Inside wacky world of chessboxing where fighters box for three minutes then play a round of chess
‘You can’t just be a nerd, and you can’t just be a fighter, you need a mix of both – you need concentration.’
No, those aren’t the words to an 80s pop song or training montage they’re actually the qualities that champion chessboxing trainer Denno Probst says people need to excel in one of the world’s newest and oddest sports.
Chessboxing for the uninitiated is, you guessed it, a combination of chess and boxing.
Contestants start by battering each other with three minutes of boxing and then do a three minute round of chess.
This continues – in front of a baying crowd – for five to twelve rounds until someone is knocked out, checkmated or wins on points.
Professional chess player Andrea Botez has recently taken up the sport
Chessboxing sees fighters punch it out in the ring before a battle of minds
The hybrid sport has been picked up all over the world and is growing in populari
It’s a simple enough mutation of the boxing tradition but where did it come from and why against all odds has it developed a cult following – with 300,000 people streaming one event as recently as last December.
The humble sport of chessboxing was invented in 2003 by Dutch performance artist lepe Rubingh.
It was originally intended to be a form of performance art but twenty years later the sport had grown into a worldwide phenomenon played across the globe in countries as far as India.
As recently as 2021, Russia state news channel RT propositioned for the sport to be included in the Olympic Games in the future.
Why though? Why?
Denno Probst, 36, is currently the coach of the German chessboxing team and organises events through his group chess boxing Cologne.
Speaking to MailOnline, Denno explained that the sport although relatively new it was incredibly established.
He said: ‘I currently train the German team after competing internationally for years. Chessboxing has been going for 20 years now and is always growing, there’s so much interest as its a very different contact sport.
‘It attracts an intellectual crowd.’
Denno Probst coaches the German chessboxing team and occasionally fights himself
Denno says chessboxing is a hybrid sport that can find people lacking fast
Just by listening to Denno’s big booming voice on the phone I can can tell he’s a big man – this must surely make him a chessboxing machine?
He laughs: ‘I’m 90kg and run marathons so the boxing is no struggle but I find chess hard.
‘The way it works is you do three minutes of boxing then three minutes of chess for 11 rounds.
‘You can either win by checkmate or by knockout. It means you can’t just rely on one strength. Being good at one doesn’t mean being good at both.
‘You can’t just be a nerd and you can’t just be a fighter, it’s all about concentration.’
As with other martial arts, chessboxing is fully a sport for both the sexes with female led fights regularly topping the bills of meets.
In December a bout between newcomers Andrea Botez and Dina Belenkaya was watched online by a massive 300,000 people.
Both of these fighters have a long way to go if they want to beat the current European champion Julianna ‘Kick Ass Baroness’ Baron though.
The 46-year-old spends her working life as a management partner in Munich and said her alter ego is a perfect way to let off steam.
European champion Julianna ‘Kick Ass Baroness’ Baron uses the sport to let off steam
The sport is just as popular with women as it is with men
Julianna has said she welcomes all challengers to her title
She said: ‘I started this sport two and a half years ago and am now European champion, but I have a background in kickboxing and chess.
‘I’m one of those fighters that feel comfortable in both disciplines.’
Although Julianna accepts the humble sport is currently quite niche, she insists it will grow and find an untapped demographic.
She explained: ‘It’s a growing sport and the demographic is changing all the time, at the beginning it was mostly seen as a funny and weird sport.
‘Now it’s more serious. After all who is going to be crazy enough to get in the ring if you only do chess and vice versa just boxing?’
And the current undefeated European heavyweight isn’t resting on her laurels and actively wants people to challenge her.
She said: ‘I hope more women will get involved as female fights have a beautiful technicality to them.
‘It’s the No.1 sport for thinking and martial arts.’
A recent women’s bout was streamed online by over 300,000 people
Gavin Paterson, 41, (right) is one of the leading figures in UK chessboxing
Back in blighty, Brit’s are also getting involved in the hype.
Gavin Paterson, 41, is one of the principal organisers of Chessboxing Nation – a London based group that arranges meets and competitions in the UK.
With a chess boxing record of three bouts and three losses, it’s perhaps no wonder he’s decided to try his hand behind the desk.
Like many devotees of the sport, Gavin stumbled across chessboxing and initially thought it looked ‘mental’.
He said: ‘I was working for a charity in 2013 and we did a chessboxing fundraiser – I’ve been hooked since then really.
‘It does look mental but I like odd things and the dichotomy appeals to me, they look alien from each other but chess and boxing are so related.’
Now at the helm of a group with around 50 active members, Gavin says he’s determined to grow the reputation of the beautiful game.
He said: ‘Chessboxing is a small global community, there are probably about 50 active members in London.
‘The way we’re progressing as a sport we’re trying to get bums on seats in the same way that boxing does.
‘And like boxing we take safety very seriously, fights are stopped if they’re unsafe.
‘For example, I have seen someone so discombobulated they moved the wrong chess piece after a round of boxing.
‘They lost the game of chess that round and the fighting didn’t start up again.’
A headache and being made to put the chess pieces back in their box – the ultimate checkmate.