Bankers bash each other ... in the name of charity

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 December, 2007, 12:00am

They say you can smell fear and if that's the case then it must smell a lot like liniment.

That's the first thing that crosses my mind when we emerge from the lift and start walking towards the makeshift training rooms at the Conrad Hotel being used for Hong Kong's first Hedge Fund Fight Nite.

The second thing that strikes me - once the doors are open and the bankers-cum-boxers are revealed - is that I've got it all wrong.

There's a slightly nervous air inside, for sure, but fear doesn't seem to be a factor.

Neither does the flab I expected to see rolling over the belt lines of men for whom, until recently, the term 'box' only came into play when it was the thing that stopped them from getting to the office doughnuts.

The 12 brave souls on the card tonight have been drawn from across the financial sector, paired off according to their weight class and thrown in front of 600-odd industry colleagues who while not exactly baying for blood, have certainly been aroused by the promise of a bit of biff. And, of course, by the various fluids with which they have been dousing down their dinners.

For Ron 'The Anaesthetist' Rutland (one of Fortis Bank's finest), the event has helped serve two personal goals. He's helping raise money for the Operation Smile charity. And the South African has been able to get himself fighting fit.

'I was having a few beers about five or six months ago and one of the guy's who is now training us pulled me aside and said, 'Mate, you're not looking too good these days, why don't you get into this fight thing?',' he recalls. 'The training was brilliant. You sometimes ended up in the corner a quivering wreck, in a ball of sweat, but I've lost 10 kilos, which is not bad at 33.'

In the next room, Tony 'T-Bone' Shaw (representing HSBC) is having his hands taped before the night begins. The nerves are in check, he says, but the Australian is wondering what will happen once he steps out under the lights.

'At least we know we've done the work,' says the 34-year-old. 'The chicken is cooked, I suppose, so we have to get it out of the oven before it's spoiled. I've done some training for endurance type events but the training for this has been exceptional.

'It's a good thing we know each other because I think if you hate the other guy you might lose your game plan. It's been taxing, but I've been sleeping more and backing off the booze, which keeps myself and my wife happy.'

The night has been organised by Robert Derry, of Ironmonger Events - it's six fights over three rounds each - and the training has been carried out by Andrew Wong Kee from JAB Mixed Martial Arts Studio. Wong has been around the fight game most of his life and has been left impressed at the manner in which these bankers have gone about their business.

'From when they came to now, they've improved rapidly,' he says. 'The kilos of body fat they have shed is impressive but we have worked them hard. Most of them have done no boxing before and some of them were really unfit. So we spent three months working them hard - and then we took them into the ring.

'But as far as having the drive to fight, you can't train that. You either have it or you don't.'

And we're about to find out exactly who does. But first, a piece of the bizarre. The evening begins with a welcome message beamed in from fabled boxing promoter Don King. He's in Iraq with the US troops and urges everyone to 'keep a smile on your face' while watching the 'Ding dong in Hong Kong'. It takes a second for it all to sink in and while we sit back and start to enjoy ourselves, the guys in the ring take about two seconds to convince us just how serious they are.

When it's T-Bone's turn, both he and his opponent - Will 'Mad Dog' Marsden (fighting out of the Merger Market corner) - come out swinging. Such is the fury that both boxers find themselves down on one knee at some stage during the first two rounds - but it is T-Bone's assault at the end of the second that settles the matter. The ref steps in and the bloodied Marsden is told this battle will end early.

After three fights, an auctioneer takes to the ring and a bidding war takes over, some happy punters walking away with items as varied as Ricky Hatton's gloves to an Aston Martin and Operation Smile's coffers boosted to the tune of around HK$2 million.

Once the boxing starts up, the fighters - to their credit - never take a backward step. By the end, the crowd's bloodlust is satisfied - and The Anaesthetist has given Graham 'Slappin' Lappin (Merrill Lynch) his medicine.

Two days later, once the pain has settled, we catch up with T-Bone, who has gone back to being known simply as Tony.

'I was pretty knackered,' he confesses. 'It was very daunting. With the lights and the cameras, it was quiet surreal. But what was really surprising was the well-wishers giving me support and coming together for charity. We all found that uplifting.'

Fighting for a good cause

When bankers get together, you can smell the money

The Hedge Fund Fight Nite raises this much, in HK$, for Operation Smile: 2m