Going the distance

Aonghus Og McAnally’s role in Fight Night meant more than mere acting – he had to train as hard as a professional boxer to get himself fighting fit for the part. Here, he describes the brutal process

It was precisely what I had been dreading. “If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it as a boxer.” I visibly crumbled in my chair. I would later learn that the sickening feeling Gavin Kostick’s words had just inflicted on me was, ironically, identical to taking a kidney shot in a heavy sparring session. But on that June morning, all I knew was that he had his heart set on the one sport that I had refused point blank to consider for this project.

My reason for avoiding boxing, apart from the fact that I’d never so much as swung a dig in the playground before, was that I knew it couldn’t be faked. If I was to take it on, it would mean a massive amount of work, and this on top of having to produce the show, devise and rehearse another show for the Fringe, and cope with a two-week old baby at home. But Gavin was the boss, and since his dad had been a fighter, I was about to embrace my inner Rocky.

The regime for Fight Night was brutal. It was a three-month training camp, about double what most pro-boxers would do to prep for a fight. Training initially with former Irish champ Oisín “Gael Force” Fagan, I then got the bulk of my coaching from Cathal Redmond at Portmarnock ABC. It was relentless. Six days a week; two one-on-one sessions, two standard boxing classes, and two skipping/strength and conditioning sessions myself at home. These solo sessions usually took place after midnight, when I’d finally gotten my newborn daughter off to sleep, as I’d push the kitchen table back and work out until the early hours.

Then there was the diet. I got through two dozen eggs a week, with grilled chicken and fish every day. And broccoli. Lots of broccoli. Obviously, sweets and booze were out. Occasionally I’d go wild and have a glass and a half of wine, but I learned pretty quickly that it just wasn’t worth it– getting punched in the head while hungover is about as much fun as it sounds.

Slowly, it started to come together. My hands got faster, my technique sharper, and my footwork more fluid. In total, I cut about 20 lbs of body fat, and put on nearly half a stone of lean muscle. I got pretty fit, and I needed to – the show itself is so punishing that I lose 3 pounds during every performance. It’s effectively an hour-long boxing work out with a monologue woven through it.

It was tough, but it’s been worth it. The training has brought an honesty and authenticity to the show that people respond to. Audiences are smart, they can see how much you’ve invested in the play, literally putting your body on the line, and it makes them more willing to invest in the story. Ultimately, that’s what it comes down to for me – how do we best tell people this story? And if that means taking a few punches to the head, then that’s a price I’m happy to pay.

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