Steve Taw, 53, the oldest competitor in the history of Hong Kong's sixth annual Hedge Fund Fight Nite, is competing four years after his son's victory in the same charity event.
“I'm the only one ever following in his son's footsteps,” said the white-haired Taw, known in the ring as “The Wizard of Wanchai” after the commercial area of bars and clubs made popular in the 1960 movie The World of Suzie Wong. “Hopefully he'll be there to carry me home after the party - I've done it for him enough times.”
Steve's son Thomas, 27, who sports the same square jawline and broad wry smile, works in electronic trading at Macquarie Group. He first competed amid the depths of the financial crisis in 2008. His father, a director at South Ocean Management, will fight at tonight's event at the Indian Recreation Club in Happy Valley as Asian hedge funds seek to stage a comeback.
The Eurekahedge Asian Hedge Fund Index returned 2.3 per cent in September, the best performer among five regional indexes, based on preliminary figures. Investors have withdrawn more than $440 million this year from funds in the region, where at least 70 hedge funds have closed as equity-focused strategies depressed performance. The index has returned 3.9 per cent this year through September compared with the 4.3 per cent advance by the global industry gauge.
Along with the 13 other finalists, Steve has been training at Jab Mixed Martial Arts Studio in the heart of the business district twice a week for five months. In addition to these sessions of sparring, punching bag work, crunches and rope-skipping, most have been doing training four to five times a week, and in some cases twice a day. The finalists were culled from 70 hopefuls and will be paired off for seven bouts of three two-minute rounds each.
The event, organised by IronMonger Events, seeks to raise $HK1 million ($129,022) for Operation Smile, which funds surgery for children with facial deformities, and Operation Breakthrough, which combats crime and juvenile delinquency in low-income and immigrant communities. Standard tables of 12 cost $24,000 with the ringside version pulling in $50,000.
Craig “El Toro” Barnish, 30, co-founder of BAH Partners, a recruitment firm specialising in information technology workers at investment banks, said conquering the headstrong nature that proffered his ring name has been the biggest challenge.
“My first reaction on getting hit was to lash out and counter,” said the sandy-haired native of England's south coast, who sports a full-arm tattoo of waves and the sun. “The hardest thing has been accepting getting punched, then using your head to react instead of animal instinct.”
Barnish's mother wishes he wasn't getting hit at all, calling it a “sport for animals,” he said. With co-workers, friends and his girlfriend supportive, he expects his parents to come around after he walks out of the fight without major injury.
Andrea “Glynn-sanity” Glynn, 28, and Danielle “Steely” Midalia, 30, will face off in the only women's bout of the evening. They are the final two of 10 women who tried out for the event this spring.
“It's certainly portrayed as a brute sport, but that is far from the truth,” said Midalia, the creative manager at The Cat Street Gallery. “You don't need to be a beefy boxer to participate. Boxing requires agility, fortitude and determination, things that all women are capable of.”
Midalia, a long-distance runner, and Glynn, who has played volleyball, soccer and tennis, both say the mental challenges of boxing far outweigh the physical.
“After a long day at the office, it's one thing to jump on the treadmill and another thing to step into the ring,” said Glynn, who works in fixed-income sales at Bank of Montreal. “You really have to show up to every session with your A-game, otherwise you'll get punched in the face.”
The financial industry has been taking its own punches amid shrinking equity volumes. Bank of America, BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank, Macquarie, Morgan Stanley, Nomura Holdings, and UBS are all shedding jobs.
Equity volumes dropped 21 per cent globally year-on-year in September and 14 per cent year-on-year for the first nine months of 2012, according to the World Federation of Exchanges.
Given the downturn, making time for training while managing a more challenging workload has been difficult, said Mark “Slugger” O'Reilly, 36, a managing director at recruitment firm Astbury Marsden. Lessons learned from boxing translate outside the ring, said the former Australian rules football player from Tasmania.
“It's all about executing your plan,” said O'Reilly. “You have to keep composure regardless of what's going on around you.”
George “The Razor” Radford, a consultant at property investment company IP Global, is set to shape up against O'Reilly after going along to the event last year, having one too many drinks, and telling everyone who would listen that he'd be in the ring in 2012. Not one to go back on his word, he responded when the organisers followed up, the 29-year-old rugby player said.
“I'm not going to lie to you, it's been bloody exhausting and I really can't wait for the whole thing to be over,” he said. “I can't wait to stop thinking about Mark O'Reilly.”
Other fighters in tonight's event include Nicolas Boulay, a derivatives broker at Louis Capital Markets; Anthony Carango, executive director at Nomura; Adam Gazal, a managing partner at National Australia Bank; Grant Livingston, an executive director in convertible bonds at JPMorgan Chase & Co; Brad Moreland, a director in prime services at HSBC Holdings; Richard Rouse, an account manager at HSBC; and Andrew Wylde, head of sales and operations at Hatstand Consulting.
The younger Taw said he gets more nervous watching his father fight than he did stepping into the ring himself. While the senior Taw says he's “in it to win it,” his focus will be on putting on a good show when facing off against Blair “The Bear” Crichton, an associate vice-president in business development at HSBC. “Boxing is a sport; it's to be practiced and mastered,” he said. “Not a chance that I want to stand up there swinging wildly for six minutes. That's for outside the chip shop back home in the UK after the pubs turn out.”
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