Bloxham Manor Revisited
Friday 12 September 2001
Helen Norwood smiled as she saw the rust covered MG Roadster pull up outside the front doors of Bloxham Manor, smoke belching from its rattling exhaust pipe. From the passenger door Nikki Martin got out carrying a small sports bag and, sinuously, stretched her limbs. After four hours in the cramped cockpit of the little sports car she was stiff and aching, the muscles in her arms, legs and back painfully tight. Turning to the driver, she heaved another bag from the tiny rear seat and said, “I’ll take the bags and see you inside.” Joan waved and the MG roared off, spitting up gravel from the driveway.
Nikki climbed the steps to the big double doors which opened as she got to the top. “Take Miss Martins bags to her room, Wilson, and inform my wife our final guests have arrived!” James Norwood beamed at Nikki in a wide, toothy grin. “I’m so glad you could make it, Nikki. Helen will be thrilled! You’re the last to arrive and we thought we might have to revise the programme. Come in, I expect you’re hungry!” Nikki followed Norwood inside, explaining that their late arrival was due to trouble with Joan’s car.
Once inside James took Nikki’s old brown leather Jacket, saying, “I’ll call chef and get him to rustle you up some food.” Joan appeared after parking her car and James welcomed her, shaking her hand. “I’m just arranging something to eat for you both. Make yourselves comfortable.”
“Comfortable” was not how Joan felt at all. For three weeks, since confirming to the Norwood’s that Nikki would take part in the Bloxham Manor Champions Weekend, she had been troubled, though careful to conceal her concern from Nikki, who was very excited at the prospect! The appearance fee alone was £1000 with the winners of the matches on Friday and Saturday receiving another £2000. The highest purse Nikki had been paid so far was £1500 for her fight against Linda “Bomber” Hamilton, so taking home £5000 was extremely attractive! Of course, the money would be well earned as every one of the other competitors taking part were excellent boxers and wrestlers; but what worried Joan was the terms and conditions of the contract.
To start with, the fighters would be matched completely by random and each fight would be over 12 rounds of boxing, or 30 minutes wrestling. With seats costing in excess of £200 the spectators wanted their money’s worth! Another thing that bothered Joan was the stipulation that Sunday night was to consist of free style matches between the winning fighters from the previous nights as chosen by the spectators. These would be “semi competitive” with the style of combat drawn from a hat. Each fighter would be paid a further £500. The final part of the contract dealt with dress, and again Joan wasn’t happy with the condition that competitors would be required to fight topless, or wearing bikinis or lingerie. For her previous fight Joan had advised Nikki to wear something more showy and glamorous, knowing that she would catch the eye of both judges and spectators alike, but the thought of fighting topless offended Joan’s principles. At first Nikki felt the same, but as the weekend neared changed her view, seeing no problem, she said, with “giving the crowd a bit of a show” Besides, she argued, she sunbathed topless and certainly wasn’t ashamed of her body!
Both Nikki and Joan looked up as Helen entered the room. “Nikki! Joan! It’s good to see you! Come, I’ll show you to your room!” The two women followed her through the big Tudor style house, up a wide set of stairs and along a hallway adorned with framed photographs of women boxing and wrestling. Their room at the end of the hall contained two beds, wardrobes and chests of drawers and had a full length mirror on the wall.
“Your bathroom’s through there” said Helen. “If there’s anything you want just ask me or James. Now, Nikki, after lunch you can work out in the gym if you wish to loosen up, or use the pool. You won’t be fighting till nearly midnight, just before my match which ends the first night, so you have plenty of time to prepare.” Helen turned to Joan who was unpacking the bags, “This is a bit better than some of the places we used to fight, isn’t it Joan!” Joan continued with her unpacking and said, “I seem to remember you traveled 1st class even then, Helen!”
Lunch consisted of a light salad and fish for Nikki and when it was over she said, “I’m going to have a lie down Joan, then I think I’ll take a swim. See you in the gym at 6.00?” Joan agreed, saying, “I have a few things to se to with the car, but I’ll see you there. We’ll know who you’re fighting by then.”
Joan was quite useful with mechanics, which came in handy as her old MG was always breaking down. She had bought the metallic blue 3 litre Roadster with her purse for retaining the Southern England Women’s Combat Championship in 1984 and loved the car too much to consider changing it, despite its unreliability and lack of comfort. At a top speed of over 125 mph, with the top down and her hair flying in the wind, Joan got a thrill similar to the one she got in her fighting days. As she finished checking the oil level Joan heard the crunch of gravel and looked up to see Helen walking towards her. She wiped her grease covered hands on a rag and slammed the hood. “I’m amazed this old rust bucket still goes!” Helen remarked, “How long have you had it now? Must be years!” Joan glared with contempt, and replied, “You should know, I bought it with the money I got from beating you!”
