"Pound on her," he told her. "The referees are stopping fights today. Let the referees stop it. Come on, baby, she don't hit harder than Richard [one of the boy boxers]. Remember that. You've got to show it to 'em now. They think they beat you, but they did not have the skills to beat you. She don't have half the skills you have. C'mon, mama, you are 10 times, 100 times better than she is. Skill-wise and every way, baby. You can do this, mama. God is with us. It's you and the Lord in there, mama. Ask the Lord to give you strength. I can't go in there with you, but God is with you all the time, baby. Let's do this. We've waited a long time for this, mama. I'll tell you right now, they think they won the first fight, but I know there is doubt in their mind. Let's do this, baby doll."
Seniesa nodded -- yes, yes, yes.
But in truth, there was little anyone, even Joe, could say to interrupt her focus and get inside her head. This was the biggest moment in the life she shared with her father, a rehearsal for the many tough fights they hoped to have in the future. She wanted to win this fight more than she had ever wanted anything. She was already in the state of trance she had inherited from her father.
She stepped through the ropes and into the ring. A few seconds passed. CLANG! The opening bell echoed through the ballroom.
Ready for More
Seniesa and Daveena rushed at each other, releasing six months of anxiety since their last duel.
Seniesa led with a left that grazed Daveena's gloves.
It gave Daveena a moment's hesitation. Then she charged.
Seniesa backed away. But in this fight, unlike the last one, she stopped, braced her back leg, pushed off and fired a nifty combination -- jab, cross, jab, cross. The punches, more powerful than anything she had thrown before, slammed into Daveena. They stung.
But this was not a girl Seniesa could intimidate. This was Daveena, the wind-up boxer. She fixed on her target, and she kept coming, always kept coming, just as she had in their first bout. She stalked forward, throwing curved punches, refusing to let up.
Seniesa worked against the forward motion like a crafty old master. Full of energy, ready to strike, she swayed inside Daveena's blows, slipping most of them. She threw fast, heavy replies with her right, then her left.
Daveena's head jolted backward. Whap. Her head slapped from side to side, left to right. Whap-whop.
At the bell, Seniesa brimmed with confidence and speed.
"Relax, mama!" her father said.
He was happy, so happy that he offered no instructions. Just keep doing what you are doing, he said, because what you are doing is winning.
She nodded, ready for more.
In the second round, she opened with an uppercut, then a stiff left hook.
Men and women in the chairs, who hadn't expected to see girls box, spat their astonishment into my ears: "Goddamn!" A Duran to the gut. Then another. "Damn!"
"Keep going!" her father yelled, so loudly that the referee stopped the fight for a moment, turned to Joe and told him to calm down. He did, but he still twitched with every punch his daughter threw and flinched with every blow she took. It was like voodoo; he felt everything.
Daveena, facing a new kind of onslaught, evaded many of the blows. She kept charging, driving toward Seniesa with her punches. Some landed solidly against Seniesa's sides. They turned her and twisted her.
"Let's go, Chickee! Fight, Chickee!" Daveena's family and friends screamed, on their feet near the ring.
Then, just before the bell, Seniesa landed a hard shot that nearly forced Daveena off her feet. Several of Daveena's fans fell into their seats with worry.
But they didn't give up. They rose when the third and last round got underway, cheering loudly as Daveena found new strength. She whaled away with haymakers. Whap! Several found their mark, whap-whap, rocking Seniesa to her heels.
Soon, though, Daveena lost strength.
Seniesa had weathered the aggression, and now she pounced. Right hand. Duran. Right hand. Duran. Backpedal. Stop. Jab.
Just like practice, just like her father had told her, just like she had dreamed.
Then she tired too.
The girls took each other's measure near the middle of the ring, looking for an unguarded spot, hoping for a second wind. There was no time. CLANG! The final bell. It was over. Six months of waiting and wanting, just like that.
Joe clutched Seniesa. She looked excited and nervous, spent but pleased.
David hugged Daveena, her face fixed with calm, as if she were preparing to accept gracefully whatever the judges decided.
The judges gathered their scorecards, the outcome was tabulated, and a referee in white held a warrior's arm in each hand.
There, in the middle of the ring, they stood, for five, 10, 15 seconds. Each girl's face was filled with hope -- and dread.
"Ladies and gentlemen," the announcer said into his microphone, his voice warbling as it ran through the speakers. "Ladies and gentlemen, please give a hand for our fighters."
The crowd cheered and stomped.
"We have a winner ... "