TEN years ago, unbeaten bantamweights Paul Butler and Ashley Sexton met at York Hall in what became quite the sliding doors moment in their respective careers.

After 10 rounds, Butler, 33-2 (15), defeated Sexton via decision and now, 28 fights later, boxes Jonas Sultan this Friday (April 22) for an Interim WBO bantamweight belt. Sexton, meanwhile, returns that same night to York Hall for his first fight on UK soil in six years, eager to launch phase two of an up-and-down, stop-start professional career.

“We’re mates now and see each other a lot,” Sexton, 34, told Boxing News. “Paul trains kids out of Wirral Boxing, and I train at Hoddesdon, so I see him at shows. I’ll be there with my juniors and he’ll be there with his.

“We probably didn’t need that fight at the time. It was one of those fights where I was more aggressive and landed more, but Butler landed the cleaner, nicer shots. We went in different directions after that. He went on to become a ‘world’ champion.”

Not long after losing his undefeated record against Butler, Sexton boxed Stephane Jamoye for the European title, only to find himself stopped inside eight rounds. He was then blighted by inactivity before drifting away from the sport altogether in 2016.

“I started seeing guys fall off, and being released from their contracts, and it scared me,” he said. “These were guys at good weights, with good backing, and yet they were being let go after just one or two defeats. I thought, If this boxing doesn’t go anywhere, apart from training people, what can I actually do? I took myself away.

“I’ve always been labouring on the railway and I thought that now was the time to get myself a career. I went to college, started doing courses, and then got my first full-time job on the books with a telecommunications company on the railway.

“I literally worked my way up from a labourer to site manager and now I supervise projects across Network Rail and London Overground and Underground.”

For Sexton, the decision to retrain was perhaps the best one he has ever made. It was also in many ways not even a decision. “I’ve got five kids,” he said. “I had to step back. You can’t box half-heartedly.

“Also, I had 97 amateur fights, and 20 pro fights, and needed to give my body a chance to recover. My body was falling to bits. You see guys who never have a rest and their body starts deteriorating. My body is in much better condition now and my brain, because I haven’t had all those years of sparring, is as good as new.

“I’ve got a foundation now and am always able to provide for my kids, whether boxing works out or not. I’m not in the sport for money anymore. I’m past that. It’s all about winning titles. I want the Commonwealth, the British, and then we’ll look at where we’re at. Now I’ve got that security, I’m enjoying boxing again. I’m not as stressed.”

Sexton returned to the ring last June, when outpointing José Aguilar over six rounds in Spain. Before that, though, he was asked far tougher questions in the gym. “I had a few dark days down the gym when I questioned myself,” he said. “In my first spar at Hoddesdon I sparred two amateurs over six-threes and they pretty much pinged me apart. I hardly landed a glove. I went back home and I was like, ‘Can I even do this?’. I was overweight, not fit, and not where I want to be. I thought, ‘Let me do it and see where I get to’.

“Now I can’t spar with those guys. I’m too much for them. I’m 34, yeah, but I’ve had six years out, so my body is still 28. I don’t have the damage other people have.”

Sexton’s next fight will be over 10 rounds and his opponent, South Africa’s Sabelo Ngebinyana, will be a considerable step up from his last. It’s the prospect of future fights, however, that really gets the Cheshunt man excited.

“I struggled so long to get a fight and now I’ve got them coming out my ears,” he said. “They’ve said that providing I win this next fight, the Commonwealth (title) on July 1st is a possibility. It was Prince Patel’s but he’s vacated apparently.

“I’d take the Patel fight every day of the week. You can’t really believe anything he says when he says he gets seven figures a fight. I might chuck him 25 grand just to fight me. It would be worth it.

“He’s trying to talk himself into a big fight, and you can’t blame him for that. I’ve got videos of me sparring him, though. It was my first spar back after a five-year break, and I had no timing, but it was still all one-way traffic. I’m thinking, ‘This guy just boxed two weeks ago and I’m still hammering him’. He’d be silly to take a fight against me at any stage in his career because I’d knock him out.”

Sexton, 17-2-2 (5), added: “There are other guys like Ijaz Ahmed and Quaise Khademi. Quaise is under the same promotional and management banner as me, so they’ll keep him away from me for as long as possible, but if Ijaz beats him in their third fight I could box Ijaz for the British title. That would be a great fight. Who would take a step back? It wouldn’t be me. I think I’m a level above him.

“The thing is, though, I’m not in a position to seriously call anyone out right now. They’ll just say, ‘What’s he done in recent years?’ I’m not relevant at the minute but I will be after this fight [on April 22], to a degree, and then when I win the Commonwealth title the rest of the division will have to take notice.”