One thing that I love about the British is that when they take a cultural idea, no matter how off-the-wall from another nation, that idea somehow morphs into something far grander than the original concept before it hits our shores. And so it is with Chessboxing, the latest hybrid competitive sport gaining popularity in the UK. Originally theorized in a comedy routine by Serbian comic, Enki Bilal, and first staged before a crowd of 800 in a church in 2003 by Dutch artist, Iepe Rubingh, Chessboxing consists of 11 rounds of alternating speed chess and boxing with the chess segments four minutes long and the boxing segments three minutes long. The winner is determined by whoever knocks out their opponent first either through checkmate or a finishing punch, the judge’s decision or if one of the opponents exceeds 12 minutes of chess time.
The setting for Chessboxing takes place in a boxing ring and opponents start off with a chess round in full boxing regalia but without the gloves and wearing earphones to keep out the noise and aid in concentration. Then both opponents get their gloves on, earphones off and duke it out for three minutes. There is a one minute pause between segments so players can adjust their gear according to the segment. Contestants need to be skilled in both chess and boxing.
One can only imagine the crowd alternately screaming, “Queen to E2! Rook to D1” and “Get ‘im in the goolies!”
There are currently 150 professional competitors and an assembly called The Chess Boxing Organization, which was started in 2008. Founder Tim Woolgar commented, “If you get a guy to box, it teaches him self-respect. But if you get [to] teach him something like chess as well, you teach him a whole new set of skills. And those are skills which can be put to practical use when it comes to finding jobs.”
That’s an interesting concept although I doubt many employers would be willing to take on someone named Andy “The Rock” Costello or Gianluca “Il Dottore” Sirci to deliver papers let alone babies.
The monumental Norman Rockwell painting of a high maintenance woman in a slinky, cream colored, bias cut evening gown with her bare back to the viewer, rising from her ring side seat and yelling for blood at the fighters pretty much sums up the atmosphere generated during bouts. It’s all guts and glory, gowns and glitter the way the Brits do Chessboxing. Think of an unholy alliance between a Don King boxing production and the World Chess Championships by way of Las Vegas.
Unfortunately, the title of the Rockwell painting escapes me at this time, which is a pity since it was an unusual subject matter for Rockwell in that it showed raw, animal passion and physicality rather than his more famous sentimental portrayals of Americans at work and play. However, an exhaustive search through Google Images turned up a clever take-off of it titled, Popeye’s Match, which, when you come to think of it, is more recognizable in terms of Popeye and Olive Oyl cultural references for young adults than the above Norman Rockwell art work just mentioned.
And thus our culture descends ever lower.