The Firm

Our Boxing Ring

May Bank Holiday Monday 2000. Looking back to the September Neverwhere. Poor silly Frankie.

He 'phoned me on the info line, which I pick up only rarely, a hard Northern accent, asking the usual questions. Goodness alone knows why he volunteered the information that he was a boxer.

I detected a double standard around the sex & violence aspects of boxing while writing for Fetish Times in the mid 90s, and aired them in an article Voyeurs on Viragoes. It seemed that there was an uncomfortable potency in the parallels being drawn by Spanner activists between SM and contact sports, boxing in particular. Beneath the concept, lay the comfortable snobbery that middle-class SMers were really far too humane to attend a boxing match, however heavy SM they might get up to, but it was quite wrong for the working class (what we now call the poor) to do boxing. 'Not good for them', as my mother would have it.

I met up with Frankie in an Islington sports pub, he was hyper by his own admission, having just been training. He'd fought the previous night, and won, he said, and was running again. So what was this club, and what did I want with him?

I explained I ran a little SM club in East London, and I wanted to try a boxing ring to see if it worked. I said I'd provided the hardware - the ring; and the software - the gloves. From him I wanted the enthusiasm to get people involved and the expertise to ensure nobody got damaged. We agreed on this, and after swapping a couple of laddish tales of daring-do, we parted on a note of cautious optimism.

Since Voyeurs I had made a modest study of boxing images in advertising. Women in boxing gloves had been used to sell deodorant, sports kit, Sanatogen, Vauxhall cars, and Pretty Polly hosiery. So what was the big attraction in this overtly violent image of female beauty, if not Sado-Masochism? Swap the gloves for a whip and you were there. (In point of fact, in mainstream advertising, the boxing girl was far more a common image than the dominatrix, a more acceptable face perhaps, but carrying the same kind of messages) The question was, would this truism that stared me in the face, be anywhere near as obvious to anyone else?

Having persuaded two women to join in the team as a means to prime the pump, so to speak, I spent the run-up to the September Neverwhere wondering exactly what product might emerge. The words 'keep walking' repeated themselves in my head like a panic-stricken mantra on a catastrophe curve. I was quite conscious of walking quite blindly into a potential fiasco.

Getting In at the East London venue was the usual chaos, half a dozen men chasing around doing the work of twelve. Frankie arrived promptly and started setting up his pitch with an expert's eye; Okay we had a ring, gloves and a bell, but what about the finer details of stools, buckets and sponges? At his direction, I improvised, before dashing back to cut sandwiches.

I was chunking up melon when I heard the noise from the ring. I stuck my head out of the kitchen to see the concept working beautifully.

Frankie was sparring with Robin, one of the women I'd got to join in, and the people were watching with enormous interest. As huge as my relief.

The new game caught on rapidly; for the first two of three hours we had a steady series of bouts, mostly involving paying punters. I had a go myself with Frankie, and discovered how exhausting boxing is when you're 36 and unfit.

We shut the ring down at 1am, not wanting anyone trying to box when either too tired or too drunk. Aside from a lost contact lens early on, we had had no major mishaps, and the idea had worked. I felt very pleased about the whole thing.

Frankie, though, posed a problem. Because he had 'phoned our ansaline, I had assumed he was an SMer, but I quickly began to realise that he was nothing of the sort. Later that evening – or morning rather – he caused a couple of potentially nasty incidents, and at a subsequent party at my home he arrived very drunk and aggressive; not attractive qualities in a muscular athlete. With great delicacy, he was persuaded to leave. I never saw him again.

For the next event, 'Night of the Cane', the ring was run by Alex Jacob, much more famous for his superb 'Cobra Whips'. He did a marvellous job – and has continued to so to do. That night we had a terrific contender, a woman from Canada who successfully out-boxed a succession of men, until no-one would compete with her. Sadly, she's back in Canada now: Their gain.

Since then, we've installed the ring twice at The Fringe in Vauxhall, and it has been a success both times. Since September we've probably had in excess of fifty contestants, and no damage done (except for the contact lenses). It's a very popular spectacle, though sometimes daunting to newbie participants – which is ironic when you think about it, because six with a springy cane causes much more pain than I think anyone's ever sustained in our ring. The aim of fetish boxing (as it's become known) is to make contact, not to inflict damage. Still, when you get hit you know about it, big and well-padded though the gloves are. It's an edge-play kind of game, sexy as it gets, but with a hint of danger; we keep each round closely monitored. Trying to hit each other has to remain a game.

There is still the feeling of breaking new ground, and the concern that one bad gig may sink the whole enterprise. The ring is still a sideshow, but a popular one, the last time we staged it, a young woman stole the show, remaining unbeaten. Women tend to hit harder than men.

At the same time, advance publicity, either mailed or on the internet, has brought very little interest. The main Foxy Boxing newsgroup seemed far more interested in swapping videos and fantasies than in doing it for real – and now the board has closed down. Our many participants have been walk-ups, not aficionados.

That in itself affirms my faith in The Scene. The more commercial arms of this industry, catering for those fearful of exposure – or lazy and cowardly men if you prefer – have no need to provide anything like real fun; a bored imitation will do. The topless women's matches in America and Germany seem respectively, contrived drama or genuine prizefights. I'm quite proud of our game in light of that; long live the enthusiastic amateur.

Oh come on, I don't believe you! Show me photographic evidence!