October Boxing ClubWhile you won’t see Brad Pitt getting a bloody nose from some anonymous office face with chronic insomnia, Moscow’s new October Boxing Club hints at a similar concept.

As with many imported cultural trends from the West, white-collar boxing has made a belated arrival in Russia. Playing on an idea that emerged in New York during the 1990s, the club aims to provide relief for those who spend too much time in a pent-up working environment. It’s a way both to get fit and express unreleased emotion in the ring.

“Our target audience is higher-income men starting around age 35,” states the club’s owner Elena Malova, a petite blondinka who looks like the last person you’d expect to meet in such an establishment. “Our first members are from many different spheres – bankers, TV personalities, designers, PR managers…”

“But people who want brutal boxing go to other clubs,” adds sporting director Yury Koptsev. “Here the atmosphere should be calm and friendly – more about people who want to do sport for fitness than boxing in itself.”

Parched pink brickwork surrounds shiny new punchbags and running machines on the club’s premises at the old Red October chocolate factory, a riverside swathe of premium real estate with views of the Kremlin. Any lingering sweet aromas have been displaced by salty sweat and the rubbery, painty smell of corporate fraîcheur.

“Three other gyms have opened recently in Moscow, but they’re definitely not as cool as this place – they’ve got no gear, no girls and no coaches,” says Malova’s daughter Evgeniya Kuyda, an editor at Afisha magazine. “There are a few other clubs as well, but they’re just for pros and the conditions aren’t very nice.”

With 80 members and counting after just two months, the niche appears to be there. Sergey Povarnitsyn, a mysterious social philosopher with a dapper English accent, thinks it was October’s classy décor and appeal to a “bohemian system of values” that won him over. And although big earners are rather more frugal than in the wild 1990s or the booming 2000s, Moscow will always be home to a certain number of people with cash to burn.

“Every boy wants to fight just like every girl wants to dance,” concludes the owner, Malova, when asked why people choose to take up boxing – which ranks behind several other sports in Russian popular culture. Opening it up to new segments of society may well turn out to be a fruitful enterprise.

Published @ Russia! magazine, 18/8/10.