“Tell me to be brave.” Jarrell “The Samurai” Brackett is in the basement of the Grand Hall of the Priory on Pressley Street in the North Side of Pittsburgh. Sparring. Pacing. Praying.
He’s sporting a purple mohawk. Fu man chu mustache. A mouth guard is garbling his speech. He’s got lime green Title boxing gloves on his hands. Red Everlast shoes wrapped around a pair of Captain America socks. WARRIOR TOUGH reads the light heavyweight’s shirt. It is 8:55 p.m., 20 minutes away from his pro debut. Into the ring with West Virginia’s Brock Willis.
“You are brave,” his trainer says.
There are 523 people upstairs, some parked in upholstered banquet chairs that surround the ring, others standing up against the wall. There’s an ambulance outside. Just in case. Paramedics inside, standing next to a stretcher. Because you never know. Security pat downs before you can walk in, grab a beer, buy a souvenir tee shirt from the amateur and pro boxers who will spend the next three hours dancing around the ring.
“Watch it land. Watch it land,” Jarrell’s trainer says. “With your feet.”
Step. Step. Punch. Punch. Just as a photographer walks in, pointing a camera. Click. Click.
“Bang, bang,” the trainer says. “Then come back with another three, two, three.”
The Samurai is pacing. Back and forth. Back and forth. Seven steps. Three steps. Past a few bottles of water shoved up against the wall. Past the sheer curtains on the window. Shadow boxing. Upper cut. Left. Right. Left jab.
“This is my show. This is my show,” he mutters. “I haven’t forgotten that.”
“Your world,” the trainer says. “If you hear me say, ‘middle,’ shoot for upper cuts. We’re gonna knock this sucker out.”
Sweat is pouring down Jarrell’s face. Sweat is beading on his biceps, forearms. He flops down in one of the upholstered banquet chairs shoved into the corner of the room, closes his eyes, and begins to whisper a prayer.
“Please God, I can’t do this without you. Please God, I can’t do this without you. Please God, I can’t do this without you. I want everything. I want everything… I want to be a successful human being. I’m scared. But I know with you, all things are possible.”
“You’re up!” promoter Mike McSorley suddenly announces.
“I can do this,” Jarrell mutters, as he gets up and starts pacing.
“All those years, dude,” the trainer says. “Coming to this, baby. Warming up to this.”
Fifty-eight fights. Billed as Pittsburgh’s first openly gay pro boxer. Enjoying a second career in porn, vocal about his plans to become a preacher.
“This is what I wanted to do,” Jarrell says, breathing heavily, gloves at his side. More pacing. More praying. “Please let me keep my hands at my face. Please let me keep my hands at my face.”
“JT,” McSorley says, entering the room again. “You’re up.”
The Samauri is led through the hallway, up a narrow staircase, past the kitchen and into the ring with Willis. Left jab. Right jab. Seven seconds to a first round KO. Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!
“I’m confused as shit,” Jarrell says, coming back downstairs with the doctor. “I’m confused as to what happened here. I don’t even understand what happened. Did I go down?”
“Yes,” the doctor replies. “Touch your nose to your finger.”
“Wait, Mike; did I get knocked out? I went down?” he asks, touching his nose.
“He hit you with a smooth one,” McSorley replies.
“Now close your eyes and touch your nose,” the doctor says.
“I’m really confused,” Jarrell says, closing his eyes and touching his nose.
“Walk a straight line for me,” the doctor says.
“I don’t remember…” Jarrell says, walking a straight line. “I can’t believe I just lost my first pro fight like that.” His friends gather around, offering things like:
Support. “He cheated.”
Motivation. “You’re better than that, man! What the hell?”
Solutions. “Come on, we’re gonna go get drunk.”
Perspective. “Don’t never, never feel discouraged if you lose.”
“This feels like a crazy dream,” he says. He’ll watch the seven second video. See his left jab. See Brock’s left. Then Brock’s right. Watch himself fall to his knees. Then, face down to the mat.
All the training. The 58 fights. The praying. His pro debut. His world. His show. Over in 63 seconds.
He walks into the other room, where McSorley is waiting. Where his trainer is packing up the tape, the bag, the gloves.
“I think you’re gonna learn from it and get better,” McSorley says.
“I have to face people,” Jarrell says, holding his face in his hands. “I have to tell all these people that I messed up and I’m not looking forward to it.”
“Are you okay right now?” McSorley asks, folding his arms.
“It’s just my pride,” Jarrell says. “I was afraid I was gonna get KO’d in the first round and that’s exactly what happened.”
“You dropped your hands, buddy,” McSorley says. “You dropped your hands.”