It was, thought Emma McGale, the kind of weather that made her wish that she had stayed in England. In England, it got cold in November, but it didn’t get frigid. A recent cold snap in Toronto had polished off the last vestiges of summer and warm weather and though it was technically still fall, the message was clear. Winter was here and here to stay. Though she loved Canada and Toronto, the winters here, well, she could do without them.
Emma made the familiar turn onto a side-street to get to MacVicar’s gym, quietly hidden away above a fitness center. It was a ‘blink and you’d miss it’ kind of place. If you didn’t see the sign outside, you’d walk right past it and never have known it was there. Emma stepped through the front door, savoring the heat of the inside before putting her coat on the nearby rack. She was the last one here for the meeting as she saw Anita, Thomas, and Virani already sitting on chairs arranged in a loose semi-circle. Around them, a few people were working in the gym, either hitting the heavy bag or jumping rope, but generally speaking it was a quiet night.
Emma grabbed a chair and joined them, sitting a little bit away from both of Thomas and Virani. “Sorry I’m late,” she said.
Thomas waved his hand dismissively, “It’s the winter blues, it happens.”
“It’s not winter yet,” said Virani petulantly.
“Yeah, okay it’s not December 21st yet, but we are all wearing winter coats, aren’t we?” said Thomas. “That makes it winter.”
Anita cleared her throat, “As fun as this discussion is, some of us have places to be. So can we get this status meeting going?”
“Yes, let’s get this winter status meeting going,” said Thomas, smirking.
Anita rolled her eyes. “Okay, Canadian Cobra over here is coming off a big victory by vanquishing her Mexican foe, Carla Flores by TKO. This has moved her up to #8 in the featherweight rankings. Congrats, Virani.”
Emma and Thomas politely clapped, while Virani, her face still showing a few marks of having been in a fight, bowed sarcastically in her chair.
“I’ve spoken with Virani,” continued Anita, “and Thomas, and they both agree that Virani needs a bit of time off for recovery, apparently Virani hits too hard that she injures her knuckles…”
“Virani got an ouchie?” laughed Emma.
“My hands hurt, and they hurt more in this stupid cold weather,” the fearsome Canadian featherweight complained.
“As I was saying,” said Anita, trying to reign in the conversation, “Virani has some rest time coming to her. Tentatively she’ll be back in training in January and we’ll see what DAZN wants to do with you, though I hear whispers that they’ll be a mandatory challenger for your Canadian title made shortly.”
“I’d like to dispose of my mandatory challenger quickly,” Virani said, growing serious. “Then as discussed, I’ll vacate the title so that Emma can win it.”
Emma tried, and failed to keep the grin off of her face. A national championship was her target and, god willing, it would be hers by the end of 2020. She could hardly wait.
“Any idea who the mandatory challenger will be?” asked Thomas.
“Mechelle Gauthier would be the obvious pick, but she’s been fairly inactive recently, so I suspect they’ll give it to Lexi Mills.”
“She’s a bantamweight, I thought,” said Virani.
“She is,” said Anita. “But she fought her last two bouts at featherweight as a pretty blatant attempt to try to get a fight with you. Her promoter has got a little pull with the Canadian Federation , and the Federation is really keen to keep you active in defending your title – they like to be able to be seen ringside at your fights, basically. So they’ll make do with lesser challengers.”
Virani shrugged her shoulders dismissively, “I’ll fight whoever they put in front of me.”
“That’s why I like working with you Virani. You like to fight,” said Anita.
“I like to keep my pretty belt,” clarified Virani.
“In other news, we are looking for a fight for Emma, I’ve got some irons in the fire, but nothing is panning out quite yet.” Anita glanced upwards from her laptop, “But I’ve had an offer from Emma come in today.”
Here it comes thought Emma.
“DAZN has offered a fight between Emma and Tanille Taylor to be the co-main event of one of Laila Ali’s Thursday night fights shows.”
Virani snorted, “Well there’s no way we are taking that fight.”
Anita let the silence hang in the air for a minute. It was time to speak up. “I want it,” she said.
There was a distinct moment of silence as Virani, and Thomas processed what she had just said. Anita, whom which she had coordinated this with, kept her expression neutral.
Virani found her voice first, “You WHAT?” the Indian-Canadian said in a shrill voice.
“I want the fight,” Emma replied calmly.
Virani looked dumbfounded, “We are talking about the same Tanille Taylor right? The undefeated one? The one they call ‘The Prodigy’ because of her prodigious ability. That’s the girl you want to fight?”
Emma shook her head, “It’s not about wanting to fight her, though I’ll love the challenge, its that this is the type of fight I should be taking. Prospects like her need challenges like me. If I’m not going to take this fight…then what am I doing with my career?” Emma glanced significantly at Anita, a little message that she needed her support, “Don’t you agree?”
Anita looked contemplative for a moment, “I agree it’s a good fight for Emma to take. She’s on a winning streak, she’s got a bit of a name for herself as a fighter that gives the fans a good show. Now it’s time to parlay that into a payday. Tanille’s got the backing of DAZN, and so the financial package to face her is very good.” Anita paused another moment, “Let’s face it, we aren’t backing Emma to be a world champion…no offence…”
“None taken,” she agreed.
