Black and Blues

Any university-level sport demands huge effort and commitment from its aspiring Blues, but few seem to strain the mind and body as brutally as Oxford’s Amateur Boxing Club. Training sessions here are gruelling; the warm-ups alone leave honed athletes exhausted and depleted, weeding out the weaklings before gloves, pads and punchbags are even sighted- a punishing sport necessitates a punishing regimen, and the long practices can be endured only by the fittest competitors.

One particular fresher survived two weeks before succumbing to the physical and mental pressures that boxing inexorably imposes: ‘The track-running, skipping and circuit work are tough enough; getting into the ring with some of the best here is, at best, a frightening idea.’ Countless others come and go, attracted by boxing’s promise of glory and but repelled by its steep and arduous road to success.

Visions of Rocky celebrating atop Philadelphian steps are distant day-dreams. The reality is bruising 2-hour stints at Iffley Road. Technique is emphasised religiously by OUABC’s coaches and the majority of a session comprises pain-staking work on the details and intricacies of certain punches, blocks and stances. Speaking of pain, that isn’t entirely lacking either: blood has been shed in the heat of intra-squad sparring, where natural aggression and adrenaline flow in controlled measures.

Would-be boxers arrive at OUABC with all ranges of experience, from the seasoned internationals to the eager novices.  It’s easy to imagine that Oxford might be more likely to produce Ali the rhetorician than Ali the champion,  but the standard here is high, and competition for places in the Varsity match is fierce. Last year’s humiliating defeat to the Light Blues will be used as material for motivation: after all, no other varsity sport presents a more literal opportunity to dominate and hurt the rival Tabs. Passions run strong in all of the Oxbridge fixtures, though it is hard to believe that any other clash becomes as intensely personal as this. The Boat Race might well be ferocious, but on the water fists do not meet faces.

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Founded in 1881, OUABC is the oldest student-run boxing club in the country, boasting a prestigious heritage. For one thing, it holds the longest consecutive streak of Varsity victories among any Oxford sports club (racking up an astounding tally of 16 straight wins before a close loss in 2002). Since 2004, women’s boxing has been a half-blue sport, encouraging even greater participation across the university.

Boxing is not a sport merely for brutes and gym-warriors; David Haye’s recent defeat of 7ft 2” Russian Nikolai Valuev underscored that point emphatically, and at the world’s highest level too. It might have dropped into sports cliche, but Ali’s famous ‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’ maxim is still held up as the golden aim. Grace and extraordinary balance are as crucial as strength and  power; it is certainly no coincidence that boxing has inspired some of the finest and most subtle sports journalism of the last century.

Left, left, right. Left, right, left. Right, right, left. Repeat. The goal of perfect form and technical accuracy in every punch is chased relentlessly, considered by the club to be the key to victory in Varsity and beyond: the sheer will to win in the ring should take care of the rest.