Blues Boxers Batter Oxford
Cambridge Boxers fight back from 3-0 down to win Varsity match amidst scenes of controversy. Read more here.
Cambridge University Amateur Boxing Club (CUABC) retained the Truelove Bowl, winning Tuesday’s 103rd Varsity Boxing Match 5-4 on a night marred by controversy.
Oxford’s Town Hall played host to the match, its elegant Baroque interior a slight improvement on the Royston Motel, the scene of January’s Town vs. Gown clash.
Following last year’s 9-0 drubbing of Oxford, anticipation was running high before the fixture, heightened no doubt by the presence of James ‘Chunky’ DeGale, the Olympic Middleweight Champion. Speaking exclusively to The Tab, DeGale had this to say in advance of the bouts “It’s a privilege for me to be here and to be a part of this great rivalry and I’m a Light Blue fan through and through. Come on Cambridge!”
Olympic Champion DeGale with the CUABC team before the Match.
Despite this resounding endorsement, it’s fair to say the night didn’t begin well for the Light Blues.
Cambridge Featherweight Faisal Nasim was first into the ring, his opponent Melvin Chen a Chengdu-born triple Blue. The diminutive Chinaman made light of his short stature to pepper Nasim with blows, producing a performance spicier than anything his native Sichuan cuisine could conjure up. Nasim showed real courage but the verdict – a unanimous decision in favour of Oxford – was entirely fair, Chen winning the Dark Blues’ first Varsity bout since 2008.
Lightweight Jason Blick was next up, facing Chris Pearson, a Balliol Chemistry student. Despite Blick’s best efforts, Pearson came out of the blocks like a train, launching a volley of thunderous blows to leave the referee with little option but to stop the contest mid-way through the first round. 2-0 to Oxford.
It was then the turn of Light-Welterweight Brett Shanley to step up, his opponent Leon Upton somewhat worryingly described in the programme as possessing “a combination of Viet Cong determination and good old East End hardness”. A plucky Shanley worked hard throughout the contest, moving well to keep Upton guessing. Upton was more than equal to the task though, picking off his man each time Shanley – who had survived a standing count in the second round – let his guard slip. The judges were once again unanimous in their decision; Oxford stretched their lead to 3-0.
Following Shanley was Welterweight Fergal McCool, whose opponent, Josh Fields, had been tipped by Oxford insiders as ‘probably the best technical boxer on show’. Fields certainly looked the part, ducking and weaving with poise and elegance as McCool launched a barrage of huge round-arm punches. The first round ended with the Oxford man firmly on top. McCool, however, was not to be deterred, striking regularly with speed and accuracy in a brutal second round.
Photos: Jamie Gundry
As the third round began, a right jab from Fields saw McCool lose his footing; Fields leapt on the opportunity, coursing forwards to press home his advantage. McCool recovered well though and, with a vocal Cambridge contingent spurring him on, finished the bout the stronger of the two. The tension was palpable as the judges deliberated; the decision, when it eventually came, sent the travelling supporters into frenzy, McCool taking the majority verdict and narrowing the deficit to 3-1.
There could have been no better man to step into the ring at this point than CUABC captain and Light-Middleweight Chris Webb. Webb faced OUABC captain Richard Pickering in what many predicted to be the biggest contest of the evening.
The CUABC man began the fight like a viper, his trademark hissing blows leaving his opposite number gasping for air. As he glided elegantly around the ring the former GB kickboxer struck with venomous precision, bloodying the face of his counterpart and leaving him battered and bruised at the end of the first.
CUABC skipper Webb in action. Photos: Jamie Gundry.
To Pickering’s credit, he started the second round the stronger of the two, landing some crunching left-right combos to give the home fans something to cheer about. However, he quickly tired, looking spent as the bell rang at the end of the round. The Cambridge fans were in full voice as the final round began, chants of ‘It’s so quiet at Oxford’ silencing a much larger home contingent.
Nontheless, Pickering, for all his effort, just couldn’t match Webb’s technical wizardry, the Cambridge skipper taking a unanimous decision to narrow the gap to 3-2.
