“You never know how strong you are, until being strong is the only choice you have.”
The crowd roared.
The stands rumbled.
The entire place went crazy as Felix Sanchez entered and walked through the sold-out Vegas venue with his entourage. Of all the fights he’d been in, this was by far the biggest of his career. Winning the professional titles to begin with had been huge, but the hype leading up to this fight had been unprecedented.
In the past two years, he’d buffed up enough to now be fighting in a heavier bracket. He’d be defending his title against Pauly Grecco, the up-and-coming Italian phenomenon with an impeccable record. He was the first contender who was actually thought to have a slight chance of taking the title from Felix. So far, no one had even come close.
Felix had made more appearances on shows all over the world to discuss and hype this fight than he’d had in the past. Win or lose he stood to walk away with his biggest paycheck to date. Many of the critics suggested that maybe that’s why he wasn’t taking this fight as seriously as he should have been. It had been reported that, while he’d been busy promoting and flying from country to country and touring the states to make different appearances and shows, Grecco had been training nonstop and not taking this fight for granted as Felix was being accused of.
Smiling as he stepped into the ring to the crowd chanting his name over and over, Felix shook off the annoying thoughts of what all the sports commentators were saying, and waved out at the crowd. He then brought his attention to Athena as she made her way out to the center of the ring. As the provocatively dressed young pop diva was introduced, the buzz in the crowd was very telling of what everyone was thinking. She was there because of him.
Not so. That was entirely his publicist Andy’s doing. It was no secret that Felix and Athena had had a thing going a few months prior. He’d been seen with her several times in the last month, but things were in no way getting serious like the tabloids were implying. As usual, Andy seemed to think any publicity was good publicity, and since Felix didn’t care what anyone thought, he’d let the public come to its own conclusions.
When Athena was done belting out the national anthem, the crowd once again went wild in anticipation of one of the biggest fights in years.
As soon as the bell rang to start off the first round, Felix knew he might be in trouble. Grecco went right at him, putting the crowd on its feet, and the entire place thundered as Felix wobbled when Grecco landed a left hook.
Felix shook his head, trying to catch his bearings. He’d been in the ring no more than a few seconds, and already he felt shaky. Abel hadn’t been kidding when he said Grecco had a wicked left hook.
“Focus and readjust!” Noah yelled from the sidelines.
Refusing to panic because every punch that Grecco had thrown so far he’d landed while Felix hadn’t landed any, he pulled away and focused. Just as Noah said, he had to readjust. Clearly his opening plan was not going to work. When Abel had warned him of Grecco’s left hook, Felix had countered that it was wicked and dangerous when he landed them. Felix had thought he was too fast and didn’t think Grecco could throw it fast enough to catch him. Now, less than a minute into the fight, Grecco had already proved him wrong.
Not a problem.
Felix just had to rethink his strategy. This wasn’t the first time he’d had to, and he’d always come up on top. The round was coming to a close, and Felix figured he’d take the time between rounds to refocus.
Very mindful of Grecco’s left hook now, Felix kept his eye out for it with his right hand up to block any sudden jabs. The ten-second warning bell rang, and Felix knew he was home free, though admittedly he was far more exhausted than he should’ve been after just one round.
Grecco’s right jab came out of nowhere, landing a massive blow to the left side on Felix’s face. The last thing Felix saw was Grecco’s stunned expression before Felix’s face hit the canvas and everything went black.
One year later
“I’m not going to jail. I didn’t kill anyone. I paid for the damag—”
“You’re missing the goddamned point!” Preston Styles, Felix’s current publicist, threw his arms up in exasperation.
“Well then, enlightening me, Preston!” Felix yelled right back. “Because you’re acting like this is the fucking end of the world and it’s not.”
“You hired me not just to help manage your career but to do damage control with the mess you and Andy made of it. And ever since, all you’ve done is continue to go downhill. It’s almost as if you’re trying to ruin your career.”
“Oh yeah? And what career would that be, huh? My boxing career? Because I think we can both agree that ship has sailed. I’m just trying to enjoy my life now.”
“How? By getting drunk every night and partying ’til you pass out? By starting brawls and beating the shit outta every nobody that calls you a has-been?” Preston followed Felix into the next room of his penthouse suite. “You’re not washed up, Felix. But if you keep treating your body the way you have been this past year—staying up every night, fucking every girl who throws herself at you, and partying up for days—you will be. Hell, even your dick’s gotta say I’ve had enough sooner or later.”
Felix laughed, taking a swig of his glass of bourbon. “Not a chance.”
“You don’t think so?” Preston asked as adamantly as only his obstinate ass could. “You don’t think one of these days or nights you’re not gonna stick that thing in the wrong whore and it won’t ever be the same again or that all those fucking cigarettes you smoke and drugs you take won’t make you go limp sooner or later?”
“I don’t do drugs anymore,” Felix snapped, setting his glass down and pulling out a smoke.
“Yeah, well, drinking that hard shit and starting your chain smoking at seven in the morning isn’t much better.”
“No, you listen to me,” Preston said with conviction. “This isn’t just about you anymore, okay? I know you think the world revolves around your pretentious ass, but I have a reputation to keep up too. You may not care about your career anymore, but I care about mine. Potential clients are watching, and when I took this job, the deal was you’d listen to what I had to say. You’d do whatever I decided was in your best interest, and so far, you’ve done neither. If I walk away now, I won’t be losing much. Do you really think anyone would blame me? So I couldn’t clean up Felix Sanchez’s sorry ass. You’ll just look like the pathetic lost cause that everybody said even “The Great Preston Styles” couldn’t fix. But if you expect me to stick around and not just cut my losses now, you need to get your head out of your ass, slow things down, and start listening to what I have to say, or I’m out.”