The Kick That Changed Everything

April 30, 2024
4 weeks

“One more winning kick, Ali, and the world is yours,” his manager whispered, a greedy glint in his eye. Ali just grunted. Something was wrong. The energy of the arena felt thick, suffocating. He stared out at the crowd, their faces a blur, their cheers a dull buzz.

“Okay ladies, it’s almost showtime!” The head ring girl smiled, a practiced cheerfulness on her face. Maria tried to mirror it, but inside she felt a knot of fear tighten. “Remember, smile, walk, turn, pose,” she muttered to herself, a mantra against the swirling nausea in her stomach.

Moscow Calling

The ding of her phone startled Maria from her daydream. She was perched on a wobbly stool at the café where she waitressed, a stack of dirty dishes in front of her.

It was an endless treadmill of shifts, auditions with no callbacks, and the gnawing fear of her dreams slipping further away. But this – this email from Hardcore MMA – felt like a lifeline.

“You did it!” her best friend, Anya, squealed when Maria showed her the news. Anya knew how relentless Maria had been, sending out applications, practicing her walk in their tiny apartment.

“But… are you ready?” Anya’s voice held a hint of worry. She knew the reputation of MMA crowds, the leering eyes, and how vulnerable the ring girls seemed. Maria forced a confident smile. “Of course I’m ready. This is my chance.”

The Undisputed Champion

The roar of the crowd was intoxicating. Ali Heibati basked in it, arms raised in victory as another opponent crumpled at his feet. His team swarmed him, their praise a steady hum in his ears.

This was what he was born for, the adrenaline, the power, the feeling of invincibility. Yet, under the cheers, a discordant note sounded. “You fought sloppy tonight,” Dimitri, his trainer, muttered, a rare frown on his face.

Ali scowled. “Sloppy? I won!” Dimitri held his gaze. “Your focus keeps slipping. Something’s bothering you.” The fighter bristled but said nothing.

Of course things bothered him – the pressure, the money owed to the wrong people, the constant whispers about that incident in his past. He shoved it all down, a practiced move by now. He’d take care of it all… after the next win.

Scars Beneath the Surface

The gym emptied, the echo of training giving way to an oppressive silence. Ali peeled the tape from his knuckles, wincing at the raw skin underneath.

He stared at his reflection in the grimy mirror, the sculpted body and the hard glint in his eyes a stark contrast to his memories of laughter-filled childhood days. “You’re getting reckless, boy,” an angry voice cut through the quiet. It was one of the gym’s owners, an old-school boxer.

“That temper’s gonna cause trouble, mark my words.” Ali shrugged, a practiced mask of indifference in place. “Trouble finds me either way,” he mumbled, the words bitter on his tongue. He remembered the fight in the schoolyard, the expulsion, his father’s disappointed face. It was fight or be crushed, that was the lesson life had taught him.

A Mother’s Worry

The late-night call from Russia sent a shiver down Shirin’s spine. The news was always the same: another victory for Ali, followed by a hurried plea for money, and then a strained exchange laden with unspoken anxieties.

“You sound tired, my son,” she murmured, tracing the worry lines on her own face. Ali’s forced laugh echoed through the phone. “Just another day in paradise, Mother.” Yet, she heard the tension beneath his bravado, the hint of desperation seeping into his tone.

“Come home, Ali jan,” she whispered, her voice breaking. “Come home before it’s too late.” A long silence hung in the air before he finally replied, “I can’t, Mother. Not yet.”

Trouble Brewing

“Focus!” Dimitri barked, but his words barely registered. Ali’s punches were wild, fueled by a rage he couldn’t seem to contain. “What the hell’s gotten into you?” Dimitri snapped, yanking Ali’s gloves off.

Ali glared back, defiance simmering beneath the surface. “What’s it to you?” “It’s my job to keep you from self-destructing,” Dimitri shot back. “You’re fighting reckless, not smart. That temper’s gonna get you hurt.”

“Maybe I want to get hurt,” Ali muttered, the words barely audible. Dimitri stared at him, a flicker of concern in his weathered eyes. That wasn’t just pre-fight jitters; something much darker was swirling within his fighter.

A Shard of Doubt

The Hardcore MMA executives gathered in their sleek office, overlooking the Moscow skyline. “So, what about the Heibati rumors?” a newcomer asked nervously. “The online chatter isn’t good.”

The head of promotions, a man named Viktor, scoffed. “Rumors sell tickets, kid. Controversy equals cash.” He leaned back in his leather chair. “Besides, who else brings in crowds like this Iranian wild man?”

“But what if he snaps?” the newcomer pressed. Viktor’s smile was predatory. “Then we have ourselves a spectacle the likes of which MMA has never seen. Ratings gold, I’m telling you.”

