Right Hooks and Library Books

Cambridge University Amateur Boxing Club Captain SSEGAWA-SSEKINTU KIWANUKA kicks off his blog for TabSport, and talks about the passion of Varsity boxing.

Boxing Boxing Varsity Boxing Varsity Match Cambridge Boxing Sport Ssegawa-Ssekintu Kiwanuka

“Mama Said Knock You Out”. Succint. Ever said that to your Director of Studies though? Well, if so, you are probably reading this on your break from community service. As an undergrad, I must admit the thought had crossed my mind, but luckily for my DoS and critically my future career plans, I only really discovered my actual boxing ability as  a more circumspect PhD student.

So violence is not the answer. Unless your name is James Todd Smith and you are in search of a Grammy for best rap solo performance. Well, a song about boxing, and a video with all the trimmings – announcer’s microphone, corner-man’s stool and slow motion hooks and uppercuts did the trick.

This is Cambridge University, not nineties New York, so what has that got to do with Cambridge University Amateur Boxing Club? Nothing. In fact there are no parallels to be drawn. If you look at LL Cool J, even at age 43, he is clearly a hulk of a man. He even makes Fiddy Cent look like Mr Motivator. You could understand either of these rappers cutting it as amateur boxers straight out of New York, but Cambridge students ‘straight outta…’ safe suburbia? I don’t think so.

Or at least I didn’t think so until I witnessed the crowd at the boxing Varsity Match. I’ve only been shocked twice in Cambridge, and I’ve been here a while. Once was at St John’s Ball, when a 6 ft blonde in a full length ball gown knew more of headliner Dizzee Rascal’s lyrics than I did. If they “Flex like that” in the home counties too, then I’ve been missing out. The second was seeing the passion from the crowd at Oxford Town Hall for last year’s Varsity Match. I thought reactions (and language) like that were reserved for West Ham – Millwall friendlies. Amateur boxing is a sport, an art. If anything violent happens, it is normally outside the ring from over-excited spectators. Even Oxbridge ones.

CUABC’s Sarah Burden (red) in action during 102nd Varsity Match, Old Billingsgate, London.

Perhaps the Olympic committee were there taking notes on women’s amateur boxing?

People love boxing. I do not know why exactly, but even esteemed academics at the best academic institution in the world enjoy watching two individuals go toe-to-toe in a 16ft ring. Popular culture loves boxing. Look at the success of boxing films or references in popular culture, some innocent and sweet like Bugsy Malone (the set-up there does remind me of Fenners somewhat), others never-ending, like the Rocky franchise.

Sadly not many experienced boxers come to Cambridge. Hardly surprising given that if they were any good they would be sitting in a Las Vegas hotel instead of a Land Economy lecture. As much as I value education and the BA(cantab), I would take the money and a nice shiny belt. Although white tigers are a bit too 1990s for me.

Surely Cambridge students aren’t quite cut out for boxing? True, it’s hard to imagine a Raging Bull-esque character floating around King’s Parade, but Cambridge University’s influence on modern day boxing goes back over a century before the birth of Jake LaMotta and deeper than De Niro’s Italian-American accent. Every boxing fan would have heard of the Queensberry Rules, yet not all would be aware that the code was written in Cambridge by Trinity College student John Graham Chambers and endorsed John Douglas, the 9th Marquess of Queensberry.

The Varsity Match, dating back to 1897, is the oldest annual inter-club boxing fixture in the World. It took until 1904 for amateur boxing to be introduced to the modern Olympics. Oxford and Cambridge hosted the first women’s amateur boxing Varsity bouts in 2005. By strange coincidence this will be 7 years before women’s boxing is introduced to the Olympics in London 2012. I would not have thought of Cambridge had quite a history in boxing, and even nowadays could still have some relevance, but then I guess neither did LL Cool J, otherwise he surely would have name-checked CUABC. Never mind, I was more of a Beastie Boys fan.

Illustration by Amy Munroe-Faure