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.
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.