The fighter is 6-foot-nothing, 149 pounds. He’s leggy for someone his size, and his lanky arms reach out from his body until they end in his hands, with scars on his knuckles not visible because of the black wrap starting at his wrists. He’s wearing a turquoise sweatshirt zipped three-quarters of the way up and the hood up, though he doesn’t know why. All fighters warm up with their hoods up, though none of them know why.

The fighter has been called the most feared member of the UK boxing team by some of his peers, even though he’s just a freshman.

Hey, you going to win tonight?

“He’s got a swinging chance,” the fighter says of his opponent.

Nathan Angel is the fighter. And tonight is his first fight.


A day ago, Angel didn’t think he would fight. When he left the ring the previous night, they hadn’t found anyone willing to fight him. A day ago, DeShawn Cook had never heard of Nathan Angel.

He’s 17 years old, 6-foot-nothing, 152 pounds, and 0-2 as a fighter, though you wouldn’t know it by his grin. Cook is a high school kid from Covington. He doesn’t know anyone here, except his mom, who came to watch him. He sits alone in the back row, on the phone with his friends for more than half an hour, grinning and talking about his fight.

The grin on his face says that he’s ready to show the sorority girls in their tank tops and the fraternity men in their polos that the high school kid will be the king of the night.

Is he going to win tonight?

“I plan on it.”

He knows two things about Angel: He’s never fought before. But he’s tough.


In the bowels of the Lexington Center, there’s a fight brewing. An oxygen tank and a box marked “emergency resuscitator” are ringside, not far from the one drop of blood on the white stairs leading to the ring. More than 2,000 people are in a drafty room that’s been hastily outfitted for a fight. Some of the crowd is here to see a friend fight. Some are here because it’s for a good cause. Most are here to see blood. It’s a pack of 2,000 barracudas.

An hour after the fight is over, everything will be gone. The chairs and the ring will be removed, and you would have never known what happened here. Ten fights will happen before Cook and Angel’s bout, and none after.

“Just relax. You’re not ‘til last so you might want to get off your feet.”

Angel’s coach is talking to him. It’s 7:34.

“That’s the only thing about fighting last, is you got to wait a long time.”

Six rows of lights are in the hall where the fights are being held. Each of the two rows on the outside are off, leaving the two in the middle on. After the second fight, Angel stands in the darkness as a man in a blue jean jacket gives him advice. Cook buys a hot dog at the concession stand, puts enough ketchup and mustard on it to make you wonder if there really is a hot dog underneath it all, and is still grinning. It’s 8:59.

If you just saw their silhouettes, you could hardly tell the two fighters apart. They have gaunt bodies and long faces, and if you ask them, they’re both going to earn first win in the last fight of the night.

Angel spends a fight as a cornerman, coaching a fighter who gives his opponent’s white shirt some brand new red polka dots. The blood flows, and the barracudas snarl and inch closer. When it’s over, he goes back to the shadows.

By the sixth fight, Angel sits in the last row of chairs, behind too many other people to see the fight. He doesn’t care to watch. Twice tonight, other members of the UK boxing team have faced opponents who have come from out of town to test themselves. Twice, Angel watched his teammates lose. It’s 10:02. Cook sits in the crowd and watches, and is still grinning.

Angel gets to his feet. He’s done sitting, even though he’s tired. He yawns. This is the problem with fighting last. Adrenaline has powered through his veins all day, and now there’s nothing left.

“I’m exhausted.”


It’s 10:30, and both fighters are all business. They tie their shoes, and their corners help them put their gloves on. They move their feet and shadow box in places too dark for shadows. Earlier, seeing him sit by himself, Angel invited Cook to sit with the other fighters. Now, they won’t look at each other.

His face, glistening with Vaseline and sweat, is framed by his red headgear. He’s warming up, and he’s focused. A few feet away, Cook warms up, and he’s fast. His hands move at a speed Angel has never seen in sparring session, and he doesn’t see it now. He’s too focused. His eyes are on the ring.

He doesn’t have an entrance song. He storms ahead of three teammates as he walks to the ring. He’s been waiting all day for his first fight, and damned if he’s going to wait any longer.

Hey Angel, do fighters feel bad when they knock someone out?

“Not at all. There’s no guilt in boxing. There’s only pride.”


At 10:58, the bell rings in Nathan Angel’s first fight.

In the opening seconds of the fight, Angel lands a punch as Cook loses his footing, slipping to the mat. But he recovers to take the round. The second and third rounds aren’t all that different. Angel is cornered in the second round and forced to protect himself from a cascade of punches, and in the third, while on the ropes, his right arm slips behind the top rope, leaving him defenseless for a short while.

It doesn’t take long before Angel’s lip is bloodied, and his mouth matches his red headgear.

Tonight, Cook’s blue gloves will meet Angel’s red headgear more than Angel’s red gloves meet Cook’s blue headgear. Angel has been beaten in his first fight. Beaten easily, as one of the judges said.

Cook grins as doctors examine them after the fight. Angel is grinning too.

“That was your first fight?” Cook barely gets it out between breaths. “You gonna be tough to beat.”

Nathan Angel is the fighter. And tonight, he’s 0-1.