Bulls and bears to slug it out - in the ring

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 October, 2008, 12:00am

On Thursday night, a dozen of Hong Kong's top bankers and hedge fund managers, already bruised and battered by the financial meltdown, will put aside market woes to risk their reputations on another stage - the boxing ring, where they will be hoping to raise HK$1 million for charity.

The bulls and the bears - depending on where they think the markets are headed - will swap their suits and ties for tank tops, headguards, shorts and gloves as they step into the ring for three two-minute rounds at the Indian Recreation Club in So Kon Po.

For the 12 boxers who will compete in front of 700 colleagues from their trade, it will be a night to show what they have learned from four months of gruelling training.

And for some of the fighters, it will be an experience they will not forget because they will be putting on a pair of gloves and slugging it out in the ring for the first time.

While the world continues to reel from the financial meltdown, organisers of the IP Global-sponsored Hedge Fund Fight Nite are hoping the boxers put on a good show for the benefit of Operation Smile and Operation Breakthrough.

Trained by JAB, the fitness and martial arts studio in Central, the 12 fighters made the final cut from 32 who first volunteered to take part in the event.

Rob Derry, managing director for Ironmonger Events, the organisers, said the evening would reflect Hong Kong's can-do spirit.

'Obviously there will be hard times ahead but Hong Kong will come out and it will be a great night to watch these guys fight and fight for a good cause,' Derry said. 'There's a lot of symbolism involved. That's the great thing about Hong Kong, which still has a lot to offer to the world. It will never lie down. You might get knocked down but you get up and you will carry on going.'

That's exactly what's going to happen on Thursday as the 12 hopefuls take part in six bouts. And there are no fat cats on this night -only well-conditioned athletes ranging in age from 23 to 49.

This is the second time Hedge Fund Fight Nite is taking place after last December's successful staging. But there's a big difference this year. When last year's event was held, the Hang Seng Index stood at the 28,643 mark; Fight Nite II will be staged at a time when the HSI is down to its lowest level in four years, 12,618.

'We weren't sure when we held it the first year, whether it would work. But everybody loved it, not just the fighters,' Derry said. 'To take someone who has never fought before and train them for four months and put them in a ring in front of 700 of their colleagues and box for three two-minute rounds - that's a big thing.'

There are also lingering worries the event might not be able to match the money raised last year, which topped HK$1 million, because of the economic downtown, although Derry remained bullish.

'We have to be slightly pessimistic. When it comes to charity auctions, it depends on people's generosity and it is going to be difficult. However, we remain hopeful. We have a lot of things donated by people, which will go up for auction. Everything from luxury holidays to photos and paintings - from famous painters [Adam Bricusse] and photographers [Andrew MacPherson] - will be auctioned off.'

Andrew Wong Kee, a professional trainer who whipped the 12 into shape, is looking forward to the bouts.

'We started off with 32 guys and some of them have done nothing [no sport] in their lives. I had four months to get them into shape and teach them how to box. I'm pretty pleased with the way they have progressed. We got 12 fighters who are ready to rumble,' he said.

The former Hong Kong rugby international said the 12 were determined from the start.

'They had a lot of drive to succeed through their training,' said Wong of the bankers. 'These are individuals who work in the financial industry which is very competitive and they brought this to training. They let go their worries at work and trained hard and they did really well.'

Graham McNeil, of EC Harris, said the event would be a good break from work and from the uncertainties in the economy.

'Obviously things are very tight and the economy worldwide is struggling. You focus on something else and it's a good way to unwind,' said McNeil, one of the few experienced martial artists on show.

'I am fighting a guy two weight categories above my weight [middleweight]. He's a super heavyweight [James McCaughey of Macquarie] and he's a bigger guy and a taller puncher. It should be okay though.

'For my New Year's resolution this year, I wanted to learn a new martial art and to do something for charity. So this event actually killed two birds with one stone. It's great because it gets you very fit, but at the same time we are giving something back to two excellent charities.'

Richard Le-Gallez, of HSBC, is one of the youngest contestants. He's also one of the least experienced in the ring, having never worn a pair of boxing gloves until now.

'It's all new to me. It's been a rough ride getting used to it, but it's all worthwhile,' said Le-Gallez.

'The charity is really good. I wanted to push myself and I think this is the biggest challenge I could ever put myself through. I'd heard that a few other people had done this [Fight Nite] the previous year and they said it was really good and I thought to myself, 'Why not?'

'From a point of view of training, boxing with your colleagues from your trade is a good thing. At work, I pretty much know all the guys. They have taken that vibe [from work] and put in 100 per cent in the ring. I think it's only good for the industry going forward.

'We should remember it's for a charity and whatever the financial circumstances are, good or bad, I think when you look at charity work, it's always a great thing to do.'

Wheels of fortune

When Hedge Fund Fight Nite was held last December the Hang Seng Index stood at 28,643. It has since fallen to: 12,618

The beneficiaries

Operation Smile is a charity where volunteers primarily repair childhood facial deformities, while building public and private partnerships that advocate sustainable healthcare systems for children and families.

Operation Breakthrough is a project where Hong Kong sport is used as a means to help fight crime and juvenile delinquency among low income and immigrant communities.

Organisers of the Hedge Fund Fight Nite say tables for 12, ranging in price from HK$20,000 to HK$60,000 for ringside seats, are still up for grabs. More information can be found at ironmongerevents.com