Brawl at the Hall
Boxers land punches during the "Brawl at the Hall" white-collar boxing event in Bethnal Green, east London on November 13, 2014 (AFP Photo / Adrian Dennis)
LONDON, December 8, 2014 - I picked up the “Brawl in the Hall” assignment in Bethnal Green, East London, late on a Thursday night. It had the makings of an interesting feature about white-collar boxers – City workers who trade their suit and tie for a pair of boxing gloves in the evening. After a long week perched on the sidelines of various rugby, football and tennis matches, my interest was piqued.
Backstage ahead of the "Brawl at the Hall" white-collar boxing event (AFP Photo / Adrian Dennis)
After a month or so training, they get to fight an opponent for three two-minute rounds. It doesn’t sound like long, but just going a couple of rounds with a heavy punch bag can be exhausting -- never mind getting hit about the head to add to the confusion and fatigue.
I arrived early for an evening at York Hall, the fabled London venue whose creaking floorboards have hosted fight fans for more than 85 years. I was early enough to stash my belongings underneath the boxing ring itself.
I made the decision I wasn’t going to use flash, mainly because I think it spoils the “atmosphere” and also because I wanted to move about unobtrusively. I prefer working this way – just trying to capture moments. I like seeing people as they are, not posing for a picture.
The "Brawl at the Hall" white-collar boxing event in Bethnal Green, east London (AFP Photo / Adrian Dennis)
Most of my assignments involve shooting and editing either at the same time or immediately after the event. Tonight I didn’t need to worry. The story was going out the following week. Oh joy!
There wasn’t a great deal of light to work with as the fighters were lit by tungsten lighting directly overhead. The light fell off quite dramatically from the edge of the boxing ring, the spectators sitting in semi-darkness. But if you pointed your lens a certain way, the backgrounds went to black. Nice!
Before the fighting started I used my time to talk to the venue manager to ensure I could move about freely. He kindly left the door unchained to the balcony giving me an option to shoot down on the ring.
Boxers wait in their dressing room at the "Brawl at the Hall" white-collar boxing event (AFP Photo / Adrian Dennis)
I spent a few minutes showing my face to the boxers in the dressing rooms – no objections here, they were oblivious to me wandering around. It became evident I had complete freedom to work. Quite unlike a normal day at the “office” – sporting venues where there are many rules on where you can sit or venture.
I’m not fussed about what level of sport I’m watching. I can get more excited watching a youth football team I help train than watching a typical Premiership football match. Sometimes we’re all guilty of getting sucked into the hype. Watching grassroots sport can be really good -- and a hell of a lot cheaper.
Alan Bond (L) throws a punch at a trainer ahead of his fight at the "Brawl at the Hall" (AFP Photo / Adrian Dennis)
Punters began to arrive and had time to down a few pints. I busied myself peeking around doors of tiny dressing rooms lurking in the shadows, watching the boxers warming up with their hands wrapped, and shadow boxing.
The bell rang, the announcer made his introductions. Nine matches on the card. The fighters, a solicitor, a banker and an IT consultant, were of differing shapes and sizes but mostly a bit soft around the middle. But as it turned out every one of them was brave and committed.
Telecoms director Frank "The Tank" O'Callaghan ahead of his fight at the "Brawl at the Hall" (AFP Photo / Adrian Dennis)
One of the night's winners, Frank "The Tank" O'Callaghan is a 45-year-old former soldier now working in telecoms. He started boxing eight months ago and was there with more than 60 supporters – while his nine-month pregnant wife waited anxiously at home.
Frank "The Tank" O'Callaghan lands a punch during the "Brawl at the Hall" (AFP Photo / Adrian Dennis)
I started at ringside for some tight action before moving upstairs for a different angle and general view. The crowd cheered their mates from the office. The atmosphere was buzzing! Moving about, you have to keep your wits about you. Things can be quite unpredictable when alcohol and fighting are in close proximity. I covered a boxing event here once before, 12 years ago, and the best fight I saw took place in the crowd. Which is why there are plenty of big burly bouncers prowling the scene.
Spectators watch a colleague fight during the "Brawl at the Hall" (AFP Photo / Adrian Dennis)
I trained my lens on the crowd for a few rounds. Men whistling and cheering their mates, women shielding their faces as their colleagues were getting knocked about the place. As I “worked” the crowd, the decibel levels rose just that bit more. I could tell a fight was lop-sided. I needed to concentrate back on the ring.::video YouTube id='qFAWzXn-93c' width='620'::
A blue-corner boxer took a punch flush on the nose. He tried to continue, his face bloodied, but the referee sensibly called an end to the fight. I quickly moved back to the empty dressing room to await his arrival. He walked straight to the sink to inspect his reflection and look at his broken nose in the mirror. Just the two of us. I shot a couple of frames. An amazing scene. You’d never be allowed to photograph that on the professional circuit.
Tom Rowley looks at his bloodied face after losing a match at the "Brawl at the Hall" (AFP Photo / Adrian Dennis)
After nine fights I’d shot nearly 700 frames. It was past midnight when I made it home, the edit was going to be long, and would have to wait until tomorrow. Still, more features like these please!
Adrian Dennis is an AFP photographer based in London. View more of his work here.
Frank "The Tank" O'Callaghan holds his medal after winning his match at the "Brawl at the Hall" white-collar boxing event (AFP Photo / Adrian Dennis)