Ardon England has just found out that he's the first openly gay corporate boxer in New Zealand.

England is a well-known Auckland dancer who recently took up boxing. Just before the lockdown, England launched Pride Box in Whanganui, offering boxing classes with a focus on self-defence for all sectors of society.

"It's about making spaces where everyone feels comfortable," says England. "I started the classes and they just went off like crazy."

The classes were a response to violent attacks after the Auckland and Wellington Pride marches. Ironically though, it was the inclusive nature of these classes that attracted some criticism.

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"That just seems crazy to me that it has taken that long but obviously there are still certain spaces like gyms ... the fact that women have to have their own gym, the fact that gay people tell me that they haven't stepped inside a gym for 10 years.

"That highlights the problem right there. There's that toxic masculine behaviour going on in those places that are making it uncomfortable for our community, for women, for children and men themselves."

It was while making a pilot for a reality TV series in Auckland that England decided to have a go at corporate boxing. When the night of the fight came along, his bout was the main card.

"I thought 'you know what? I need to do this not only for myself but for the rest of the gay community to prove that just because I wear heels sometimes doesn't mean that I'm not a man'."

Throwing himself into the challenge, England entered the arena accompanied by a Beyonce track and wearing eight-inch heels.

"I really went the whole way, there was no pussyfooting around!" he said.

"Half the crowd booed me and half the crowd cheered me on. That just gave me more motivation and just solidified why I was doing what I was doing, even though it was so frightening. It was one of the most scary and physically challenging things I've ever done in my life."

Although he lost the bout by a narrow margin, England says discovering boxing has been a life-changing experience and he was able to pick up the skills very quickly.

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"I just found a love for it and I think that came through from my passion for dance - it's rhythm, it's timing, it's all of those things, footwork."

And boxing has its uses outside the ring as well.

"If someone attacks me in the street, without even punching I can protect myself," he said. "I can protect my body, I can protect my head, my arms."

As if boxing, dancing and self-defence classes aren't enough, England is also a mental health advocate, working to further educate people in communities around New Zealand, and support those who are struggling physically or mentally.

"I did my mental health training. It's called Tall Trees or Rākau Roroa and it offers people with lived experience to come and do mental health training to be able to give back."

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