Boxing clever

White-collar boxing is the latest sporting craze among lawyers such as Alex Wade. It's certainly not for wimps – but is it legal?
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The Independent Online

Selfridges' website promises "the ultimate 21st century shopping experience". True or not, the flagship store on Oxford Street is a beacon for anyone in need of retail therapy, with its "six fantastic floors" housing everything from fashion to furniture, art to sport. And, for one day in May, it will also house white-collar boxing.

Selfridges' website promises "the ultimate 21st century shopping experience". True or not, the flagship store on Oxford Street is a beacon for anyone in need of retail therapy, with its "six fantastic floors" housing everything from fashion to furniture, art to sport. And, for one day in May, it will also house white-collar boxing.

Tomorrow, the menswear department will take on a rather less sedate air than normal as a boxing ring is set up amid the suits, ties and smart-casual chinos and blazers. The Real Fight Club (TRFC), the organising body for white-collar boxing in the UK, will stage a four-bout show to mark the end of Selfridges' Body Craze campaign.

If it is anything like TRFC's show at the Mermaid Theatre on 20 March, there will be a few bruised bodies, not to mention egos. At the Mermaid, the likes of Sezer "The Geezer" Yurtseven did battle against Michael "Baby-Faced Assassin" Doris before an audience of 300 friends, business colleagues and other curious people. Anyone who thought white-collar boxing was soft would have changed their minds as they saw the second fight of the evening stopped by a knockout, and the third halted when one fighter's nose became too bloody.

Alan Lacey is the man who brought white-collar boxing to the UK. It is boxing for city types, lawyers, bankers and brokers, people who might fancy themselves a bit but have never got round to trying their hands at the sweet science. It started a decade ago in New York, and the money it brought in is credited with saving many old boxing gyms. Lacey, a former boxing manager, set up The Real Fight Club 18 months ago; it now has more than 650 members.

The man on the receiving end of the knockout punch at The Mermaid was Paul "Mad Manx" Beckett, a lawyer with Carters on the Isle of Man. Beckett is one of many lawyers who have elected to don a pair of gloves and relieve their executive stress through boxing. Alex Leitch, a partner with city firm SJ Berwin, is another, and so is Jonathan Berger of Salans.

The luminary of white-collar boxing is 32-year-old Alex Mehta, a barrister and legal director with Judicium, a company that specialises in the prepackaging of legal services. Mehta boxed for many years on the UK amateur circuit, having earlier gained four Oxford Blues.

The form of pugilism practised by "Mad Manx" Beckett, Alex Mehta and others may be about to enliven an evening in Selfridges, but is it legal? The BBC recently abandoned its celebrity boxing series following threats by the British Board of Boxing Control (BBBC) to revoke the licences of any its trainers or managers involved, amid claims that white-collar boxing was illegal. But, in fact, the law tolerates boxing (including white-collar boxing), precisely because society tolerates it, as Lord Mustill made clear in the notorious "Spanner" case (R vs Brown, 1996).

This case, arising from the rather terrifying activities of a group of S&M enthusiasts, made clear that consent was not a defence to criminal charges of assault. Nevertheless, boxing was exempt from the criminal law as "a special situation which... stands outside the law because society chooses to tolerate it". And so, despite the BBBC's protestations in the wake of the celebrity boxing match last Christmas between Ricky Gervais and Grant Bovey, there is presently no legal restriction on TRFC's activities.

ITV has made a documentary about white-collar boxing, provisionally scheduled for 28 May. Lacey says he is inundated with requests for interviews with the press. He is also run off his feet with plans to launch the brand as a national franchise. Converts talk with evangelical fervour about boxing: "there is nothing like it"; "it's so intense"; "it keeps me alive".

Nevertheless, the BBBC will have no truck with it. "We take a very dim view of anyone connected to professional boxing being involved in white-collar boxing," says Robert Smith, the BBBC's assistant general secretary. Smith's main concern is that boxing is a young man's sport, which puts extreme demands on the body: "All professional boxers have to have an annual medical before they can fight. They have to have an MRI and MRA brain scan, tests for Hepatitis B and HIV, a rigorous physical examination and an eye test."

Colin Brown, the company secretary of the Amateur Boxing Association (ABA) of England, agrees. "We have a strict cut-off point of 35 for amateur boxers. My understanding is that a lot of white-collar boxers are older than that. I just wonder if they know what they're getting into."

Alan Lacey is adamant that white-collar boxing is safe. "White-collar boxing is primarily a health and fitness activity," he says. "Everyone is strictly assessed before they can train, let alone have a bout." Lacey says his trainers are closely monitored and come in three grades. A grade one trainer can bring a novice on to throwing four or five punches, and will typically have a sports science or personal fitness training background. A grade two trainer will be able to work on pads with a fighter. Only a grade three trainer will be able to supervise and participate in sparring. A doctor, paramedics and an ambulance are present at every bout (in which the participants must wear head guards), and all fighters must have a pre-fight medical. Lacey says he is looking into introducing an MRI scan as a pre-requisite for joining TRFC. "We are always taking advice from experts in the medical profession."

TRFC is on a roll, with a new club opening in the heart of legal London, at Cannons Health Club in the City. Messrs Mehta, Leitch and Beckett are about to be joined by more of their legal brethren.

Alex Wade fights on 12 June at The Mermaid Theatre, Blackfriars. www.therealfightclub.co.uk