A little known boxing organisation which stages amateur bouts across Britain has become the biggest ever fundraising partner for Cancer Research UK – raising a staggering £20 million.
Ultra Events was started by former fitness trainer Jon Leonard, 38, at a gym in Derby after he hit on the idea of staging so-called ‘white-collar’ boxing matches.
His aim was to ‘raise a few quid for charity’ while giving complete novices the chance to experience what boxing ‘is really like’ first hand.
In 2013, four years after Leonard started the organisation, he hit on the idea of partnering with Cancer Research UK.
From that point on anyone looking to test their mettle in the ring was required to raise at least £50 for the charity.
Of course, many of those taking part had a personal reason for stepping into the ring – some had lost relatives to the disease while others were cancer survivors.
Since its inception, almost 60,000 people have taken part in events organised by Ultra Events, which has now added mixed martial arts, ballroom dancing, comedy, darts and even Himalayan treks to its portfolio.
Leonard is keen to give people a chance to step out of their comfort zone and try something ‘completely different’.
In return, as long as they sell tickets for the show and raise funds for Cancer Research UK, he offers them eight weeks of intensive training for their event free of charge.
The statistics are impressive – one of the organisation’s Ultra White Collar Boxing shows staged in London in May this year raised £76,368 in a single night.
To date is UWCB’s biggest fund-raising show so far but with upwards of 400 boxing events being staged this year Leonard is already focusing on hitting the £25 million target for Cancer Research UK.
Last year they staged more than 400 boxing across Britain in locations from Exeter to Inverness.
“Reaching £20million makes me realise that partnering with Cancer Research UK was probably the best day’s work I’ve ever done.
“We were staging shows and raising money for various charities but once we teamed up with Cancer Research UK it gave us all a real focus, a real direction.
“Cancer is a brutal disease and it touches so many lives. The idea first hit me while I was standing on the stage to help warm up the runners at a “Race for Life” in my hometown of Derby.
“A cancer surgeon came on and he asked all the women taking part to shake hands with the person to the left and right of them then said statistically, one in three of you will get cancer.
“That is a figure which has now risen to one in two people.
“It was back then that I made the decision that I had to play my part in fighting this terrible disease.”
But equally important to Leonard is the platform his events can provide for people who are struggling with mental health, weight and fitness issues.
He quotes the example of Karl Jones a 32-year-old from Darlington who attempted to take his own life.
Inspired by world champion boxer Tyson Fury’s fightback from depression Jones signed up to take part in an Ultra White Collar Boxing event which he says gave him a ‘new direction in life.’
Fury got to hear about his story and he was so impressed he sent Mr Jones a personal video wishing him luck in his fight and praising him for being brave enough to talk openly about his mental health.
“Stories like Karl’s are what keep me going, what inspires me and the team at Ultra.
“Here was a young man who was clearly struggling with life. He was brave enough to talk about his mental health issues and take part in one of our events.
“To me, people like Karl are real heroes and it never ceases to amaze me that people achieve so much with us in such a short time.
“I’ve been left rolling around on the floor with laughter at our comedy events and witnessed people dance with real grace and supreme skill at our ballroom event after just eight weeks of training.
“I think many of us unhappily sit in our comfort zone these days – all I want to do is give everyone an opportunity to challenge themselves and at the same time raise a few quid for such an important charity.”
Simon Ledsham, Director of Communities at Cancer Research UK, said:
“The success of Ultra Events and the amount of money raised is phenomenal.
“We are so grateful to the organisers behind each event, every person that signs up to take part and the generosity of their friends and family who sponsor them. Whether it be boxing, darts or comedy, together they are helping to fund our pioneering research into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
“There’s been amazing progress in the past few decades and more people are now surviving cancer than ever before.
“Back in the 1970s, just 1 in 4 people with cancer survived for 10 years or more.
“Thanks to research funded by supporters like Ultra Events, today 2 in 4 people survive – and our ambition is to accelerate progress so that within the next 20 years, this figure will reach 3 in 4.
“With the support of Ultra Events, we can make this a reality and support thousands of scientists, doctors and nurses across the UK.”