The Night Before the Fight

“One step, pivot, smile, hold,” Anya instructed, acting as Maria’s mock audience from their cramped living room. Maria practiced her walk, trying to ignore the tremble in her hands.

“You’re going to be incredible,” Anya said, squeezing her friend’s shoulder. “But are you sure about this, Maria? Those MMA crowds…” “It’s a job,” Maria said, her voice a bit too firm. “And this could lead to other things. I need this.”

Across town, Ali slumped on his hotel bed, a half-empty bottle beside him. “Just one more won’t hurt,” he muttered, reaching for it. “One more to quiet the noise.” The faces of his opponents, his creditors, his mother, they all swirled around him, a maddening chorus he couldn’t escape.

A Chance Encounter

Maria stepped out of her building, taking a deep breath of crisp night air to calm her nerves. Suddenly, she collided with a figure lurking in the shadows. “Woah, sorry!” she gasped, recoiling. The figure grunted, pulling their hood further down to obscure their face.

“It’s fine,” a muffled voice replied, but there was something chilling in its tone. Maria scurried past, a prickle of fear running down her spine. Looking over her shoulder, she thought she saw a glint in the hooded figure’s eyes, but it could have just been the flickering streetlights.

The Electric Atmosphere

The Moscow arena crackled with a feral energy rarely felt even in the brutal world of MMA. This crowd wasn’t just here for sport; they craved spectacle, violence, a real-life drama to unfurl before their eyes. Backstage, Maria’s heart pounded against her ribs like a trapped bird. The other ring girls eyed her with a mix of pity and a veteran’s hardened stare.

“Don’t take it personally, doll,” one of them muttered. “The crowd, the fighters, they barely see us as people. We’re just… decoration.” Her words echoed in Maria’s mind as she took a shaky breath. “It’s just a job,” she reminded herself, even as doubt gnawed at her.

A Locked Gaze

The lights seared her eyes as she stepped into the octagon, the roar of thousands washing over her. Her gaze swept the crowd, searching for a familiar face, something to ground her, but then her eyes clashed with Ali’s.

He hunched across from her, muscles rippling, but his face was a mask of barely contained rage. It wasn’t the cocky grin of his previous fights, there was a darkness in his eyes, a hunger that made her skin crawl.

The Clock Ticks

The first round began like a nightmare. Maria mechanically circled the cage, the numbers on the card a jumbled mess in her head. Ali stalked her, not with the measured movements of a calculated fighter, but like a cornered animal.

The referee’s whistle seemed muffled, the bloodlust of the crowd blurring into a single, monstrous roar. Every hair on her body prickled with an instinctive fear.

“He’s not right,” Maria tried to tell the ref during a break, but the man just laughed. “Heibati always brings the crazy, sweetheart. Adds to the show!” His flippant tone sent a fresh wave of panic through her. This wasn’t a game, not anymore, something was about to snap.

A Split Second Decision

The bell pierced the haze of adrenaline and terror. Maria turned to walk away, to escape for those precious seconds before the next round, and it happened. The speed was inhuman.

One moment Ali was crouched, the next a blur of muscle and rage. His heel struck her lower back with bone-jarring force, the impact knocking the breath from her lungs.

Pandemonium Erupts

Time warped. For a second, there was absolute silence, the crowd stunned. Then, it was as if the arena itself roared in response. Maria collapsed, the pain a blinding wave.

Through blurred vision, she saw Ali standing over her, a cruel smirk playing on his lips. The fury ignited within her, hotter than the pain, overriding shock. She scrambled to her feet.

“ARE YOU INSANE?” she screamed, her voice trembling not from weakness, but sheer rage. The crowd was a deafening wall of sound now, boos and cheers mingling in a frenzy. Ali stepped towards her, and she didn’t back down…

Confrontation in the Cage

“You think you’re a big man?” Maria spat, lunging at Ali. The ref, finally snapping out of his stupor, wrestled her back. Ali just laughed, a chilling, hollow sound that echoed through the arena.

“Temper, temper,” he mocked, mimicking her voice. “Little girls shouldn’t play in the big leagues.” Something snapped in Maria. She twisted free of the ref, tears of fury blurring her vision.

“You coward!” she yelled. “Hitting a woman? What makes you a fighter?” The crowd roared, their cheers and jeers feeding the frenzy.

A Forced Choice

Amidst the pandemonium, two Hardcore MMA officials shoved through the chaos. “Get her out!” barked one, a man Maria recognized from the weigh-in. His smile was predatory.

“No!” she shrieked, struggling against their grip. “I’m not leaving until that maniac is gone.” The official snarled. “Sweetheart, this is a business. He’s the star, not you. Comply, or your ‘modeling career’ goes down the drain.”

The world swayed. It was monstrously unfair. She wanted to fight, but the icy fear of losing everything she’d fought for clawed at her. And through it all, she saw Ali watching, a twisted satisfaction in his eyes.

