Corporate Fighter Boxing Attracts White-Collar Warriors
5 JULY 2016
Everyone has a boxing fantasy. Mine is to be the announcer, the bloke whose oratorical enthusiasm for violence belies the fact that he, like me, couldn’t knock the skin off a rice pudding, but nevertheless feels the visceral thrill of watching other blokes try to concuss each other.
Last weekend I realised that this fantasy is not necessarily as glamorous as I thought. It’s easy when you’re introducing a couple of heavyweight champions, not so easy when the bloke in the white corner is Matt “The Viper” Clarke, 51 years old and 69kg, a hairdresser from Surry Hills, Sydney.
The event is Corporate Fighter, in the grand ballroom of the Westin Hotel, Sydney. Groups of burly business types and spectacularly glamorous women are here to support various colleagues who, having trained for 12 weeks, are fighting in their first boxing match in a ring in the centre of the room. These are not people with ambitions as boxers; rather, they are amateurs (male and female) ticking a common bucket-list item.
More than 600 people are here: tickets (including dinner, drinks and 13 three-round bouts) are up to $300 and it’s sold out. The concept began in England about 15 years ago and is showing no sign of abating in Australia. Corporate Fighter alone puts on four fights a year in Sydney; it’s even bigger in Melbourne.
“Is anyone here from the Barberia?” the announcer yells. This is Matt the Viper’s salon. As a long-time client and friend, I cheer and raise my hand, as does Matt’s table of family and friends.
Warming up under the spotlight, Matt shadow-boxes a series of lightning combos. I’m impressed. I’d never seen him swing anything more dangerous than a hair dryer, so I’d arrived expecting to see him get knocked out in the first round, but now I’m thinking he may actually have a chance.
Amateur boxing can be clumsy at the best of times, but it’s curiously cathartic when it’s a friend in the ring. Matt and his opponent, who is half his age, put on a mostly defensive bout, with frequent impressive flurries. Matt skilfully ducks a couple of haymakers, and I find myself ducking with him, urging him to deploy the combos he’d demonstrated earlier. He does, and lands a few, but alas. Predictably, the judges give it to the younger fighter.
“He was too fast for me,” Matt tells me after he’s showered and put on his suit, blending back into the crowd, who by the seventh fight have finished dinner and are getting more raucous, standing on chairs and chanting. When I tell him he had good skills, Matt is delighted. “All I wanted to do was put on a good show,” he says.
His wife, Cheryl, looks even more relieved that it is over. Interestingly, their son Jed is also on the card; unfortunately, he too fails to sway the judges. But hey, father and son now have a yarn to dust off every Christmas lunch for at least a decade.
Despite the headgear, there are occasional sprays of claret, all from flush hits on the beak, which trainers quickly wipe away. Another fighter goes down with an injured shoulder. The crowd politely pauses while he is nursed from the ring before resuming their vocal enthusiasm for the next two fighters.
The funniest part is the post-fight interviews with the victors. The announcer feeds them flattering questions, but all they can offer in reply are wheezes and groans as they try to mouth words through swollen cheeks and empty lungs. The announcer may as well be interviewing a fish.
But the well-behaved, well-dressed crowd isn’t here to be enlightened. They want controlled violence involving friends or colleagues, and get it. It is one of the happiest events I’ve been to in months.