Steeped in tradition, OUABC was founded in 1881. Only Battersea ABC, London (1879) is older. The famous Belsize ABC (The Gentlemen’s Club) – which Oxford graduates joined when they were employed in the City of London – was founded in 1867, but it no longer boxes. We are therefore the oldest student-run boxing club in Britain.
Several irregularly held matches between Oxford and Cambridge in the 1890s preceded the first Varsity Match. The inaugural Varsity Boxing Match was held in the Corn Exchange, in Cambridge, on the 10th of March 1897. There were only four weight-classes: feather, light, middle and heavy. In 1897 the universities’ fencing clubs competed alongside the boxing club. Each university won two bouts but Oxford won the fencing to take the match by four events to three.
Oxford won all the matches until 1902 when Cambridge turned the tables with a vengeance, winning all the boxing events including a bantamweight, which had just been added. It was not until 1906 that Oxford won again.
In 1912, the welterweight was added to the Varsity Match, thus, making six bouts, with three fencing events. This year was the last in which the fencing bouts were concurrent with the boxing bouts. Up to this time, Oxford had won the combined matches eight times and Cambridge five, with 3 drawn matches between them.
A light heavyweight was included in 1914, thus, bringing the total number of bouts in the match to seven. The Varsity Boxing Match then continued to be an annual event that was organized at each university in alternate years, except for the war years.
The 1937 Varsity Match took place at the Stadium Club, London – the first and last time the match was held outside either Oxford or Cambridge. Following the 1937 match, a full ‘Blue’ was first awarded for boxing at Oxford. This recognition was only given to Cambridge’s boxers twelve years later. OUABC is one of only fourteen full 'Blue' sports clubs in the university.
Three Oxford vs. Cambridge matches were held during the Second World War in 1943-45, and although these are not recognized as Varsity matches, they did mark a new era for Oxford boxing with the arrival in 1943 of a new coach – Alf Gallie. Alf was a Welsh amateur champion and the coach of the British Olympic team to Helsinki in 1952. He devoted the next 45 years of his life to the club until he passed away in 1985.
In 1951, a light welterweight bout and a light middleweight bout were added, so that the match consisted of nine bouts. In 1980, due to the increased size of modern undergraduates, both Oxford and Cambridge experienced difficulty in finding bantamweights. That contest was, therefore, replaced with a second middleweight bout. The only other change to the weights of the Varsity Match was the removal of the ‘catch weight’ element of the heavyweight division. Had this limit existed during the 1920s, it would have prevented one of the most spectacular feats of Varsity Match history.
In 1923, after beating S.F. Meikle at light heavyweight, the American Rhodes Scholar and 1920 Olympic light heavyweight champion, Eddie Eagan, remained in the ring and waited for his next victim, the heavyweight D.A.D. Simpson.
On 22 January 1969, the OUABC committee was forced to disband the club within a few weeks of the Varsity Boxing Match because of declining student interest in boxing and the club’s poor financial position. However, one of the boxers, the charismatic Robert Nairac, refused to allow OUABC to die. Along with the help of Julian Malins, he formed a team from thin air by force of personality, knocking on the doors of students and asking them to box. They narrowly lost to Cambridge that year, but the club was saved.
OUABC has performed well in the Varsity Match in recent years and have had a recent run of sixteen consecutive wins over Cambridge. This is the longest winning run in the Varsity record of any Oxford sports club. This run was ended only very recently in 2002. Henry Dean, the coach who presided over this remarkable run, retired from coaching in the 2003/2004 season.
The 2003/2004 season was witness to a new chapter in OUABC’s history: the birth of women’s boxing in OUABC with Samantha Godwin and Jenifer Schneeweiss being the first female members of OUABC in 123 years. Within an academic year, OUABC women became competitive and their first competitive match was fought in Dundee, Scotland. OUABC’s representative in that match went on to win the inaugural Varsity Match between the women of OUABC and CUABC in the 2004/2005 season; Kaleen Love also managed the distinction of earning the first ever Extraordinary full ‘Blue’ for all women in boxing. Women's boxing is now a full Blue sport and enjoys an annual Varsity fixture against Cambridge.
As of 2019, the total running match tally is a draw at 54-54, with 4 draws. The 2020 Varsity Match will be the 113th Men's Varsity and the 4th Women's Varsity. It will be held in Oxford.