THEY queued round the block in Tamworth to watch the regional round of the amateur boxing championships last weekend.
It sounds like it was an event, a gruelling two days of boxing with the dreamers of tomorrow fighting for their future. It is hard to tell if any of the boxers will be winning Olympic medals in 2028 or topping bills at sold-out venues in 10 years, but history tells us that some will. Actually, history tells us that a lot will.
On my way to Dublin earlier this week, I found an extraordinary amateur day of boxing in Liverpool from 2014. It took some time to actually take the full card in, to process all the names. At a time of genuine, invented, harsh and fake boxing news, the raw statistics from that day make for joyful reading. It was the semi-finals of the domestic championships; the quarters had been the day before, the finals were the next day.
Chantelle Cameron was on the bill, two fights in two nights slotted in neatly between international events in Poland and Romania. She was not an isolated talent, just one of the elite. It is hard to remember Cameron from that time, that kid, after watching her in Dublin this week, poised, confident, an unbeaten world champion. And wealthy.
A week earlier I had been reminded of something similar from 2013 when Big Joe Joyce had back-to-back fights at York Hall in the WSB. That crazy tournament had hidden gems on every night it ran. There were lost wars each night I ever watched from ringside. There are some quality boxers who left a bit of their future in those assorted WSB rings. It was great, but far too hard.
Joyce beat Filip Hrgovic over five rounds and then 22 days later, he lost to Oleksandr Usyk over the same distance. On the same night, Vasyl Lomachenko beat Sam Maxwell. A tenner went a long, long way a decade ago.
Both Joyce and Maxwell were on the bill that night In Liverpool at the Echo when Cameron fought on the Saturday. It was back in 2014, but it feels so close, the names so familiar and relevant. Those serious amateur fights really matter; it is about form, it is grade and that can only be gained one way: in the ring, in hard fights. Pedigree is not for sale in the boxing marketplace.
I missed the day, but I remember it. On the night, I was on BoxNation duty, up all night with Barry Jones doing Keith Thurman and Julio Diaz. There was little chance of doing both gigs and that is a pity; the day and night in Liverpool was extreme.
Here is the list of names who fought at the Echo on that April day: Joyce, Maxwell, Cameron, Tasha Jonas, Sandy Ryan, Karriss Artingstall, Lisa Whiteside, Stacey Copeland, Pat McCormack, Joshua Buatsi, Lyndon Arthur, Frazer Clarke, Jack Bateson, Qais Ashfaq, Josh Kelly, Charlie Edwards, Anthony Fowler, Ted Cheeseman, Ekow Essuman, Troy Williamson and about a dozen others.
The semi-finals took place on the Saturday, the finals were the next day. Many of the boxers, including Joyce fought three times in three days. Joyce beat Clarke in the final, Buatsi beat Arthur and Maxwell beat Kelly in other finals. I’m assuming there was a three-day ticket, probably 20 quid; arguably one of the best value tickets ever. Hey, it might have been less.
On the Saturday in Liverpool, I think there were 28 boxers who would either go to the Olympics, win a world title and fight for the British, European and Commonwealth belts. There were 29 fights and that means there was close to a big name in each of the bouts. That is startling.
Cameron and the other GB boxers in action over that weekend back in 2014 would have fought as many as 20 times that year. The domestic fights were and remain a tiny part of the boxing life of a GB regular; Cameron was in the World and European championships that year and fought 16 times in total. That is the documented number, but it was probably more.
Very few of the boxers from that Saturday just vanished. In addition to the well-known names, the men and women who made it big and are still making it, there were a lot of contenders; Blane Hyland, Conor Loftus, Valerian Spicer, Nick Webb, Warren Baister, James Branch Jnr, Paige Murney, Alfie Price and Leon Woodstock.
Edwards beat Hyland in the semi-final, then beat Bateson in the final; four years later he was the WBC flyweight champion.
Joyce lost a controversial decision for an Olympic gold just two years later at the Rio games, now known as the Game of Shames.
Meanwhile, Cameron, Ryan and Jonas must have been in close to 15 major fights as professionals. They could meet each other in the next year or so. Kelly and McCormack one night in 2025? They would all be fights that were talked about as part of the day back in 2014, a day when about fifty young dreamers fought their hearts out for no money, just pride.
The best of Artingstall, Clarke, Buatsi, McCormack and Kelly – all Olympians – is yet to come. On that Saturday, they were fighting for their very future, just five names on a single printed bout sheet; never throw those sheets away.
That is why we go to amateur boxing events. It was only a couple of years ago that a tenner would have delivered Delicious Orie and Adam Azim at Bar Sport in Cannock. Enjoying a random Saturday or Sunday with 32 fights is one of boxing’s true delights.