by ALICE SCARSI
Rory Walkes’ nearest and dearest were floored when he told them he planned to step into the ring and box for charity.
“Most of them were supportive,” he said. “But they all asked me if I was out of my mind. Well, I am taking punches for charity, so I must be.”
Walkes, in his mid thirties, is a white-collar boxer, one of the many amateurs trying their hand at lacing up the gloves to raise cash for Cancer Research UK.
Organised through Ultra White Collar Boxing (UWCB), an association that has been arranging bouts in the UK since 2009, Walkes is training twice a week in preparation for his fight on 17 June. That’s in addition to his day job as a lawyer.
“When I’m in the ring I don’t think about anything.”
“I still remember the first time I was hit during training,” he said. “I was shocked, but at the same time it gave me a shot of adrenaline that pushed me to try harder and improve.”
He’s been training at the KO Gym in Bethnal Green, a small and sweaty space full of aspiring boxers, and the home of UWCB in the East End.
Participants in the programme take part in two gruelling training sessions each week, and are expected to eat clean while doing the dirty work of getting ready for the fights.
Walkes and his sparring partners will meet at the Troxy in Tower Hamlets on Saturday.
It’s the latest black tie match organised by the UWCB, which ran 350 similar events across the UK last year.
Despite the fatigue, most of the fighters seem happy to have signed up.
“I am doing it for charity,” said Scott Montgomery, a manager at Travis Perkins. “Sure, it also helps to relieve stress. Fighting is liberating, when I am in the ring I don’t think about anything.”
Alexis Sharp, an accountant, is on the same page as his soon-to-be opponent.
“It’s nice to do something good,” he said. “I am also getting fit, which is a plus, but I wouldn’t have gotten into this specific environment without the charity aspect.”
The fighters have also been actively involved in the fundraising campaign.
“After eight weeks, our women fight like fierce animals.”
“When they sign up, they agree to sell tickets to the match and raise money through a personal JustGiving page,” said Amanda Ritchie, a UWCB event coordinator.
Cancer Research UK received £3.8m from UWCB last year, almost double the amount donated by the organisation in 2015.
Ritchie said she was particularly proud of the women who have joined the scheme.
“They are the best,” she said. “Every time we organise an event, I see many women arriving at the first lesson all shy and worried. After eight weeks, they fight like fierce animals.”
The only prerequisite for would-be fighters is age and a lack of experience. Every boxer must be over 18 years old and a beginner.
“We need to make sure fighters don’t become so good they would no longer be considered beginners,” she said. “They can fight at a maximum of three events, after that they have to hang up their gloves.”
The white-collar boxing scene has been dubbed a “posh fight club” mirroring Chuck Palahniuk’s famous novel. Ritchie dismissed this label: “Everybody is entitled to have opinions,” she said.
In fact, on the night of the event, things will indeed be posh. It’s going to be strictly black tie and the price of a VIP table ticket will be £400.
However, the boxers will be there for the cause. Their sweat and blood is helping to beat cancer. Sometimes, posh is good.