White collar boxers learn that life on the ropes requires perseverance

White collar boxers find out that perseverance counts as promoter brings tournament to Macau after similar competitions in Shanghai

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 July, 2014, 1:58am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 July, 2014, 1:58am

By day Mark Daniels sells slot machines to Macau's casino operators on behalf of his employer, Australian based Aristocrat Technologies. By night he is Mark "I want to remove your teeth, The Dentist" Daniels, a pumped up pugilist, and participant in Macau's first white collar boxing tournament.

"I saw an e-mail 'looking for fools'," said Daniels, while taking a break between sparring rounds with his fight night opponent, Phil "The Kalashnikov" Cox (like the other boxers both men gave themselves fight names). "I thought this would be a hard thing to do. And there is not a lot to do in Macau," explained Daniels on why he signed up. There was also another motivation; in memory of his late brother who died from cancer.

Some people get a couple of punches on the nose and say ‘that’s enough’

"No matter how hard training is and how much it hurts, I always have the option to stop," he said. His brother, however, had no such choice, and this spurs Daniels on.

Daniels joined 34 "fools" all vying for a place in the final, held last night in The Venetian Macao Hotel ballroom. Whittled down over three months by an intense training regime, which fighter Justin Casey felt, "sorted the men from the boys", the surviving 18 entered the ring to raise money for the Macau Special Olympics team. Daniels emerged as victor in his bout last night.

The switch from day time office executive to in-the-ring fighter is not as extreme as it might sound. White collar boxing reportedly started in New York in the 1980s, and there are now regular bouts in London, Hong Kong, and other major cities. All that's needed is a large amount of courage and no professional fighting experience.

"A lot of people wanted to learn how to box but never had an opportunity to do it," said Shane Benis, the fight's organiser, and the founder of China Sports Promotions.

Participants were put through their paces by Danny Lawley, a well built ex-policeman, and founding member of the Hong Kong Police Boxing Club. Lawley's job is to prepare them both physically and mentally for the fight. He said he exhorts each fighter to remind themselves, "they have done everything I can," and as long as they apply what they learned, "they will be all right".

Warm up exercises are followed by bag work and sparring practise. "Don't move away from the punches. Learn to take it," encouraged Lawley as the sparring began. The only let up is for water breaks. "From day one I hammer them on fitness," said Lawley. Within a month they are in the ring learning the straight punch, hook and upper cut. "Normally we don't do it so quickly," he said.

Several fighters dropped out. "Some people get a couple of punches on the nose and say 'that's enough'", while others could not find the time to train, explained Lawley. Two weeks before the big night and one guy ended up in hospital with a haematoma on his nose. He had to pull out. This meant his opposing partner, JR "The Ripper" de Guzman, would also have to wait to fight another day.

The fighters wear head gear but this only "stops you from getting cut," said Daniels. Take a punch and "your brain is still moving in your head," he warned. Besides improving general fitness and creating a "hard core" look in the office, there was little agreement among fighters as to what lessons could be carried from the ring into the boardroom.

After dealing with the "pressure building up to the fight nothing looks so stressful," said mergers and acquisition lawyer Rui Proenca.

"People argue with me a lot less," said Cox, whose day job is to oversee construction of a new MGM casino along the Cotai strip.

"The No 1 thing boxing helps teach people is perseverance. You get knocked on your arse or take a big shot and you have got to shake it off, stand back up and keep going and try it again. There are not many sports that teach you that," said Benis.

The event is also a promotional opportunity for him in his bid to build a sports events brand. A veteran organiser of white collar fights in Shanghai, it is Benis's first time to try Macau, but he sees tie-ins with the city's growing reputation for world-class boxing competitions.

Benis believes that "boxing is becoming a bit of a buzzword", in China thanks to national television coverage of big-name fights and the elevation of local stars like Olympic gold medal winner Zou Shiming.

"What the Venetian is doing is very clever. It is taking local fighters and turning them into superstars and pumping out the ticket sales and televised exposure." Shanghai-based Benis is also talking to Chinese fighters about holding more competitions on the mainland. For a foreigner it is a tough market to break into as fights are normally organised by government bodies.

After three months of training and several rounds in the ring, Benis could afford to take a lesson from his students' exertions. "The more you sweat, the less you bleed," said Daniels, recalling his favourite Lawley exhortation.