Zinka’s Fight Part 1: The Backstage Experience

Zinka’s Fight Part 1: The Backstage Experience

It is an amazing and beautiful experience to watch a fighter train hard and then be supported through a fight. I got the chance to document the care, emotion and tradition that cumulates on fight day, and now I can share what I witnessed with you all. I cannot be sure how other people were feeling, but I can describe how they behaved, and I can for sure how I felt. 

This blog post is a little long, but I want to do it justice.

Walking into the stadium, everything was clean and organized, yet you could feel a buzz in the air — a mix of tension and excitement. It felt like there was this sense of “collective controlled stress”, where everyone knew what they were doing, but unsure of what lies ahead. At times I felt quite intimidated by the many serious super fit folks milling about. But many of them were smiling and seemed friendly! 

In the dressing room there were silent fighters laying down, mentally and physically preparing for the fight with their coaches doing their thing. I felt this heavy tension in the room, except for our corner. We were almost constantly laughing. There were general jokes, and then there were “roasts” where people would playfully, lovingly insult each other for the amusement of the group. It was verbal sparing, you could say. A nice warm up of the wits, and there were lots of smiles. I know I was smiling the entire time my face hurt by the end. Every team has a different preparation style. I really like ours :) 

On Zinka: she was so incredibly focused. She had a “set face”…sort of relaxed face with a light smile, a relaxed brow but hard focused eyes. She was so calm, and seemed happy and excited. It was amazing to watch that. I felt I was more nervous than she was. And I was only watching! 

Now it came time to do the hand wraps. I had seen this process in fight promos and movies, so I was excited to watch it in person. The fighter sits backwards in a chair with their arms resting on the back of the chair for the coach to wrap. The coach then seems to zoom in on hand warping, carefully, methodically, with great care and intention, the coach lays pieces of tape that turn into a very sturdy hand wrap unlike you would normally wear to a kickboxing class. The end result almost looks like a board attached to the hand. 

During this process, the coach is almost always saying something. From what I could see, the two coaches that wrapped Zinka’s hands were giving her a sort of pep talk,  spoken in such a low, soft tone I could not hear even though I was only 2 feet away with my camera. Of course there were jokes thrown in. No one was safe from a joke at their expense. Not even me. 

While this was going on, Zinka was getting a good arm and leg rubdown from training bestie Michele to help her loosen up. Lots of Thai oil was applied, and it’s wonderful wintergreen smell filled the room. It was amazing to watch so many people come together all to support Zinka in her fight.

On to hand no.2. Zinka takes her headphones off and we can all hear the Emenem power rap blasting from them. It sets the mood nicely. I know the music filled me with a happy adrenaline. We are getting closer to fight time, and the hand wrappings get faster. Amazingly, everything went just as fast as it needed to be. Every step was timed so well, there was never much feeling of rush. 

Then came jump rope time, and that is when I knew fight time was coming up soon. From here, time sped up. The martial came to check our gear and make sure Zinka’s gear met safety specs. He was nice nice. While he was there there were more joking, smiles, and we got the all clear. 

As fight time got closer, Zinka’s breathing got louder and deeper. 

And then its time to warm up with the pads. 2 different coaches, Kenny and James, take her throw the paces for about…3 minutes each? Zinka nails it each time. Every time she hits the pads you hear a loud, solid smack sounds. She is fluid and strong, with the couches explaining “nice! Excellent. Ough!”. The mood in the room swells as we see Zinka do so well. She is so ready, and we are so ready to watch her. Its going to be a good fight no matter what. 

Final chat, and now we are ready to head downstairs. Showtime. 

Photos and article by Kate Mitchell

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