I know this isn’t food or travel per se, but occasionally I like to write about what’s happening on the scene of various cities. And in Shanghai, I recently had the opportunity to attend the White Collar Boxing event . If you haven’t heard of White Collar Boxing, this is where average “white collar” guys (read an average working Joe) duke it out in the ring for charity. They train for about 4 months and then it’s competition time – in front of a very large crowd. It’s not for the faint of heart. Actually I saw White Collar boxing for the first time when I lived in Singapore, so this is a bigger Asia trend not limited to China. A female friend of mine competed – that’s right a woman fighter. I was amazed at her performance. And the physical shape she achieved in such a short amount of time in training for the competition. She won. And so when I shortly thereafter moved to Shanghai I was highly motivated to take up boxing as a sport. Little did I realize in Shanghai, boxing is big! Unlike Singapore where it is a niche activity relegated to one old, smelly gym, in Shanghai there are many men and women of all ages participating in boxing as a form of physical exercise and in some cases a competitive sport.
The more I researched boxing in Shanghai for my own purposes, the more I realized just how many Shanghai residents were doing it. I chose to train at Golden Gloves gym – the official gym of White Collar boxing training. There I met Michele Aboro, a world champion in both kickboxing and boxing who has brought her world renowned boxing and coaching skills to Shanghai. I also met Greg Hallahan, an amateur boxer who competed in college and nowadays (on top of his day job) is one of the trainers for the White Collar event. As I trained, I became more and more curious…how did both of these very different people end up fully immersed in the world of boxing and what did they have to say about the hugely growing popularity of the sport in Shanghai.
Michele started kickboxing in London almost 30 years ago at age 15. Actually she wasn’t allowed to box as a woman in the UK as female boxing was forbidden until 1994. So she did kickboxing, and fact shortly won the world title. Then because she wanted to try her hand at boxing she moved around Europe training in Croatia and Germany and settling in Holland. From there she did it again, becoming the world champion in boxing.
When I ask her how she got involved in boxing in the first place, she says, growing up in South London she had 2 “crazy friends who dragged me along to a boxing gym with them. If I hadn’t gone with them that day, I wouldn’t be here today.”
In 25 years of boxing she picked up a lot of different types and styles of training, as well as got her certification as a personal trainer. So when she came to Shanghai in 2008 she saw an opportunity, “I saw there was a massive market with no fitness industry. In fact, I was looking to train and then I met Shane who was running the White Collar Boxing and he said ‘maybe we can do something together’.” After that she agreed to form a partnership.
As the only world champion in Shanghai she has a mission to bring boxing to Shanghai, to get more people and especially Chinese, involved. “There’s not an active boxing scene in China, for men or women” Michele says. “But at the 2012 Olympics, it will be the first time women will compete in Olympic boxing. This should help female boxing explode.” I ask her if there is anyone doing what she does in China and she mentions a small pro boxing scene in Kunming, “They are hoping to grow the first ever world champion from China.”
That said, there is a strong and growing amateur boxing scene in Shanghai. Michele says, “Our women’s classes are a big success, and actually about 50% of Golden’s Gloves membership is women. People often come for weight loss but then they get hooked on the sport.”
At the moment Michele coaches at Golden Gloves gym doing personal training, White Collar training and running women’s boot camps. When I ask Michele what her long terms plans are for Shanghai, she says “Shanghai is a long-term proposition for me. I want to get the Chinese interested in boxing.”
“I started boxing in uni, I did it because some of my friends did and I decided to join in. When I moved to Shanghai I was playing football, but when I heard about the first White Collar event I was curious.” It was 2008 and Greg hadn’t boxed in 9 years, but that didn’t stop him. He recruited Danny Lawley to train him, a South African running the Hong Kong Police boxing club. “He was a terrifying guy,” Greg says with a smile. But then he says. “I became hooked on the sights, sounds and smells of boxing. I enjoyed the comraderie of going through the pain with other trainees. The experience was nerve-wracking and fantastic all at the same time.”
In the midst of training for the 2nd year of White Collar Boxing Greg hurt his elbow which prevented him from competing. But he still had a passion for the sport and Danny asked him if he wanted to help him coach. That’s when Greg started as an Assistant Coach for the White Collar events. Greg says, “It was quite different from fighting. When you fight yourself you are very wrapped up in your own experience. But when you coach you are with people for 3 or 4 months and you see them going through one of the toughest experiences in their lives.” Greg goes on to say, “If you are not fit, the ring it can be like a bad dream. Someone is pummeling you and chasing you and you cannot get away.” I asked him about motivating his trainees and how hard do they really train, and Greg says “With the knowledge that you are going to fight someone you never cut corners at the gym. It is such a powerful incentive.”
As a woman who is boxing myself, I ask him how is it to train a woman and how do they fight. Greg replies, “Women’s fights usually have more action because women are more compact and fitter. I have never seen a bad female fight but I have seen a bad male fight.” In fact Greg trains both men and women at Golden Gloves where he does personal training and runs a female boxing boot camp.
When I ask Greg who has an executive position at a company, how does he make time and in fact why does he make time to be a boxing coach. His answer is long and passionate, “I have coached hundreds of fighters now. Invariably it is the one where it doesn’t come easy to them that it is most inspiring. In training natural athletes they are a joy to watch and work with. You stand back and marvel at how innately good they are. The other category is people who aren’t natural athletes and struggle with everything. It is inspiring watch people who know they aren’t naturally good, but then also aren’t scared to get into the ring. It’s not like losing at squash. If you lose it is painful. Sometimes on the night of the fight, these guys win, and even if they don’t, they are so proud to have been part of that and to go through the experience. We as coaches are in a position to help them realize this dream.”
The next White Collar boxing event is 1 December in Shanghai. Golden Gloves gym is taking registration now. My coach, Michele, keeps hinting that I should give it a go. Most days I say no, but then on good training days I think….well, maybe… Let’s see.
Golden Gloves Boxing Gym
16/F, 68 Xinqiao Lu, near Xinzha Lu
Telephone: +86 21 5171 7517