Ed Chadwick, CUABC vice-captain and Middleweight A, was next up, his opponent Carl Walton a stylish two-time Blue from Balliol. The fight began explosively, both men moving well and punching hard in the opening exchanges. As the bout continued, it became apparent just how fit the two men were; Chadwick’s stamina work shone through in the second round, as he landed a crunching – and memorable – left-right combination, along with a series of powerful left hooks.
However, Walton refused to give any ground and the two men traded massive blows all the way to end of the final round, alternating between hands nicely and moving with ease around the ring in the night’s most evenly-matched contest. After a prolonged period of deliberation, Chadwick was awarded victory by a controversial unanimous decision, levelling the scores at 3-3.
A jubilant Chadwick. Photos: Jamie Gundry
The verdict sparked uproar. Oxford’s back-room staff reacted furiously; two of their coaches were seen gesticulating angrily the panel of judges and had to be escorted away from the ring-side area. The hall rang out with boos as the Oxford crowd got involved, screaming for the decision to be overturned. Amidst these heated scenes the MC struggled to restore control, shouting “this is not a circus, this is a boxing contest” even as the Dark Blue support grew more vociferous. Eventually, the threat of ending the evening’s boxing there and then did the trick; with some semblance of order restored, the fights could continue.
The atmosphere was electrifying as Cambridge Middleweight B and Tab favourite Ssegawa-Ssekintu Kiwanuka entered the ring. The laser specialist and part-time operatic poster-boy was down to fight Borna Guevel, a former British Universities Kickboxing champion with a reputation for violence. Guevel came out of the blocks the quicker of the two, his lightning jabs pinning Kiwanuka on the ropes. However, Kiwanuka soon found his feet, inching himself back into the contest with a trademark display of heavy hitting. The second round passed in much the same way as the first, Guevel opening with a flurry of punches before Kiwanuka struck back in characteristically unorthodox fashion with a series of well-placed blows.
By the third round, both men were exhausted, seemingly on the verge of collapse. The noise levels in a the hall reached a crescendo as the contest ebbed and flowed, the two fighters trading savage blows as they pushed themselves to their very limits in a breathtaking display of heart. This was pugilism at its brutal, visceral best.
A brutal third round. Photos: Jamie Gundry.
Kiwanuka, though, took the victory on a majority decision, putting Cambridge into the lead for the first time. 4-3 Cambridge.
Cambridge Light-Heavyweight Tom Burlton was next in. However, his opponent, Ben Morris, an ex-Para, simply proved too strong for the Catz fresher. Although the two were relatively evenly matched throughout the first, Morris made his experience (and tours of duty in Afghanistan) show in the second, pinning Burlton up against the ropes and battering him into submission. After two standing counts, Burlton had no choice but to retire, levelling the contest at 4 bouts apiece.
Enter Heavyweight Bart Dear. With everything resting upon his shoulders, Dear was pitted against the 6’4″, shaven-headed Australian James Ogg, known simply as ‘The Thunder from Down Under’. Chants of ‘Oggy Oggy Oggy, Oi Oi Oi’ rang out from the Oxford contingent as they anticipated an easy victory for their Aussie bruiser. However, where other men may have been frightened, Dear remained utterly unfazed. He made light of Ogg’s significant reach advantage, outmaneouvring his opponent with some intelligent counter-boxing.
Heavyweight Dear after the match with his father, who had flown over from America for the match.
It was little short of a spectacular display of boxing from the Texan, who made his opponent look clumsy and inexperienced as he floated around the ring, landing stinging punches seemingly at will. Ogg was powerless to stop Dear’s relentless advance; the CUABC man showered painful blow after painful blow upon him, silencing the hostile Oxford fans. Even the Dark Blues’ staunchest supporters couldn’t dispute Dear’s victory, as the Texan took a unanimous decision to retain the Truelove Bowl for Cambridge. 5-4 the final score on a gripping night of boxing.
Speaking after the match, CUABC captain Chris Webb had this to say “I’m really proud of the boys. It’s been a great season for CUABC and I’m delighted to keep hold of the Truelove Bowl. My highlight of the night was definitely the Oxford coaches smashing up the changing room after a contentious decision though!”
For The Tab’s photos from the match, click here.