Down-on-his-luck fighter travels south of the border for the rematch of his life.
In her debut novel, journalist Kitamura indulges her interest in the mechanics of the mixed martial arts world with a sketch of two men at the edge of an emotional cliff. With throaty prose and peripheral detail, the author captures three decisive days in the lives of Cal, a wunderkind pugilist four years past a humiliating defeat, and Riley, Cal’s trainer and protector, who knows quite well what it’s like to spit out your own teeth. Their authentic, even touching partnership comes complete with the old arguments and terse verbal shorthand of longtime comrades. Their path has brought them back to the bloody rings of Tijuana for a rematch against Cal’s nemesis Rivera, a bloodthirsty, one-punch titan whose claim to the championship has brought him acclaim and affluence. Cal, meanwhile, has been on unsteady psychological ground ever since Rivera beat him four years ago. “Fighting was never easy again. He took some losses. He sat and waited for his head to get back into the game. He waited fight after fight and then it hit him how long he’d been waiting. It hit him, how far away the game had gone. He saw it for the first time and he was bewildered by it. That the whole thing could be so fragile. That it could fall away so quick.” The plot resolution is all but inevitable, the narrative short on momentum and long on self-realization, but Kitamura succeeds in penning a satisfactory addition to the canon of fight literature. While neither as heady as Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club nor as visceral as Craig Davidson’s The Fighter, this convincing meditation on combat skews admirably close to the stories of F.X. Toole as it plunges toward its harrowing ending.
A real shot to the heart—a resonant portrait of a man out to prove he can take anything the world throws at him.