The refined extravagance of the Oxford Town Hall appears to be a strange setting for the Varsity Boxing Tournament, in light of what was to come. The blood, the sweat and demand for one to physically break down another.
It is not.
In fact, this apparently strange juxtaposition was nothing of the kind. Instead, it was the perfect setting: a visible materialisation of the beauty of the sweet science and the history of the battle for the Truelove Bowl.
As the room slowly began to fill, the Oxford boxers had one thing on their minds. They looked focused and nothing was going to get in their way. As the fighters from both sides lined up in the ring, the MC gave a moving tribute to the late Sir Roger Bannister, for which there was an applause and subsequent silence.
After some last-minute illustrative shadow-boxing from the coach, which was met with receptive nodding, the first two fights got underway, both of which were stopped by the referee in favour of Cambridge. Both of Oxford’s fighters, Lara Kotecha and Sasha Skovron, showed immense heart and desire, continuing to throw back and standing firm against an onslaught of leather, and would, no doubt, have carried on had they been allowed. An admirable performance by the two women and one for which they should be proud. By the end of the second fight, it appeared obvious that it was a competition between two styles. On one hand was Cambridge’s hectic, charging style and on the other was Oxford’s skilful blend of counter-punching and ring craft.
The score was 2-0 to Cambridge. Hoping to change Oxford’s fortune was Lydia Welham who was set to face Emma Baghurst. From the bell, both fighters showed blistering hand speed, with Cambridge being especially successful with work to the body. Welham answered with formidable straight shots to the face of her opponent. Both fighters displayed an abundance of skill and grit, both shipping heavy blows. The round finished with solid jabs being traded between the pair – a very competitive first round with both finding success. As the second round began, Welham, determined and focused, walked straight through a barrage of heavy shots, forcing Cambridge to exert effort with little reward against her unrelenting pressure.
As Cambridge appeared to fade, Welham sensed the chance and began her own assault, forcing Cambridge to seek space around the ring in order to escape. Welham, covered in blood but undeterred, began to tee off. The bell sounded to end what had undoubtedly been an Oxford round. Welham, keen to carry on the momentum from the previous round, was up and ready before her opponent had left her stool. Straight back into the fight, Welham’s work forced her opponent to cover her face with a tight guard which Oxford’s fighter only took as an open invitation to work the body. Cambridge’s Baghurst went back to basics, working behind a stern jab and lining up her straight right hands. Welham responded by stepping up the gears, showing her class. As the final ten-second warning rung out, Welham had the Cambridge boxer against the ropes. Not content with settling for a points win, she worked until the very end. A remarkable performance, worthy of a captain, was rewarded with a unanimous decision in favour of the dark blue.
More brave battles and skilful exhibitions followed. The fourth fight was awarded to Cambridge via a split decision for a fight that I had given to the Blue, Joel Howells. The judges were clearly impressed by the work of the Cambridge fighter early on, as Oxford came on strong in the latter stages.
The fifth saw Oxford’s Sam Luxa take on Tim Benger. Benger came straight in with big clubbing punches whilst Luxa remained calm, working well behind his jab, letting his hands go when appropriate. Cambridge achieved limited success with his speculative right hands but Oxford counter-punched well, negating any success enjoyed by his opponent. Luxa finished the round well. In the break, the Oxford coach encouraged his fighter to defend against the wild punches of his opponent.
In the second round, the Cambridge boxer remained aggressive and continued to search for big shots. Luxa, again, remained calm, refusing to be drawn into a brawl and wobbling Benger with a solid jab. Oxford displayed great ring craft, snapping back the head of his opponent with stern one-two combinations. Frustrated, the Cambridge boxer swung again, this time finding success and finishing the round strong. The third round saw a continuation of their respective styles, with Luxa managing to drop his opponent. Valiantly up and willing to carry on, Benger showed his spirit but the fight was waved off by the referee, giving Oxford the victory. The score stood at 3-2 to Cambridge.
The sixth and seventh fights saw points wins for Christopher Huang and Polchate ‘Jam’ Kraprayoon via respective unanimous and split decisions, leaving the score at 4-3 to the Dark Blues. Alec Murphey put on an impressive performance at Light Middleweight but was beaten with a split decision, making the score an even 4-4.
The ninth and tenth fights were entertaining although they gave Cambridge a two-point lead, with Ravi Hayer coming up short based on the early work of his opponent and a loss for Gabriele Abbati. Coming on stronger and stronger as the fight went on, another round and the result might have been very different for Hayer. The Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight boxers both showed skill and power but were stopped by the referee. Both fighters looked despondent but should not have done. They threw everything into their fights and displayed great bravery, neither willing to give up, just being beaten by the better men on the day.
Cambridge took the Truelove Bowl with a victory of 8-4, and it would be hard to argue that they did not deserve it.
Regardless of the differences between the two clubs’ styles, both had an abundance of bravery and strength to get into the ring and, for that reason, all should hold their heads high.