Closing her tool box Joan said, “What do you want Helen? Lets not pretend we’re friends, or ever were!” Helen perched herself on the MGs hood and looked Joan straight in the eyes. “Nikki Martin. She can make James and me a lot of money, and do very well herself. You know the score, it’s all about having the right contacts, the right promoters. With a good manager Nikki could go all the way, but managed and promoted by us, it’s guaranteed!”
Joan had been expecting something like this, but Helens outburst still stunned her! “You must be mad if you think I’m going to hand that girl over to you and your con man of a husband! Yes, Nikki could go all the way, in fact she will, but she’ll do it on her own merits. She doesn’t need to have her fights fixed!” Helen ignored Joan’s remark “I hope you have a water tight contract with her, Joan. And get yourself a new car, this wreck isn’t safe!” she sneered, poking her finger through a rusty panel.
Nikki sliced through the water in a powerful crawl with long, easy strokes, and after finishing one last length she climbed out of the big indoor pool. Helen was waiting and handed her a towel. “Tonight you’ll be boxing Karen Marks, Nikki” she said, admiring the younger woman’s slim, toned body. Nikki continued drying off her hair and said, “What’s she like like?”
Helen smiled, “I keep forgetting you’re still new to all this, most of the girls on the circuit know each other. Karen’s from Germany. She’s quite tall, about my height, 5ft 10, and weighs 138 lbs. I won’t beat about the bush, she’s good, and has done well here on many occasions, but I think you can handle her if you fight as well as you did against Linda Hamilton. Karen likes to fight topless, but if you prefer to wear a bikini top that’s fine!” Nikki remembered the argument she and Joan had about fighting topless and grinned ruefully. “Joan isn’t happy with the idea of me fighting topless, so I’ll wear a bikini!”
“You have to do what’s best for you, Nikki. I’m sure Joan’s been a great manager but she’s wrong on this. It’s not enough just to be a good fighter you have to be prepared to give the promoters and sponsors something extra, and let’s be honest, sex sells! With your ability and looks you’re a promoters dream! And take it from me love”, Helen continued, gently pulling the towel from Nikki’s dripping body, “you’ve nothing to be ashamed of! Come with me, I’ve got something for you!”
Nikki looked at her reflection in the huge mirror, and was pleased with what she saw. Turning to Helen she grinned and said, “Thank you Helen, I like it!” Nikki was wearing a black bikini studded with tiny fake gem stones which sparkled and shimmered as they caught the light. Helen adjusted the halter neck top and said, “I wore this in my last fight before I retired against a real bruiser called Debbie Mills. I k.o.d her in the 9th round. I’ve gone up a size or two since then so I’ll never wear it again!” Both women looked round as a voice said “It looks as good on Nikki as it did you, dear!” James Norwood feasted his eyes on Nikki’s stunning profile as he stood in the doorway of Helens dressing room. “We’ll be ready to start in 5 minutes, Helen. Good luck, Nikki!”
It was nearly time. Joan tied Nikki’s shoulder length hair into a pony tail and then laced on her red 12 ounce gloves. When Nikki showed Joan the bikini Helen had given her the older woman had been annoyed. “I know you don’t like Helen, but she’s being really nice to me, Joan, and I don’t want to offend her” said Nikki. Joan didn’t want to argue, and besides, she had to agree that Nikki certainly looked eye catching! “I don’t know much about the Marks woman, but she has a good record. Stay away for the first round or two and feel her out. Let her come to you, Nikki, be patient!” There was a knock on the door and a voice said “10 minutes!”
Karen Marks sat in a chair as her trainer laced up her black boots. James Norwood stood with his back to the door as his wife and Karen spoke. “So carry her for 4 or 5 rounds, then go to work on her, but make it look good! The kid can box and is a real fighter, she won’t surrender quickly! I think she’s susceptible to body punches, so go for her belly! I don’t want her cut up!” Karen nodded, understanding exactly what Helen wanted. “Don’t worry, Helen! I’ll let her win a round or two, make her look good for the promoters, then put her away in round 6. Nobody but us in this room will be any the wiser!”
“Ladies and Gentlemen! Introducing in the red corner, weighing 128 lbs, from Kent, Miss Nikki Martin!” Appreciative cheers filled the hall as Nikki raised her arms to the crowd, a confident smile lighting her face. She felt good and was eager to begin! “And from Munich, Germany, in the blue corner weighing 138 lbs, please welcome, Karen Marks!”
Karen walked to the centre of the ring, took off her green robe and held it over her head. Her hard looking body had not an ounce of fat, and her legs were thick and heavy. Even her large, naked breasts appeared unyielding as she strode around the ring wearing just a green thong and black boots.
Nikki appraised her tough looking opponent, admiring her lean, glowing body with its well defined musculature, wide shoulders, narrow waist and slim hips. Joan reminded Nikki to stick to her fight plan and the bell sounded for round 1!
Moving in a tight crouch, bobbing and weaving her head, Karen cautiously went forwards, her left fist held like a range finder. Nikki flicked her jab, just brushing Karen’s gloved fist, held ram rod stiff in front of her. Feinting, she slipped inside and threw a right to Karen’s head, then, as the German woman scuttled away, hit her with a good left hook, surprising Karen with her speed.
