, it's everything you been waiting for – it's the Champions Fighting League – and IT’S LIVE!"
The referee grabbed both our gloved hands, raised them to the rafters and then turned to face us. "Gentlemen, bump gloves," he requested. It was only polite.
"Sure thing," I said amiably. It bit my lip to stop myself from smiling, and held out my arms. "Andy?"
The Brazilian made a guttural noise that was somewhere in between a lawnmower starting and the sound of trapped wind. "Use your words, Andy," I grinned, dancing loosely from foot to foot. "You remember what they are, right?"
As the Brazilian launched himself toward me, a red mist descending over his eyes, I briefly wondered whether I'd regret taunting the big man. After all, I'd never expected to fight the CFL titleholder tonight. Then again, Andy might be quicker and bigger than the man I'd been hired to battle – but he wasn’t as bright, either.