Hg2 Cape Town co-author, Keith Bain, will be ringside this Friday evening, checking out the White Collar Boxing action at the Armoury in the city’s slowly-gentrifying Victorian-industrial suburb of Woodstock.
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With an intensity that is oftentimes closer to sex than sport, it’s easy to understand why boxing has grabbed the imagination of Capetonians, setting tongues wagging here in 2010. We’re talking real-deal—gloves and ball-box, butterfly-floating, bee-stinging, blood-spraying, sweat-dripping—boxing. White Collar Boxing, to call it by its proper name—played according to a few gentlemanly rules, and ruled by the gods of guts and courage. It’s taken Cape Town by storm and is now as much a sensation of the social scene as it is an icon of local fitness culture. The Armoury Boxing Club (www.armouryboxing.com) opened earlier this year and has—thanks to its first two successful Fight Night events—rapidly caught the imagination of all kinds of Capetonians. Scenesters and socialites rub shoulders with prize-fighting professionals, and pre-teen kids cheer wildly alongside women averting their gaze from the pounding blows and uppercuts. Cameras click, journos muse, and everyone applauds. Friday’s action promises to be off the charts.
Armoury is a fitness gym, first and foremost, but with boxing as its training fulcrum, these Fight Nights offer opportunities for new-to-the-scene boxers to engage in real physical bouts in front of a paying crowd. No Fight Club-style underground bunker room—this is a venue where vintage upholstery meets exposed brick; where sophistication and sweat are allies. Now you can guiltlessly drink champagne whilst witnessing a punch-up. The event occasionally sees ringside spectators sprayed with blood (it’s rare, but it happens), but never sees contenders lying on the ground faking injury. It’s also where sports voyeurs can get insanely close to the action, or decide to forgo the voyeurism entirely and sign up for the next event. According to those who’ve already gone the distance, the experience is as much life-changing as it is life-affirming—a true test of self in an arena where there are no tools or gadgets to help you along.
The men and women fighting Friday night are all ordinary people with “normal” lives; they’ve been put through their paces by professionals for at least three months prior to the event. It’s a powerful fast-track to fitness and toughening up, and—for some—a total reconditioning that’s as much spiritual as physical. And, like sex, I’m told that the urge to fight—to act on some kind of mano a la mano violent tendency—is natural; an utterly human compulsion too often restricted and repressed by social convention. Whatever its driving impulse, it’s heart-stopping, compulsive entertainment. I don’t think you can watch a boxing match without experiencing some level of transcendence: The air all around you is alive, so taut, in fact, that you feel each and every blow. It’s about giving and receiving fistfuls of power, and the repeated thrusting, ducking, reaching and all-round butterfly-like dancing is exhausting. And at the end of these fights—three rounds of two very long minutes—no winners or losers are declared. They say the fighters know who’s come out tops; it’s White Collar Boxing, and it’s a gentleman’s game. They know full well that they’ve stretched themselves in ways few urban executives ever get a chance to these days. It’s Tyler Durden without the slightest hint of insanity.
And, for spectators, the thrills extend beyond the arena. Besides eight matches pitting local fighters against similarly weighted amateurs from Johannesburg, there’ll be two bars and there’s a DJ to give the night that effervescent Cape Town party vibe. Tattooed “ring girls”; a tuxedoed MC; chisel-jawed referees in white collared shirts; and a crowd of Cape Town’s chirpiest hipsters will add to the mix of adrenaline, nervous energy, and full-throttle sportsmanship.
Come to think of it… it may just be the most insane fun you’ll have all year—a rip-roaring mash-up of socialising and authentic, sporty violence. For anyone who’s unfamiliar with Cape Town: Armoury occupies a plumb spot in the Buchanan Square development in Woodstock, the up-and-coming part-industrial part-Victorian neighbourhood to the east of the city centre—a great place to discover alternatives to the over-hyped view of Cape Town that you’ll find in the brochures.