WHEN I told a few fighters that WBC super featherweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez had happily accepted my invitation to spar three rounds, they weren't encouraging. Wladimir Klitschko told me I was "going to get killed." Oscar De La Hoya suggested I bring a golf club into the ring with me. Floyd Mayweather told me on a visit to the SI offices that he'd take me out to Sixth Avenue and "f— me up for free."
Fighting Marquez had seemed like a good idea at the time. I had been boxing for about a year, occasionally sparring but mostly just hacking away at the heavy bag at the Church Street Boxing Gym in Manhattan. I knew I'd have to step up my training, so I enlisted Omar Wellington, president of Nexxt Level Sports, a company that trains NBA players, to help build my strength and improve my diet. (Fast food was out, though I drew the line at chugging raw eggs.) I dragged myself out of bed to run through Central Park, and I honed my technique. I started to look O.K. I could jab. I could hook. By fight night—last Saturday, at Church Street—I was ready.
I was wrong.
It's a terrifying feeling, really, standing across the ring from a professional prizefighter. There he was, 5' 7", 135 pounds of solid muscle. And then there was me, 6' 1", 185 pounds of something else. I was overwhelmed by panic, and I didn't even know what had happened when my editor approached Marquez's co-promoter Jaime Quintana just before the fight and asked if Juan knew to take it easy. "I told him to," Quintana said. "But he said, 'I flew all the way out here, so I'm going to kick his ass.'" (Quintana had earlier sent an e-mail offering me my choice of a black eye, broken nose or broken rib.)
When the buzzer sounded, we circled each other in the center of the ring. I threw a jab. (I missed.) He threw one. (He didn't.) For a brief, blissful moment it looked like he was going to have mercy. Then he threw a right hand that nearly perforated my spleen. It was painful, but more than that, it was disorienting. Even though he was pulling his punches, they staggered me. As he continued to introduce his 16-ounce training gloves to my face, I ignored the advice from my corner ("Work the jab!") and focused on defense. Besides, I was a little afraid that if I accidentally hit him, it would only make him mad.
At the end of the first three-minute round my editor approached, a ghostly look on his face, and asked "Do you really want to keep going?"
I didn't. While Marquez was jogging in place in his corner, I collapsed on my stool, my legs splayed out as I tried to take in every second of the one-minute break. Three minutes, when you spend them in an enclosed space with a swarming man trying to decapitate you, can pass quite slowly. Yet I pressed on, even, in Round 2, occasionally snapping off a jab and making a few attempts at combinations. Toward the end of the round I actually caught him with a left hook that moved him. A minor victory.
By the third round my arms felt like a pair of 25-pound weights, but I made it to the final buzzer. I hung my battered body over the ropes, and as I spit my bloody mouthpiece to the floor, a thought formed in my cloudy head.
I'm 0--1. I retire.
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Read more about the fight and see video of it at SI.com/mannix.