The white collar brawlers had their final showdown on Friday. Nate won, in case you were interested in the two tech guys who put their geekiness on parodic center stage. Kai Hasson and Nate Houghteling (a former SFBG intern, heyyy!) quit their startup jobs to start producing a web series a few months ago: White Collar Brawler, which was about training to beat the crap out of each other in the boxing ring. Which they did -- kind of, no broken noses or nothing -- last week at Berkeley's WestWind karate school in front of a packed crowd.
My god, the footwork! Granted, I'm no “boxing expert,” but their jabs – well look, the two only started training three months ago, it's unkind to pass judgements on their future prize fighting careers. But they looked like they could be great tech workers!
Hasson and Houghteling's relative gangliness wouldn't have been so front and center had the audience not just watched five bouts of more seasoned boxers – an undercard of mostly younger cats that train in clubs around the greater Bay Area. It was actually pretty funny to compare also the different demographics present in the gym audience. Yuppies attired in accordance with the event's “dress to impress” mandate (think bow ties and flapper dresses) mingled with families who had come to support their man or woman in the opening bouts.
Definitely makes you consider the opposition of office and boxing culture, which Hasson and Houghteling's series neatly illustrates with their segueway between the two. A WCB episode in November saw employees from Zynga, Twitter, and other Bay web giants strap on the gloves themselves to hash out the most knockout 'net company, to haphazard results. “There's something really refreshing about it – the fact you can use your hands to punch people in the face,” said Hasson as his coach Angelo Merino taped those hands in his locker room-green room prior to his bout. A few feet away, the television crew messed with laptops and levels in preparation of their role for the evening.
Merino, who has been the head coach at University of San Francisco for 20 years and a consultant for his home country the Philippines' national team, barely paused making loops with the athletic tape around Hasson's hand to tell me the biggest difference between the Houghteling-Hasson showdown. From his perspective. It lay in a good night's rest.
“Normally before a big match I won't sleep for nights, I'll be so worried,” he said. Merino, a veteran of 61 bouts in the ring himself, slept soundly last week. His comfort probably speaks to the fact that, even though the cameras were on and the match would be watched by everyone Hasson and Houghteling know, in a way they're less bound up to the outcome than many of the “real” boxers also fighting that night. After all, by the end of the day they're still white collar, even if they are technically speaking, brawlers now too.
But it wasn't Gerald Rustia's debut in the ring and by all indicators it was far from his last time there. Rustia, a tall, muscled man with a shaved head, trains as a light heavyweight at Kennel Boxing in San Leandro. He had the night's sole knockout that took Blood Bath Boxing's Daizon Gilkerson down in the third round. Rustia had seen Hasson and Houghteling training in his gym (his pre-bout prediction was Sasson for the win, btw), had caught perhaps one of their webisodes on the White Collar Brawler website, and was perfectly content to treat the bout as one between fellow – if beginning – boxers. “Kai's the smarter one in the ring. He's taller, and he's going to be able to use his reach in the ring,” he told me, still beaming from his own good-looking use of reach.
It was a little hard to see the parity from the stands, though. Certainly the punches weren't landing quite as hard around middleweight Houghteling and Hasson's headgear and their footwork – well it was pretty fancy footwork. Ah. And the two's entrance into the ring in matching satin robes, Hasson's in blue and Houghteling's red, coupled with the accompanying exponentially louder crowd reaction underlined the irony that their match was the least technically adept of the evening. When the bell rang to signal the end of their final round, what looked like the standard boxing move of using one's opponent for support in the worn-down end of the fight melted into a loving hug between the two men, easily the only instance of such tenderness between the evening's competitors. “You just gotta approach it as a joyous occasion,” Houghteling had confided in me at the night's outset.
But maybe Merino and company will make real boxers of them yet. Both ex-techies told me it's not unthinkable that White Collar Brawler will go into a second season – Hasson all but confirmed it when he yelped “I want a rematch” into two mics (one apparently wasn't enough to capture the moment) after Houghteling's name was announced as the winner.
Or maybe they'll move onto some other, equally transmorphic cultural experiment. “We just wanna keep going, we just wanna tell new stories on the web,” said Hasson, still mid-hand tape – proving that those who thrill from the ring need not be mutually exclusive from those jonesing for a roundhouse page view count.