Boxing: Women the latest to be tempted by the fight club that mixes brains and brawn

The remarkable popularity of white collar boxing will be seen again at York Hall tonight.

The sold-out sign is ready tonight at one of boxing most famous venues, the York Hall in Bethnal Green. Yet the bill that has attracted so many punters does not contain a single big name. Instead, the fighters in eight bouts include a senior consultant at IBM, the estate manager for the Duke and Duchess of York, and even a lawyer who works for
The Independent.

The sold-out sign is ready tonight at one of boxing most famous venues, the York Hall in Bethnal Green. Yet the bill that has attracted so many punters does not contain a single big name. Instead, the fighters in eight bouts include a senior consultant at IBM, the estate manager for the Duke and Duchess of York, and even a lawyer who works for The Independent.

Welcome to the extraordinary world of white-collar boxing, a phenomenon growing in popularity that might even be described as the healthiest division in a sport that is struggling.

The East End venue will be full of the friends and families tonight, with just a few traditional boxing fans watching out of curiosity. Each boxer will have on a bulky headguard, fists wrapped in 16-ounce gloves. Professionals wear 10-ounce gloves and headguards are for amateurs. This is, in many ways, somewhere in the middle of the two.

Tonight's bill has been put on by Alan Lacey, the man who dominates white-collar boxing in Britain. Over the last four years he has put on 36 shows, with his "White-collar Warriors" (he has the trademark on the expression) completing more than 1,000 rounds. Lacey is proud of the fact that only two contests have ended in a knock-out. However, there is a lot of blood; the warriors would not have it any other way.

"It's great to have a physical challenge to counter the mental challenges of work. There is nothing that focuses the mind like a smack on the nose," said Daniel "The Pitbull" Page, an investment banker from Goldman Sachs.

Tonight, for the first time, Lacey will present to the public a women's fight. In one corner will be Nadia "The Greek Goddess" Grivas, a psychologist by day, and in the other corner will be Nazreem "Princess Naz" Hussain, who is studying law at the London School of Economics. (All of Lacey's boxers have nicknames. His is "Big Al".)

"It's something that I have wanted to do for a very long time and it was not easy to make the decision, but I'm glad that I have,"Grivas said. The women, like the men, will fight three rounds of two minutes. They have passed all of the tests that Lacey has in place to weed out ringers, jokers and spoilers.

To fight for Lacey, boxers register online then present themselves before Lacey for a physical induction.

This is the key to his club, and to his success. The first rule of his fight club (and it is known as therealfightclub) is that nobody, no matter how much they earn, can join if they have boxed before.

The second is that they must be genuinely white-collar. But what is white-collar? Lacey makes no bones about it. He wants professional people, lawyers, City slickers, doctors and so forth. Builders and bouncers need not apply - unless they own their own companies as well.

How can he tell? Lacey insists he can. "I can spot a ringer, I can smell a fake and I have to. This is a club like any other quality club. It is not easy to be a member. That's exactly how I like it."

Lacey's first brush with boxing was a dozen or so years ago when he emerged with the former British champion and male model Gary Stretch on his books. Lacey helped to put together Stretch's fight against Chris Eubank. It was a major sporting event but Stretch lost and vanished back to Hollywood. Lacey stuck with the boxing game, albeit away from the neon glare.

About five years ago Lacey heard about white-collar boxing during a trip to New York. It sounded wonderful and, as a method of quitting smoking, he started to train in various London gyms. He fought on a show in New York in 2000 and then devoted his time to establishing a legitimate and credible entity in the UK.

To a considerable extent he has succeeded. His training schedules are costly, but most of his members are not short of a few quid. They like the buzz. They like the regime and some clearly like the fighting bit.

"I was two stone overweight, eating and drinking too much. I kept making excuses but what I needed was something drastic and boxing is drastic. There is nowhere to hide in that ring," said Vince "Dynamite" Dickson, a consultant at IBM.

Nobody gets paid for fighting on Lacey's bills. Then again, nobody needs paying.

Lacey calculates that he has promoted more millionaires than any other boxing promoter. "I think I've done a few billionaires, to tell you the truth," he says.

Lacey has also promoted his fair share of minor royalty but a couple of years ago, during a New York v London match, he was let down by Ivana Trump's boyfriend, an Italian count with a Ferrari concession in Manhattan. "The count pulled out, and that hurt because he was lumpo [wealthy] and I know that he would have spent a few quid," Lacey said. Such refreshing honesty from a boxing promoter.

"We are not unlicensed. We are not, as some from the professional business insist, a pirate sport. We are sanctioned by and operate under the auspices of the International White Collar Boxing Association."

It has to be said that the IWCBA has about as much credibility as any of the sport's sanctimonious sanctioning bodies. Lacey also has the same on-site medical requirements as the British Boxing Board of Control demands of its members.

"Boxing is raw, man-to-man, and you learn a hell of a lot about yourself in a boxing ring," said Mark "Tricky" Lisk, the Yorks' estate manager. Tricky, the Goddess, the Princess and the Pitbull will be part of their own early Christmas pantomine tonight when the lights drop.

What's more, the standard is improving. Alex Wade, the lawyer who works for The Independent, began white-collar boxing several years ago. The standard he will encounter tonight, he insists, is far higher than it was then.

"It has transformed itself into an organised, serious, fraternity," he said. "It has separated the men from the boys. It has shed those unable to meet the pace of a sport that, even at the most elemental level, pushes the body to its physical and mental limits. What's more, it rewards the persistent and the brave with an outlet for their middle-class frustrations."

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