Aggression Sessions is back in Durham. After a two-year hiatus, the largest student-led charity boxing event in the UK is ready to, once again, turn the spotlight on the ring for a night which is not to be missed in the student calendar. The night, held on 18th February, will be led in the name of charity with proceeds going to Papyrus, a suicide prevention helpline for young adults, and Team Durham’s chosen charity, Sport in Action.
Palatinate headed down to Durham’s Community Boxing Club gym and spoke to the students making Aggression Sessions happen this year. You could tell that this wasn’t the first 8am wakeup for the 30 or so boxers sparring and training under the tutelage of coach Paul Lysaght. There are four official training sessions weekly, three at 8am and an 11am treat on a Sunday. Many of the boxers also join community sessions throughout the week. We, on the other hand, just complained about how tired we were and got in the way.
The challenge of hosting Aggression Sessions this year is bigger than ever. Due to the pandemic, there is a whole new student body to promote to, students who were perhaps unaware the boxing event even existed before this year. This did not seem to put off President, James Nugent, as he anticipates Aggression Sessions’ most successful year in terms of fundraising, boxing quality and entertainment. Speaking to Palatinate, he said, “It’s like a huge, really intricate clock and if one cog drops out the whole thing could fall down. It’s making sure the event can actually go ahead, that’s been the biggest challenge”
The exec have made changes to ensure that the event’s charity aspect has been at the forefront of its planning, “In previous years, it’s been a bit of a spectacle rather than a fundraising exercise, so I think this year is different in that respect. We are just focusing on raising as much money as we can for charity.”
Papyrus was Aggression Sessions’ chosen charity in 2020, but the event was cancelled due to Covid-19. “We said we were going to raise money for them last year and we didn’t, because obviously the event didn’t go ahead. We felt like we wanted to give back and pull through on our promise.”
As for the boxing itself, Aggression Sessions welcomed boxers with little to no experience of the sport: “The benefit of everyone starting from scratch is that you can teach them the basics well. They’re learning the sweet science in its best possible form, which is great.”
This year, the exec have taken precautions to ensure the safest possible event, “There are no mismatches, there are no two or three kilo swings in the fight, everyone is the same weight and they are going to produce the best and the safest fights. We’re an ABA registered fight compared to other charity events where it would just be that they’d have an ambulance there and that would be the only safeguarding they would have. Every boxer has a medical and they register as an amateur boxer on the England Boxing site.”
Palatinate also spoke to Alice Craig, Aggression Sessions’ fitness and boxing coach. From training in Hild Bede’s Caedmon Hall to Go the Distance gym, Alice has seen the standard of boxing improve considerably from October. “I think the boxing this year will be of a really high calibre. We’ve seen Fight Night and stuff like that occur and we want to surpass that, we want to show that people who train for longer are better quality boxers. Being in the gym right now you can see everyone’s progress from the start. They were really hesitant to get into sparring, whereas now they’ll jump into the ring without hesitation.”
Of course, training has not come without its challenges. “I think the biggest challenge that we faced was the Christmas holidays. That was a time where we didn’t really know what training they were doing. It was tough getting back in the ring in January and seeing some people had kept their fitness up and some people hadn’t, getting them back up to that same level. Obviously there has been injuries and dropouts and that’s devastating for the boxers but, not to be callous, it is inevitable.
“I’m really excited to just have it all come together, I’m really excited for my friends to see it even though I’m not fighting, just for them to see what I’ve been working on. I’ll be quite sad when it’s over. I’ll be like, ‘what’s my role now?’”
The boxers have all picked their walk-out music and ring names. They vary from threatening to absolutely nonsensical, but that’s boxing for you. This is their big moment, and they get all the bells and whistles that come with it. Walking out flanked by close friends in front of hundreds of fellow students, they become
With just two weeks until they step through the ropes, we spoke to some of the fighters. Basil ‘El Jefe’ Stevens has raised more money for charity so far than any other exec member or boxer, one of two boxers to raise more than £1000 personally. He told Palatinate:
“I didn’t do much training last term and then hit it really hard this term and it’s just been a baptism by fire. I wrung out my clothes the other day because they were so sweaty. It’s been really good, they push you pretty hard in the gym, and there’s lots of 8am/7:30am wake ups which is pretty early, but it’s been really good. I’ve really enjoyed it so far.”
“I’m probably most looking forward to the walk out. I’m just going to walk out, hopefully with a hood up, not look at anyone and just be completely focused. I’ll just get in the ring and secure the win.”
Madi ‘The Menace’ Barbé is another of this year’s fighters. She spoke positively about the disciple and training that boxing requires. “Because I like the training so much, I kind of got caught up in the whirlwind of the whole thing, and now I’m fighting in it and I’m like, actually, the sparring is the bit that I’m not that keen on! It hurts.”
“I’ve loved being able to come here and Paul’s a great trainer, I think I’ll probably take a few weeks off, but I’ve come to a few of the community sessions here, and they’re great – as I said, I really like the training aspect of it. Definitely I think I’d like to be able to come back.”
“Even if you don’t want to do aggression sessions, coming along to the community gym here is a great way to get into it. Paul will keep an eye out for you and make sure you’re doing ok, and yeah, get stuck into it.”
We asked her what it’s been like balancing a burgeoning boxing career alongside her degree: “I’ve kind of put my degree to the side. I haven’t really found it that bad. It is a time commitment, but it’s also just an hour a day, and with an 8am wakeup – are you going to be up at that time anyway? Probably not.”
Even with just a couple of weeks before they’ll step into the ring together, that doesn’t seem to be getting in the way of the camaraderie amongst the boxers. Months of early mornings and bloody noses have brought the fighters together and they’re all keen to cheer each other on.
Alice emphasised the feeling of togetherness among the boxers and the Aggression Sessions exec. “We’re such a community, we’re all really good friends with each other and from personal experience, it will definitely improve confidence outside of the ring.”
Aggression Sessions has been one of the highlights of Durham’s social calendar for some time now, and this year looks set to be their biggest yet. It’s a great night, for a great cause, and looks to have converted the 36 fighters still standing to the wonders of pugilism.
The event looks set to smash its fundraising targets. Among the boxers, an initial collective target of £5000 was set. This has been doubled to over £10,000. James told us, “As for the actual event, we’re estimating to smash any previous record and have the biggest year, raising over £50,000. The last event we had raised £35,000, so to beat that by £15,000 would be amazing. I’m so proud of what everyone has done.”
Image: @aggressionsessions via instagram