Of the dozens of fights involving Andrew Ball, be it on the street or in a kickboxing ring, two stand out as memorable: his first one at Lou Neglia's gym in Brooklyn and his last street fight, at the Merrick train station on New Year's Eve, that landed him in jail.
"I'm completely traumatized from it," Ball said. "Jail was terrible. I did six of nine months in Nassau County jail. In there, I just felt like an idiot. I was like 'Dammit, I should have just controlled myself.' I was worrying about my reputation. The kid tried to punk me out."
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That night, as 2009 gave way to 2010, was a relapse of sorts for Ball, now 26. He grew up in Merrick, the youngest of four children in a middle-class suburban town. He was a tough guy, the teen who looked for trouble more than trouble looked for him. There wasn't a street fight he wouldn't lend a fist to -- or something else.
"I used to be out at 2 o'clock in the morning, when he was a teenager, looking for him, driving around trying to find him," said his father, John Ball. "Those days were terrible."
"He was a scrapper," added his mother, Carol. "He just couldn't walk away from anything. He let his temper get the best of him in many ways. It was a headache all the time."
That was his old life, one where Andrew spent his first two high school years at St. Mary's home for troubled youths in Syosset instead of at Calhoun in Merrick with the rest of his friends.
His new life as a kickboxer continued Saturday when he defeated James Smith Jr. on the amateur undercard at Glory World Series 9 at Hammerstein Ballroom.
In the summer of 2009, a friend introduced Ball to Lou Neglia, a former world champion kickboxer who lives in Bellmore, runs a martial arts school in Brooklyn and is president of Ring of Combat, a highly respected MMA promotion in New Jersey.
Martial artists cite discipline, humility and character. Ball just wanted another way to defend himself in the street. He sought no higher moral ground that day in Neglia's gym.
"Every tough guy has his day," Ball said. "I knew I had a target on my head. I kind of painted it for myself."Neglia has seen street kids before. What occurred next, to the outsider may have looked like a slap in the face.
"I showed him how easily I could get to him, and he thought he was a tough guy," Neglia said. "I showed him how real fighting is setting his opponent up."
He threw Ball into the ring that day for sparring. It didn't go well. But then again, it did.
"Even though I got beat up, I loved it," Ball said. "I had a smile on my face, thought it was awesome. This is great. I can do this every week and never get into a fight again because all my energy is zapped. I was all beat up, but I felt great. That was the first day of my new life."
A far better response than when he used to come home from a fight in the street and worried about the repercussions -- both legal and social.
"You don't have to think about the repercussions, or getting arrested," Ball said. "It's stress-free. Stress-free fighting is pretty good compared to getting into fights and worrying that you're going to jail, that the cops are going to knock on your door or that you're going to get jumped now because you beat someone up."Ball is a martial artist now, not some thug. He doesn't feel the need to act tough or cool. His stepping into a ring implies toughness.
"Martial arts pretty much saved my life," Ball said. "I was getting locked up. From a young age, getting sent away, getting arrested real young. Martial arts gave me something to be good for. Gave me something to stay out of trouble for. Before, I didn't give a crap about nothing. What do I got to be good for? I didn't have a direction. All I cared about was my reputation. Now martial arts teaches you that instead of worrying about your reputation, you worry about your character. I wish I knew that growing up."
Lesson learned. Ball and his parents all credit Neglia for being able to reach him. Ball has a table of trophies and a WKA belt in his apartment, all thanks to Neglia.
"Sometimes the influence you have as a teacher or a champion, you could give them the same advice their parents give them but they look up to you because of the accomplishments." Neglia said.
Most young fighters dream about winning a title. Ball's goal is more attainable. He wants to open his own martial arts school and be a role model to other troubled kids in need.
As Ball moves forward in his new life, his past is always within reach mentally.
"When I fight, that's in the back of my head," Ball said. "I'm thinking that this kid didn't have it worse than me when I was growing up. Worse than me? I was out of control. How do you have it worse than me? I was away. I was away from my family. My parents didn't have custody of me. My friends didn't even know where I was."