Despite being one of the world’s most popular sports, boxing in SA has been on the decline since 2010, with fewer prize fights and less time on local television. More recently, however, it has seen a surge in popularity in the leafy suburbs of Johannesburg and Cape Town and is now attracting people who previously would never have considered it to enter the ring.
Stephen Castle, owner and personal trainer at Topbox Boxing Gym in Fourways, entered the world of boxing at the age of 15 when he joined a boxing gym that happened to be adjacent to his father’s business premises in Cape Town.
Like many boxers of his era, Stephen became interested in the sport after watching the Rocky movies. And as soon as he started training as a teenager, he realised that the boxing bug had bitten him. When he was all grown up, Stephen opened up his own boxing gym and became a professional trainer and amateur boxer in Johannesburg, with no intention of becoming a professional fighter.
That all changed when Zimbabwean pro boxer and Stephen’s close personal friend, Farai Musiyiwa, volunteered him for a professional heavyweight bout. “After much laughter, I realised he was quite serious about me fighting. So, in a whirlwind four weeks, I got my professional license by driving down to Durban, sparring and driving back the same day”, says Stephen.
Three weeks later, at the age of 35, he competed at Emperor’s Palace, drew the fight and went on to compete for five years as a professional, becoming one of the top three boxers in the country. Fast forward to 2019 and Stephen has retired from professional boxing, but still runs his own boxing gym. And at the age of 47, he’s stepping into the ring one more time.
White-Collar boxing is a relatively new pastime in South Africa. The seeds were first planted in 2010, at a time when boxing was losing momentum, popularity and media coverage. Wanting to continue the boxing tradition and get a social arm going for the sport, Stephen visited White Collar Boxing pioneer, Bruce Silverglade, at Gleason’s Gym in New York. Two months later, White Collar Boxing was born in SA, and anyone brave enough to step into the ring could compete – including Stephen.
On 27 November 2019, Chicago’s Piano Bar in Fourways hosts WBE27 – the 27th White Collar Boxing event presented by World Boxing Entertainment (WBE) and Topbox Boxing Gym. And once more, the event will see 20 people with day jobs donning foam headgear and boxing gloves for three two-minute rounds of exhausting bobbing, weaving and face-numbing punching, followed by drinks, dinner and dancing (of course).
Entries for WBE White Collar boxing tournaments are open to men and women who have (at least) some solid boxing training, who would like to experience the thrill of getting into a boxing ring and facing a real opponent.
At the end of the bout, there is no official winner. White-Collar Boxing is not about that. It’s about the sense of accomplishment and kudos these businesspeople, working Joes, Rocky fans and everyday boxing enthusiasts achieve just by stepping into the ring after months of hard training.
When these fighters enter the arena, they are accompanied by the song of their choice, have their own trainer in their corner and are motivated by the adrenaline-fuelling cheers of a welcoming crowd – just as a pro boxer would be. There are even attractive ring girls between rounds.
Fighters are protected for the duration of their bouts by reinforced 16-ounce gloves and headgear to prevent any serious injuries. Knock-outs and brutality are not encouraged. White-Collar Boxing is a friendly showcase for seasoned technical skill and the thrill of the fight.
A referee presides over fight proceedings and ensures that things don’t get out of control. And at the end of it all, both fighters hold their heads and hands up high and have a drink together.
The main bout of the evening will see Stephen Castle (47) step into the ring for his second bout against 14-time White Collar boxer, Johnny Anthony (43), representing Sweatbox Gym. Since his retirement, Steve has participated in four White-Collar tournaments and a few exhibition bouts against former pros like himself.
Johnny, who had designs on a professional boxing license but didn’t sign up in time and found himself past the age limit, is a seasoned White-Collar veteran with serious heavyweight punching power. Having faced Stephen before, he’s been pushing for a rematch for quite some time.
Take a look at the two fighters’ Face-to-Face encounter, hosted by Leisurely’s own Warren Robertson here:
So, think you’re ready to step into the ring? You might want to consider trying boxing out as a spectator sport first. Tickets for WBE27 are available on Quicket now. So, you can book your spot to see Johannesburg’s bravest working people release their inner gladiators while you have a leisurely dinner and drinks. Remember to keep those arms up, though.