For nearly 150 years the Oxford Union debating chamber has been a place where great minds have clashed in intellectual battles. On one special night every year, however, late in January, it is home to a different sort of battle; one fought with fists rather than words. I am speaking of the Town vs Gown Boxing Show, which took place this year on Saturday 25th January. It is a fitting location for the event, as boxing seems to me to be the physical embodiment of the process of discursive conflict that occurs during a debate. In boxing, as in debating, two opponents go head to head according to a strict set of rules, which ensure a fair fight. The winner is usually selected by the judges who, like the audience of a debate, vote on who displayed greater skill during the bout.
Town vs Gown is organised entirely by the students who make up the committee of Oxford University Amateur Boxing Club. On the night, a team of volunteers from OUABC dedicate their time to help the committee in ensuring that the night runs smoothly. The committee and volunteers did a brilliant job this year and put on a seamless and professional show, consisting of 13 action-packed bouts, which left the distinct impression in the spectators that the tickets were money well spent.
The show is the second biggest in the OUABC calendar, after the Varsity match against Cambridge, and it is one of the highest attended amateur boxing matches in the whole country (although the annual Women’s Boxing Show, which runs in Michaelmas, is quickly growing in popularity after having been established in 2018). The primary purpose of Town vs Gown is to prepare boxers in the club for the Varsity match by giving them the essential experience of an amateur bout in front of a large crowd. Despite the name of the show, 5 of the bouts were internal, matching 2 OUABC boxers against each other. This was done to ensure that as many OUABC fighters as possible could compete. The Town fighters also came from other areas besides Oxford such as London and Whitley.
Every single boxer, regardless of whether they had started boxing only a few months ago or if they had been training for longer, was a hardened athlete by the night of the show. This is a testament to the determination of the boxers and the dedication and hard work of the coaches, who in mere months mould us students, who often enter the gym more comfortable with books than gloves, into bona fide boxers. Every single boxer deserves a huge amount of credit for having the courage to step into the ring and compete; the enormity of this feat can only be fully appreciated by those who have done the same.
Now, onto the night itself. Before the first bout started, the chamber was tense with anticipation. In preparation for the first bout Lakshmi Manoharan and Paddy Lee, both OUABC fighters, warmed up in the narrow corridor outside. They were nervous, but eager to get into the ring and put their skills to the test. Finally, the wonderful Kaya Axelsson, OUABC Vice President and MC for the first part of the night, announced around 6:15 that the bouts were off to a start. Lakshmi entered into the blue corner and Paddy into the red. The bell dinged and the fight began. The first round was very evenly matched, as both fighters got a feel for each other and got comfortable in the ring. Encouraged by their corner advice, they roared into action in the second and third rounds, with a much higher number of punches coming from both fighters. Lakshmi was the taller fighter and she used her range very well, flicking out her jab and often landing it. Paddy did well to close the distance, however, boxing with her hands high. When she got in close, she was able to land some very effective overhand rights. The fight was well matched, but Lakshmi was able to land more punches through effectively using her range. She won by unanimous decision.
The second bout was also an internal OUABC one, with Andrew Marotta in the red corner and Ryan Fincham in the blue. The first round started, and Andy was able to incorporate some very good right uppercuts in his combinations. He slipped many of Ryan’s shots displaying effective defensive skills. Ryan came back, however, with good combinations of his own, resulting in a very intense third round. Andy slipped and everyone held their breath; would it be judged a knockdown? No, it was clearly a slip, and the referee let the fight go on. Ryan landed some heavy shots resulting in the referee giving Andy a standing 8-count. He beat the count, and came back with shots of his own, so that the bout ended practically mid-punch. The decision went to Ryan, in the red corner.
The third bout, also internal, was between Charlie Sillett in the blue corner and Matthew Proctor in the red. Matthew was the taller fighter, and this can sometimes actually be a disadvantage as if shorter fighter can get in close, he can make it very hard for the taller one to land punches. Matthew, however, did not let this happen, and he started each round explosively landing very powerful punches. Charlie was always able to come back in the second half of the round, showing great fitness and endurance. This bout really was a battle; both fighters had bloody noses by the second round, and in the third they both received standing 8-counts. Charlie, however, was able to come back from his standing 8-count and deliver enough punches that Matthew had 2 standing counts in the third round. Charlie won by split decision.
The next bout was the first true Town vs Gown fight of the night. OUABC boxer David Kim, was in the blue corner, against Chris Ockwell, from Thames Valley ABC, in the red. Chris seemed to be the more experienced fighter, but David did very well in the first round, by landing counter punches as an answer to his opponent’s attacks. In the second round, Chris landed a combination which led to David receiving a standing-8 count; but David came back from the count with a vengeance and ended the round very well. In the third, David received a bloody nose from one of his opponent’s punches, but he hardly seemed to notice and went on fighting. The blood was dripping profusely, however, and so the referee stopped the fight so that the club doctor, Dr Paul, could have a look. The verdict was not good; the bleeding would not stop and so the fight would have to be stopped. David protested and badly wanted to fight on, but the decision was made; the priority is always the safety of the boxers. Gown 0, Town 1.
The fifth bout was between Tom Lousanda from OUABC, and Daniel Stringer from Imperial College Boxing Club. This was a very close and well fought bout from both competitors. There was a lot of clinching throughout, and Daniel got called by the referee for illegally punching from the clinch. The final bell rang with Tom landing a stiff straight right to Daniel’s face. It ended too close to call, but Daniel was declared the winner by split decision. Gown 0, Town 2.
