“Tell me to be brave.”
Jarrell “The Samurai” Brackett is in the basement of the Priory Grand Hall on Pressley Street in the North Side of Pittsburgh. Sparring. Pacing. Praying. Purple mohawk. Fu man chu mustache. Mouth guard garbling his speech. 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., twenty 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.”
“In between rounds two and three, if I start losing power, tell me,” Jarrell replies. Left. Right. Left jab. Upper cut. Left. Right. Left jab. Upper cut.
“We’re gonna knock this mother fucker out,” the trainer says.
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.”
The photographer walks in, lifts his camera up to his chest. Pauses. Lowers it without clicking.
“JT,” the trainer says, handing him a bottle of water, which Jarrell manages to chug by squeezing his boxing gloves together.
“The other guy just got knocked out!” someone says, rushing into the room.
“You’re up!” promoter Mike McSorley informs JT.
“Is he alright?” someone asks.
“Doc is still in the ring.”
“Is he okay?” someone else asks as another person laughs. “Was he able to get up?”
“With assistance,” comes the reply.
“I can do this,” Jarrell mutters, 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, just in general, loving life.
“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.”
Through the hallway, up a narrow staircase, past the kitchen and into the ring to meet Willis, who three hours later would post a seven second clip of their meeting to social media—1st Round KO!!!—much to the delight of his followers.
Fuck yea, man!
Hell yes bro!!!!
“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.
“It’ll come back to you,” the doctor says. “Just chill, okay? Make sure he doesn’t leave. I’m the ringside physician,” he says to one of two friends who have joined them.
“I can’t believe I just lost my first pro fight like that,” Jarrell says as his friends gather around, offering whatever they can.
Support. “He cheated.”
Motivation. “You’re fuckin’ better than that, man! What the fuck?”
Solutions. “Come on, we’re gonna go get drunk.”
Perspective. “Don’t never, never feel discouraged if you lose.”
Jarrell will say it was like a crazy dream. 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. Not moving. Never hearing the ref call the fight. Or the shouting.
JT is out!
JT got KO’d in the first round!
Oh man, that’s embarrassing!
All the training. The fifty-eight fights. The praying. His pro debut. His show. Over in 63 seconds.
“I lost,” Jarrell says. “And I don’t like it. But that’s what happened. Maybe I’m gonna be a shitty pro boxer. Maybe I’m not… no, no, no. I was about to get doubt and I’m not gonna get doubt. I don’t like the fact that I lost. I’m better than that. I’m so much better than this. God, the truth. I hate the truth. It’s like I didn’t even train.”
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 fucked 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.”
The "Our Stories" series is an ongoing writing project by Kate Benz.
Capturing a moment in time in our everyday lives.
Raw. Real. Honest.
**The amateur and pro boxing match took place on May 25, hosted by Integrity Boxing Productions and Pittsburgh's Conn-Greb Gym.