Town vs. Gown is one of the oldest rivalries in sport. Whereas the Merseyside football derby or the Calcutta Cup can trace their origins back to the mid-19th century, this university – ‘the gown’ – has been in conflict with ‘the town’ since the 1200s.
Of course these days there is rather less murder involved – but as twenty six boxers stepped into the ring last Wednesday night at the Oxford Union, there were certainly no punches spared. Overall, with six wins to three, the University’s pugilists came out on top.
The night began, as is customary in the boxing world, with a tense weigh-in. With that successfully negotiated, St. Benets’ student and men’s captain Iain Holland, who was fighting in the 72kg weight category, got things going. His performance showcased everything that is positive about the University squad, as he went after his opponent from Coventry ABC from the first bell. Throughout the fight the Coventry man was consistently on the defensive, and as the first round drew to a close, it looked like there a stoppage was on the cards. This proved to be the case as the referee stepped in to end the fight soon after the resumption, awarding Holland a technical knock-out.
The next few fights, as intra-club bouts, served to showcase the depth of talent residing in the University boxing scene. The likes of Lucinda Poulton, Ellie Berryman-Athey, James Kerr, Ishman Rahman, Isra Hale, and Lucy Harris all showed off some clever and technical boxing.
The only Town vs. Gown women’s bout was won by captain Claudia Havranek in impressive style. A succession of hefty head-shots ensured a clear victory, which was a visible confidence booster for the club.
Speaking to Cherwell after the match, Havranek said, “It was my first fight so it was a bit of blur, but apparently I did well so that’s a good sign!”
As the night drew on, the fights came thick and fast. A split decision saw an unfortunate loss for Oxford’s Richard Beck; a hotly contested light-middleweight fight caused controversy as the judges unanimously went in favour of Oxford’s Conor Husbands after an impossibly tight fight against James Gorgan of the Emeralds ABC. After the fight, Gorgan was magnanimous, saying, “It was a tough fight that just went the wrong way. Credit to the other guy really.”
After a short interval, the fighting resumed – and this match was a big one, with OUABC President Jack Straker donning his gloves at middleweight. The Queens’ College man was up to the task, and dispatched his opponent from Bath City ABC in the third round through another technical knock-out. With a sell-out crowd including his mother and younger sister ringside, the sighs of relief were audible and somewhat understandable.
Following this fight was no easy task, and Christ Church’s Rowan Callinan was unlucky to lose by another unanimous decision. Mags Chilaev of St. Peter’s College and Jack Prescott of Magdalen both put the dark blues back on track though, with each taking a victory thanks to two narrow split decisions.
The penultimate bout was again an internal affair, this time featuring Tony Besse and Michael Zhang. It provided entertainment, particularly in the fleet footwork of Besse, who was eventually victorious.
The final battle was inevitably at heavyweight – and unfortunately, Somerville’s Steve O’Driscoll lost yet another split decision which could have fallen either way.
Nonetheless, with midnight drawing evercloser, OUABC boasted six victories, compared to three from the combined forces of Oxford Boxing Academy, Emeralds ABC, Bath City ABC, Sandy ABC, and UCL.
The OUABC squad were of course justly proud of the final result, but what they seemed more proud of, with at least equal justification, was the strong female showing on the day. Boxing is obviously a sport which has, historically, been male-dominated. Club President Straker confirmed this, telling Cherwell that, “Notably there were five girls boxing for us on the night, whereas usually there are only one or two – if any!”
Considering the typical gender split, Claudia Havranek was effusive in her praise of the efforts made to encourage girls to get involved by the coaching staff.
“I’m really excited to be one of so many girls competing! At the beginning of the year none of us were fighting so I really must give a shout- out to our coach Dave, because he’s done a phenomenal job to get us in that ring.”
Honorary President of the club, Terry Adams summarised the positivity of the evening midway through, when he spoke of OUABC’s chances to Cherwell. “I’m greatly looking forward to it. They’ve got enough heart, enough spirit, and enough fitness to do themselves justice and win.” Having been within spitting distance of the fighters all night, this reporter can attest that the spirit on show was indeed formidable, and showed off the best of the Oxford sporting scene