“We have an end goal for Emma – the Canadian title, but that’s off the table at the moment,” said Anita, clearly making an effort not to look directly at Virani. “So we’ve been in a holding pattern for a bit, keeping Emma active, but this is as good as it gets, financially speaking, for Emma.”
Virani’s brow furrowed for a moment, “I get the financial side, but aren’t we forgetting that Tanille is…like the prospect in this division. DAZN is hyping her for a reason, she’s no media creation. Emma’s going to be a big underdog to her and Tanille’s not the type of fighter that’s just going to outpoint you for 8 rounds, she’s clearly learning how to punch with power and she’s knocking girls down and out!”
“This is boxing, not tiddlywinks,” Emma replied hotly. “I know the risk I’m taking, I’m not an idiot.”
Virani looked chagrined and looked away. Emma knew that Virani’s reaction came from friendship and a desire to protect her, but she didn’t need to be protected, didn’t want to be predicted. Emma was in this line of work to box, and not to be trotted out only to fight girls that she was sure to beat. If she lost, well, its not like she hadn’t lost before.
“If you are sure you want it, I’ll support you 100%,” said Virani, smiling to cover her obvious discomfort. Emma appreciated the effort.
“Okay, let’s take Tanile’s undefeated record away from her,” Emma said with a pump of her fist.
“I’ll make sure you get handsomely paid, darling,” said Anita.
“And make sure that you get another fight from DAZN as part of the contract, win or lose. I like to watch myself on TV,” Emma said.
“That might be difficult,” said Anita. “But I’ll try my best.”
“That’s all I ask.”
“Last item,” mentioned Anita. “Thomas has asked me to find another featherweight to add to the stable and I believe I have found someone that will train out of MacVicar’s gym. Details to still be hashed out, but she’s a young prospect that I feel will fit in well here. Less experienced than Emma, but she seems like a talent.”
“Another girl to beat up?” Emma laughed.
Thomas smiled slightly, “My girlfriend has complained about sparring with two girls not in her division, so we decided we needed another featherweight around for when one of you two are out of commission.”
“Hey Thomas,” said Virani. “I have a question.”
Thomas shifted into a serious expression, “Go ahead.”
“When are you going to propose to that poor girl?” Virani teased.
While Thomas blushed, Anita stood and closed her laptop, “I think that will be all for this meeting….I’ll leave you children to it…”
Later that night, Virani pulled her over to the side in a quiet part of the gym. Emma steeled herself for another talking to from Virani.
“Look, Emma, I’m sorry if I didn’t seem supportive in the meeting with Anita today, it’s just…” Virani looked down, “I mean, even I’d be wary of fighting Tanille. It’s a big ask.”
“It’s the fight I want, Virani.”
“What’s the worst that could happen, Virani? I get knocked out? I lose? Both of those things have happened to me before. I want to fight the best fighters I can, because that’s the only way I’m going to get better. And yeah, I’m probably going to lose. No doubt the judges will be for Tanille, so I’ll probably have to win by knockout, and Tanille hasn’t even been knocked down in her pro career yet, so me blasting her out seems…unlikely. But I’ll get to be on TV, against a good opponent and earn good money doing so. I can’t ask for more right now.”
“I just…” Virani met her gaze at last, “I just wish that you could be on the path that I’m on. It just feels like I’m on the easy path and you don’t have the options I do..it’s just not fair and I don’t like that.”
“Life’s not fair Virani. You should know that by now,” Emma replied. “Plus, fighting Carla was not exactly easy.”
Virani smiled slightly, “No it wasn’t. But I liked to think that boxing was a meritocracy, where the best fighters reached the top. Now the more I see of boxing, I see fighters that reach the top because they knew how to pick their fights and had good promoters, not because they were the best.”
Emma spread her hands wide, “This is my level Virani. You are going to compete for world titles. My level is fighting prospects like Tanille…and probably losing. It is what it is.”
Virani pouted, “That’s not fair.”
“I assume you told that to the girls you knocked out on your way to the top too, I suppose,” Emma said pointedly.
“I suppose I can’t take advantage of the system and then complain about it when it doesn’t suit me.”
Virani shook her head, “As long as you are sure that this is what you want.”
Emma nodded, “It is.”
Virani embraced her, “Then I’m going to make sure Thomas gets you into tip top shape for this fight. I don’t want to fight Tanille, so hopefully you can do me a favour and beat her so I don’t have to.”
“But then you’d have to fight me,” Emma laughed.
“You’d knock me out, Em. Only because I couldn’t bear to hurt you,” laughed Virani.
“Funny, our sparring sessions say otherwise!”
“That’s just tough love, honey!”
Emma threw a soft jab at Virani’s shoulder, “You better get recovered quick, because I want to show you how much ‘tough love’ I owe you.”
Virani laughed, pulled Emma into a hug and said, “Nothing could make me happier.”