A Brutal Knockout

The fight resumed, a grotesque farce after what had transpired. Ali, driven by rage and perhaps shame, fought wildly. Osipyan, cool and collected, capitalized quickly.

Within a minute, the fight was over, Ali flat on his back, a look of disbelief on his face. The crowd went wild, some with vicious delight at his downfall, others with bloodthirsty disappointment at the short match.

Justice Served (…or is it?)

Before Osipyan could even savor his victory, Ali was on his feet, lunging not at the ref, but at his opponent. Chaos descended once more as security flooded the octagon, fists flew, and the roar of the crowd reached a fever pitch.

Maria watched from the sidelines, dragged away by the officials, a hollow feeling where the fury had once burned. Was this it? Ali would likely get a slap on the wrist, the promotion had squeezed more spectacle from the madness, and she…she was a pawn in their game.

A Night of Fury

The internet was ablaze before the blood was even mopped from the octagon floor. Gruesome clips of the kick multiplied with terrifying speed, fueling endless debates. Maria’s face became a symbol overnight, some hailing her as a feminist icon, others tearing her down.

“That girl had it coming,” one commenter snarled on a viral video, his words echoing the thoughts of thousands. “Attention seeker, knew the risks.” Maria, curled on her sofa, bile rising in her throat, scrolled past a barrage of abuse. The tears came then, hot and desperate.

The Hunt for Ali

News alerts blared: FIGHTER FLEES AFTER VICIOUS ATTACK. Maria stared at the headline, numb. Ali was a ghost, vanished into the labyrinth of Moscow.

She pictured him cornered, lashing out, and felt an unexpected pang—not of pity, but of a shared understanding of that dangerous cornered-animal feeling.

“You think they’ll find him?” Anya asked, her voice breaking the silence of Maria’s apartment. Maria shrugged, a flicker of bitterness in her eyes. “Probably. And they’ll give him another fight, and the crowd will go wild again.”

Damage Control

Hardcore MMA’s headquarters were a war room. “This is a disaster!” the head of PR screeched, spittle flying. “We can’t lose Heibati, he’s our cash cow!”

A sleazy-looking lawyer interjected. “Let’s flip the narrative. The girl overreacted. Ali’s unstable, she triggered him.

We express regret, offer her a payoff… and make HIM the victim.” A wave of disgust washed over Maria when she saw the official statement: an apology devoid of sincerity, a thinly veiled attempt to protect their star.

Living a Nightmare

Sleep was a luxury Maria couldn’t afford. The kick played on a loop in her mind, the jeering crowd, Ali’s smirk. She jolted awake each night in a cold sweat, heart pounding.

The online abuse metastasized, trolls threatening violence against her and her family. “You have to report this,” Anya pleaded, watching her friend waste away. Maria shook her head.

“The police? The promotion? They won’t care. They’ll protect him, and I’ll be branded a troublemaker.” She felt trapped, a prisoner in her own apartment, the world outside a seething beast waiting to pounce.

A Mother’s Anguish

The knock at the door made Shirin jump. Two stern-faced policemen stood on her doorstep. They spoke in Russian, but the word “Ali” pierced her fractured understanding.

With shaking hands, she pulled her phone, hitting the familiar number for her son. It rang endlessly, a death knell for the gentle boy she’d raised.

Shirin collapsed onto her worn prayer rug. Images from the news replayed in her mind: Ali, enraged, striking the young woman, the fleeing crowd. A sob tore from her throat. “What have I done?” she whispered, “What have I created?”

Dimitri’s Regret

Dimitri paced the grungy gym, haunted by what-ifs. He’d seen the darkness in Ali, nurtured it even, prizing the killer instinct over the man’s well-being.

“Stupid old man,” he muttered, punching the heavy bag until his knuckles bled. His phone buzzed. It was a number from Iran. With a tremor in his hand, he answered.

Shirin’s voice was raw with anguish, her words barely making sense through the sobs. Dimitri listened, his own guilt a pit in his stomach. “I will help,” he promised, the vow heavy on his tongue. “I will try and make things right.”

The Investigation

Detective Kuznetsov was no stranger to the darker sides of the fight world – the drugs, the fixed matches, the casual brutality. But this… this was different.

He watched the clip of the kick again, the girl’s startled face, the chilling ease of Ali’s violence. His team dug relentlessly. The whispers, previously dismissed, now painted an ugly picture.

Ali kick Maria

An assault charge years ago, hushed up. Angry outbursts at other gyms. When they traced Ali’s cell signal, it led to a seedy part of Moscow known as a haven for those fleeing the law.

The Ban Hammer Falls

It wasn’t a surprise, but when the news hit, it still felt like a blow. ALIBI BANNED FOR LIFE, the headlines blared. Maria, watching from her barricaded apartment, felt a strange mix of vindication and emptiness.

