Akiko’s Last Fight by Alec Clayton

Akiko Durant held the women’s welterweight champions for ten years with a record of 86-2-0 until she was finally defeated by Dana Mitchell in a split-decision bout. Mitchell was tall, blonde, and called Dominatrix. At twenty-five, she was twelve years Akiko’s junior. Akiko at thirty-seven, the oldest woman still active in professional boxing, the same age as her hero, Sugar Ray Robinson, when he retired.

A gorgeous woman with luscious lips and high cheekbones, and copper toned skin as unblemished as a baby’s cheek despite taking thousands of punches, Akiko was the most celebrated female boxer ever. She and her longtime manager and lover, Jimmy Joe Cranston, were worldwide celebrities far beyond sports circles, often seen partying in the swankiest of clubs and constantly pictured in celebrity magazines.

Fans hated Dana Mitchell as much as they loved Akiko. Dana had to starve herself before every bout to get down to welterweight size. Her style was lumbering, a brawler more than a boxer, and she was often accused of dirty tactics. But the real reason they hated her was that after she took the title away from Akiko, Jimmy Joe became her manager and, within a month he dropped Akiko as a lover as well and became Dana’s lover. To everyone’s surprise, a year later he left her and went back to Akiko, begging her to forgive him and take him back. Her fans howled, No, never take him back! Should she or shouldn’t she became a hot topic on social media and in the popular press for a few short months, but it was not long before all was forgiven and Jimmy Joe and Akiko were America’s favorite couple again. And then Akiko announced she was going to come out of retirement with Jimmy Joe as her manager. And at the age of forty-one, when no one believed she could do it and everyone hoped she could, Akiko Durant met Dana Mitchell again in a championship bout.

It is now 2015, Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, six o’clock in the evening. Akiko shows up as she always has, two hours before a bout to work out in the ring with Jimmy Joe. Moving with grace, punching his oversized punching mitts with sharp jabs, working more on movement than on hitting, getting accustomed to the feel of the ring, she moves like Muhammad Ali in his prime. She even repeats his mantra as she boxes: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”

Perhaps a dozen people watch her workout. Trainers, a couple of sports writers, people who work in the Garden; and Dana Mitchell sitting three rows back with her new manager, Hulk Montague of professional wrestling fame. “I gotta admit, she’s got the moves,” she whispers. “I can’t out box her. I’m gonna have to overpower her and hope she can’t last ten rounds. She’s fucking old. There ain’t no way she can last.”

“No mercy,” Hulk Montague says.

It is now eight o’clock at night. Dana and Akiko are seated on stools in their respective corners, towels draped over their heads, rolling their necks and shoulders to work out the kinks, slapping their gloves together, their managers squatted down in front of them giving last minute instructions, pep talks. Jimmy Joe is on one knee. Akiko says, “I’m going to kill that bitch. I’m coming out with everything I’ve got. I’ve got to win it in the early rounds, knock her out or wear her down and build up a ton of points before my legs give out.”

“That’s the worst thing you can do,” Jimmy Joe tells her. He reminds her she’s never won by knockout; she’s not that kind of fighter. Jimmy Joe says, “Fight angry and you lose. Finesse and skill. Keep moving, counter punching.”

“You’re right, you’re right. I’ll do it your way.”

Both women are on their feet now, dancing in place, shadow boxing. The bell rings, and Akiko shuffles toward the middle of the ring. Dana attacks like a mad dog. She’s off like a rocket from a launch pad. She meets Akiko with a flurry of punches before she has gotten five feet from her corner. Akiko never saw it coming. She tries to cover up. She backs up, tries to circle. Dana has her against the ropes. She’s landing body blows that take her breath away, hurtful hooks to the face and shoulders. Akiko clinches, holds on for dear life. The referee breaks them apart. Dana is on her again. She clinches again, and this time Dana head-butts her. She’s unconscious on her feet, backpedaling. She wraps her arms around Dana in a desperate attempt to hold her arms to her sides. Dana brings her knee up to hit her between her legs. Akiko gasps. She’s woozy. The referee breaks them up again, stops the fight to ask Akiko if she’s able to go on, warns Dana no more head-butts, no more knees. Akiko says she is all right. There’s a cut over her right eye. Blood is streaming into her eye and down her cheek. The audience is booing. The bell rings and Akiko staggers to her corner, sits on her stool. Jimmy Joe applies astringent to her cut. “I’m afraid there’s going to be a scar,” he says. He asks her if she wants him to throw in the towel. She shakes her head no.

“To hell with boxing,” she says. “I’m going to kill that bitch.”

He knows better now than to try to talk her out of a desperation strategy. She comes out for round two as recklessly as Dana had for round one. She doesn’t have the strength Dana has. She’s two inches shorter with a shorter reach and five pounds lighter, but she catches Dana with an unexpected flurry of blows that has her back on her heels. Akiko wins the second round as decisively as Dana won the first. After that, the brawl settles into a boxing match, and for that Akiko has the advantage. Dana had counted on Akiko being out of shape after years out of the ring, but what she had not counted on was that Akiko had never stopped training while she, Dana, had spent most of her time since winning the championship partying.

By the eighth round both women are rubber-legged. They can barely hold up their gloves. They both begin to wonder what in the hell made them think boxing was a good way to make a living. They clinch so much you might think they’re making love, not fighting, and in a way they are. Over the course of ten, three-minute rounds they have come to admire the hell out of each other.

Akiko is declared the winner by a split decision. Not long afterwards they both retire from boxing. Jimmy Joe finds himself a hot new up-and-coming boxer to manage and drops Akiko once again, and she and Dana become lovers. They’re seen in all the in clubs, and they’re pictured in a lover’s embrace on the cover of People magazine.