Raw, visceral, intense: this was Friday Fight Night. Central Hall, so often a setting for exams, provided a different kind of examination this night. York and Lancaster’s resolve would be tested, but ultimately remained unshaken. The hall was transformed into a boxing arena that witnessed four exhibition matches and four Roses clashes, all keenly and evenly fought. No fighter discredited themselves on a night where York and Lancaster shared the spoils, triumphing in two Roses matches apiece. The metaphorical gloves came off and the literal gloves came on in what some are calling ‘the stupidest introduction to a boxing report ever’.
The queue for the event trailed all the way down from Central Hall to Vanbrugh College. Perhaps its number was swelled by wannabe football managers wanting to catch a glimpse of England manager Roy Hodgson, who would deliver a sparkling interview after the boxing. Yet as the vast swathe of people filed into the arena it became clear that boxing would take precedence even over Mr. Hodgson. The ring looked befitting of Mayweather and Pacquiao, an intimidating cauldron where partisanship bubbled and boiled. The Roses trailer, a masterpiece of both sport and film, was played on the big screen to remind the audience just what was at stake. As if they needed reminding. The night would begin with the four exhibition clashes, a tantalising starter to the main course of Roses. Three rounds of three minutes, barring knockout, would be fought in both the exhibitions and the four subsequent Roses matches. Neutrality was not an option, with the audience vociferous in their desire for blood.
The first fight pitted Hull against York St. John, with first-time visitors to a boxing match finally understanding the allure. It was a ballsy affair, full-blooded and ferocious. St. John was deemed winner by technical knockout, and the night was truly underway. The next exhibition match introduced its first Lancastrian, James Milton, taking on another of St. John’s finest, Sam Cook. No-one could have foreseen that York students would cheer so passionately for a fighter from their city rivals, but in this case St. John was the lesser of two evils. Their man Cook was not the lesser of two fighters, however. York (St. John) had toppled Lancaster, again by technical knockout.
The President of the Boxing Club at York, Adam Flannery, stepped into the ring to take on an imposing boxer from Leeds, Tom Duffy. ‘Yorkshire! Yorkshire!’ bellowed the crowd in support of the York man, showing a confusing grasp of geography. Perhaps the Leeds man felt emboldened by this chant, for he displayed immediately aggressive hitting. This hitting was too fierce to maintain; Flannery’s stamina and strategy led to the deliverance of some mighty blows against the ailing boxer from Leeds. The University of York had claimed their first true victory of the night, by technical knockout. The final exhibition match was notable for being the first clash in an opening ceremony between two female boxers, a landmark long overdue. Lauren Hall took on Samantha Brown in what was both fighters’ first appearance in a boxing ring, but this lack of experience was not apparent in a closely-fought affair. Hall won by technical knockout, ensuring that the blue corner triumphed for the fourth consecutive match; this corner would be occupied by York in the Roses’ matches, but its luck was to run out.
The anticipation was rising to a volatile and sweaty level as the first Roses match was introduced. Stepping up for Lancaster was Dylan ‘The Natural’ Cheema; clearly it wasn’t punctuality that came naturally to him, as it took him over a minute to swagger down the stairs to the ring after his introduction. York’s hopes rested on the shoulders of Aaron Dougherty. The bell rang, marking the start of a breathless and fierce fight. Cheema and Dougherty alternated in supremacy, with one boxer delivering a mighty barrage of blows only to be treated to a like-minded riposte. Dougherty was hitting harder than a Louis Theroux documentary, but Cheema’s feet of feathers kept the Lancaster man dancing around the ring before delivering a powerful succession of punches. Dougherty would not yield though, spurred on by passionate York support. The final bell rang, the crowd aware that they had witnessed a battle between two equals. Cheema of Lancaster was deemed victorious on a split decision on points.’Yorkshire!’ exclaimed the York fans in expression of Dougherty’s admirable performance, whilst the Lancaster representatives yelled ‘Red Army!’ to acclaim their man, causing all sorts of confusion for Barnsley FC fans in attendance (shocking early reports confirm that there was more than one present).
It fell to Oliver Farrar to arrest the early slide for York, taking on Lancaster’s Rosen Manev. Manev came out flying in a bundle of fists and fury. Farrar resisted, and began to assert his dominance. Four inches taller, Farrar delivered blow after blow whilst keeping his opponent at arm’s length. Left hand, right hand, both of these hands were used by Farrar to punch his opponent. Manev blocked heroically, but the York man was in the ascendancy. The judges were not wholly convinced, producing another split decision. But it was indeed York who took the favour of this decision, levelling the night at one victory each.
‘Yorkshire! Yorkshire!’ enthused the home crowd, who basically only had one chant.
It was around this time that Roy Hodgson suddenly emerged in a seat on the back row. ‘Hodgson, give us a wave!’ implored some rowdy crowd members. Hodgson remained stoic, inscrutable, unwaving. Both universities put forward their strongest Dan for the next bout; Dan Aron of York encountered Dan James of Lancaster. The first round was more cagey than previous fights, with strategic appraisals of each other taking precedence over ruthless assaults. The fighters were well-matched throughout all three rounds. Meaty hooks from one boxer were returned in kind by the other. It was tough to call, but York was ruled victor on points in yet another split decision. ‘Yorkshire! Yorkshire!’ cried the crowd exuberantly. The chant was appropriated by a few Lancastrians, who roared ‘You’re shit! You’re shit!’ Oh, what boundless wit.
The noise from the crowd swelled as the final match arrived. York’s Laurie Twine, evidently a fan favourite judged on the unmatched level of cheering, was faced with Joseph Hollinshead of Lancaster. Twine started much the stronger, his punches landing with more weight than his opponent. But then came the most devastating blow of the night, Hollinshead imposing a huge blow on Twine out of nowhere. Twine went down. The audience was stunned. Twine seemed insistent on bouncing back and carrying on the fight, but the referee was having none of it. Hollinshead triumphed by technical knockout, celebrating his decisive punch with vigour. The referee had to remind Hollinshead to shake his opponent’s hand, a potent reminder that even in the tense exchanges of the Roses sportsmanship cannot take a backseat. Twine may have lost the bout but he won the hearts of the York crowd, which is presumably no consolation whatsoever.
And so the night concluded, York and Lancaster proving victorious in two fights each. It had been a remarkable spectacle of skill and strength from both sides. The exhibition matches were far more fierce than friendly, and the Roses bouts were engaging contests culminating in a hammer blow from Hollinshead. Roses cannot be won and lost in just one sport, and the sharing of the points only served to confirm this.