Varsity Boxing: Gallant Cambridge Defeated
Could the Cambridge boxers live up to their pre-match hype and reign victorious on the big stage? ALEX JACKMAN went to find out.
After a frantic and ferocious evening of boxing at the Corn Exchange, Oxford retained the Truelove Bowl, winning six of the nine bouts. The Dark Blues clinched victory in the eighth fight despite spirited fighting from Cambridge, who had the consolation of knowing that of all the thousands of students at Cambridge, they are still the only ones privileged enough to punch Oxonians in the head and get away with it.
For a newcomer to boxing (and if you are a fanatic, you really should have been there), the scene was dramatic: the ring lit in gold, the silverware gleaming, just out of reach by the judges, and ranks of light blue blazers fading back into the gloom. The arena filled as the boxers lined up in the ring, the tension becoming palpable as each saw for the first time his opponent. There was also a lion mascot crunking, which wasn’t quite as theatrical, but I found it inspiring and exciting.
The drama of the build-up gave way to the thrill of the bouts. Cambridge’s supporting fighters, Daphne Tsalli and Jamie O’Neill, defeated opponents from Essex Uni and Iceni ABC, before the 106th Varsity Boxing Match began with the featherweight matchup.
Nick Melgaard, in his eighth fight for CUABC, had difficulty responding to the relentless pace and aggression of his opponent Michael Davis, who moved in close throughout, restricting the Australian’s movement and preventing him from counterpunching effectively. Oxford’s James Watson then forced lightweight Stefan Lavelle to retire in the first round, a shame for the previously undefeated fresher.
With the nauseating (and nauseous) bray of Oxford’s (well-oiled) travelling support rising around the arena, Xiaofeng Li stepped up to take on Oxford captain, light-welterweight Tom Eliasz. He first prevented Eliasz from establishing himself in the first two rounds via cheeky shots to the Oxonian’s head. But Li looked tired after the second round, remaining longer in his corner, shoulders slumped. Then, he visibly steeled himself, rose from his corner, and blasted the Oxford captain away in the third, dominating the captain and working him around the ring with flurries of jabs. Victorious by majority decision, Li bowed to a baying crowd, a major scalp claimed for Cambridge. Welterweight Seb Pender followed to take on Conor Husbands.
The first round started aggressively (perhaps not the most illustrative way to describe a boxing match, but hey), with both men trading long hooks with disregard for defending. However, Pender tired in the second, and was forced to return to his corner and retire after taking some dizzying blows which whipped his head around and took off his helmet.
Next came Will Nyerere-Plastow, who swaggered into the ring, arms out for the crowd, silk robe in place. It got caught in his gloves on the way off, but the light-middleweight’s confidence was not misplaced: he punished Dan Bailey, repeatedly ducking low beneath the Oxford man’s swings then straightening up to find and exploit the holes in his guard with ease. By the end of the bout, the Cambridge support were chanting “Kill”, and Nyerere-Plastow went home with the prize for the best individual performance by a boxer.
The atmosphere was electric by now. Borna Guevel, Cambridge Captain, took to the ring with his own name howled at him. Cambridge seemed to be taking the initiative in the match: the Oxford middleweight Zachariah Sammour turned away before the bout to rest his head on the corner of the ring. In retrospect, he probably wasn’t crying. Borna was frustrated by his opponent, who kept out of reach then closed in for quick, focussed combinations of punches, which at one point had Guevel on the canvas. The judges gave it to Sammour, and with Cambridge now 4 – 2 down, a win was needed to prevent Oxford from claiming the trophy.
William Wakeford stepped up to the challenge. He smashed through Iain Holland’s defences in the second round after a cagey opening, and so unable was Holland to deal with his opponent’s quick counterpunching, the Oxford boxer resorted to slinging the Light Blue to the floor by his arm. After Wakeford’s win, the match came down to the final two bouts.
Tinashe Murozoki, light-heavyweight, boxed furiously (his self-proclaimed BEAST MODE quite obviously activated) and had Harry Miller on the ropes in the second round. The Other Place’s team were surprised that it was only a majority decision in favour of their fighter. I’m biased, but it looked from the balcony that Murozoki’s performance might have warranted better for Cambridge, even though in the third round my notes just say “Oxford won L”.
And Oxford had won: the score was 5 – 3 with one bout remaining.
Finally, Will Fountain went up against Laurent Tadjo Kotch in the heavyweight fight. This was not a match for pride: each boxer had endured a year of intense competition and training to earn their place in the ring, and Fountain fought valiantly. In the end, Cambridge’s night was brought to a close by a (lucky) punch to the head that knocked Fountain sprawling. Swaying on his feet, he demanded to carry on, but the ref had other ideas. GDBO.
The overall loss, of course, could not detract from the skill and dedication of the Cambridge boxers, who to a man fought with intense focus and refused to quit. Credit to the Oxford team too – for a neutral, the evening was one of thrilling entertainment. As for the CUABC boxers and their supporters – they’ll be back next year.