The history of boxing at Oxford – like many of the more absurd traditions – goes back to the late 19th century. The first ever sporting competition against the Tabs was a cricket match arranged by William Wordsworth’s nephew in 1827, who was to become the first double blue two years later when he rowed in the inaugural boat race. After deciding these classic gentleman’s sports were too polite, somebody set up a boxing club some fifty years later. With an establishment date of 1881, Oxford University Amateur Boxing Club has a claim as one of the oldest clubs still active in Britain and is undisputedly the oldest university boxing club.
The first varsity match wasn’t held until 1897, however, and was a joint affair with the fencing team. Victories in the four boxing bouts were split evenly between the two teams, and the overall match was given to Oxford on the fencing score. The annual varsity match has long since separated from the fencing event and expanded over time to include nine bouts in total, with a full gamut of weight categories ranging from featherweight (57kg) to heavyweight (91kg).
The rest of the sport’s history at Oxford isn’t entirely straightforward to say the least. It became a full blue sport in 1937 (and remains one of the fourteen ‘full blues’ today) but nearly disbanded in 1969 due to a lack of interest. The club was only saved from folding when then-captain Robert Nairac knocked on doors around the city the week before varsity to find enough willing brawlers to make up the numbers – needless to say we lost that match but by a surprisingly narrow margin. Nairac is perhaps more famous for being the most successful undercover operator to have worked for Britain in Northern Ireland in the history of the troubles. He successfully infiltrated the IRA for several years before being caught, effectively managing the operation on a freelance basis but was eventually caught and killed in 1977. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot also boasts a blue, winning one of his two bouts against Cambridge in 45 seconds whilst a Rhodes scholar. Contemporaries of Abbot have often remarked that he possessed a unique ability to block any punch with his face.
As is often the case, the Cambridge clubs alumni pale in comparison. The most notable former light blue boxer is current BNP leader Nick Griffin, who was once knocked out in the heavyweight contest, which may have contributed to his eventual 2:2 and subsequent political opinions.
OUABC have continued the tradition of being more tolerant than our rivals, introducing women’s boxing to Oxford in 2003. In the last ten years women boxers from Oxford have frequently outdone their male counterparts, having won several national titles for the club. Sadly their exists no varsity spot for women due to a lack of reciprocal enthusiasm from Cambridge and the difficulty of establishing a long-running body of women. However five women boxed competitively over the course of last season with many more participating at training.
This year saw the Oxford take the Truelove bowl from Cambridge for the fourth consecutive year, levelling the overall tally and clawing back a longstanding deficit from the early 20th century. The overall score stands at 51 victories each, with a further five draws. Today’s boxing team trains up to eight times a week in Michealmas and Hilary and competes up to three times a year.
Boxing is unique amongst Blues sports as very few of the team have boxed competitively before university – hence the need for such an intense training schedule as the coaches often prepare students for a first bout in a matter of months.
The sport doesn’t demand the same commitment from everyone however, and many students take part on a more casual basis. The club has won the last four Varsity matches but requires a steady influx of new boxers to fill in for those leaving. With the Varsity match almost a year off, Trinity term is often the best time to begin boxing. Training sessions are held on Mondays and Thursdays at 4.30pm and Sunday mornings at 8.30am. No former experience is required whatsoever and further information can be found from the men’s captain email@example.com and the women’s captain Claudia.firstname.lastname@example.org.