by George Thomas
All nine screens in the pub aired the fight, and with a speaker wired into the restrooms, no patron, regardless of their level of interest, could escape the blood and sweat dripping from the cyclone confines of The Octagon. Like live music, however, few patrons cared enough to intently watch the entertainment, instead preferring to relegate the brawl to lively background noise as they gorged themselves on buckets upon buckets of domestic lagers on ice, and chicken wings adorned with celery stalks that wound up in the trash after every reorder was obliged.
Mikhail Nezinsky, of Russia, had just tricked Gamaliel Guerra, of Puerto Rico, in a Muay Thai Clinch, and began pummeling Guerra’s tatted chest with his tatted knee. For the Russian, his ink signified his journey from village obscurity to urban legend among the hardest fighters in the Motherland. Every failure and subsequent success from Atamanov to Moscow was represented from his chest to his calves in the form of apex predators and silhouettes of buxom Slavic women. For the Boricuan, ink boasted wealth, a symbol of victory from his boyhood hardships, beginning in a humid boxing gym set up in his Uncle’s garage in Adjuntas, to the Mixed Martial Arts circuit sending him from Atlantic City to Las Vegas. Although he was the American in this fight, Guerra waved a flag that both perplexed and compelled patrons to identify with Nezinsky’s red, white, and blue, as he was in their image.
“You’d think I was lucky to find a woman who didn’t want diamonds,” Kyle said to his friends as they suckled from bottles of light beer and individually pondered what to nickname the next waitress who swilled them another bucket of beer, “but trying to find a meaningful substitute to a diamond is hard, bro.”
“Dude!” Ian said, unwittingly dribbling a shmear of buffalo sauce from the corner of his thin lips like a tear drop from the heat of the night’s flavor, “that’s what fuckin’ cubic zirconia’s fuckin’ for, dumbass.”
The boys briefly held a contemptuous silence. Ian was the shortest among them, the guy who overdid ball-busting to the point of annoyance, swore excessively and for some inexplicable reason, even punctuated his sentences with profanities when trying to woo the lone women he’d approach at these festive establishments. He chucked deuces in all of his social media photos, and there was no avoiding his self-imposed invitations to nights like this as everyone was trapped with him as that guy who reads literally every single post one makes in their personal feeds. He scours every friend’s posts with a degree of socialized piety comparable only to celebrity stalkers, all due to his FOMO-phobia, the fear of missing out.
“Haley doesn’t want cubic zirconia or diamonds. She wants something that is ethically produced, but like, all jewelry that is made without slaves is sorta, like, dumb as fuck.” Kyle said, breaking the silence concurrently with three of Guerra’s left ribs.
“Isn’t cubic zirconia made by, like, scientists or some shit?” Robby asked, shifting his pectoral muscles to untangle his gold crucifix from his chest hair. “I mean, they’re scientists so they make bank, right?”
Kyle explained, “but it looks like diamonds, so she doesn’t want anything to do with them. She recently joined this group on Facebook that, like, is trying to end slavery and there was a documentary about kids in Africa getting their feet chopped—”
“Slavery’s fuckin’ done, dude—” Ian said, forever interrupting.
“Nah, bro. I guess there’s more slaves today than were ever used in the South.” Kyle, the enlightened one, said.
“My great-great-grandfather fought in the Civil War,” Vince said. The rotund, quiet fellow of the group, where Vince floundered in charisma he compensated with disinteresting personal anecdotes that accomplished little more than derailing conversation.
“Dude, you’re Aye-talian. Your grandpa was squishing grapes when the Civil War fuckin’ happened,” said Ian.
“I’m fifty percent Irish, dickhead!” Vince proclaimed.
Guerra tries to overcome Nezinsky’s clinch by hooking his aggressing leg. His head is firmly wedged in the shallow void of the Russian’s armpit, causing Guerra to breathe through his mouth and feel for the right time to seize the Russian’s calf. As his chest begins to tighten from the succession of knee jabs violating his sternum, Guerra attempts to free himself by repeatedly punching Nezinsky’s right cheek with his left fist. Every swing aggravated the shards of bone piercing his chest, but the words of his late Uncle Pepe echoed in the crevasse of the Russian’s armpit, humid like his hometown:
Lucha como un soldado que ya está muerto
“What about, like, buying a ruby in a gold ring?” Robby asked.
