The likes of rap group the Wu-Tang Clan, as well as several comic books have put Chessboxing at the forefront. Still, it’s not like there is a specially outfitted gym just for the sport and several people have to be told it is a real “thing.”
The sport mixes the mental strains of chess with the physicality and grace of boxing, allowing fighters/players to switch competition each round.
“It sort of like brain training,” says Ruthie Wright, Britain’s Female Flyweight Chessboxing Champion.
Tiger Muay Thai and MMA Training Camp Phuket, Thailand recently hosted “The Pink Machine” Wright for several weeks. With the obscure sport still slowly gaining notoriety and recognition, finding females who play chess and also train in boxing are hard to come by.
Wright gained interest in the sport several years back and after training in boxing. She started training to chessbox in late 2011, after being told she would have a fight in March 2012. She ended up having a training camp at TMT in early 2012 only to find out that her opponent would pull out of the fight in February.
This would happen four more times.
Then on September 29, 2012, Wright finally got the chance to compete in an official Chessboxing match at Scala Club in London in front of 1,200 fans. The match ended when Wright’s opponent, Jenny-Anne Dexter, had to stop due to a neck injury – making Wright the first British Female Flyweight champ.
“Hopefully having the title would mean that someone would want to challenge me for that title,” Wright says, recalling how difficult it is find other females to fight. “One of the reasons why it’s difficult to find women to box is because they are worried about their record.”
So how does chessboxing work? It’s seven rounds of three minutes of chess, followed by two minutes of boxing. No headguards, fighters wear 16 oz gloves, and there is a timer near the chess board that fighters have to touch after every move.
While going back and forth between the mental and physical grind, Wright says that picturing the board while trying to knock someone out is the true challenge.
“The hardest bit, is learning to take the snapshot of where you’re at, and then remember it,” she says, “then realize where you are when you sit back down.”
What happens if the match looks even by the end of the bout? Judges first score on the chess and then to boxing. A match ends when either A) a players has checkmated their opponent in chess or B) knocked out or had a referee stoppage in the boxing match. In the event that time runs out, judges first score based on the chessboard. Only if the chessboard looks deadlocked, do the judges go to the boxing scorecards.
“Because I’m learning both a same time so I’m learning immediately how to switch from boxing to chess, boxing to chess,” Wright says, “I would like to think that I can do it until I’m at least 40. I would like to be an ambassador for women in the sport.”