The first direct punch to the head from a sparring partner that got past the defences of Jesse 'Happy Feet' Kavanagh was a big shock. But his adrenalin kicked in straightaway. 'The last 90 seconds of that round felt like hours and at the end of it I was absolutely exhausted,' says the executive director and head of tax Asia ex-Japan for Nomura. Kavanagh, one of 12 bankers and hedge fund managers participating in the charity Hedge Fund Fight Nite, was sparring as part of an intensive five-month training programme before the main event on October 29. On that night, more than 700 of the fighters' industry peers turned up to a black-tie dinner in support of their efforts to raise money for Operation Smile and Operation Breakthrough. For hedge fund managers, mauled and maligned during the global financial crisis, this was one way of giving back to the underprivileged and getting into the good books of investors. In its third year, the event is fast becoming popular with fund managers and raised HK$850,000, all of which went to charities. For the previous five months these 12 contenders survived an intense training regime at JAB Mixed Martial Arts Studio to make it to the final fight night. The routine combined almost daily sessions of weight training, cardio exercise, sparring and contact in the ring, the latter overseen by JAB managing director Andrew Wong Kee and Commonwealth Games boxing gold medallist Matthew Corbett from Australia. 'Matthew's experience was a lot of help this year and it showed in the skill level of the guys,' Wong says. 'Technically, they were all more accomplished than those participating in previous years.' Fitness was key, and quickly ruled out some contenders at the beginning of training, with the initial 44 entries cut down to 20, then 16 and to the final 12 a week or so before the big night. In addition to Kavanagh, the final group of boxers included karate black belt holder Benoit 'La Tornade' Descourtieux of OP Calypso Capital, former rugby player Bruce 'Almighty' French, and associate director at UBS and Muay Thai practitioner John 'Headcount Reduction' Crane. 'The first fitness session just about killed me, as it did almost everybody else,' says Bangkok-based Crane. 'On the subsequent fitness session with Andrew, I came back to Hong Kong feeling confident, having trained in all the routines from the first session and he hit us with stuff that was completely different. He gave me some new training routines, that's for sure,' Balancing work and training was the major challenge for the final 12 boxers. Personal lives were curtailed as training was squeezed into the time between 60-hour work weeks and bedtime. Many of the bankers and hedge fund managers gave up alcohol for the duration of the training, everyone lost weight, most gained six-pack abs and muscles not seen for years. Core conditioning trained the fighters to handle blows to the stomach and sides. Punching an opponent in these areas is intended to make him drop his hands so you can then hit him in the head and score points for technical boxing. It's a technique that Crane notes is very different to the Muay Thai he is more familiar with. 'Muay Thai fighters view boxing as more dangerous because the whole attack is focused on your head. In Muay Thai, you don't worry much about head defence because, if someone starts throwing punches at your head, you just lift up a foot and push them away,' he says. 'I've been hit plenty of times before, so that didn't shock me so much as I imagine it did people who hadn't been hit before. But learning the whole defensive side of boxing was really tough for me.' With banking perhaps more of a relationship-based business than it used to be and less confrontational, you could be forgiven for thinking that it lacks comparison with boxing. But the competitive spirit, determination and commitment demonstrated by the 12 industry professionals, who tried to learn how to be technically competent boxers in less than six months, is also reflected in their profession, according to Rob Derry, managing director of Ironmonger Events, which owns and runs the event in Hong Kong. 'These guys are hard-working, competitive types in a competitive industry,' he says. 'I take my hat off to them. I don't know how they found the time to do the training. It takes a certain individual to commit to this event. For some people in such a fiercely competitive field as banking and finance, it appeals to them because they are that kind of person.' Describing the training and event as awe-inspiring, a wonderful experience and a fantastic opportunity to learn the art of boxing, several bankers and hedge fund managers intend to continue the fitness training, gym work and cardio exercises. But what about the boxing? 'It is sport at its most confrontational, man against man, who can punch the other guy more than he punches you, and it's tough,' French says.