Last Friday night the Oxford Union debate chamber echoed not to the sound of passionate debating but rather to the dull thuds of blows and the ensuing roars of a raucous crowd. The night saw 16 bouts take place between the Town side, represented by various local amateur boxing clubs, and the Gown side, Oxford University Amateur Boxing Club (OUABC).
The night opened with a hard fought match between Petra Banrtakova of Banbury Amateur Boxing Club and Lydia Welham of OUABC. Welham opened strong with some heavy early blows that quickly forced Banrtakova onto the ropes. She continued this aggression throughout the first round and continued to push Banrtakova from corner to corner until the bell ended her attack. However, round two saw a resurgent Banrtakova force Welham onto the back foot with several heavy early blows that utilised her superior reach, taking the Gown representative by surprise. Unfortunately for Banrtakova her momentum floundered in the face of a calm and determined Welham who quickly returned to her aggressive style, which continued through this round and into the next. The end result was a win for the powerful Gown-side fighter but on a split vote that shows testament to the skill of the Town-side contestant.
This was immediately followed by another close fought bout between Sam Luxa of OUABC and Andreas Dasilua of Oxford Mixed Martial Arts (OMMA). Once again this saw one boxer immediately start strong, but this time it was the Town-side member. Luxa took his time to find his feet against the continued aggression of Dasilua that was only strengthened by his immense speed. Despite a strong second round performance from Luxa in which he landed key blows through snappy counters the momentum of Dasilua was too great. The match ended with a victory for Dasilua in the 3rd round due to referee interference, but it remained an encouraging encounter for Luxa.
Round four saw a clash between Immy Baker of Double Jab ABC and Ella Penny of OUABC. Despite being considerably smaller, and having a shorter reach than her counterpart, Penny kept close the boxing up close and personal throughout. She refused to let a gap open between the two and the Teddy Hall student attributed her intensity to the recent OUABC trip to Tenerife. There, she trained with others for 6 hours a day on an exceptionally intense programme that built up both her strength and skills. This, she said, was vital for her to improve as she only started boxing last term and in preparation for this bout she had dialled training up a gear. Her counterpart was also experiencing her first fight and had been training 4 times a week in preparation. Baker, a former Cambridge student, had never boxed for the light blues, but had initially joined casual recreational fitness classes at the Double Jab gym over summer. Currently working in a governmental grad scheme to improve education outreach programmes in London she decided to start boxing as she saw it as ‘fitness with a purpose’. This was coupled with her affection for her coaches Marnie and Mike, who provide her with the motivation to train and continual support she believes is crucial. This saw the skill and reach of Baker pull through and carry her to victory against the relentless assault of Penny.
Jake Finch from Clearys Boxing Club went up against Owen Karan of OUABC in round 6 in a round characterised by speed from both players. The speed of the jabs coming from Finch was matched only by the quick feet and dodges coming from Karan which resulted in a match full of sharp and punchy action. The third round was the decider with the slick style of Karan combined with a final push for the win eventually triumphing over Finch before both left the ring shattered and with a great respect for eachother.
Finch, currently training to be an electrician in his home town of Leamington Spa, was crowned the Midland Elite Champion in February 2017 at 52kg and won gold in the recent Haringey Boxing Cup, one of the largest of its kind in the EU. Finch started boxing 5 years ago after being ‘dragged to the gym’ by his older brother and has not looked back since. His boxing idol is Randolph Turpin, former undisputed middleweight champion of the world, also from Leamington Spa, and he hopes to continue boxing as he moves forward in life.
His opponent Owen Karan was initially an aspiring footballer but missed out on a professional contact due to his height. Despite his father being a professional boxing coach, he initially discouraged Owen from boxing due to the risk involved, until eventually succumbing to his sons persistent demands. After one session Karan was hooked and now trains as often as he can. Like Owen he is aiming high and they both place great emphasis on the role of their coaches, who are strict so that the boxers are continually pushed to their limits and can reach their great potential.
‘It doesn’t matter where they are from, line the best in front of us and we will beat them one by one’ – Owen Karan
The matches that followed continued this trend of aspirational boxers displaying athletic prowess and boxing ability to a cheering crowd that watched each blow as intently as the last. Many fights resulted in a bloody nose or a warning from the ref but the good-natured atmosphere was evident all night long with the crowd supporting every boxer through the fight.
As the night progressed the intensity rose as each fight became more powerful than the last, coupled with an increasingly inebriated crowd. Nowhere else was this more evident than in round 12 with Alec Murphy representing the gown side against Daniel Robinson of Blackbird Leys ABC. Murphy struggled to deal with the exceptionally powerful blows emanating from Robinson who punched with the power of someone much heavier and taller than this 66kg stature. Despite strong college based support from the benches supported with a good reach and steady balance, he could not deal with the disproportionate power of Robinson who unanimously won in the 3rd round.
Robinson, aged 21 and from Wheatley Park in Oxford, has been boxing for the last 4 years but has trained on-and-off for longer. Initially starting as a way of venting anger outside of the school playground, he had his first bout aged 19 and has continued to enjoy them since then. He currently works as a teaching assistant at Oxford Academy specialising with Special Educational Needs children which he finds to be exceptionally rewarding and loves being able to help them in both the classroom and on the sports field. His training regime is only set to increase with another fight on the 10th of February at the Cowley Workers Social Club with his home club of Blackbird Leys ABC.
The night ended with the heaviest weight classes duelling it out in the ring in front of the last few members of a stalwart and inebriated crowd. In these Daniel Bogatinjous of Blackbird Leys ABC won a close match against Gustaf Behmar on the merit of his powerful blows and full commitment to his attacks. The final round between Hugo Brewer and Shaun Yearwood was just as close with both boxers trading heavy blows the entire round. These matches were characterised by the constant shifts in power between players, but above all the good nature of the event as a whole. Both boxers and crowd members exemplified the best of the local area and supported all players in their displays of ability despite it being past midnight. Speaking to the honorary president of OUABC, Terry Adams, made this clear to me.
The night ended with the heaviest weight classes duelling it out in the ring in front of the last few members of a stalwart and inebriated crowd.
Adams had been the Captain of the OUABC team in 1956 and had competed in several Town vs Gown matches. The atmosphere and good nature he described at them then was exemplified even now and, although the music may have changed from his time, he enjoyed this event as much as any before and is already looking forward to the next one. The former PPP student at Brasenose also noted that even back then the matches were as competitive and close called as they were now. This is what he attributes the success and prestige of Town Vs Gown nights to, and why they have history attached to them that rivals that of varsity matches.
Overall the night was enjoyed by both boxers and spectators and would have been as well appreciated in 1956 as it was in 2018. The event exemplified the thriving boxing community in and around Oxford as well as the diverse and good-natured group of people who constitute it. Eventually in the early hours of Saturday morning, boxers left with trophies to seek food, friends, and drinks whilst spectators, and this reporter included, looked forward to the next one.