‘Can Boxing Ever Be a Team Sport?’

Can boxing ever be a team sport? No, not if it wants to be taken seriously it can’t; but of course that’s only my humble opinion, you may think differently. You may also think the concept of team boxing is a crazy new fangled idea, but take my word for it it’s not nearly as new as it sounds – the Russians have been doing it for donkey’s years; as a matter of fact it dates right back to the 13th century and they call it Wall on Wall, fighting.

There are actually two types of ‘Wall on Wall’ fighting practised in Eastern Europe but one of them is nothing more than your average free-for-all ‘gang fight,’ so I won’t even bother discussing that. The real wall on wall fighting is exactly what it sounds like, two opposing walls or lines of men fighting each other. Each man stands shoulder to shoulder with his team mates and directly faces a rival team. At a given signal (bell?) the two walls steadily edge forward towards each other and begin fighting – and the idea is to do it without breaking formation!!! And what a bloody strange sight it is; a mixture of majesty and madness, a bit like Riverdance with gloves on. Sadly it is more of a spectacle than spectacular, but then again it is also strangely compelling because it invokes you with a morbid curiosity to see what happens next, similar to what you get when you pass a car crash on the motorway – you don’t want to look but can’t stop yourself!

It’s one saving grace is that during the intermissions between rounds you get to watch a few almost normal ‘One on One’ bouts where one member from a wall steps forward and squares up to member of the opposing wall. This whole scenario (although barking mad,) is not actually as bad as it sounds, it is not mindless violence, on the contrary it is in fact a highly organised sporting activity and is still actively practiced throughout Russia and other parts of the Eastern Bloc today.

Unlike other team sports like, football, rugby, etc, where there is always a set and equal number of players in each team, there is no specified number of boxers in a wall. Walls can range from as little as half a dozen men to literally hundreds, and can be three or four deep at times, however, on commencement of a bout both walls are usually relatively equal in numbers. The aim of the sport is to breach the opposing wall, or drive the wall completely out of the game area. Tactics are very basic, and from what I’ve seen they always put the big heavy men in the centre of the wall and the lighter ones on its flanks.

Rounds; or skirmishes as they like to call them usually last for about a minute, after which each wall does a rather dramatic reverse dance back to its starting position, and as I said earlier there is an individual bout between each skirmish. I don’t think these individual bouts have any bearing on the outcome of the main team contest, they are merely there as window dressing. Fights usually last for about 20 minutes, but like in conventional boxing they can sometimes end very quickly or conversely they can go on for a solid hour or more. There is always a referee in charge; often several, so fair play is keenly observed. But proper judicious rules as you can imagine are impossible to implement, and the main and sacrosanct rules of the sport are exactly the same as they are in traditional boxing; defend yourself at all times and never hit a man when he’s down.

Always an outdoor activity and logistically speaking a nightmare to organise, it does have a hypnotic effect on you but it can also be difficult to know where to focus your attention because there are no reference points. You start by watching one pair of fighters, then your eyes jump to another pair, and before you know it your eyes are here there and everywhere; especially when you take into consideration that excepting for the boxing gloves, all the fighters clothes are at odds with each other. Jeans, trousers, track suits, etc, they seem to wear anything they want, and all in a riot of different colours - very confusing.

Would I pay to watch it? Yes! But only once, it’s not something I could make a habit of watching.

Do I think it could ever be taken seriously in this country? No I don’t! It’s much too whimsical for that, in fact I challenge anyone to watch it and keep a straight face.

I think this would be more suitable as one of those bizarre one off novelty events for outdoor festivals like fairs and carnivals.

Sorry, but I say back to the steppes with it – and beyond.