- Special Sections
- Public Notices
Editor's note: The following story and photo are being reprinted with permission from The Kentucky Kernel. This story was published in the fall of 2008 after Lebanon native Mitchell Lancaster participated in his first ever boxing match at the University of Kentucky.
Just breathe. One breath in, one breath out. Eyes focused. Don't blink. Let him make the move, but keep those hands up. And don't forget to breathe.
Mitchell Lancaster stares straight ahead. Two of his fraternity brothers scream advice in both of his ears, another 40-plus chant "S-A-E" behind his corner.
Lancaster, an undeclared freshman and Sigma Alpha Epsilon pledge, doesn't move. Amid the raucous crowd of more than 2,000 peers and the overwhelming smell of sweat and alcohol, he stares straight ahead at his opponent.
Usually, people at Tattersalls watch horses trot where Lancaster sits to decide if they want to make a purchase. Tonight, students trample the floor sprinkled with sawdust remains with hopes of seeing a little blood.
Lancaster is one of 30 students competing in Sigma Chi's and Alpha Delta Pi's second annual Fight Night to raise money for Huntsman Cancer Institute and the Ronald McDonald House. Some are there for the good cause, others to test their fortitude. Lancaster just wants to show what he's made of.
See, Lancaster has never done this before. Ever. He's never boxed, set foot in a ring or even got in a schoolyard fight. He's trained for three weeks for this very moment, but nothing has prepared him for the pressure of putting his heart on the line in front of his peers.
But none of that matters now. Now is the time. After weeks of training, the moment has finally come. The bell rings.
Lancaster, standing 6-foot-2, weighing just under 170 pounds, dances out from the wooden chair in his corner. He covers his face with his fortress of fists, peering over his gloves just enough to see his opponent, Griffin Barron of Delta Tau Delta.
Barron, a good three inches shorter than Lancaster, has his left arm dropped slightly below his neck, his right arm cocked and ready to fire. Compared to the previous six fights, the two wait what seems like minutes. Barron bounces from toe to toe, Lancaster waits patiently to see what Barron's plan is, what move he makes.
And then it happens. Barron blasts a right hook and connects with Lancaster's face.
Just breathe. One breath in, one breath out. Eyes focused on the computer screen. Only a few more pages to go. Just keep typing. And don't forget to breathe.
Lancaster sits at a desk at the W.T. Young Library. It's less than 24 hours until his big boxing debut. But Lancaster has a take-home exam to complete.
It is due the next day, but all he can think about is the fight.
"I am completely nervous," Lancaster says. "I have no idea what to expect."
Lancaster bobs his head to his iPod. His eyes are fixed on his computer, his mind on Thursday night's fight. Lancaster finishes his exam at 2:30 a.m. on Thursday.
"I don't know how it turned out," Lancaster says of the exam.
He goes home and does what any prize fighter does the night before a fight. He sleeps. Well, all six hours of it anyway. He gets up at 8:30 a.m., goes to his classes and then heads to work at Commonwealth Stadium, where he serves as a graphic designer for UK Athletics.
He doesn't talk to anybody at work. His mind, focus and attention hasn't deterred from what lies ahead. Lancaster has had battles before - he played football, basketball and baseball at Marion County High School (Ky.) - but he's never done anything like this.
"I've played in front of fans before, but I've never played an individual sport in front of so many fans, so the amount of pressure is going to be built up," Lancaster says.
Lancaster got the idea to box after watching a YouTube video of his hometown friend Josh Buck in last year's Fight Night. The video, titled "You got knocked the 'Buck' out!" features Buck knocking out another boxer.
"The buildup around town, people talking about that video was so incredible it made me want to try out and see how it goes," Lancaster says.
So when Lancaster was asked to box about a month ago, he jumped at the chance. He started training about three weeks ago with five other boxers from SAE. They worked on stances and basic punches in the beginning, then started hitting a punching bag and shadow boxing (looking at a mirror and boxing).
The SAE boxers who did it last year offer Lancaster different techniques and advice, but they warn him that nothing can prepare you for that first hit.
"They said you have no idea what to think," Lancaster says. "You just take a deep breath, the bell rings and then you go."
Lancaster gets off work and heads to the SAE house. The six SAEs listen to music to get pumped up and then head to Tattersalls. It's almost time to go.
Just breathe. One breath in, one breath out. Stay focused on the fight. Don't worry what everybody else is doing. Keep visualizing. Stay calm. And don't forget to breathe.
Lancaster sits in a metal chair as some of his fraternity brothers start getting wrapped up. Some of them jump rope, others laugh. All of them watch as students clad in their fraternity and sorority letters walk past a white tent and into the main arena.
Gathered in a dingy, musty corner of Tattersalls, Lancaster and his fraternity brothers can't see the ring from where they're sitting. But as echoes from rowdy students bounce down a slippery hallway, the fighters all know it's almost time.
Lancaster, clad in a black hooded sweatshirt and gray sweatpants, stares straight ahead tapping his feet. He can't stop moving.
"Now that I'm here and I know what I'm going to be fighting in, I'm completely nervous," Lancaster says. "I've never been this nervous in my life."
His biggest fear is what lies just 50 feet up the poorly lit hallway. It's a cramped, muggy arena filled with stifling heat and his biggest critics - his peers. Lancaster doesn't want to eat canvas in front of them.
"My biggest fear is getting knocked out," Lancaster says. "If that happens I hope I'm just able to get up."
But his biggest problem right now is his mustache. Three weeks ago, he and his fraternity brothers were joking about growing them out for intimidation. Lancaster followed through.
He grew a mustache and dyed it black two days earlier. But it appears it was all for nothing. He gets word that he has to shave it off because it causes friction on his face, and can cause the skin to break.
Reluctantly, Lancaster gets a razor and shaves it off. He's not the only one. Guys pour into the bathroom one after another shaving their facial hair off. It's only after he shaves every hair off his face that he's told he only needed to shave around his chin and beard line. What took him three weeks to grow is gone in a matter of three minutes.
"That's going to be motivation for sure," Lancaster says.
The guy Lancaster will need motivation for in his 169-173-pound weight class fight is Griffin Barron of Delta Tau Delta.
Lancaster doesn't know him, but he's been checking his opponent out off and on for the last hour. They never talk.
"Ever since I spotted him I've been eyeing him out every 10 seconds or so." Lancaster says. "I caught his eye a couple of times."
Finally, at about 7:30 p.m., Fight Night kicks off. As soon as the national anthem concludes, fraternity guys start yelling for some action. The sorority girls, screaming at the top of their lungs, wouldn't mind a little blood either.
As the bald-headed referee ducks underneath the red, blue and white ropes, students at nearly every corner of the arena pass around energy drinks and Gatorade bottles. The arena reeks of whiskey and sweat. The humidity is almost unbearable.
The music starts blaring and the first two fighters appear through a yellow stained curtain and into the main arena. Lancaster heads ringside to watch three of his fraternity brothers fight. The first is Andy Littlefield, who is fighting in the 132-138-pound weight class.
Littlefield and his opponent, Phi Sigma Kappa's Errol Strauss, come out swinging. With every exchanged blow, Lancaster and a horde of SAEs one row deep yell louder and louder. The loudest comes when Littlefield lands a punishing hook to his opponent's nose. Blood gushes. The crowd wants more.
Littlefield wins. So do SAE's Grant Plummer and Josh Buck. That makes SAE 3-0 on the night, a perfect start for a fraternity trying to win its second straight Fight Night. That also means the pressure is on Lancaster to keep the unbeaten streak alive. Ever since t