Now, understand, this was a very different fight from any I ever engaged in. It combined the viciousness of a rough-and-tumble with that of a legitimate ring bout. No room for any footwork, concrete to land on if you went down, the uncertain flare of the lights which was hung on the ceiling over us, and the feeling of being crowded for space, to say nothing of thinking about all the snakes which had fought there. Ugh! And me hating snakes that way.
I had figured that I’d have the advantage, being heavier and stronger. Slade couldn’t use his shifty footwork to keep out of my way. I’d pin him in a corner and smash him like a cat does a rat. But the bout hadn’t been on two seconds before I saw I was all wrong. Slade was just an overgrown Young Griffo. His footwork was second to his ducking and slipping. He had fought in the pit before, and had found that kind of fighting just suited to his peculiar style. He shifted on his feet just enough to keep weaving, while he let my punches go under his arms, around his neck, over his head or across his shoulder.
At the sound of the gong I’d stepped forward, crouching, with both hands going in the only way I knew.
Slade took my left on his shoulder, my right on his elbow, and, blip-blip! his left landed twice to my face. Now I want to tell you that a blow from a bare fist is much different than a blow from a glove, and while less stunning, is more of a punisher in its way. Still, I was used to being hit with bare knuckles, and I kept boring in. I swung a left to the ribs that made Slade grunt, and missed a right in the same direction.
This was the beginning of a cruel, bruising fight with no favor. I felt like a wild animal, when I had time to feel anything but Slade’s left, battling down there in the pit, with a ring of yelling, distorted faces leering down at us. The oily bird, referee, leaned over the edge at the risk of falling on top of us, and when we clinched he would yell, “Break, you blank-blanks!” and prod us with a cane. He would dance around the edge of the pit trying to keep in prodding distance, and cussing when the crowd got in his way, which was all the time. There was no room in the pit for him; wasn’t scarcely room enough for us.
Following that left I landed, Slade tied me up in a clinch, stamped on my instep, thumbed me in the eye, and swished a right to my chin on the breakaway. Slightly infuriated at this treatment, I curled my lip back and sank a left to the wrist in his midriff. He showed no signs at all of liking this, and retaliated with a left to the body and a right to the side of the head. Then he settled down to work.
He ducked a right and came in close, pounding my waist line with short jolts. When, in desperation, I clinched, he shot a right uppercut between my arms that set me back on my heels. And while I was off balance he threw all his weight against me and scraped me against the wall, which procedure removed a large area of hide from my shoulder. With a roar, I tore loose and threw him the full length of the pit, but, charging after him, he side-stepped somehow and I crashed against the pit wall, head-first. Wham! I was on the floor, with seventeen million stars flashing before me, and the oily bird was counting as fast as he could, “Onetwothreefourfive–”
I bounded up again, not hurt but slightly dizzy. Wham, wham, wham! Bat came slugging in to finish me. I swished loose a right that was labeled T.N.T., but he ducked.
“Look out, Bat! That bird’s dangerous!” yelled the oily bird in fright.
“So am I!” snarled Bat, cutting my lip with a straight left and weaving away from my right counter. He whipped a right to the wind that made me grunt, flashed two lefts to my already battered face, and somehow missed with a venomous right. All the time, get me, I was swinging fast and heavy, but it was like hitting at a ghost. Bat had maneuvered me into a corner, where I couldn’t get set or defend myself. When I drew back for a punch, my elbow hit the wall. Finally I wrapped both arms around my jaw and plunged forward, breaking through Slade’s barrage by sheer weight. As we came together, I threw my arms about him and together we crashed to the floor.
Slade, being the quicker that way, was the first up, and hit me with a roundhouse left to the side of the head while I was still on one knee.
“Foul!” yells some of the crowd.
“Shut up!” bellowed the oily bird. “I’m refereein’ this bout!”
As I found my feet, Slade was right on me and we traded rights. Just then the gong sounded. I went back to my end of the pit and sat down on the floor, leaning my back against the wall. The dip peered over the edge.
“Anything I can do?” said he.
“Yeah,” said I, “knock the daylights out of the blank-blank that’s pretendin’ to referee this bout.”
Meanwhile the aforesaid blank-blank shoved his snoot over the other end of the pit, and shouted anxiously, “Slade, you reckon you can take him in a couple more rounds?”
“Sure,” said Bat. “Double your bets; triple ‘em. I’ll lay him in the next round.”
“You’d better!” admonished this fair-minded referee.
“How can he get anybody to bet with him?” I asked.
“Oh,” says the dip, handing me down a sponge to wipe off the blood, “some fellers will bet on anything. For instance, I just laid ten smackers on you, myself.”
“That I’ll win?”
“Naw; that you’ll last five rounds.”
At this moment the gong sounded and I rushed for the other end of the pit…