Princeton’s annual Reunions bacchanalia begins today and it is doubtful anyone returning for their fifth reunion will have as strong a conversation starter as Luke Owings.
Owings spent the better part of 2012 training for his first boxing match, a bout that was part of the charity event Haymakers For Hope, which raised money up in Boston for research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
His first fight behind him, Owings and I talked extensively last week and you can read Owings' words and watch video of all three rounds after the jump.
Before you dive into the piece, I recommend reviewing this previous interview from last month which provides a great deal of additional build-up detail and background.
As you get closer and closer to the fight you do more and more sparring. You actually start to go around and do exhibition fights to get used to it. I fought my first exhibition about three weeks beforehand at a local gym. I was of course pretty excited about that. My trainer told me to get there at 6:30 because the fights were kicking off at 7:00.
I arrived at 6:15 to get warmed up – I’m always ready early and I was so excited.
When they came out with the fight card I was 13th out of 13 fights that were then going to start at 7:30.
It was kind of a premonition for what is going to continue to happen in my boxing career. As a 200 pound guy, they always like to have the heavies fight at the end of the night to keep people around. Everyone wants to see the big boys fight.
I actually ended up being 14th out of 14 fights because they slotted another group in there in front of me. I eventually fought at around 10:30 that night – warming up and cooling down, warming up and cooling down. There was so much nervous energy wanting to get into it and wanting to do whatever I could.
I had in my mind a few things:
-No matter what, whenever I go in and out of the ring I step over the top rope. Nobody else does that. I’m big enough that I can do it and it is super-intimidating for people who don’t know me.
-My buddy told me that whenever Mike Tyson comes into the ring he always sits in that corner and he stares at his opponent the whole time until the bell rings, so I wanted to do that. You know how I’m always smiling, so that was tough for me.
-Three, I’m always going to throw as many jabs as I can.
I actually did OK. I was fighting a guy about 6’2” and 215 pounds or so. In the first round I got in a couple jabs. In the second round I cooled down and learned how to step to the side, dodge and when he looked up to find me hit him with a cross. I blooded up his nose. In the third round I danced around and kept away.
That was really good for getting the initial nerves out. It took place in front of 50, 60, maybe up to 100 people. It is hard to tell in those places. I got some of the jitters out there.
I felt good.
Two Weeks Out
I went back to training. Did a bunch of sparring, heavy bag, speed bag and gloves. I found myself getting way too tired, much more tired than I should have been given I was in better shape than when I started. I came around to thinking I might be overtraining a bit, one of those times where if you practice too much – and I have experience with too much practice right before a game – my body was getting too tired and too sore.
I scaled back my workouts and started going in for an intense 45 minute workout instead of the two or two-and-a-half ones I’d been doing. My trainers were right on board with that. They agreed that they weren’t trying to teach me anything new right now, only looking to maintain and get me comfortable in the ring at this point.
You don’t want to be sluggish, you want to be spry, you want to be ready to jump up.
I took a 45 minute walk home from work over the Mass Ave. bridge in Boston, which is a beautiful view. I thought about boxing, I thought about getting in the ring.
I hadn’t had the feeling that I had that night since college. It is that feeling of the day before where you’re really nervous. The pressure you can feel. What if I don’t do well? You’re nervous and a little bit scared but at the same time so excited. I’d been training for so long and I was ready for the fight.
The excitement was causing my chest to beat so rapidly. I like to say the smells were stronger, the colors were brighter and everything just seemed more real.
I worked a half day and then went home to try and take a nap at 2:00. I had to be at the House of Blues at 4:00 for the weigh-in. Obviously, I could not sleep but I lay down for an hour and a half.
The fights were supposed to start at 7:00 with doors opening a half hour before. I was the 11th fight.
A long slog.
It was a real cool event. We had 26 fighters there raising money for Haymakers and the Dana-Farber Fund.
They had set up the ring up on the House Of Blues’ stage.
We got a little bit of our jitters out by jumping around the ring, pretending to be professional wrestlers, chatting, doing everything that people who are nervous do.
When the doors opened people started petering in but after an hour it was pretty packed and an hour later there were 1,200 people in the venue.
It was electric.
Haymakers produced the event so well. There was a big screen up behind the ring with highlights, statistics and training clips.
My parents came up from Maryland and a bunch of my friends from down there and up here came too. I talked to them a little bit but then went back and got into the mood for the fight.
