Before I died, I was the IBF Lightweight champion of the World. I was thirty-five years old, fit as hell, and ready to defend my belt against any challenger. Anyone.
Nobody expected me to come back from that loss to Javier Hernandez—least of all my Pops. I overheard what his friends said about me outside the locker room. They called me a has-been. A tomato can. Nobody believed in Blaine “The Train” Johnson—nobody believed The Train could come back from getting KO’d in the second round against a nobody like Hernandez to becoming the champ.
But I did.
Seven miles of roadwork every morning. Six raw eggs for breakfast—fucking disgusting, but it’s tradition. Five thousand sit-ups before lunch. And fifteen rounds of hittin’ the heavy bags.
Keep swinging. Keep swinging. Keep swinging.
When I stepped into the ring against Pepe Zola, I was the underdog. For ten long rounds we went to war in the center of the ring. I ate leather and so did he. When I knocked him down in the 10th and final round, I could not believe it. As his body hit the canvas, I looked into his eyes—glossed over with exhaustion—and knew the fight was over. The referee ended it on eight.
I had won.
When the bell sounded and the referee raised my arm—and Pops wrapped the belt around my waist—I was king of the world.
Twenty-six sanctioned professional fights and countless others under the table. Thirty years of fighting—and twenty years of paying the bills with my fists. But never once did I think it would end like this.
September 21st was the biggest fight of my career. I was scheduled to fight the hammer-fisted Jaime Montenegro for twelve rounds in the MGM Grand—my first time as the main event. Montenegro was the reigning Super Featherweight champion moving up a weight class. It was his first fight at this weight—my weight—but he was still the favorite. I was the champ, but he was the favorite.
When we stepped into the ring, and Michael Buffer announced my name, the crowd started booing loudly. When Montenegro was announced—thirty-five fights, all of them victories by way of knockout—the crowd went bananas. I had an uphill battle to fight.
In that moment, I realized that boxing had never been about the money, or the pussy, or the glory. It wasn’t about the Vegas suites or the bottle service come payday. It was about the flow.
Boxing was always something else. You get a good punch in and—man, you feel so good. Nothing in the world can compare. And that night, I put on a show in front of a million fans. I hit Jaime Montenegro more than anyone else. Period.
We went the full twelve rounds. And boy, he kicked my ass in the last three. But I got him good. And we hugged, and looked each other in the eyes when it was all said and done. And Pops, who was biting his nails in the corner—clutching the towel—gritted his teeth and let me fight. I would have kicked his ass if he’d stopped the fight.
The headaches started a few hours later. I don’t remember much—just walking to the garage and then darkness. I was getting Mama some water from the fridge. The one in the garage is a little colder, so we always keep a few bottles of water in there next to Pops’s beers. Poor Mama was probably the one to find me face down in a pool of blood—after I had slipped into the coma.
Two days later, that was the end of Blaine “The Train” Johnson, former IBF Lightweight Champion of the World. A record of 24-2.
I’m sorry, Mama—I’m sorry, Pops. I tried my best to keep on swinging.