As East London’s Hipsters headed home on Monday after a hard day’s hacking and hustling, the Hummers came rolling into Bethnal Green; it’s unclear what kind of relationship Hackney’s startup community has with the bruising world of boxing, but what is indisputable is that York Hall, just opposite Bethnal Green tube station has been the spiritual home of British boxing since it first opened, with a capacity of 1,200, back in 1929.
Although the building was also home to a gymnasium and swimming pool it has always been a boxing venue first and foremost, and despite undergoing many transformations, not least (according to Wikipedia) when a multi-million pound refurbishment saved it from closure in 2005, albeit dismantling the Turkish baths popularised by the local Jewish Russian and Polish communities in the 70’s in the process, and replacing what was a free facility with a high end spa and beauty treatment centre with prices starting at £56, a move defended by the then head of Tower Hamlets Leisure services Neil Hounsell somewhat bizarrely on the basis that this was one of London’s most deprived boroughs, it is as a boxing venue that it will always be celebrated.
As if to underline the point not only was Anthony Joshua MBE, the Olympic Heavyweight Boxing Champion in 2012 who has since turned professional and won 15 out of 15 fights, all by knockout, to earn himself a world title shot against “Prince” Charles Martin, also present, at York Hall for a media meet and greet on Monday night, so was Nigel Benn, ringside to support his son, Conor Benn, who is set to make his professional debut on Joshua’s undercard on Saturday evening.
If the mighty Joshua had not become a boxer (and he didn’t throw a punch in anger until he was 18, apparently) he may well have made a formidable startup founder, if the videos he has been making with his team and posting on the BBC’s website are anything to go by. They artfully portray the real Joshua, living in Watford, still at his Mum’s place (although he did buy her a new Range Rover recently, something most bootstrapping entrepreneurs still stuck at home might struggle to do), chilling with his friends and playing PlayStation.
Don’t be fooled however; when the gloves are off, or in Joshua’s case, on, he is as mean as they come. If Joshua ever did decide to try life as a hipster entrepreneur, it’s tough to imagine even the most hard bitten, curmudgeonly investor not reaching for their chequebook upon seeing his Minivan parked outside their offices. Dragon’s Den would quickly become more like kitten’s crèche – even Alan Sugar would struggle to point his itchy trigger finger at this slugger.
Joshua’s mantra is “Stay Humble”, advice that all founders should follow, although it’s questionable how many do. Inner confidence is what’s important, and focusing on becoming the man (or woman, sadly the male to female ratio at York Hall was similar to what you might find at a startup co-founder dating event) you want to become.
It wasn’t just Joshua evangelising the start-up spirit either. Former world heavyweight champion-turned-what-could-loosely-be-described-as-entrepreneur Shannon Briggs was also at York Hall. After calling out David Haye at his press conference a few days before, Briggs was busy telling anyone who would listen that he still had it aged 44, calling out Joshua to get in the ring with him, and encouraging the audience (around 200 fight fans showed up) to join him in a chorus of “let’s go champ!” Which most people did.
In many ways boxing is the ultimate entrepreneurial sport. Aged just 26 (albeit with guidance from his legendary promoter Barry Hearn, think Coglan, arch proponent of “Coglan’s Law” from 80’s Tom Cruise vehicle Cocktail) Joshua manages a large team, does deals with other international entre-pugilist-eurs (most of them 6 ft. 6” behemoths like himself), books venues, sells tickets, promotes, markets, poses for pictures, and throws haymakers that make grown men standing nearby squeak. All in a day’s work. Well 10 weeks’ work; there is a lot of downtime in the world of boxing.
Entrepreneurs can and should draw their inspiration from their surroundings, just like Joshua does. Looking at the crowd on Monday night, there were definitely some hipsters in attendance, as well as entrepreneurial types of all creeds, colours and faiths, united not just by a love of seeing huge men use a skipping rope, but the excitement of making something…something, all too often, from nothing, happen.
Kudos to Joshua, to Benn, to Briggs, to the announcers, to the press. Blood and thunder, smoke and mirrors, it should all be grist to a good founders’ mill. Boxing clever is the best kind of boxing. Promoting unity in the community, respecting the rules and making them smell the leather (to borrow a cricketing term) are what it’s all about.
Who will the fight? Upon seeing Martin enter the ring Haggerston Times came to the rapid conclusion that Joshua stood no chance, that the fight be called off and London should apologise to the nice man from America en masse. Then Martin departed and Joshua was put through his paces. And Haggerston Times felt that, if he was quick about it, Martin’s Hummer could be through the Blackwall Tunnel and at City Airport before it was too late.
The irresistible force versus the immovable object? Harder to call than a lawyer with a vesting schedule and a bad case of sweat equity.