x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

In the blue corner: The National's Hugo Berger tries Corporate boxing

Friday night is the big night - and after nine weeks of boxing training, Hugo Berger thinks he's mentally and physically ready for Haddins Corporate Contender V

The boxing coach Ricky Miller, back, watches Jaafar Al Aidaroos, front, and Adam Buck preparing for the big Friday fight, the grand finale of the Corporate Contender white-collar boxing programme. Fatima Al Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National
The boxing coach Ricky Miller, back, watches Jaafar Al Aidaroos, front, and Adam Buck preparing for the big Friday fight, the grand finale of the Corporate Contender white-collar boxing programme. Fatima Al Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National

This Friday, the 12 participants in the Corporate Contender white-collar boxing programme will battle it out in six bouts at Haddins Gym in Abu Dhabi.

And among those gearing up for this finale is Hugo "The Beef" Berger - the boxing nickname I've chosen for myself as a hilariously self-deprecating pun on my surname. I'll be facing off against Adam "The Hardback" Buck - which may or may not be a reference to his fondness for first-edition books.

All I have to do is last three two-minute rounds, trying to avoid hospitalisation along the way, and I will have survived.

But while this may appear a somewhat daunting prospect, I'm reasonably confident I have the skills to make it - as all of us who've persisted with the training cannot help but feel that we've attained a degree of boxing expertise along the way.

Under the tutelage of our coach, the former Royal Marine Ricky Miller, we've learnt about the stance, the punches, the footwork, how to defend ourselves, as well as the rigorous fitness levels that the sport demands.

Then, in our sparring sessions, we've found out about ring craft, how to out-think our opponents to land combos and, occasionally, what it feels like to get smacked on the nose.

Personally, I've also realised why it's not advisable to load one's jet-black hand wraps into the washing machine on a boil wash with the whites.

But as far as the fighting goes, I've gone from behaving like the proverbial rabbit caught in the headlights on my first bout, and getting pummelled left, right and centre, to being a moderately confident boxer.

I've even ridden out a couple of rounds with my fellow course member Danny Klima, a mountain of a man with a piston-like, unerringly accurate jab, without total annihilation.

My fellow course-mates also agree that they've felt a similar sense of self-improvement.

Rory "Tap Tap Boom" Fidler, a 43-year-old Briton who works in Etihad Airways' IT department, was surprised he even lasted so long.

"I was absolutely convinced I'd be kicked out of the course by the second week for being fat and unfit," he exclaims. "Actually, I'm a bit scared that I'm still here.

"The thing I've learnt most about myself is my ability to get through a fight. You know, your natural reactions are fight or flee. And you have to overcome that and think your way through the rounds."

Likewise, Jonathan "Smoking Toes" Hallmark, a 27-year-old British hotel marketing manager, felt he'd conquered some fears.

"You really don't know anything about yourself until you've been in a fight," he says. "Honestly, I've never been in a fight in my life. Also, I'd never really been a fan of boxing, but now I realise it's not just two guys trying to beat each other up, there is a skill to it."

This was coupled with a sense of pride. "Considering we've only had nine weeks to train, and [I have]gone from never throwing a punch before in my life to managing to last in the ring for three rounds without getting knocked out, it's something I'm proud of," he says.

The 32-year-old Irish environmental consultant Kelly "Bo Amaideach" Kasperczyk (her nickname is Gaelic for "silly cow", in case you were wondering), also agreed that boxing was as much about brains as it was about brawn.

"It's kind of like physical chess," she says. "You have to out-think your opponent, but also be prepared to absorb a few punches while this is going on.

"If you try to throw a huge punch and your opponent gets four of them in, then it's kind of pointless.

"But if you'd asked me a few months ago, I'd probably never, ever have thought I would be brave enough to get into the ring. But now I'm reasonably comfortable with the whole thing, which is good."

Our teacher was equally impressed with the advances of our group.

"You've all come on leaps and bounds since you started." says Miller. "I know most people will be a bit nervous on fight night, but as long as they remember how to box, they'll be fine.

"But really, I commend anyone who has the courage and fortitude to step into the ring. That takes a huge amount of courage - both mental and physical. So no matter what happens, I hope it's been a positive experience for everyone involved."


Corporate Contender V takes place at Haddins Gym, Zayed Sports City, Abu Dhabi at 6pm on Friday. Tickets cost Dh50. Call 02 403 4233 or visit www.haddins.com for more information