The rise of university Fight Clubs
Universities are now the latest venues for white collar boxing events. Source: Hermes Rivera/Unsplash

The opportunity to try out new hobbies is one of many great privileges afforded students during their university years. Whether it’s yoga, origami, kayaking, rock climbing, tap dance or chess, there are dozens of extracurricular activities available at every university campus. By signing up to one of these clubs, you can learn something completely new, step outside your comfort zone and make interesting new friends.

One extracurricular activity attracting a lot of interest across British universities is boxing, and more specifically, charity boxing challenges.

White collar boxing and charity boxing events have been popular among city workers and young professionals since the 1990s. As BBC Sports reporter Matt Slater, explains, “It started in Wall Street in the 90s when city boys there were training in quite famous amateur boxing gyms and basically decided let’s have a fight as well. That then went to the City, in London, and has now pretty much gone to every financial centre around the world. It’s very big in places like Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong.”

The white collar boxing craze of the 1990s also inspired the film Fight Club, starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton.

Universities are now the latest venues for white collar boxing events, with participants signing up to undergo an intense training programme before going head-to-head in the ring against challengers from different universities.

With university pride on the line, these fight nights are always sold-out events and have become highlights of the university social calendar. The men who aren’t fighting arrive ringside in suits, black ties and dinner jackets while women sport evening dresses and ball gowns. There are red carpets, after show parties and competitions to determine the ‘Best Dressed Students’. Reports in student magazines, such as The Tab, cover the events as well as the ‘sophisticated drinking’, with online polls for readers to select the best dressed spectators.

Recent charity boxing events have been staged at universities in Cardiff, Exeter, Bath, Newcastle, Glasgow and St Andrews, some of which have been held in 800-seat arenas. A typical charity fight night will feature 18 fighters competing in 9 bouts of 3 rounds each. If you’re interested in attending one of these events, you better be quick – tickets have previously been known to sell out in 14 seconds.

Boxing challenges are open to male and female competitors. Those who are brave enough to accept the challenge undergo between six and twelve weeks of rigorous training, which includes strict diet plans, an alcohol ban, distance running, weight training, speed bag workouts, shadow boxing and sparring. It’s essential that all volunteers complete the intense training preparation to ensure they’re in the best possible shape to last three rounds in the ring on fight night.

Another important decision lies in the adoption of an appropriate nickname for the fight. In previous events, students have chosen names to intimidate their opponents such as The Terminator, Skull Cracker, The King, The King Killer, The Table Smasher, The Shredder, The Tank and The Ukrainian Stallion.

Promoters insist that participation in these events is safe and that everything is done to ensure opponents are evenly matched. Fighters are all checked by paramedics before and after each fight. However, anyone planning to step into the ring at one of these ‘glamorous events’ will need to sign a waiver exempting the promoters from any blame if they get injured.

Professional and amateur boxing schools and associations have voiced their concerns about the safety of these events, as Marcellus Baz, a former boxer and founder of the Nottingham School of Boxing, which helps young people steer clear of crime and anti-social behaviour, explains, “Unlicensed centres regulate themselves. They put people in weight classes where one opponent can be quite a lot heavier than their competitor, and the experience can be varied, too.

“Parents will just be taking the word of someone that they will be okay – with no governing body to hold them to account if something went wrong.

“If you’ve been training for five or six weeks you will not physically be in a position to box two three-minute rounds.”

In the UK, amateur boxing is governed by England Boxing, the organisation responsible for the governance, development and administration of boxing in clubs and competitions. Professional boxing is governed by the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBC). Charity events at universities are rarely recognised by either of these organisations, which is a serious concern because they are unregulated, unaccountable, often miss-matched, potentially unsafe and lack the proper medical expertise to ensure each and every fighter is safe.

In June 2014, Lance Ferguson-Prayogg, from Liverpool, died two days after being seriously injured in a white collar fight in Nottingham. Ben Sandiford from Crewe, suffered two cardiac arrests and spent 17 days in hospital battling for his life after participating in a charity boxing challenge. Boxing’s governing bodies are concerned that more fatalities will follow unless white collar boxing events are more tightly controlled with clear regulations and a governing body to ensure accountability.

With these warnings in mind, signing up to compete in charity boxing challenge is really not advisable, unless you already have sufficient boxing experience. However, that should not put you off learning to box.

Boxing is a dangerous sport but it has lots of health benefits. Source: Mark Adriane/Unsplash

Boxing is an excellent sport which provides a wide range of health benefits; aerobic conditioning, fat loss, muscle gain, bone strengthening, stress relief and improved confidence. The best way to start boxing is to go along to the boxing club at your university or pay a visit to a local boxing gym. On your first visit to a boxing club, be honest with the training staff about your level of experience (or inexperience) and your goals. Most gyms offer courses for beginners which introduce newcomers to the most essential boxing skills. As with all sports, the frequency with which you train will directly influence the progress you make.

If after a few months of training you would like to try out your skills inside the ring, let your coach know. They will give you an honest evaluation about how ready you are to do this, and they can provide you with the proper guidance you need to reach your goal. This is a far safer route towards entering the ring than signing up for a one-off boxing event.

When you commit to taking part in a charity boxing challenge, you are required to step into the ring on fight night, regardless of how successfully those six weeks of intense training have prepared you. In contrast, a regulated boxing gym will only encourage you to enter the ring once you’re ready, and any fights they enter you for should always be regulated by the sport’s governing bodies.

The next black tie university boxing event is set to take place in Cardiff, with promoters encouraging students from “Cardiff’s three universities put old rivalries to the test across a number of bouts throughout the evening”. Those who are interested should book their tickets soon, and for those who are not inclined to spend a night watching their peers pummeling each other – don’t despair! It’s never too late to sign up for a yoga or origami class!

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