The statement from Hardcore MMA dripped with false concern, referencing Ali’s ‘unfortunate struggles’. “Cowards,” Maria hissed. No mention of her, an inconvenient casualty in their game. The realization hardened her resolve. This wasn’t just about her, but about every woman who became a prop in this brutal spectacle.

An Unexpected Offer

Maria’s phone rang, the unknown number making her stomach clench. It was him – Viktor from Hardcore MMA, his smarmy voice barely concealing a predatory excitement. “Maria, darling, I have a proposition for you…”

The words spilled out: an exclusive, high-paying interview. But there was a catch, a sickening twist: they wanted her to confront Ali, on camera. The world would watch her relive her worst moment, all for the sake of ratings. Fury and nausea warred within her.

The Hard Choice

“Think of the exposure, Maria,” Anya urged, her voice a mix of concern and a glimmer of her own ambition. “You could turn this into something big.” Yet, Maria hesitated. She saw Ali’s face in her nightmares; the thought of willingly placing herself before him was unfathomable.

The offer lay on her kitchen table like a poisonous fruit. Money, a platform… but at what cost? She knew those MMA executives weren’t offering her an olive branch, but crafting a new weapon from her pain.

Dimitri’s Intervention

Frantic, she called the one person who might understand – Dimitri. The old trainer’s voice was thick with disgust when she explained the offer.

“They’re vultures,” he growled. “Preying on you, on Ali… this whole damn circus is rotten.” Yet, Dimitri wasn’t naive. “They have you cornered, girl,” he said gently. “Money has a way of…complicating things.” He knew poverty well, understood the lure of a lifeline, even one with thorns.

Acceptance (With Conditions)

Days turned into a sleepless blur. Maria sought the advice of a therapist specializing in trauma, but the decision lay squarely on her shoulders. “If I say no, they win,” Maria realized. “They get away with it.”

She called Viktor back, her voice steady. “I’ll do your interview,” she said. Surprise rippled through the line, then a greedy satisfaction.

But Maria had her demands: no scripted questions, a set she felt safe on, and the presence of her therapist off-camera. “Deal with it,” she snapped before hanging up.

The Stage is Set

The day of the interview, Maria felt like a gladiator led to the slaughter. The studio was stark, the lights blinding. Ali was already there, flanked by executives, putting on a performance of meekness.

Seeing him, that familiar rage sparked within her, but this time with a chilling focus. “Remember,” her therapist had said, “you’re not a victim here. You have the power now.” Maria squared her shoulders.

She wasn’t there to be broken again; she was there to wield the spotlight they so desperately craved… against them.

The Question

The cameras focused on Maria, her face a stoic mask. But her eyes, they burned with a thousand unspoken questions.

“Ali,” she said, her voice like a knife slicing through the tension, “why?” His answer started smoothly, the same rehearsed excuses.

But beneath the practiced words, she saw the flicker of resentment, the rage he desperately tried to conceal.

Maria’s Truth

Each word dripped with defiance. “I wasn’t just some girl in the ring,” she declared. “I was a person. You looked at me, not as an opponent, but as something to break.

This isn’t some isolated incident, is it, Ali? This is your pattern, preying on whoever you deem weaker.”

His defiance twisted into something darker. The executives shifted nervously, the potential for even more explosive ratings tantalizing, but a flicker of concern crossed their faces. This was slipping from their control.

The Mask Shatters

“Weaker?” Ali scoffed, the contempt in his voice palpable. “Don’t you dare act like some righteous hero. You’re nothing. I made you matter!” The dam had broken.

Any pretense of remorse, the last shreds of his carefully crafted apology, were tossed aside. He seethed with resentment, barely contained.

The Final Act

“You made me?” Maria spat back. “I was here living my life before you decided I was a target.” She rose to her feet, her small frame radiating power.

“You want people to be scared of you? Good. They should be. Because you’re not just a fighter, Ali. You’re dangerous.” Her voice cracked at the last word, the weight of it hitting them all. This was it. Ali lunged, his mask of control utterly gone.

The world witnessed him erupt, a raw display of the violence simmering beneath the surface. He was a feral animal, driven not by remorse but by the desperate desire to inflict pain, to dominate.

The True Ali Revealed

Security swarmed the stage, the scuffle echoing through the studio. Ali raged against them, spitting threats as he was dragged away. “This isn’t over, b****,” he screamed, his voice echoing. “You’ll regret this!”

In the aftermath, a stunned silence hung in the air. The spectacle had reached its zenith, but it wasn’t glorious, it was horrific. The MMA executives watched a mixture of disgust and calculating satisfaction on their faces.

Maria trembled, a mix of vindication and the lingering chill of his threats washing over her. He had played his final card, and it was the one that damned him forever.

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