I weighed in at 199, lighter than I’d usually been. The guy I was fighting weighed in at 206 or so.
We actually became pretty good friends over time so we hung out backstage and got the jitters out on each other, shot the shit a little bit and pretended we weren’t nervous while being nervous watching the other fights for a couple hours.
It was our turn.
I suited up, threw on the protective gear, got Vaseline over my face and put on the gloves.
We were fighting with 12 ounce gloves, which are much lighter than the ones we spar with. Usually we spar with 16 ounce gloves that have more padding. It doesn’t hurt quite as much, 12s are pretty tough for guys are our size.
My trainers wanted me to get a sweat going ahead of time so they put me through a 10 minute workout in the back. It was like being in the WWE where they have the camera backstage and you see the person preparing to fight by doing jumping jacks or punching a bag.
I felt nervous but also really confident and excited to go. It had been such a huge buildup. I had been vibrating at a higher frequency for 24 hours. Part of me was amped and part of me was a little bit tired.
I was the first one out, in the red corner. I came to the ring as “Sirius” by the Alan Parsons Project played, the Chicago Bulls player introduction music from the 1990s.
The funny thing is, I don’t remember that. I don’t remember my entrance music. I don’t remember my opponent’s entrance at all. I was so zoned in I didn’t recognize anything when I watched the video afterwards.
Frankie, the guy I was fighting, owns a bar nearby, so he had a big cheering section. He knows everybody in Boston. As a group we probably had sold some of the most tickets of all of the fights.
We touch gloves in the center of the ring, the referee says “OK” and the bell rings.
At that point all I was thinking was jab, jab, jab, jab, jab.
I’m pretty clearly the aggressor throughout most of the fight. He throws some powerful punches but they’re a little bit wilder, a little bit more haymakers, a little bit more out there. My big thing was trying to stay out and move him around where I wanted him so he couldn’t get in a big hit.
I jabbed a couple of times, got too excited and started charging in. While I hit him with a few punches he definitely threw some haymakers that caught me in the face usually. He ended up bloodying my nose in round two, but to be fair I have a pretty big schnoz.
In round two I gave him a standing eight count. I got him trapped in a corner and started wailing on his body.
Come the final round I was a little bit out of breath. I would have loved to have gone a few more rounds but your body is thinking it is the end and is giving everything it has. You’re just ready to collapse right after.
I felt confident about winning when it came time for the decision. I did feel like I could have boxed a little bit better. I should have put a few more combinations together. I had really just learned how to implement combinations in the actual fight itself. I could do them on heavy bags and mitts but doing them in a fight while protecting yourself – it takes months and months of practice.
I wish I had been able to protect myself a little bit better. My right hand kept dropping while I was punching. Part of that was excitement and part of that was not being disciplined enough. I saw plenty of areas for improvement but at the same time I was happy and I felt like I had the decision.
So much of how you feel when you win is the expectation you have coming in. Expectations are such an ephemeral thing that come from so many different places. In this case I was a little bit of the favorite. I had the athletic background and the reach.
To be completely honest, I just had more time to train those last four months. Frankie has a wife and kids plus a job that makes him work at night.
I heard from a lot of people at my gym who said “You got this. You got this!” I wanted to be confident but not overconfident. I didn’t want to be cocky about it. You never know in boxing. You’re literally playing a sport where one hit in the face and it is over.
When my arm was raised, a big part of it was relief. This was a fight I wanted to win. I put pressure on myself by sharing my journey with a lot of people which raised their expectations of what I was going to do and raised my own expectations of what I was going to do.
There was a joy in having succeeded at this one goal but part of me immediately wanted to know what was next.
Going Down Swinging
It has become much bigger for me. It has become something I really enjoy doing. It has become a community I really enjoy being around. Because of that, I figure why not keep going? I have no idea how far it will take me, but I know I want to fight in more exhibitions and I want to try my hand at the Golden Gloves.
Some of the guys there are really good. Maybe I’ll get my butt kicked. I don’t know, but I know that I want to try and I know I want to kind of go down swinging.
It made me feel great to be supported in my journey and it also made a bunch of things that were more conceptual at the beginning more real because people would share with me their stories about cancer and thank me for fighting against that. It made it mean much more.
I think I accomplished the goals I knew I was going to have but now they’ve lead to new goals which I’ve just begun to see.
This past weekend was my first year reunion from Harvard Business School. I was lucky enough to go to that with a black eye.
That led to many a good conversation.