All over Brisbane, businessmen are trading their boardroom suits for boxer shorts to jump in the ring for a fight.
Businessman Scott Cross leads an intriguing double life. By day he crunches numbers at a riverside office in his role as business development manager for Liberty Resources, an emerging Australian mining company. By night he pummels the punching bag in a backyard gymnasium in Coorparoo, his hands bruised and battered from the hours of rigorous training he endures to prepare for the physical torture he faces when he steps into ‘the cage’.
Cross is one of a diverse group of amateur competitors, from teenagers to retired heavyweights, drawn to the bloody and fearsome world of cage fighting which is also attracting crowds of spectators to events across the city.
And Cross isn’t the only successful businessman who occasionally finds himself fronting the boardroom on a Monday morning with eyes blackened, lips gashed or nose swollen following a stoush the previous weekend. A growing breed of businessmen are ditching traditional gym sessions to get in the ring as born-again boxers in suburban gyms of a very different kind.
Cross says his desire to step into the ring in nothing more than his boxer shorts and a pair of nine-ounce boxing gloves stems from his childhood love of a backyard blue. “I just love a scrap,” he tells bmag just a few hours before a fight at Coorparoo.
“I was a boxer when I was young and I loved it. Then I moved into jujitsu and then some other mixed martial arts and then I had my first ‘cage’. There is nowhere to hide in the cage. It’s just you and your opponent and you need to be focussed and committed to achieving your goal.
“It’s a bit like doing business and closing a deal – you have to stay focussed and be prepared to take few hits to get to where you want to go.”
“The emotional rollercoaster you ride in the lead up to the fight is gut-wrenching. I go through all the self-doubt, asking myself ‘what can I do to fake an injury to get out of this?’ Some fighters get a case of what is known in this game as ‘heartilage’ – that’s when you don’t have the heart to fight. But once I weigh in before the fight I’m like ‘bring it on – let’s get the party started’.”
Cross recently married his childhood sweetheart Michelle and confesses that part of the reason he wanted to fight again after a three-year absence was to shed his “honeymoon hangover”.
“My weight ballooned after my honeymoon. I got up to about 96kg – I’ve had to lose 13kg to be at my fighting weight which is 83kg,” he says.
Across town in Newstead in a back street lined with prestige cars is a gym hidden by the facade of an old industrial tin shed. Fortitude Boxing Gym is nothing like the sleek, brightly lit modern and mirror-lined gyms round the corner, this is where some of Queensland’s best fighters prepare for national and world titles – and where some seriously affluent Brisbane businessmen meet to trade nothing other than a bit of biffo leather-to-leather.
Fortitude Boxing Gym owner Steve Deller, himself a talented pug in his prime, says many of his clients are attracted to one-on-one combat because they are so accustomed to winning in their professional lives that they want to push the boundaries.
“We call them the white-collar fighters,” Deller says. “It’s another challenge in life. They have succeeded in everything they have done and they crave a new challenge. Some of them have wanted to fight all their life but haven’t been able to because of their corporate reputations or because their parents wanted them to be academics and not fighters when they were growing up.”
Kerry Daly, 55, is a former boardroom heavyweight and company director who is now equally at home in the boxing ring. The Ascot-based businessman, who has floated companies on the stock exchange, boasts a record in the ring of four wins and three losses from seven bouts.
“I retired from my full-time executive responsibilities five years ago and to fill the void in my life became a regular disciplinarian at Fortitude Boxing,” he says. “I had always enjoyed watching boxing and didn’t want to go to my grave not knowing what it was like to have fought in front of a cheering crowd who paid money to watch you fight.”
“When you jump into a boxing ring you realise your greatest weapon you have is your mind. And if you back yourself good things happen – it’s much the same in business.”
Herman Hunt, the former rugby union international who relished the adrenalin rush of playing for the Queensland Reds, was “blown away” by the rush he felt when he stepped through the ropes for his first fight. “I’ve played rugby union in stadiums in front of full crowds of more than 40,000 people but I’ve never been so close to the action than in the ring with an opponent,” he says. “There is definitely nowhere to hide in there.”