Boys Who Throw Punches

Knock­out, the UK’S lead­ing gay box­ing club, talks about what puts them in the ring and the fight against stereo­types.

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In Novem­ber 2016, out boxer Or­lando Cruz lost in the eighth round to Terry Flana­gan in the WBO light­weight ti­tle fight. If he’d won, Cruz would have be­come the first openly gay world box­ing cham­pion.

Knock­out is one of the UK’S lead­ing LGBT box­ing clubs, based in Lon­don and in Glas­gow. They may not be world cham­pi­onship ready (yet), but its mem­bers are tak­ing on the stigma of gay box­ers, one jab at a time. “I don’t know why I was at­tracted to box­ing be­cause I don’t be­lieve in vi­o­lence,” says Richard, a pho­tog­ra­phy pro­fes­sor. “I like that it’s some­thing con­trolled. It’s an art. Af­ter the first class, I was to­tally hooked.”

For oth­ers, the rea­son is more prac­ti­cal. “I was bored of be­ing scared ev­ery time I walked around at night or when I was out with my part­ner,” says Mickey, a writer. Self-de­fence is a com­mon mo­ti­va­tion for peo­ple join­ing a club like Knock­out. In the months af­ter Brexit, ho­mo­pho­bic at­tacks rose by ap­prox­i­mately 147%. 2016 proved a po­lit­i­cally volatile year, and in­stances of prej­u­dice, in­tim­i­da­tion and vi­o­lence have been on the rise. For ar­gu­ment’s sake, these box­ers could just join a reg­u­lar box­ing class: when you’re swing­ing a hook, gay or straight, the tech­nique is the same. But learn­ing in an en­vi­ron­ment of like-minded and like­ori­ented peo­ple can re­move the anx­i­ety of po­ten­tial ho­mo­pho­bia. “Box­ing gyms can be pretty in­tim­i­dat­ing,” says Phil, a prop­erty de­vel­oper. “I thought a gay club would be more friendly.”

“You’re not just fight­ing in the ring, you’re fight­ing peo­ple’s prej­u­dice.”

“A com­mon ex­pe­ri­ence amongst many of the mem­bers, and my gay friends, is a bad time at P.E. in school. We were all put off sports from an early age be­cause of our sex­u­al­ity,” says Benjy, a jour­nal­ist. “It’s re­fresh­ing to be around peo­ple who have had the same ex­pe­ri­ence and de­vel­op­ing a love for sports – even at an older age.”

One of the big­gest draws of the club is the sense of com­mu­nity that comes with fel­low LGBT peo­ple, out­side of the typ­i­cal night scene set­tings. “I in­ten­tion­ally searched for an Lg­bt­spe­cific box­ing club be­cause it would al­low me to meet with other mem­bers of the com­mu­nity out­side of the pub and club scene,” says Martin, a graphic designer. Benjy agrees: “The gay scene can feel very shal­low and trans­ac­tional some­times. It’s nice to hang out with other gay men in a non-threat­en­ing and non- sex­ual en­vi­ron­ment.”

With re­marks from the likes of Fury and Gavin, it would seem there are many peo­ple who don’t be­lieve gay men and women should be box­ing. In­ter­est­ingly, some mem­bers of the LGBT com­mu­nity have a sim­i­lar re­ac­tion. “If you say it’s a gay box­ing club, some peo­ple go, ‘oh, do you just slap each other?’ and that’s from other gay men,” says Richard. “The club def­i­nitely chal­lenges peo­ple’s per­cep­tions. That’s another rea­son I love it – you’re not just fight­ing in the ring, you’re fight­ing peo­ple’s prej­u­dice.” While the club’s im­pact on other’s per­cep­tions is vi­tal, the most im­por­tant as­pect is how the mem­bers feel about them­selves. “Box­ing is hard,” says Mickey. “If I can do that, I can prob­a­bly do any­thing.”

There’s no need to cue the Rocky theme tune. It’s just great to see LGBT+ peo­ple feel­ing em­pow­ered within them­selves.

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