When 40-year-old Günther Spiegel is not working as art director at Vogue, he’s probably training. Mostly, he’s swimming laps at the London Fields Lido every weekday from 8 to 9 AM, except Thursday which is his running day. Or he’s kickboxing, or sparring at the London Gay Boxing Club. Typical Taurean, Günther is generally quite easy-going until you throw him in the ring and the welterweight unleashes his inner bull. I caught up with Günther, fresh off his first boxing tournament, and discovered how to use my gluteus maximus to throw a punch and how putting my face in a guy’s armpit might just save my life.
Zac: Are you still feeling pumped-up from your fight last Saturday?Günther: It’s like being on drugs. You can’t stop talking! All the adrenaline’s rushing through your body. You can’t sleep, even though you’re totally exhausted physically. It takes a couple of days to go down, and then when it goes down, you’re really down. Your body needs to recover.
What do you do to get into the zone before a fight?I train a lot. Doing the combinations, talking to myself. Even sometimes on the dance floor. It sounds silly, but boxing is a little bit like dancing. I also like to imagine the fight… Going up the stairs, going into the ring, and thinking, ‘That’s my space’.
Did you win on Saturday night?There was no official winner, since it was, for both of us, our first fight. But…
I get you…Actually, for the last round I was told to take it down a notch. I like gentleman boxing. There’s no need for anyone to get their face smashed in.
So that was your first boxing tournament?Yes, but I also do kickboxing.
Gay kickboxing?No, that group’s straight. In the kickboxing club, everyone is very friendly and very open-minded, but I was the only openly-gay male there. I wondered if I was the only one in London. So I went on the internet and found this gay boxing club in London, and went along just to see what it was like. Right after I watched the first tournament, I went to the trainer and said I wanted to be involved.
What does training involve?We spend a lot of time sparring. You spar with people in different weight classes, so you can end up sparring with people that are much bigger than you, and taller too. Like, if I was to fight someone like you —
— You would win.But you would have the advantage because you’re taller and have much longer arms. So I would try to get behind your punch and get as close as possible. I would literally get my head under your arm pit and give you loads of body shots and upper cuts, because you can’t hit me back by punching downwards.
But I could knee you.That’s not allowed. That’s Thai boxing.
How long have you been training?I did two or three years back in Germany, then after a two-year break, I started two-and-half years ago here in London.
Why did you wait until now for your first proper fight?The kickboxing group doesn’t have tournaments. It’s called ‘white collar boxing’, for people who don’t box professionally. Also, I wasn’t brave enough for a long time.
What were you afraid of?It does hurt, you know. It can hurt quite a bit. Even if you’ve become someone’s punching bag — you have to be prepared to go all the way in a tournament.
Have you had any bad injuries?Yeah, my nose isn’t straight anymore. You get black eyes — we call them blaues auge in German. I used to be a gymnast when I was a teenager, and I think I had the same amount of injuries from gymnastics as I’ve had from boxing. You know, you fall.
Is it anything like getting into a fight spontaneously with someone on the street?No! I’ve never had a street fight.
You’ve never been punched in a bar?No.
Do you think boxing would be as fun if it wasn’t so scary?It’s part of the excitement. Fighting is actually a very natural thing, people just do it in different ways. In business and some office situations, people fight really hard. But for me, boxing is a bit like playing and dancing. It’s not all about hurting people. It’s hard to describe how it feels in the moment.
Like trying to explain how skydiving feels?Yeah, something like that. It’s weird. You almost feel like you’re fighting for your life. You can feel the animal inside of you, and all these animal instincts spill out.
What kind of animal are you?I’m a bit foxy. My trainer says that there are three kinds of boxers… There’s The King, who stands in the middle and dominates. There’s The Clown, who does funny things and irritates people —
— What’s The Clown like?They do funny moves, unexpected things, like a joyful boxer. And then there’s The Fox, who’ll take two punches or three, and it looks like he’s losing, but actually he’s taken them deliberately, waiting for you to make a mistake.
How long does each round last?We go three rounds, for two minutes each. It’s very quick, but those two minutes can feel incredibly long. Imagine a big dog chasing you through London Fields for two minutes.
What’s the secret to a good punch?You need to get your body weight behind each punch. You have to use your legs — this [pats his butt] is your biggest muscle.
So your butt is your secret weapon!It is the biggest muscle in your body.
Do you get sore?By the end of training, I need to use two hands to get my coat off the hook, because I can’t lift my hands higher than my chest. The hardest thing is taking off your shirt afterwards.
Have you ever hooked up with another boxer?No.
It’s not a turn-on for you?No. I guess people must assume that we meet, we fight, then afterwards it’s a big orgy. We go for a pint afterwards and chat about boxing. It’s quite boring unless you’re really into boxing.
Does it ever get awkward in the locker room?I’ve been doing sport all my life, and quite often I’ve been faced with showering or getting dressed with a group of very good looking athletic men, but it all feels neutral.
Do you think your boxing talents could come in handy if, god forbid, you were ever a target for gay bashers?I’ve thought about this often… I’m actually quite a scared person, generally. If there was trouble, I was always far away. I wanted to do something that was the opposite of what I’d normally do. I do believe that boxers, gay or straight, try to prove themselves. That’s the basis of sport.
What are you trying to prove?I want people to know that gay men can box. I remember once, when I left the ring, some random straight bloke came up to me, shook my hand and said, ‘Well done gay man’. I took that as a compliment.