Total Combat's klaxons and single-round bouts hark back to fight game’s bygone age

Boxing Correspondent Steve Bunce looks at a new elimination tournament containing the Marquis of Queensberry rules

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Nearly three centuries ago James Figg and Jack Broughton were boxing’s pioneer promoters, men with a keen eye on removing a wayward guinea from the silk pockets of London’s fancy.

The pair were not afraid to look for variety and during their nights of boxing, men would fight two men, a couple of “she-devils” with “bare bosoms” could box, a dwarf could fight a small woman, and it was always complemented by a dog or two, a barrel of burning rats and a brute with a cudgel. The raw sketches from the time include men like Buckhorse, who was born in “the house of a sinner” and had a face ruined by fists that made him an attraction. Incidentally, Figg’s business card was designed by a struggling young artist named William Hogarth.

Boxing has been the most adaptable of modern sports since the sporting lawless 18th century, when Broughton’s first rules appeared, and on through the civilising process of the Victorians when dwarf v women fights declined and durations for rounds, dedicated rings for combat and some of sport’s first medical practices were introduced.

In the 19th century some of the greatest bare-knuckle fights lasted for dozens of rounds with the brawlers often suffering horrendous facial injuries; during the last 35 years the duration of championship fights was reduced from 15 to 12 rounds to further prevent dangers. Boxing now has the most serious medical rules and regulations in sport but the fans still like a good old-fashioned fight.

A few weeks ago in a studio in east London eight boxers met behind closed doors to take part in and launch Total Combat, which is a unique event that would have appealed to both Figg and Broughton. The event was filmed and was due to be shown on BT Sport this week.

“Well, first of all, there is no kicking or choking or throwing,” said Francis Warren, who created the concept and put the event together. “It is boxing and to all intents and purposes it has the same rules as boxing – the main difference is that there is just one six-minute round to each fight.” There is, however, a small eight-sided, four-roped ring; there is a chance that it will be dubbed the “octo-ring”.

The line-up included a couple of boxers who at some point held licences from the British Boxing Board of Control, some kick-boxers and veterans from the mixed martial arts circuit. They were all sent to a clinic in Liverpool for a full medical, which was far more thorough than any normal pre-fight medical in boxing, and on the day of the secretive recording three doctors were ringside with two ambulances also in attendance. “Safety was critical, we had to get it right and I’m glad to say that we did,” added Warren. 

At the start of each fight a large digital clock starts ticking down from six minutes once the bell has sounded (there might be a klaxon and no bell). If a boxer can secure a quick stoppage or knockout before the bell sounds at the end of six minutes he can increase his money and the bonus is bigger the quicker he can end the fight.

It’s essentially a knockout bonus, which currently exists in Prizefighter, a format where eight boxers fight each other until two are left in the final. The difference is that Prizefighter operates inside the Board’s control and, so far, Total Combat has not received the blessing of the sport’s rulers.

In Total Combat there is also something called the Blitz, which is a short period of time that starts and ends with a deafening klaxon and during the Blitz there is a cash prize if a stoppage takes place. The Blitz is put in play only after the producer has asked a simple question to the referee, who is wired for sound, about the condition of the two boxers. The referee, who is closest to the fighters, has to give his agreement before the klaxon howls.

There are seven fights, the same as Prizefighter, and, assuming the fights last the full duration, the boxers will spend a maximum of 18 minutes in the ring to win the prize. A Prizefighter winner has to go for a total of 27 minutes of action in his three fights if they all go the distance. There is a bold plan to film four more Total Combat episodes next month and then have a live event in the summer. Incidentally, all boxers get paid a sliding scale for their participation in Total Combat.

“It has to stay original, I don’t want boxers using the system to nick a win like they have done in Prizefighter – good boxers have sussed the way to win that,” claimed Warren. “It is about winning well and giving the fans something original to watch. In Total Combat every second counts.”

A klaxon, six-minute rounds, seven fights, 90 minutes in total and a knockout bonus: the type of stuff that Figg’s faithful fancy would pay to watch.