Last Friday evening, a fresh excitement gripped the Oxford Union, breathing new life into the dark wood and maroon walls. On entering the grand venue often associated with speeches by specialists and debates between politicians, it might have been an odd sight to many, including myself, to see the majority of the floor taken up by a traditional red, white and blue boxing ring. Weaving among several men in O.U.A.B.C (Oxford University Amateur Boxing Club) jackets, I take a seat and watch the hall begin to fill up with people, some carrying drinks from the bar and chatting. As the noise of anticipation builds, a man in a tracksuit leaps into the ring and circles it, throwing his weight into each of the ropes to test their give.
Once the entire hall is packed, spectators line up in the circle above, and the O.U.A.B.C announcer gestures that ‘gown’ competitors will box in the blue corner, and ‘town’ competitors will box from the red corner. He then introduces the first bout between R. Naven (Army), and R. Tomlinson (Oxford University). At this point, the judges stroll in, dressed in monotone, and place briefcases on their tables, pulling out scorecards and sitting down. Following them is the referee, a stern-looking gentleman whose chiselled features and outfit are not dissimilar from those of Agent 47 from the popular videogame Hitman, particularly as he climbs into the ring and dons a pair of surgical gloves. Before long, the boxers are escorted into the hall to cheers on both sides, and the announcer begins the universal mantra, ‘In the red corner…’.
Without an overall Town or Gown victor, the competition shows its friendly nature, places emphasis on the brilliant individual performances of each boxer, and celebrates the diverse and thriving boxing community in and around Oxford.
When the bell rings, however, and the first round (of three) starts, all of this ceremony evaporates – as if the only people left in the room are the two boxers in the ring. Both are fast and aggressive from the offset, but Naven takes punches to the head without flinching, causing Tomlinson to recoil and stumble. Naven manages to corner Tomlinson, but he quickly breaks out. After the first energetic minutes, the boxers seem to slow in the second round, although Naven makes solid contact with a hook. The boxers break before the third and final round, and Tomlinson’s coach splashes water over his head, speaking to him intensely. As the round begins, both boxers are renewed with a final burst of energy, and a punch from Naven makes Tomlinson’s legs buckle, the referee begins to count. Tomlinson gets up at six seconds, and manages to slip in a combination of three punches before the bell rings and the bout is over. Both boxers shake hands and a cloth is rubbed against Tomlinson’s head, coming away smudged with pink. The announcer calls a split decision from the judges in favour of the red corner – Naven wins and the boxers leave the ring, both carrying trophies in blue boxes.
The second bout is Z. McLwee (Waterfront) versus C. Ebel (Oxford Uni), and from the start McLwee charges forward with a flurry of punches, which Ebel defends and hits back briefly before a stalemate of several seconds. Aggression is doubled on both sides in the second round but the punches occasionally become scrappy and the bodies slam together in a clinch. Both boxers are tired by the third round, and McLwee manages to get a few punches on Ebel before she grapples her into the ropes. A unanimous decision is announced for victory in the red corner (McLwee) to masses of cheering.
When the bell rings, however, and the first round (of three) starts, all of this ceremony evaporates – as if the only people left in the room are the two boxers in the ring.
J. Scott (Army) competes against T. Scott (Oxford Uni) in the third bout, and both throw heavy punches, pushing each other into opposite corners of the ring. In the second round, T. Scott manages to press J. Scott against the ropes, bloodying his nose and weaving under J. Scott’s punches, and by the final round, he still seems to have the upper hand, making several hard cross punches that devolve into the boxers grappling each other by the time the bell rings. T. Scott is named victor by a unanimous decision.
In the next two fights, M. Guliera (Oxford Uni) defeats Z. Zhang (Oxford Uni) with a defensive to begin with, but strong performance, and J. Osbourne (Merridale) wins by knockout against G. Abbati (Oxford Uni), who manages to stand up but utterly dazed and is taken to the medic. In the sixth bout, R. Clark (Oxford Uni) boxes with some serious energy, keeping his guard high as he tucks his head between the mitts, and is able to defeat Z. Hussain (Army) by a split decision.
The seventh bout sees M. Olsztynska (Banbury) and I. Hale (Oxford Uni) rapidly exchange a volley of punches, with Olsztynska managing to dodge several of Hale’s punches. Biting hard on her gum shield, the town representative tucks in and lands several heavy punches in the third round to win a victory for the red corner by unanimous decision. The tables quickly turn, however, with another unanimous decision over the eighth bout in favour of the blue corner, as L. Jonas (Oxford Uni) collides with F. Choudreau (Watford) for an intense bout in which the boxers are separated by the referee.
Last Friday evening, a fresh excitement gripped the Oxford Union, breathing new life into the dark wood and maroon walls.
As the speakers, which have filled the gaps between bouts with music, begin to play an old rap-rock song, S. Lawn (Oxford Uni) enters for the ninth bout to a chant of ‘Ste-ven’, followed by his competitor, P. Bryan (Army). Climbing into the ring, Lawn turns to wink at someone by the ringside, and the crowd now seem to be at a rock concert, cheering, chanting and clapping louder and louder. As the bout begins, someone calls ‘attack, attack!’ from the side and the boxers lock in to each other, making heavy punches and pushing back and forth between corners. A vein on Lawn’s temple grows in concentration, and blood from Bryan’s nose is spread by Lawn’s boxing gloves over his arms and ears. When the bell rings, the boxers hug as equals, although everyone seems to know the result already, and as the announcer calls out the victory, Lawn leans from the ring to kiss his partner.
The final two fights are among Oxford students, with R. Burleigh winning by a split decision against C. Thompson after a balanced fight, in which the boxers spend hardly any time on the ropes, and P. Kraprayoon takes the victory by unanimous decision over S. Parsons after maintaining a tight and controlled form.
After the bouncing, weaving, steady cross punches and powerful hooks, the crowd concludes the Town vs Gown Boxing with applause and cheers to congratulate all of the boxers, judges and organisers. The boxers all walk away with trophies, and the crowd files out of the hall laughing and chatting. Without an overall Town or Gown victor, the competition shows its friendly nature, places emphasis on the brilliant individual performances of each boxer, and celebrates the diverse and thriving boxing community in and around Oxford.