Luka Deekeling (OUABC) and Lucas Marino (Thames Valley ABC) fought in the sixth bout. Lucas, in the red corner, landed a lot of shots on Luka in the first round, and there were fears that the bout may have been a mismatch; Luka completely dispelled these after he beat a standing 8-count in the second. Luka showed his superior fitness by heaping pressure on Lucas in the latter half of the second with relentless combinations, completely exhausting his opponent. By the end of the third round Luka was landing shots at will and he was being clinched constantly by his opponent who looked like he would collapse at any moment. In a very close decision, Lucas Marino in the red corner won, but it honestly could have gone either way. Luka showed great grit and endurance in his comeback. Gown 0, Town 3. At this point, Isra Hale, an OUABC alumna, took over as MC, continuing the brilliant job of hyping the audience that Kaya had started.
The seventh bout was very closely contested between Stan Dumas in the blue corner and Jerome Pringle from Thames Valley ABC in the red corner. Jerome boxed with his hands low, landing quick shots and moving, while Stan stalked him around the ring, landing shots of his own. Stan worked the body very well, slowing his opponent down, before landing more shots upstairs. Jerome clinched a lot when Stan’s pressure became too much for him, and by the third Stan showed his superior fitness (a common theme of the night), ending the round with a barrage of punches. Ultimately the judges decided that Jerome had fought the more tactical match and he was awarded the win by split decision. Gown 0, Town 4.
By now the debating chamber was full and the audience was making a lot of noise. The atmosphere was electric, in a way that is unique to boxing shows, and people were itching for the next bout to start. Mu Huan-Lee entered the ring for the next bout to face Gledian Busi from Oxford ABC. This was certainly one of the best bouts of the night. Gledian was very aggressive and opened the fight with a wild barrage of punches. Mu was not fazed by these in the slightest, and took some on the gloves, and slipped others. Mu utterly dismantled his opponent with his powerful straight left, showing his remarkable conditioning. He knocked Gledian flat on his back with a quick left, which sent the crowd roaring. In the third round Mu landed an absurd combo of three straight lefts in a row on his opponent, which led to him receiving a standing 8-count. He ended the fight strongly, with Gledian backed up on the ropes. Unanimous decision for Mu; Gown 1, Town 4. The crowd roared again, with Mu’s personal fanbase brandishing a flag with his name and a boxing glove drawn on it.
In the ninth bout, Yannis Goutzamanis from OUABC faced Ali Gomma from Whitley ABC. Yannis was clearly the fitter fighter in this bout, but his opponent was more experienced and landed more punches in the first two rounds. In the third, Yannis was by far the busier fighter. His opponent was exhausted and boxing with his hands down; Yannis made him pay for it by landing combinations upstairs. Unfortunately, Yannis had not done enough in the first two rounds to convince the judges and Ali won by unanimous decision. Gown 1, Town 5.
The tenth bout was an absolute war. Nik Repin-Millard (OUABC) faced Remel Francis (Blackbird Leys). Nik had an incredibly aggressive style, pushing his opponent back with powerful punches. He worked the body and head very well, landing four straight uppercuts to the body at one point in the second round. By the end of the third round both fighters were utterly exhausted; it was definitely the fastest paced fight of the night. Unfortunately, the judges felt that Nik had not done quite enough, and Remel was awarded the decision. It was still an incredible effort from Nik, who was facing a more experienced opponent on his debut match. Gown 1, Town 6.
The eleventh fight was an internal one between Alex Brindle, and Adrian Kozhevnikov. This was another contender for fight of the night. Adrian dropped Alex ten seconds into the first round with a crunching overhand right, which shocked his opponent. Alex shot straight back up and used his distance well with the jab for the rest of the fight. Adrian was, however, able to use his overhand right effectively to land on Alex over the top of his left hand. The fight ended with both boys swinging at each other with intent. When the final bell rang, they embraced each other in a touching show of respect. The winner by decision was Adrian. Alex came back very well after his knockdown but could not quite turn it into a win.
The penultimate fight of the evening was between Max Jenkins (OUABC) and Zoran Vjestica (Blackbird Leys). This was a very good fight, and Max used his technical skills to win it. He was able to parry and counter his opponent’s punches, moving around the ring beautifully, in the best defensive display that I have seen at an OUABC competition. Max won by decision. Gown 2, Town 6.
The last bout of the night was between Axel Forssberg (OUABC) and Kymel Austin (Blackbird Leys). Axel was very calm and comfortable in the ring, boxing with a high guard. He landed some vicious combinations on his opponent in the second round, which left the crowd silent, as you could hear the leather crunching on his opponent’s face. In the third round Axel’s opponent was given a standing 8-count, which he beat, but he was stumbling around the ring for the rest of the round. The fight possibly should have been stopped early, but it ended with Axel landing shots at will. Axel won by unanimous decision; a great end to a spectacular evening of boxing. Gown 3, Town 6.
Town vs Gown is a magical evening. It is a night where alumni return and mingle with current boxers, and the sport is introduced to many people who have never seen it live or at all. I remember when I saw my first show in January 2018. I was so entranced by what I saw that I knew I had to compete in the next year’s show, even though I had very little experience. I dedicated myself to training and in 2019 I did compete. That is the beauty of boxing at OUABC; if any student is willing to commit themselves to training, regardless of whether they have boxed before or even are physically fit when they first enter the gym, they will be able to completely transform themselves for the better. OUABC is a beautiful family and I welcome anyone who wants to do something special with their time at this university.
The experiences the OUABC boxers gained from their bouts will prepare them for their true test on the 7th March, the Varsity Boxing Match, which will be in the Oxford Town Hall. Even though Gown technically lost on the night, every single OUABC boxer held their own and learned a lot from their bouts. In boxing it really is true that ‘You either win or you learn’.