Student Fight Nights: “I admit, it’s a very idiotic thing to sign up to”

Anna Boyne

Eight weeks of high intensity training, your name in flashing lights, a trophy, and five minutes of fame. It’s easy to see the appeal of these student fight nights. But how many really know the risks?

White-collar boxing has been on the rise in the UK since the early 2000s. It’s a form of the sport which takes place outside of regulation by governing bodies, such as the British Boxing Board of Control. But white-collar boxing can be more brutal and bloody than professional fighting because the boxers tend not to undertake many crucial aspects of training.

More recently, fight nights have inundated university cities. Students, with little to no boxing experience, sign up for eight weeks of training before taking to the ring in front of hundreds and sometimes thousands of their peers.

Last academic year, four student fight nights took place in Nottingham, run by two different organisers.

Wilder Boxing was established in 2021 and has run student fight nights in six student cities with over 300 fighters in the past two years. Fight nights in Cambridge, Durham, London, Loughborough, Nottingham, and Sheffield all raised over £42,000 in the 2022-2023 academic year. The company held their first Nottingham fight night at Pryzm on the 7th June 2023, and again on the 7th December.

Well Events Ltd was set up in January 2023 by two students. Their first ever event took place at Colwick Hall on the 17th March.

Just over a week later, 23 year old student Jubal Reji Kurian tragically died at Queen’s Medical Centre after taking part in a boxing match organised by Ultra White Collar Boxing. Kurian was seriously injured during the fight. He was taken to hospital where his condition deteriorated, and he sadly passed away.

Both Wilder Boxing and Well Events Ltd are currently advertising for round three.

Two fighters, two trips to A&E

Ben Coombs and Ektor Mitsoli Garcia, students at the University of Nottingham, both boxed in Well Events Ltd’s fight night last March. They both ended up in A&E.

Ben sustained a shoulder dislocation during his match which resulted in four weeks off exercise. He remains unable to throw a ball properly or do similar actions with his right arm. “It’s still affecting me today”, Ben told Impact.

“The first time it came out was close to the end of the first round, so it went back in and then I had that thirty second break in between rounds. And then the second time it came out, the ref waved it and that was it. The fight was over, and I didn’t have a choice.” Ben asked to continue with the fight, but the referee refused.

Ektor sustained two concussions during the eight-week training period before his fight. During his fight, he suffered multiple bad hits to the head causing pain and dizziness. After being checked by the medic, the match was cut short, and Ektor was advised to visit A&E.

“I was annoyed, then and there. And then the adrenaline leaves your body after a few minutes and you’re too tired to care anymore,” Ektor told Impact. “In hindsight, I trained for it. I would have quite liked for it to continue regardless of the outcome.”

The risks

Dr Edward Wright is an Assistant Professor in Criminology at the University of Nottingham. His thesis was the first sociological examination of white-collar boxing in the UK.

“Anybody can probably fight to some degree,” Dr Wright told Impact. “But unless you’ve been trained in boxing, you wouldn’t have the sort of response that kept you safe. So that’s where the risk lies.”

Both Ben and Ektor had been promised one to one weekly training sessions for an hour a week. Later they were told this was self-arranged. The organisers also highly recommended training more than once a week and suggested some gyms to train at who offered boxing classes.

“We had to pay for it all ourselves,” Ben said. “I didn’t realize how much I was going to spend. It was quite a lot of money.”

“If you’re a beginner, once a week for eight weeks before a proper fight is nowhere near enough. You can’t learn the sport in eight weeks, eight hours even.”

Ektor and Ben were even turned away from a boxing club in Nottingham after the manager found out they’d be participating in a student fight night. According to Ektor, the manager said to them: “I don’t want you coming here. I think what you’re doing stupid. You don’t learn a lot in eight weeks of training, and I don’t want any of the bad press.”

When asked what changes they’d make to future fights, Ektor said: “Even though it was fun, I admit it’s a very idiotic thing to sign up to.”

“I’d make sure that there is training provided- not that you have to find your own training, because then there’s a massive discrepancy between people that train properly and people that didn’t take it seriously.”

“One thing I’d change is just make everyone wear a head guard,” Ben told Impact. “It wasn’t mandatory. If both fighters agreed not to wear one, then they didn’t have to. But I think that was a bit stupid.”

Ektor agreed: “The two guys that fought without a helmet, the fight was called off almost immediately because of a of an injury where the guy couldn’t continue. If you’re getting people with eight weeks of training to fight without helmet, it’s just asking for trouble.”

Charity element as a “smoke screen”

The fight nights organised by Wilder Boxing also double as fundraisers for The OddBalls Foundation who raise awareness of testicular cancer. The total raised to date is £14,739.24, putting Nottingham in the top four cities of Wilder Boxing fundraisers.

Dr Wright compared this charity aspect of fight nights to green washing: “Companies that are really bad for the environment… set up a branch of their company that has some environmental mission. Through doing so, [they] can at the surface level appear to be doing good for the environment and mask that they are actually disastrous for the environment.”

“I think the charity element serves as a sort of similar smoke screen. It masks that there’s actually something quite violent or quite dangerous going on. It legitimises it in a way.”

Cancer Research UK had been partnered with Ultra White Collar Boxing since 2013. Four months after the tragic death of Jubal Reji Kurian, the exclusive partnership came to a “mutually agreed” end. Only will tell if The OddBalls Foundation follows suit.

No longer a ‘male preserve’?

“Historically boxing has been what sociologists of sport would call a ‘male preserve’ which has been very resistant to women being involved in the sport,” Dr Wright told Impact. “There have always been women boxers. It’s just that they have been stigmatised or excluded from the upper echelons of the sport.”

At Well Events Ltd’s most recent fight night, there were no female participants.

Wilder Boxing’s fight night in December saw a ratio of three male for two female fighters. Alongside the traditional ring girls, ring boys can also be spotted in minimal attire carrying signs indicating the number of rounds remaining.

“I’m all for women being afforded the same opportunities as men,” said Dr Wright. “What I’m questioning here is whether the sport overall is OK.”

“Something that is so obviously bad for you”

Student fight nights certainly can help democratise boxing. They give people the opportunity to try something new, usually free of charge and without a long-term commitment. Some fight nights also promote female participation and challenge the deep-rooted gendered traditions of boxing in a way that’s largely unprecedented.

However, the risks of boxing at any level are undeniable: from knock-out blows at professional matches to undertrained students throwing punches and hoping for the best.

As Dr Wright puts it, “Do we really want anyone participating in something that it so obviously bad for you?”

Anna Boyne



Featured images courtesy of @fightnightnottingham via

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