‘Dual of the Fates’

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“…Two, three, four… get over in the corner!” Bill Phillips forcefully commanded, but let’s begin 20 weeks earlier…

ImageMonday morning, mid April, I open an email from Fred Sirieix the GM at Galvin Windows:  “Great to see you’ve entered the Galvin’s chance stair run again, how’s the cross training? CC- Simon, can you ensure Hayden gets an invite for Thursday” and that was that, he had me at “Hello”!

What was happening on Thursday?

Why was Fred concerned about my cross training?

Too many questions, far fewer answers…!

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That evening there was an email from Simon Sheehan, Director of Hilton in the Community Foundation.  “We are arranging a press launch on Thursday at Windows for an event we are hosting on the 20th September entitled Kitchen Rumble. Three rounds of white collar boxing to be held at the RAC Club, Pall Mall involving chefs and hospitality professionals.  We hope you can make it and all will be revealed on Thursday.”

There were 30 names. In amongst the list some industry heavyweights: Marcus Wareing, Monica Galletti, Will Holland and Andy McLeish plus front of house legends Paulo de Tarso, Michele Caggianese and of course the Orchestrator himself: Fred Sirieix.

I have never boxed, been beaten at school by bullies yes, but that’s certainly not ‘Queensbury rules’. Come to think of it, that’s how I learnt to run so quickly! The 2.5km distance home with school bag was not just my first taste of resistance training but also a way to keep out of reach from bigger unfit bullies.

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At 38, I guess like most guys my age the movie of the time was Rocky and the training montages would normally spark me off with a mixture of press-ups and a flurry of punches…and just like the scene in the Lamborghini (episode IV) there really was “No easy way out”.

Say yes to every opportunity? You better believe it… see you there.

Thursday morning and off I go in my whites to Windows.  “Won’t be long!” I tell my brigade; but that’s all I alluded to.  I arrived at the restaurant 28 floors up (I must admit it’s easier by lift). Maybe I should have sneaked in a cheeky practice up the fire escape as the park and stair run was only 2 weeks away!

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Fred welcomed us.  It was a slightly nervous affair as the majority of us had never boxed before. Clinton Mckenzie was in attendance and it turns out we would be group training at his gym in Tulse hill.  Who would fight who was the big question on everyone’s lips? Alan Lacey, the founder of the real fight club and supporting the event spoke about the rules. We were told we would be assessed near the end of training and the match ups would only be announced one week before the fight.  We were being matched with a similar ability and weight.

Two weeks later, whilst in oxygen debt after running around the Serpentine and to the top of the stairs in the Galvin’s chance run, I was surprised to see in A1 glory the feature rumble poster – Monica, Andy and myself, displaying our ‘service snarl’ and Chef’s jackets alongside Clinton and Kamal.

Skip, skip and double skip forward to the training.  Our first group session was planned for May.  Here we were given our T-shirts, skipping ropes, mouth guards and most importantly our boxing gloves, which were 16oz and ‘apparently’ like being hit by a pillow – yeah right and with a sledgehammer attached!

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We did all the usual drills, punched a bag,  more skipping, sit-ups and that was it.  This was ok I thought… I am fairly fit so took it in my stride.  That afternoon at work was a very different story! I was beginning to stiffen up around the arms and chest and the next morning was far far worse – a day sponsored by ibuprofen! Big time ‘doms’ from using muscles I never knew I had.  Throughout my teenage years and twenties I raced a road bike, naturally the focus was in the legs, lower back, heart and lungs but nothing really around the upper body and the arms as that would have just generated bulk that you would have to pedal uphill for races of up to 135 mile long.  Although I hadn’t raced in some 8 years, I still rode once a week to keep fit.

