Second in a two-part series. Read Part 1.
“Hi champ i am going to have tournament on 5 may. coach”
George Khosi, trainer at the Hillbrow Boxing Club, sent this SMS to my friend Anita and me a few weeks ago. I wasn’t sure what he meant so I ignored the message. Anita, on the other hand, tapped a quick response:
“Does that mean I’m fighting?”
This is how Anita “Six Arms” Powell, whose love of boxing started a decade ago in a sweaty Texas gym, got her debut fight.
Anita is called “Six Arms” because she’s Hindu. Ganesh, Anita’s favorite Hindu god, is often portrayed with six arms.
I could have fought in the tournament too. I seriously considered it. It would only be three rounds and I figured I could hold my own. But I just started sparring a month ago, and truth be told, I’m scared. I love boxing training, but competing in the ring — even for three rounds — is another thing entirely. I’m scared of losing brain cells. I’m scared of getting hit in the face and breaking my nose. Perhaps most of all, I’m scared of hitting someone else and breaking her nose.
So I decided to sit this one out. Anita, on the other hand, was in. She never hesitated.
It was up to George to find Anita an opponent. Easier said than done. There aren’t many female boxers around, and the opponent had to be in Anita’s weight class. But George found someone, a girl named Alisha who trains in Pretoria. That’s pretty much all we knew about her.
Even though this was a three-round amateur bout, Anita took her preparations seriously. She put herself on a strict diet and trained every day last week. She encouraged George to push her hard during training, which he did. She sparred with Rita, George’s top female professional boxer. Anita also printed some wickedly awesome T-shirts.
Anita and her husband Johnson, just before Saturday’s fight.
George’s white boxing posse.
Alisha was waiting in her car when we arrived at the gym on Saturday. I had a chat with her and she was friendly and sweet. Not scary at all! But when she came into the gym we realized that Alisha is quite a bit taller than Anita, as well as 12 years younger.
Anita and Alisha — the two As — were the fourth bout of the tournament.
The first fight got underway, between two young teenagers. I was startled by how hard they hit each other and winced every time one of them landed a punch. It looked nothing at all like sparring. I started to feel nervous for Anita.
Finally it was was time for the two As to take the ring.
That’s Rita, the professional, in Anita’s corner. Rita is kick-ass. I kind of idolize her. She has a big fight coming up on May 19 in the Eastern Cape.
It wasn’t until I saw this photo that I realized how tall Alisha is.
The fight started and Alisha came out swinging. Hard. Anita tried to ward her off and landed a couple of punches. Then Alisha hit her squarely; Anita went down. And popped right back up again.
This is the only decent frame I shot of the actual fight. I couldn’t cheer for Anita and take photos at the same time.
A minute or so into the fight, Alisha began to pummel Anita. Anita stayed on her feet until the end of the first round, when the official called it. I could see that Anita wasn’t ready to quit; she wanted to keep fighting. But the referee made the right call. This wasn’t a fair match-up.
After the fight, Alisha told Anita not to worry. I lost my first bout too, Alisha said, and I also lost my first two cage fights. (Yep. Cage fights.)
Anita asked Alisha what she does for a living, outside boxing. “Boxing is my job,” said Alisha. Alisha is 19 years old.
Johnson, George, and I sat downstairs with Anita after the fight, trying to cheer her up. I was overwhelmed by three emotions: 1) concern for Anita’s welfare; 2) awe at Anita’s bravery; and 3) relief that it wasn’t me.
Once Anita got over the shock, she changed clothes and went upstairs to hang with her adoring fans. On the car ride home, she was already talking about her next fight.
Anita, Anita’s fans, and George.
Watching this tournament scared the crap out of me, but I also learned a few things. I learned that boxing is not a sport to be taken lightly under any circumstances. I learned that I’m not ready to go into the ring yet, and that if or when I do step into the ring, I better be ready to come out swinging and break my opponent’s nose. Because no matter how sweet and perky she is outside the ring, that is what my opponent will try to do to me.
Above all, I learned that Anita is a fu@%ing fearless, determined, bad-ass chick. She doesn’t back down from anything, ever. (Actually I already knew that. But the knowledge was reinforced.) I’m proud and honored to be her friend.
But if we ever go head-to-head in the boxing ring, I’m going to break her nose.