This post originally appeared on VICE UK.
White collar boxing is where young British office workers train for just eight weeks, step into a ring, and pound the shit out of each other. According to the Facebook event page, thousands planned to cram into Bournemouth's Purbeck Hall this past Saturday night to watch over 40 contenders do just that, so I thought I'd go along to get a look for myself.
The birth of the culture is widely attributed to Gleason's Gym in New York, which has trained legitimate boxing champions such as Ali, Tyson, and LaMotta. Owner Bruce Silverglade started running informal fights for Wall Street city boys and, as the millennium turned, more and more started flooding through his doors. In 2000, Wall Street workers fought in a London event called "Capital Punishment," sparking an interest in white collar boxing in the UK.
The Bournemouth event was organized by the UK's largest white collar boxing promoters, Ultra White Collar Boxing Ltd. And with over 4,000 JP Morgan staff local to the area, many take part in the competition, meaning it was probably one of the best opportunities going to punch a banker without getting arrested. Mind you, more people seemed to be there to support Cancer Research UK—the charity the event was being held in aid of—than to watch the perpetrators of the economic crisis bleed in public.
The evening started early and ran until midnight, with batches of four new fighters brought to the two side-by-side rings every ten minutes, like a black eye production line. Each competitor had been told to sell 20 tickets to their mates. This lead to an atmosphere comparable to those charity runs and walks where everyone in the crowd is there to cheer on their friend as they sprint past, and then heads to the pub to get wasted.
The opener in ring one saw two men with 16oz gloves, headgear, and slight beer guts go head-to-head. It was six minutes of lurching hooks, jabs launched from flat feet, and poor stamina. Occasionally one made contact, sending the opponent stumbling backwards and their head guard spinning.
As the evening went on, the boxers got better and the audience got worse. A bottle thrown high in a looping arch came down on the table of some rival supporters 30 feet away, sending those seated there into a frenzied man-hunt through the standing audience. Men disappeared to the loos and came back with Polo nostrils.
In the foyer, a mass brawl surged in from the arena to the bathrooms, then back to the arena and finally to the smoking area. All that madness left blood-splattered security guards and screaming women in its wake, as men from both factions stomped, punched, and head-butted their way through the building.
Outside, a man bleeding profusely out of his head stood wild-eyed and roaring. When a friend tried to hold him back, he tried to beat the shit out of him, too, covering the both of them in his blood.
Whoever dealt the damage to this tuxedo-clad man takes the title of best punch outside the ring, but in the competition that prize would have gone to Charlie Malyon. Charlie (in the blue above) showed himself to be most capable competitor, his reactions impressive as he rolled out of jabs and swung back with fast, teasing shots, obviously disorienting his opponent.
The match soon after was between Matt, a JP Morgan employee, and a man named David. Thanks to his height and size advantage, the audience favored Matt—and, for most of the first round, it seemed they were right. However, in the second round David came back, racking up the points with flurries of jabs and hooks. By the third round, wariness and weariness had set in and the pace slowed, prompting grappling and lighter jabs over the go-for-broke efforts of the previous rounds. The score closed with David winning 28 to 29, leaving Matt visibly disappointed.
A minute after the match I spoke to a remarkably upbeat Matt and some of the other contestants in the foyer.
VICE: Why white collar boxing?
Matt Elcock, JP Morgan: I've always done a bit of martial arts—always enjoyed keeping fit—and then I started boxing six months ago as a personal challenge. When this came along, I thought, Why not put it to use?
How have you been feeling today?
Yeah, mixed emotions. You're up, down, pumped, knackered, and then shitting yourself. Waiting to go through those doors, there's no feeling like it. Scary stuff.
You lost by one point. How do you feel about the result?
Yeah, obviously everyone wants to win, and I'm gutted I didn't, but I can hold my head up high. We went toe-to-toe, exchanged blows... to be honest, it could have gone either way. First round was mine, second was his, third was even Stevens. I think I had the better technique and was fitter, but he landed those hooks. They were devastating. Even with the guard up, it fucking hurts, mate. It fucking hurts. Kudos to him.
Why white collar boxing?
Aran "The AK-47" Kennedy, Deep Motion UK House Events: I signed up after hearing about it on Twitter. I saw "eight weeks free training, raising money for cancer research" and thought, I'll have some of this.
How are you feeling about entering the ring in a minute or two?
Well, I've always had this saying: "There's no better feeling than getting punched and raising money for cancer research."
How important is winning to you?
We've won before we walk into the ring... but yeah, winning would be an added bonus. But the real reason there are 2,000 people here is for Cancer Research UK—it's a cause that affects all of us personally.
Hi Calvin. What motivated you to fight today?
Calvin Brandon, self-employed property maintenance expert: I've always wanted to have a go at boxing, but I've always put it off. I'm 37 now, so I thought, If I don't do it now, I never will. I've raised over $1,500 for Cancer Research, so it's a really good feeling.
You're a bit bloodied, any regrets?
No, nothing hurts—but it probably will in the morning. It was a good fight. He caught me loads of times, especially in the first round in the face, but I got some good body shots and got a draw in the end.
Why white collar boxing?
Adam Miyanji, Health-On-Line customer consultant: My workmate told me to get involved—he's a competitor as well. I thought, Why not? Fuck it. It's a bit of fitness and the best thing I've ever done.
How did you do?
I didn't win, but I tied my fight, stuck to my game-plan. But, more importantly, I got the adrenaline flowing.
Are you more Fight Club or Rocky?
I tried to be a boxer, but it ended up with a Fight Club kind of vibe. You can't help it—you want to stick to the game-plan, but if someone wants to brawl, you're gonna brawl. When someone punches you in the face, the natural reaction is to try and punch them in the face. It's the first fight I've ever had.
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