Chessboxers play a round of chess during a chessboxing training in Paris.
Dripping with sweat, gasping for breath and desperately trying to refocus after fending off hooks and throwing uppercuts, Nikopol warily moves his bishop across the chessboard...
Once the literary creation of French artist Enki Bilal's illustrated books, chessboxing is now a reality, a mix of chess and boxing played out in flesh and, occasionally, blood across the world.
It combines the physical and the intellectual -- and is growing in popularity.
The sport, which makes its first fightnight appearance in the ring in France in November, has grown out of Nikopol's adventures in Bilal's 1992 book "Cold Equator", the final chapter in an epic trilogy in which the hero triumphs in a combat combining the strength of boxing and the intelligence of chess.
Today, there are 10 national federations and around 3,500 combatants, mainly in Germany, Britain and India and almost entirely men.
"It's the most complete sport," says Thomas Cazeneuve, a recruitment consultant who became France's first world champion in 2017.
"We work the body and the mind. It breaks the stereotypes, like that of the fighter who is a brute and that of the chess player who is a 'geek', not at all sporty, top of his class who will go on to be a computer expert."
"You have to be able to switch from boxing to chess while remaining lucid so that the level of chess does not go down," he explains.
"We are used to playing chess in a room without noise, with a bottle of water, a bite to eat.
A victory, usually by knockout in the ring or checkmate on the board, wins and ends the entire contest. It is very rare that the decision has to go to the judges.
"It is a duel, no one gives an inch," says French federation president Guillaume Salancon who likens chessboxing to bullfighting.
A sellout crowd turned up to watch as the competitors alternated brawn and brain, three-minute rounds of boxing giving way to mini-chess bouts across a maximum 11 rounds, the whole thing ending either with a knockout -- or a checkmate.
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