WHITE COLLAR BOXING PROVES A BIG HIT IN BEIJING.
A charity boxing competition for office professionals hones their fighting spirit inside and outside the ring. Eric Jou reports in Beijing.
The bell rings. Punches fly — first a jab. Then a hook. The bell sounds again, and the fight is over. It’s finished in six minutes — six short minutes, following three long months of grueling training. But game designer Samuel Green says it was all worth it. Green removes his headgear and gloves, and pulls out his mouth guard. He receives a medal for the show he just put on. The decision is announced. The crowd rages. Green lost, despite a major comeback near the end of Round 2. But he isn’t upset. Green didn’t sign up for White Collar Boxing to win the competition. He did it to experience something new.
Standing 1.78 meters tall and weighing 74 kilograms, Green doesn’t look like what most people expect of a boxer.
The video-game designer spends his days working on computers at a desk.
He had virtually no fighting experience before he signed up for White Collar Boxing. “It’s just a challenge,” he says. “It’s something I’ve never done before. I like to get fit and test myself, and learn something new. I’m a game designer by profession. So I like getting into challenges and working out things. There are a lot of parallels between (video) games and sports.”
White Collar Boxing has only recently arrived in Beijing since it started in the United States. The competition has been staged annually since 2008.
It essentially takes non- boxers — mostly white-collar professionals — and gives them the chance to punch each other for a cause.
The matches benefit a Shanghai nonprofit called Leo’s Foundation, founded by Scott and Cecile Spirit, organizer and co-founder Shane Benis says.
“They had premature babies in 2008,” he explains. “They were cared for in Fudan University’s Children Hospital’s neo-intensive care unit, and they caught wind that some families couldn’t afford the healthcare. So they started a foundation to help pay for the care of premature babies.”
White Collar Boxing has donated more than $200,000 to the charity, also known as the Foundation for Newborns with Respiratory Failure, its website says. Benis and WCBC are now working to found a similar foundation in Beijing.
While the events are bilingual, the proportion of local fighters is in the single digits. But many overseas Chinese participate.
“Amateur boxing in China is a powerhouse,” Benis says. “They train two or three hours in the morning, two or three in the evening. They don’t’ even go to school.”
However, “Boxing in China, in terms of following and general participation, is in its infancy”.
Bob Arum, CEO and founder of globally leading boxing-promotion company Top Rank, says the pastime was popular in the country but was banned following New China’s 1949 founding. That carved away much of its fan base, he says.
Arum believes boxing is poised for a renewal in China with the recent rise of such domestic fighters as Zou Shiming.
“We believe there is a hunger for boxing,” Arum says.
“What we found out was that sports are a very nationalistic thing. Boxing is a one-on-one sport. People like rooting for fighters they can identify from their country.”
Arum says Chinese cheered zealously for Zou during his pro debut in Macao in early April.
The rise of such stars has generated more interest in amateur fights.
Green and his competitors underwent arduous two-hour sessions three days a week for three months. It was so intense that steam could be seen swirling off Green’s head at one point.
Their preparations include weight training, physical conditioning and boxing techniques.
The culmination of these dozens of hours of punishing drills is a final totaling eight minutes in the ring. Each fight is two minutes, plus a minute or so for strutting and another 30 seconds between rounds.
Training started early summer. Fighters were selected halfway through. The 23 chosen contestants, including accountants, editors, researchers and engineers, joined the Brawl on the Wall event.
On the final night, Green is jumpy and energetic as he awaits his moment in the spotlight.
He seems nervous but insists he isn’t. He says he knows he’ll do well. “I’m not going to die,” he says. “I know I’ve been practicing a lot. This is the reward — putting everything I’ve learned on the line.” The bell rings. The fight begins. The crowd roars as punches fly. Someone shouts: “Sam! Sam! Sam!” The final bell rings. Green steps out of the ring.
He sees the world a little differently. That’s not just because he’s missing a contact lens and a shiner is emerging under his right eye. He lost the fight. But he still feels like a winner. “Worth it! Totally worth it,” he says. “This is like the best experience ever.”
White Collar Boxing takes non-boxers — mostly white-collar professionals — and gives them the chance to punch each other for a cause.