Queen of Swords
By Natasha Vargas-Cooper
For several minutes, she’s silent and doesn’t respond to my questions. “Yeah…it’s just… I’m from the hood, you know? We just need to be careful. Especially now,” Fox says grimly. “Keep asking me questions.” She gives directions, looking ahead.
I ask if she got her nickname from the tarot card the Queen of Swords. According to the card’s interpretation, the queen is holding a sword in one hand for self-protection, extending the other hand to protect others. The card is also meant to represent someone who has known sorrow.
“Nothing like that,” Fox says. The name came from a Facebook post. The transgender parent of one of her friends had recently been heckled on the street by a pack of men, and the friend posted that she was all right because she was “a queen of swords.” Fox didn’t know exactly what that meant, but it stuck. “That was like me in the ring,” she says. “I’m a Queen of Swords. I’m untouchable.” We drive on.
“Punch him in the gooch!” one red-faced, porky man bellows to the fighter pinned on the mat. A few of the man’s friends lean over the railing surrounding the cage to scream more instructions. The fighter on the ground can’t see. Blood is gushing from his opponent’s severely lacerated brow onto his face and eyes. We are still several hours away from Fox’s fight (her bout against Jones is announced as “the co-main event”), and the arena in Coral Gables is only one-third full with ticket holders still sober and chatting, paying little attention to the fighters grappling on the bright white canvas in a marinade of their own gore.
Fight night is date night. Aside from the roaming, boozy tribes of men, many of the spectators are couples. They’re the American-born sons and daughters of the Cuban exile community, a notoriously reactionary lot. Tonight the guys are gelled up and buttoned down in Express for Men shirts. The women are outfitted in Roman sandals, tight white denim, and flashy halter tops. They’re as tucked, plucked, snipped, and suctioned as Fox. They’re also the ones who will greet her with the greatest level of contempt.
“I want you doing the rear naked choke, triangle submission -- take it from the wrist to the arm bar!” coach Alex Trujillo barks, leaning in close to Fox. Trujillo, a former MMA fighter and the owner of the Midwest Training Center, arrived late last night to instruct Fox through the match. Fox sits on a stinky old couch in a bare dressing room. She’s concentrating so hard she looks like she could snatch a fly from the air. Trujillo, like some maniac shaman, has been holding Fox in a multihour trance. This is the ritual: Smith and Fox sit silently as Trujillo catalogues all of Fox’s strengths -- her ground game, round kicks, surgically precise jabs. Then they huddle over his iPhone and watch footage of Jones on YouTube, dissecting every move. They Google pictures of Jones to zero in on any physical flaws Fox can target. Jones used to weigh 200 pounds until she took up boxing several years ago. She’s a hard hitter, the group agrees, but she’s hopeless when forced on her back. Smith and Trujillo anticipate the fight will be over by the end of the first five-minute round.
“Be aggressive, squeeze, and breathe,” Trujillo tells Fox from his creaking metal chair. “You’re a better fighter, you know that! You’re in a whole different place. Don’t rush taking her to the ground. You’ve already fought better competition! You just need to—”
The door swings open, breaking Fox’s trance. A small man in a blazer enters. “Hi, Fallon,” he says, “I’m the inspector from the league. I just wanted to ask: Did you already take the pregnancy test?”
Lubricated by a heady mixture of booze and blood, the crowd, now doubled in size, starts to pay attention when the lights go down for the co-main event. Giant pixilated monitors play the perfunctory three-minute video introduction to the female fighters, a clip show of press conference footage and tight-zoom mini-interviews with the fighters. It’s pretty routine stuff until the words “transgender” and “gonadectemy” flash across the screen. Those who catch it start to gape. Others reach for their phones and frantically Google pictures of Fox. Sneers and looks of disgust begin to ripple through the crowd.
A baritone announcer calls Jones to the cage first. Each fighter gets to choose her own entrance music. Fox, a fan of industrial metal like Ministry, Otep, and Kitty, has picked a hard-edged dubstep remix of a song from her favorite video game, Call of Duty. Now, as the spotlight hits Jones, speakers blast “Dude Looks Like a Lady” by Aerosmith. The crowd roars -- they have chosen their warrior. When Fox emerges into the open arena stage, she is greeted by howls of execration.
“So she’s a guy who wants to beat up women? How fucked up is that?” one man shrieks. “He’s a woman who wants to fuck gay guys!”
A table of couples seated in the VIP section guffaw derisively, “Queen of Swords?”
“Fucking tranny freak!” another man shouts through his cupped hands.
The bell rings. Jones is quick on her feet and leads Fox around the cage. Fox can’t find an immediate opening, so she assaults Jones’s femur with a blitzkrieg of kicks. Jones, thick and stolid, seems unfazed. When Jones tries to kick back, she loses her footing. Jones blocks and dodges Fox’s jabs but eventually lets her hands drift down low. Fox bull-rushes Jones into a corner and lands two rapid punches to Jones’s chin and nose. As Jones’s head snaps back, the crowd grows into an angrier, threatening mass.
“Kick him in the balls! Kick him in the balls!” a swath of the front row chants.
The fight goes on much longer than Fox anticipates. It’s sloppy and slow, and Fox grows noticeably more and more frustrated. Jones has been on defense for two rounds, darting and avoiding Fox. When Fox is able to finally bring Jones to the ground after 10 agonizing minutes, Fox flashes a smirk, cast huge on the monitors. The crowd erupts in a paroxysm of boos.
“Nasty bitch!” screams one woman.
In the third round, Fox drives Jones into the blood-stained canvas, pressing her torso onto Jones’s chest. Fox slides her shin onto Jones’s throat, and her mouthpiece begins to slide out. She cuts off the blood flow to Jones’s carotid artery with her leg, and Jones’s face contorts in panic, her left hand slamming down twice on the floor. Fox wins through submission after 16 minutes of fighting.
As Fox takes her victory stride backstage, a father and his son ask to take a picture with her. They congratulate and high-five her. Two women run down from the stands to hug her. Other spectators stand up and give her a thumbs-up as she passes them. There’s a smattering of applause as Fox leaves the arena; it’s small, but it’s more than she started with.
Fox eases down into the metal chair in her dressing room, drawing her knees to her chest. She’s compacted herself into a dot. Trujillo and Smith are quiet. “Why did it go on for so long?” Fox asks softly, a little bewildered. “What happened?”
Trujillo and Smith walk Fox through the fight. They tell her she got frustrated by Jones’s lack of aggression and it muddied her technique. “You wanted a real fight, and she just wanted to survive,” Trujillo says, his manner softer now but still direct. I ask Fox if she heard “Dude Looks Like a Lady” before she went into the cage.
She flinches. “I did,” she says. There’s a tense pause. Fox takes a hard swallow. “That was cheap. I don’t—”
“It psyched you out,” Trujillo interjects, as though he’s been waiting to say it since the bell rang. “That’s what she wanted to do. And she succeeded. It fucked with your head.”
Fox does not disagree.
I pull Smith outside the room to talk privately. I ask if he noticed the crowd’s reaction. He did. What’s his reaction? I ask. “If she was crying, I would be crying, too, right now,” Smith says. “But she’s not.”