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The two men dance about like boxers, sizing each other up, throwing empty jabs, letting the anticipation build and not wanting to make contact just yet. But audience members are calling for blood, and the Hammer is happy to oblige: Stepping forward, he catches his overcharged opponent with two steady right hooks that cut the rival's face like a machete. The doctor calls it off, and the Hammer's victim, after gesturing that the doc had screwed him, looks relieved as he lists back toward the curtain. As is the custom, the MC interviews the winner center-cage about his strategy. "Just knock the fuck out of him," puffs the Hammer, who proceeds to grab the microphone for a few slobbering "Yo Adrian" shout-outs that last longer than his fight.
In another bout, a brawler from San Jose had his nose punched and kicked back into his head. His foe left the cage literally bloodied up to the elbow, with flecks of red sprayed across his ankles. A subsequent fighter, Shannon "The Cannon" Rich, played his own highlight reel on a large video screen before his match and wore sunglasses as he did a little jig down the catwalk. Immediately after the starting bell he landed a few crowd-pleasing helicopter kicks from long range. But twenty seconds later, he was flat on his back, where he verbally conceded the bout. The crowd booed the pretty boy all the way back to his native Arizona.
Caleb's entourage was led by a few of the bikini girls, while Cesar Gracie and the other trainers trailed behind him. The nineteen-year-old's face was a mask of concentration, and he strode straight to the cage; there he removed his socks and shoes and did a little "raise-the-roof" gesture as the MC announced him from "Bez-erk-eleeeeeeeeeey, California." He actually lives in Concord, but Berkeley's more prominent on the map.
The young fighter knew little about his opponent, Ken Hamlitt. The rivals came together on short notice. Caleb had previously spent six weeks in heavy training, preparing for another fighter who canceled at the last minute. Caleb then dropped his guard for two weeks while the promoters found a replacement, which was no easy task. The thirty-year-old Hamlitt had to drop fifteen pounds in two days to make the weight class, and he barely made it.
By fight time, however, Hamlitt was back up to 158, a good thirteen pounds heavier than Caleb, and it showed. He entered the ring with a beefy waist, pale skin, and hunched shoulders, looking not so much like a fighter as like a computer geek who'd wandered into the wrong club. During the stare down, Hamlitt's heavy eyelids indicated that he either wanted to go to sleep or run away.
At the bell, Caleb bobbed his head and danced around while Hamlitt stalked him. Caleb faked a jab, then kicked his opponent's shin as hard as he could. The sound was like a bare foot kicking an oak tree. Then another kick scored, to the crowd's delight, and finally Hamlitt woke up.
Simultaneously, the fighters landed hard right punches that neutralized one another. Taking a punch, Caleb says, shakes your brain for half a second and leaves you cloudy, unaware. It's what you do in that half a second that makes or breaks the fight: Either you guard up and regain composure by muscle memory, or you drop your hands and take another shot. If the shots continue, you're outta luck.
Both fighters regained clarity at the same moment and at first instinct threw vicious punches, missing. The pair tangled up into a ball and Hamlitt fell on top of Caleb, smashing his head into the chain-link wall on the way down. Caleb immediately wrapped his legs around Hamlitt's midsection and guarded his own face like a lobster on his back. Now on top of Caleb, Hamlitt rained punches down onto Caleb's face as Aaron Mitchell used to, one after the other. Would Houdini escape this time?
The crowd cheered for Hamlitt's advantage. All they could see of Caleb was his feet desperately kicking at his opponent's kidneys. That was enough to distract Hamlitt, who gave Caleb sufficient slack to squirm his knees to his chest and push the big guy away from him. As Hamlitt lunged back toward his rival, Caleb kicked his heel directly into Hamlitt's chin, snapping the head back and briefly winning applause from the crowd. But Hamlitt quickly managed to smother him again, and the round ended with Caleb having spent most of it pinned to the canvas. The blood crowd wasn't pleased.
"Do something, assholes!" one guy yelled.
"I throw shoes harder than your punches," screamed another.
The fight fans were disappointed, too. Cesar knew Caleb was weakened by his break in training, and his heavier opponent could play the game of taking Caleb down, plopping on top of him, and waiting -- a strategy Hamlitt followed for another uneventful round. For Caleb to have a chance at winning, he would need to remain standing and strike at Hamlitt with punches, kicks, and sweeps.
At the start of the third round Caleb nailed Hamlitt hard with a punch to the cheekbone and had his man wobbling backward toward the fence. The crowd could sense the clouds in Hamlitt's head, and Cesar screamed for Caleb to finish him off, but the young fighter's body responded in slow motion. Exhausted from spending the last ten minutes wrestling on the mat, he lurched into Hamlitt and threw a punch that had all the power of a wet noodle. Hamlitt opened his arms, caught Caleb, and dragged him down to his back, where again, he sat on Caleb and then dropped slow, exhausted punches on Caleb's face. After a few seconds, the fighters seemed to merge into a heaving ball of flesh with Hamlitt on top.
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