Kyle continued: “Bro! The average lifespan of a kid in Ghah-nay-ah—”
“Yeah,” Kyle swished his bangs, “Gay-nah, whatever. They only live to be, like, ten-years-old. Their little fingers are prized for, like, picking gold out of rocks and separating them with lead, then they die from lead poisoning. They don’t even go to school.”
“You can’t help it that these kids are slaves, bro,” Robby said. “Tell Haley to chill about this child slavery shit. It’s not like you’re holding the whip.” The boys unified in laughter.
“Haley is full of shit, bro—” Ian said.
“Dude!” The three bros said in unison. They upheld a code: no ball-busting girlfriends or fiancés. Also, if she breaks up with him, give it six months before attempting to sleep with her. If he breaks up with her: six days will suffice.
“Hear me out,” Ian continued, “there isn’t a fuckin’ thing we have that isn’t made possible without slavery. I’ll give your woman this much: she’s right about there being more slaves nowadays. When have we ever been able to enjoy anything without cracking a bunch of backs?”
“A fishing boat in South Korea got caught with slaves yesterday,” Vince said.
“The South?” Robby asked, finding the capitalist behemoth harboring human trafficking incredulous.
“Yeah,” Vince said, “like, you’d think the South Koreans are about that free life, but they were forcing men to catch fish twenty hours a day. If they got too tired, they made em into fish bait.”
“Kyle, bro, Haley bought you that bottle of Jameson Eighteen-Year for your graduation,” Ian had a point to make: “John Jameson’s great-grandson once traveled to Africa and bought a slave girl, ten-years-old, just to watch a bunch of her own tribe butcher her and eat her so he could draw a picture of it.”
“Bullshit!” Robby said.
“He paid six hankies for her,” Vince added.
“Six handkerchiefs,” Vince continued, “that’s how much he offered the men of her tribe. So they tied her to a tree and cut her up alive. Jameson sketched the steps of slicing and cleaning her cutlets in his notebook. Her whole existence was for the purpose of his knack for drawing shit. He wrote in his journal that she didn’t even cry. It was like she accepted her fate without question.”
“When God is the reward, bro…” Robby said.
“Dude,” Kyle sighed, “that’s a hundred and fifty dollar bottle of whiskey. I can’t tell Haley that.”
“Already keeping secrets from your future wifey,” Ian teased.
Guerra’s left hooks into Nezinsky’s face faded from their initial brute impetus. He was merely pressing shivering knuckles against the Russian’s cheek bone, which reminded Nezinsky of boyhood winters so much that he tightened his hold on Guerra’s neck for mere nostalgia at this point in the fight. With every breath, the Boricuan spat life into the sweating underarm of his opponent, seemingly strengthening him as a vampire would with the blood of his conquest. Uncle Pepe’s words rose from murmuring echoes of ringside encouragement in hot San Juan gyms to the fateful night he sat his nephew down at the kitchen table and said:
Te voy a hacer un luchador bajo esa bandera.
Esa bandera, Gama.
Gamaliel peered through the beaded flesh of Mikhail, and saw the flailing arms of Joe Rogan, who was trying to alert the referee to break them up. A fade to white, and his tatted body fell limp into the Russian’s veiny arms, who had yet to realize he had killed his opponent.
Some of the congregants of the pub looked up as the camera crew had focused on the paramedics scurrying into The Octagon, attempting to resuscitate Gamaliel, but to no avail. His final fight was like any other Saturday night excuse to indulge millions of bargoers who craved premium entertainment as their wallpaper, and his death offered many, Vince among them, a neat anecdote about where he was on the night the Pride of Puerto Rico suffocated in the Armpit of Atamanov’s prodigal son.
The boys, undeterred by the viral video unveiling itself before their eyes, only paused from talking to deglove another bucket of glistening chicken wings. Kyle wiped his mouth clean:
“I get it, slavery is and always has been bad shit, but at least we’re not turning them on each other in coliseums anymore.”