What did I say about saying ‘Yes’ to every opportunity – I had also signed up for another charity challenge coming up in summer to ride 300 miles from London to Paris in 3 days with a select group of chefs in aid of Hospitality Action. (We will have to save this story for another time but a great event and most importantly we raised a lot of money for the charity)

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Moving on to July and with good cardio fitness from the cycling adventure, we were on group session number 3. We were learning more technique and I had a go at sparing with Fred.  The first punch that landed on my nose was a big wake up call. Fitness, yes, but technique and boxing nuances, no way! I learnt that some of the group were taking on extra lessons and with only 6 weeks till fight night I was a very long way off.

I needed help and quick, that was when I met Sabatino Leo…

I emailed HodBox the local boxing gym close to home in Hertfordshire, explaining about the charity fight and asking if it would be possible to use a bag in the corner etc. A reply came back quickly – “love to help, come down on Thursday evening and I will take a look at you.” Sab is the Head coach at the Hoddesdon boxing academy and apart from a day job boxing is his life and in that 90 minute one on one session I learnt more than all the previous weeks put together!  As we were warming down he asked if I had a Corner man?

Amazing!  A chance email and a few days later I found a great coach and a Corner man.

ImageTraining had truly started and with 5 weeks to go, I announced to the team what I had signed up to. “You sure?” was the general reply.  Phil and Penny thought it wise that I supplement my usual diet of caffeine and adrenaline with a daily dose of 4 egg whites mashed up with a yolk. This Lion stamped slurry was to be washed down with a Berocca.

The extra protein and specific weights, plus a regime of sit ups in between Sab’s brutal sessions, I started to feel my upper body change.

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The fighters had to submit ring names and entrance music.  Although it was all a bit of fun and a show for charity I was also concerned not to come across too cocky.  After a few days and some quite frankly bizarre suggestions from the guys, I settled on ‘The Blond Menace’ coupled with the music ‘Dual of the Fates’ from Star Wars.

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On to the week before the fight. We had our final group session at Clintons Gym.  This was Alan Lacey’s last chance to take a look at us and announce the eagerly awaited match ups, followed a couple of days later by the ‘weigh in’ at Aura Nightclub in Mayfair.

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I was to fight Paulo de Tarso, we were the same age & weight – 68kg.  Paulo is a spirited fighter and we had developed a good friendship through the training sessions, it was going to seem very strange indeed.

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ImageThe remaining bouts were to be Emile Galvin vs Joseph Ryan, Matteo Cristini vs Viniclus Frigio, Sara Cristini vs Stephanie Srey, Omar Allibhoy vs Stefan Chomka, Monica Galletti vs Penny Mallory, Andrew McLeish vs Neil Ramsay, Dean Yasharian vs Ashley Westwood, Michele Caggianese vs Luigi Vespero, Will Holland vs Matt Wilkin and the showpiece final,  Marcus Wareing vs Fred Sirieix

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Fight Night… with a busy lunch service completed and a few pats on the back, I made the journey to Pall Mall with the hope I didn’t get such a beating that I wouldn’t be able to see the National Chef of the Year final basket that was being unveiled the following morning. 

Read about NCOY final in – ‘its not about the grouse’

Sab had arrived before me and we decamped in the blue side of the dressing room. Paulo arrived shortly after. I shook his hand and we exchanged pleasantries.  Returning to my seat, Sab shook his head at me “not until after the fight.  If one of my club fighters did that, I’d give ‘em a bollocking!” I was quickly realising that this was not for fun anymore and more akin to a gladiatorial contest.  We were playing for keeps on a stage in front of a sold out crowd of 300, plus more were watching the video feed at the Aura nightclub and goodness knows how many were watching the live streaming!

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We were on Bout number 4 and I start to warm up some 25 minutes before the fight.  The fight was for 3 rounds and Sab wanted me fully prepared. We went into the stairwell away from the other fighters and start to skip, Sab puts on his pads and I throw some punches. Raymond Blanc walks past and wishes me “Bon Chance”. I take a 30 ml Lucozade shot, which had been on my desk at work for months, I don’t know what they put in it but I was seriously buzzing.

