My knowledge of boxing technique is sourced from several viewings of Million Dollar Baby and Raging Bull. From them I have learned the art of the speedball, the importance of being light on your feet and the untrustworthiness of German boxers. My personal fight experience has been very limited and strictly amateur (i.e. down a dark alley) and I found out the hard way that being hit on the nose hurts way more than being hit on the chin.
Knowing how much it hurts, I've always been interested in what drives people to volunteer to be hit. As well, I noticed that there has been a renewed interest from women in boxing classes since the ban on female boxing matches was lifted in New South Wales in 2009 after twenty-two years.
I went to Joe’s Boxing in Five Dock to find out what boxing in 2013 was like. Joe Walker (pictured above), who has run the place for the last sixteen years, is a comfortably rumpled guy who has spent most of his career in martial arts, notably karate, but has focused on boxing for the last five years.
“I’ve found boxing to be really clean and welcoming sport,” he said. “In a lot of ways it’s actually safer than sports like karate where the chance of a freak accident and broken arms or legs is relatively high. The boxing scene is much safer and the referees are very good. It’s not like in the movies where you have to be pounded to the floor before they stop the fight. If they think you’re not responding well enough they’ll step in very quickly.”
The night I was there a mix of male and female boxers were training. One of them was Michelle Muchatuta (pictured above and sparring below with Rachel Parmeter), a 28 year old dual Zimbabwe-Australian national, who works as a lawyer at UTS.
She started boxing three years ago when she discovered she had a pretty strong right arm and wants to go to the Rio Olympics in 2016. “I’m aiming to compete in the 2016 Games. My Olympic dream started as a bit of a joke, really, kind of like the Jamaican bobsled team, but it’s grown.”
She’s already the Central West of NSW women’s champion and is aiming to add to this as soon as she can.
Standing next to the ring while they sparred I saw the effort and the perspiration proper boxing produces. The headgear seemed to protect the women, although the odd punch evaded the defences and landed on the nose of Rachel, who was naturally slower than Michelle after a six month layoff from training.
Then it was the guys’ turn. David Ackland (with tattoos) and Will McDonnel (pictured at the top of this page) jumped into the ring and the power levels went up by an order of magnitude.
When the girls were sparring you could almost convince yourself that you could approach boxing no more seriously than a spot of cross-training. In contrast, the punches landed on each other by the men landed with a heavy thud that made me wince as they powered towards my side of the ring.
This was training with serious intent – you needed to protect yourself at all times.
Afterwards they were exhausted, but seemingly unhurt, so my concerns for their safety may have been overblown. As they and Chris Miller (pictured below) posed by the heavy bag their pride in their physicality was evident, and I was a little envious of their nerve, but still happier to be outside the ropes.