Moving lightly on her toes Nikki danced away as Karen came forwards, head tucked in behind her guard in a peek-a-boo style. Again, undone by Nikki’s slick footwork, she received two sharp blows, one to her belly and then to her head, but just shrugged the punches off. Nikki was boxing well with style and skill, her speed and movement obviously troubling the German woman. With just seconds of the round remaining Karen was caught with a bewildering combination which brought huge cheers from the crowd! She staggered as a beautiful right cross rocked her head and winced from a solid body shot which cut into her ribs. Then showing her class, Karen let rip with a big left, sending sweat spraying from Nikki’s hair! The bell went with the crowd standing and roaring the two women on!
Karen came out in her low crouching style, her guard well up. The English woman was better than she had thought, and “carrying” her for a few rounds wasn’t going to be easy! Karen had adopted a defensive approach in order to make her opponent look more aggressive, but would soon have to switch to the more natural attacking style which had given her such success in her native country.
Nikki probed Karen’s defence, her jab darting into the woman’s face rhythmically and accurately, with Karen seemingly at a loss as to how to get past it. Suddenly Nikki stepped inside and let fly with a flurry of punches but as she moved away, dropping her right hand, Karen rose out of her crouch and threw a left over the top, stunning Nikki. As Karen came at her, fighting instinct took over and the crowd roared as the two women stood toe to toe and hammered each other! Joan winced as Nikki took a big right hand to the ribs followed by a series of hooks and upper cuts that nearly cut her in half! Then Karen was pushed back as Nikki launched a fierce, devastating combination to her head. The noise level increased 10 fold as blood seeped from Karen’s nose. Neither woman heard the bell as the referee stepped in between them!
“Don’t try and mix it with her!” shouted Joan “Keep boxing and moving, Nikki, she’s waiting for you to go to her!” “I think I hurt her, Joan!” Nikki panted “She’s made for me!” Joan shook her head “She’s fighting well within herself, being very, very clever! I don’t know why, but it’s as if she’s playing with you!” Nikki, adrenalin coursing through her, was sure Joan was wrong and that the German woman had been badly hurt. Joan wanted to believe her but something wasn’t right!
Round 3 started fast with Nikki going for the kill! Joan yelled at her to stay away and to box, but Nikki waded in with both fists, driving Karen back to her own corner.
From her seat at ringside Helen Norwood watched the two women as they slugged it out. Karen was doing a good job and had conned the audience and judges. “Hell!” she thought “She even had me fooled for a bit!”
Slowly the tide began to turn as Karen stepped up the pace and showed her true class with solid punches which ripped through Nikki’s guard, punishing combinations and vicious body shots. Now, halfway through the round, it was the English woman who was forced back to her own corner, desperately covering up! Joan could only watch as her fighter took a systematic beating as Karen pounded her with both fists but Nikki bravely refused to go down, instead fighting back on pure guts alone! Joan was proud of Nikki’s spirit but bewildered as Karen backed away, covering up again from Nikki’s wild, but ineffective swings! The round ended to another standing ovation.
Joan worked furiously, stopping the blood which trickled from a small cut above Nikki’s right eye and rubbing the tired looking girl down. “Do you want to stop, Nikki?” she said, wiping a wet sponge over the girl’s belly. “You took a beating last round, and Karen seems to be setting you up!” Nikki stared aghast and said, “No way! I can beat her, give me one more round, please Joan!” Joan knew how much this weekend meant to Nikki and said “One more!”
No longer boxing from a crouch Karen looked a different fighter as she used all her height and reach, moving fluidly across the ring. In the previous rounds she had seen how Nikki tended to drop her right hand as she moved back and to her left and was ready now to exploit the flaw!
Nikki was noticeably slower and more flat footed in her movements, the body punches of the last round obviously taking their toll. As Karen dropped her left shoulder, feinting to throw a right, Nikki stepped back and to her left, dropping her right hand, just as Karen knew she would! A thunderous punch landed square on her jaw as Karen’s left arced upwards! Nikki crashed to the canvas!
Dimly she heard the count above the roaring in her ears, and the crowd screaming at her to get up! “6! 7! 8!” Somehow Nikki hauled herself up, but was in a bad way. The referee stared into her eyes, then signaled “Box on!” Karen took her time, knowing that at least 90 seconds remained for her to finish the job! She smashed a right into Nikki’s breast and another into her belly, staggering her! With her hands low Nikki had no defence and Karen picked her off easily, sending her reeling. Dazed, against the ropes in Karen’s corner, Nikki was pounded helplessly and Joan screamed as she threw the towel in “Enough, stop it!” Karen sized the beaten girl up for one last punch, but the referee moved in quickly and Nikki sank to her knees!
Helen, already leaving ringside as the referee stepped, in was very pleased! By Sunday, she thought, Nikki Martin would have a new manager!