The time had arrived. Paulo enters first to a huge cheer, accompanied by Brian, Marcus’ brother.  Next it was my turn.  Deep breath – my heart was beating so hard in my chest I thought it was like a meat hammer on an escalope.

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The adrenaline was coursing through my veins… it was now or never!  The familiar music cut in, we walked through the melee. Sab helped me with my blue gloves, head guard and we were announced to the crowd.

Paulo “Rocky” de Tarso and I were called to the centre of the ring by Referee Bill Phillips,  he was the only English ref at the Bejing games so no nonsense was expected..!

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Mouth guard in, the crowd cheered. “Ding…Ding round 1.” Straight into the centre of the ring and we both threw a straight right.  As we squared up again, I looked at my opponent straight in the eyes, this wasn’t the charismatic Maitre D’ from Bar Boulud, he had transformed into Al Pacino in Scarface.

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We both threw a couple of punches and then bosh! He rushed me with a flurry of 12 or so punches, it was as if in his mind the fight was only 20 seconds. A combination of being overwhelmed, stepping back off balance and a strong right hook from Paulo and I was down. I got straight back up with a slight dizziness.  For the next 30 seconds we traded blows and I caught Paulo with a clean straight right and it was his turn to hit the canvas.  We were both truly going at it, no quarter asked or given.

The bell went to signal the end of round 1 and back to my corner Sab splashed some water on my face and told me in his opinion it was Paulo’s round.  He gave me a couple of cuffs round the head and another bollocking: “You’re not doing what you’re told, step and jab, you have the reach use it!”

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I don’t know what I feared most, another telling off from Sab at the end of Round 2 or more of Paulo’s body shots to my ribs –  that’s the downside of training in the same gym with your opponent, Paulo knew I was nursing sore ribs.  During a previous session with Sab I had sparred 5 x 2 min rounds with Mario a stocky set Bulgarian and took a rib crusher, so much so, it was only the cocktail of ibuprofen Gel, tablets and codeine that got me through training over the next few weeks, I hope I don’t have to appear on Oprah and confess…

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Round 2 – a calmer affair, more jabs followed by some combinations from both of us. Paulo was breathing hard and looking tired. I was picking my shots and  this round was going my way, back to my corner. “Better” was the greeting, then some cold water over my face and more advice “It’s all or nothing now, 1 round each.”  Although my ribs were sore, I felt great and plenty of spring in my legs – a great advert for the lucozade! Paulo however was looking tired as he sat on his stall.

ImageRound 3, we touched gloves, Paulo rushed me again but this time I was ready, the workouts that I had done with Sab – the punching and skipping drills, the medicine ball throws, sparring with Mario and then having to run up and down the gym stairs for 2 mins with a 30kg bag  – was all to prepare me for this moment.

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My boxing technique was still limited but there was no way I was going to run out of energy.  I even had one more round in reserve as long as I could keep out of the way of Paulo’s hooks to my ribs.  Halfway through the last round, I pushed forward to take control.  After a combination of jabs followed by a powerful left uppercut, Bill stepped between us. I didn’t know what was happening.  Then I realised the ref had stopped the fight with 30 seconds of the final round to go. That was it… I had won!

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I held Paulo’s arm aloft in recognition of a great fight and strong challenger.  We thanked each other’s corners and then it was announced. I had my very own Rocky moment! Winner’s Belt held aloft with the flashbulbs.

It was a great night with many winners but most importantly of all £55K raised for the charity Galvin’s Chance!

Would I do it again?  In a flash!

NB- Thanks to Paul from Pellier Noir for the great images and most importantly huge thanks to Sab, his team and all the boys at HodBox

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~ by theboxterboy on February 3, 2013.

One Response to “‘Dual of the Fates’”

  1. […] running around the serpentine and up 28 flights of stairs three years in a row or fighting in the boxing ring both for charity. Also cycling I had got myself ready to ride an incredible 440miles in 2 days from […]

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