Shane Benis is the founder and Managing Director of China Sports Promotions, the company behind the hugely successful ‘white collar’ boxing events Brawl on the Bund and Brawl on the Wall in Shanghai and Beijing respectively.
Benis arrived in Shanghai in 2006 from his native England and struggled to find anywhere to train for his beloved sport of boxing, and a real lack of boxing events happening in China. So in 2008 he co-launched China’s first white collar boxing event, Brawl on the Bund – a black tie event with 300 guests featuring seven boxing bouts of regular people from across the city who had trained for three months to be amateur boxers.
Brawl on the Bund has now swelled to a crowd of 1,300 people at its most recent event, and Benis now holds ten boxing events across China, with events in Macao and Taipei to launch next year. In 2011 he also launched Golden Gloves Gym, Shanghai’s number one boxing gym.
The concept of White Collar Boxing originated in the legendary Gleason’s gym in New York in 1988. It is a form of boxing where both men and women in white collar professions train to fight in special events. Most have no previous experience in boxing.
Why do you think your White Collar Boxing Events have been so successful?
I don’t think they have been THAT successful. I think there’s so many ways we can improve them! For one, I wish we could raise way more money at the events we run – right now the average is around 150,000RMB. I think as more and more people learn about boxing in China, our white collar boxing events will become more successful. There’s definitely room to grow.
What convinced you there would be a big enough boxing market here for you to start organizing an event?
I had no idea if there would be a market here. When I started organising the event the role fell into my lap. There was a group of us that took over the responsibility for a white collar event and then I just kept organizing them. It’s certainly grown into something bigger than that. I started China Sports Promotions (CSP) and through that company we’ve already expanded to Beijing, Macau and Taiwan. The goal is to create a platform for the sport all around Asia. I had no idea five years ago that I’d be putting events on full time. Before boxing events I was exporting goods from China to East Africa and I had a years absence in Dubai trading petrochemicals, I moved back to Shanghai and started CSP in 2012.
What can people expect from your events?
People can expect a fun night out. Everyone gets dressed up as the theme of the evening is black tie (tuxedo and ballgown), there are some of the highest profile businessmen in the country attending, as well as celebrities. Guests are greeted with a red carpet entrance at 5-star hotel, they then have VanDiemen cocktails and Summergate wine accompanied by a 4 course sit down dinner. During the night, in addition to the fights there’s a live auction and raffle are run to raise money for charity if guests want to donate. The fighters are people from the local community (local Chinese and expatriate) so the event has a real personal feel. It’s a very glamorous night. I’m already gearing up for Brawl on the Wall on September 5, 2015.
What white-collar jobs do the fighters at this years Brawl on the Bund have?
Every year our brawlers come from all walks of life. This year there’s a CEO (Ma Hai Hua), Producer (Robert Vicencio), Insurance Agent (Heidi Johnson), Event Manager (Stefanie Candela), Fashion Designer (Chloe chen), a Purchasing Manager (Bruno Rinaldi), Head of BD (Luc Micaelli), Business owners (Pauly Gray) and teacher (Sarah Thompson) to name a few. And our white collar boxers are also from all over the world: China, Belgium, Australia, USA, Italy, UK, Canada. Really, anyone can train and fight for Brawl. I’m sure the next Brawl in December will have the same range of talent.
How is interest in boxing among Chinese athletes growing, and what is the typical attitude you meet when promoting the sport here?
Years ago I’d have to explain what it meant when I would say I was in boxing. But with each event more and more people are becoming aware of this sport in China. The professional boxing events taking place in China and Macau have been helping to create a similar hype and awareness throughout Asia for white collar and professional boxing events. We’re building off that momentum. Now when I tell people they get it. They know what it means. With national television coverage of big-name fights and Olympic gold medal winner Zou Shiming, boxing really is gaining a positive response. People are starting to see the health and fitness aspect of the sport as well. Golden Gloves, our training gym in Shanghai see’s a lot more locals now than ever before so we’re making progress.
Can you tell us a bit about the charity the event is supporting and why you have chosen this particular cause?
When I first met Scott and Cecile Spirit they introduced me to the charity called Leo’s Foundation, or The Foundation for Newborns with Respiratory Failure. This charity was set up by the Spirits when they lost their son Leo in 2008. It’s a very special charity and I’m proud to support it. The funds we raise at Brawl go directly to helping fund families unable to afford the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit facilities at the hospital. This is our 10th Brawl and the charity has saved over 80 lives. It only takes 15,000 RMB to save a life through Leo’s Foundation (http://www.leosfoundation.org/)
Every year it’s mandatory for the fighters to go to Fudan Hospital so they really get the big picture of why push through with training; their efforts culminate fighting in the ring and we raise money for this special chartiy. This year for the first time we set up a website to allow people to donate even if they can’t make it to Brawl on the Bund. The site takes alipay and visa so there are no excuses. The donations are made in the fighter’s name as they are the ones who have been training hard for the last three months. http://events.tryclearcut.com/group/7AbQ8C3W