"It's like you're involved in something bigger — a team spirit I haven't experienced before"

TOM HIGGINS TOON talks punches, professionalism and pudding with boxing captain Elliot Teboth. Image credit: Дима

With his powerful arms, strong jaw and dislocated shoulder, Elliot Teboth has much in common with the conventional boxer. However, his nickname is anything but conventional. Departing from the long-held tradition of intimidating one's opponent by choosing a fearsome moniker like 'Hurricane' or 'Bonecrusher', Teboth opts for the slightly more prosaic 'Pudding'. Pudding?! I can hardly hide my disbelief, but he assures me it's all genuine:

"My housemate gave it to me after getting everyone to make sure I didn't pick anything. I like that it didn't mean I took myself too serious and in any case it gave me a nice set-up for a profile picture caption, so I'm not complaining".

Following on from this comic stance, I ventured some more risky questions:

Do you think then that all the bad-mouthing that seems to characterise professional boxing detracts from the actual sport itself, or is it part of what makes it so enjoyable?

This is something I'm unsure of — some fighters do seem to have a genuine dislike for each other, such as Dereck Chisora and Dillian Whyte, but both showed respect for each other in their fight last year. You respect anyone who gets in the ring.

I think boxing has several different types of fans: there are those that are scholars of the noble art and there are others who like the theatre of a grudge match even if they know the animosity is just for show. For me, I don't like it when it's clearly staged, but there's no doubt the theatrics helps to broaden the appeal.

You were at Wembley to watch the Klitschko vs Joshua fight. Were you expecting Joshua to win?

I've followed his career since I watched him at the Olympics, and going in I backed him, though not enough to put a bet on mind! All credit to Klitschko, he was top of the heavyweight game for ten years and so I wasn't expecting a walkover. I was so relieved it wasn't a disappointment — I didn't sit down once during the whole fight. 

At 41, is Klitschko's time up?

It's an unbelievable age to be boxing, and I think he proved he's still got a little bit of what he once had, but if was in his prime, there's no way he would've let Joshua off after his knockdown.

I'm split between wanting him to retire to keep his good record, and seeing him fight again — his rivalry with Shannon Briggs is one I want to see sorted out! Though I don't think he should take the rematch clause (clause that grants a losing champion the right to an immediate rematch) as boxers do have a habit of extending their careers too long. 

Is a professional boxing match very different from an amateur University one?

Besides the structural differences, with three rounds of two for each of the nine competing boxers, there is definitely a difference in terms of a fighting style. Amateur fighting is fought at a faster pace as there's less time to impress the judges but Varsity is something else, harvesting a special atmosphere that anyone that went can testify to.

The passion and desire to win that just makes it a different spectacle that mean no fighters take a break — if you want to see what I mean, take a look on YouTube  (skip to 1:21:40) and watch (fellow Cambridge boxer) Harry Holdstock's welterweight fight.

Boxing is one of the university sports with greatest competition for places — 200 members for just 9 Varsity places. Why do you think it is so popular? 

It is an activity that you can completely immerse yourself in. With professional boxing coming back into the spotlight on TV, I think people are attracted by both its challenges and its uniqueness, such as the inspirational performances on show at the 'town vs gown' matches. Also, with over 110 years of tradition, it's like you're involved in something bigger — a team spirit like I haven't experienced before.

And it's great to see women's boxing becoming more popular. Katie (MacVarish) as last year's captain showed absolute class in Varsity, and with current captain Lucy Harris they've had a huge impact on women's numbers, which is great to see.

Many congratulations for making the squad — and winning your fight! Was the preparation harder than you expected, compared to a standard week of training?

The normal training intensified to everyday and people were doing extra sessions on top of that to make weight — some weeks I was training up to ten times a week. During fight week we do light training with pads but with all the extra time it's surreal — it's all about trying to stay relaxed.

The coaches do a phenomenal job all year round, but during fight week they're all especially helpful, putting in a great shift to make sure we're all ready, even preparing a nutrition plan. There's no getting around it — the level of fitness is pretty challenging. I thought I was pretty good weight at 88 kg but ended up fighting at 71.

As captain for next year, do you have any particular advice for any young boxers keen to give it a go at university level?

I'd really like to stress that everyone has an equal opportunity. There are absolutely no guarantees on places. We had people in the team, including myself, who hadn't boxed before. We already have around 50 in our development squad and there's a lot of  movement between this and the Blues squad.

Come along on Sunday's and Wednesday's — it doesn't matter if you've done anything before or not. I firmly believe boxing is beneficial for everyone! Get yourself known to the coaches, as well as Lucy, Cieran (Hill) and I so that you can get a grounding that you can build on over summer, ready to come back for trials in October.

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.

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