The show's supposed to start at 7:30, but O'Hare doesn't get in to see the doctor from the boxing commission until 7:36. Carrine "The Punisher" Hamlett is there, gloves already on, carefully watching O'Hare. When their eyes meet, both women let out nervous laughs. Earlier, O'Hare recounted how, since Friday, she was trying to divine her opponent's strategy. "She had such low energy; she was so calm. Is she going to come out like a hurricane, like most girls, or is she going to take it easy, be all cool?

"I had to stop talking to her yesterday," O'Hare confessed, "because I was starting to like her."

Now, back in her team's dressing room after the physical, an irked O'Hare exclaims, "What's up with taking your blood pressure right in front of your opponent?"

Jennifer Silverberg
O'Hare in the zone, getting her wrists taped by Jose Ponce pre-fight.
Eric Fogleman
O'Hare in the zone, getting her wrists taped by Jose Ponce pre-fight.

Butterflies in the stomach, Ponce has said again and again, are a good thing.

At 7:49 O'Hare's gloves go on. Five minutes later Finney, Ponce and Leyshock huddle up with their fighter and her brother Michael, who has snuck downstairs to lead them in a short prayer. Ten minutes of mitt work later, Leyshock estimates they still have another half-hour to wait. Yells O'Hare: "This is the worst damn part!"

More than once, the stress and sacrifices have made O'Hare consider giving it all up. Though the money is nice — her first pro matchup netted her $1,200; this payday will prove slightly bigger — she could live without it. Sometimes, too, she thinks about how far she has gone in school and wonders, "Why am I doing this?"

Tossing in the towel, though, might mean disappointing the people she has made so proud.

"Jamie inspires me regularly," says Bruce Clements, a scientist with Clean Earth Technologies who knows O'Hare from his days as associate director of SLU's Center for the Study of Bioterrorism and Emerging Infections. "And she won't promote herself, but her many friends will."

Clements is one among a cheering section of 160 that awaits O'Hare in the ballroom. A diverse crowd, they are friends from high school, college, SLU and the Circuit Attorney's Office, even her hairstylist, not to mention her octogenarian grandparents.

O'Hare also can't deny what she loves most in boxing at this point in her life: "You get inside that ring, and you can't run from anything, like you can in the rest of the world."

Finally, at 8:34 p.m., Team O'Hare gets the call to wait in the wings.

Six days a week of training, two-a-days for the past two weeks, about to culminate in four two-minute rounds.

"Quick jabs, a little smoke 'n' mirrors," Ponce has instructed. "Then the body shot. Get that elbow in her ribs. Keep your chin down, especially if she comes in close. If she's fast, dig that glove into her chest."

O'Hare thinks she might vomit.

At a quarter to nine, Dena Low turns over her ringside seat beside husband Reed to Mary Ellen O'Hare. As the words "All Heart" come over the mic, Mary Ellen jumps up and tries to scream but has already lost her voice.

Bagpipes roaring, the spotlight shines on Jamie O'Hare, hooded and motionless in her shiny new robe, emblazoned with "Upper Cuts." When the horns abruptly cut to rock band Korn, O'Hare swaggers to the ring, arms hoisted in the air.

The bell sounds at 8:49 p.m. Effervescence be gone. Still, round one has a politeness to it; O'Hare and Hamlett look like they're getting to know each other, tossing quick jabs but mostly playing their hands close to the chest.

The women pick it up in round two, putting more power behind the punches. Although Hamlett appears to hang back, dancing a bit, she manages a solid right hook midway through that sends O'Hare stumbling.

"Uppercut! Uppercut!" yells Reed Low.

O'Hare comes back with a vengeance in the third round. She dominates with her lower-body movement, backing Hamlett into the ropes on every side. But for the most part both women's long reach seems to prevent them from getting close enough to really have it out.

"It felt more like a sparring session than a fight, and I liked that," Hamlett will say later.

"I was like, 'Come on, fuckin' fight me!'" O'Hare will grumble.

In her corner between rounds, O'Hare is getting it in both ears. No sooner does Finney issue a set of orders than Ponce chimes in with his own instructions just before the bell sounds.

Hamlett and O'Hare both turn up the heat for the last round, moving faster with their feet and their fists. But cut man Leyshock remains on standby. When the last bell rings, no one has gone down.

"If she doesn't win, I'm gonna kick this guy's ass," mutters Reed Low, shooting a glance at the ref.

O'Hare has a lot on her postfight to-do list, from a long-awaited visit to a new St. Louis cupcakery to training for early April's St. Louis marathon. She has also vowed to help Ponce get ready for his first fight in four years, and they both plan to get tattoos. (O'Hare envisions a pair of boxing gloves encircled with "September 23, 2006," the date of her mother's kidney transplant, and "Proverbs 3:5-6.")

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