I WANTED to dislike Prince Patel. I wanted him to live up (or down) to the reputation that preceded him. I hoped to come away with a file full of controversial quotes, outrageous self-promotion and uncalled-for insults.

But something unexpected happened. A couple of hours in the Prince’s company left me actually liking a man who has upset so many members of the British boxing fraternity, from his fellow contenders to proven champions to ex-pros to journalists and to fans in their thousands.

Maybe it’s because our conversation was conducted without an audience. Maybe it’s because it was not done over social media, nor in front of a television camera. Or maybe it’s just because he’s older and wiser and, at 30, Patel realises the clock is ticking on his dream to become a ‘world’ champion; that he needs to build bridges rather than burn them; and that many people do not appreciate the histrionics of pro wrestling, from where Patel says he took his cues as a young pro.

“In wrestling, I always prefer the heels,” he says. “Look at [WWE champion] Roman Reigns – he’s brilliant as a heel. As a face [good guy], he was boring.

“I used to watch ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin disrespecting his boss live on TV; it brought in huge viewing figures. D-Generation X [a rebellious wrestling faction] were my heroes growing up. So [when I turned pro], I wanted to be the bad guy.

“The idea in pro boxing is to get people talking. It’s showbusiness. The things I said were just to spark a reaction; I wanted to have people talk about me. Let’s face it, as a flyweight/bantamweight, nobody would have cared otherwise.

“I thought I was doing a good thing. I thought it was obvious it was tongue in cheek. Muhammad Ali didn’t go home to his family and shout at them ‘I’m the Greatest!’.

“I’m just an ordinary guy. I do a lot of charity work. If there’s a way I can help somebody, I will. Charity has been ingrained in me by my mum.

“But people looked at that persona, thought that was the real me, and disliked it. It must have been an Oscar-worthy performance! But, yeah, it backfired.”

Patel turned pro in October 2015 following a largely successful amateur career, winning schoolboy Golden Gloves, two CYP tournaments (now the NABCs) and two Tri Nations, as well as twice reaching ABA finals, but claimed to dislike the unpaid code as he “wasn’t allowed to express myself”.

He wasted no time getting into character once he’d ditched the vest, with an interview following his pro debut garnering more attention than anything he’d done in the 53 amateur bouts that preceded it.

Talking with IFL TV’s Kugan Cassius, Patel presented himself with the swagger and sense of entitlement of someone who’d proved a whole lot more than just beat a winless journeyman in 90 seconds. He was prickly with Cassius, insulted then-English champion Charlie Edwards and his father, predicted greatness for himself, claimed to “like inflicting pain”, and made several crude references to his sexual prowess and body parts.

If it was a deliberate attention-seeking tactic, it worked. “Everyone wanted to sign me after that,” says Patel, who went with Frank Warren, expecting the combination of his bombast and Warren’s influence to be a perfect partnership.

Following Patel’s second win, he was invited on to Bunce’s Boxing Hour on BoxNation, a platform rarely afforded to novices. If anyone tuned in expecting the Prince’s behaviour to disappoint, well… he didn’t disappoint.

He launched an unprovoked verbal attack on fellow guest Barry Jones, claiming “you don’t want to be in fights like Barry where no one wants to watch you … no one remembers him as a great champion; no one goes ‘Barry Jones, let’s talk about he’s an incredible fighter’. He’s a forgotten champion.”

Jones, need it be pointed out, was already, as a former WBO title-holder, vastly more accomplished than Patel (and still is), and widely regarded as one of the nicest guys in British boxing. He held his tongue while the pouting Prince lasciviously flicked his and proclaimed himself “superhuman” and “the future of this industry”.

Eight years later, that future has yet to eventuate, and while Patel may have been right that villainous soundbites make for good social media numbers and wrestling storylines, they are less useful in a sport in which progress often depends on siding with the right people. He was given just three low-key fights in the next two years before his contract with Warren expired.

“I never had Warren’s number, so I called his office every day for six months straight and they always said ‘oh, you’ve just missed him’, and he never called me back,” says Patel. “He wasn’t keeping me active. Lesser guys than me – no disrespect to them – were getting opportunities while I was on the shelf.

“Even the Vijender [Singh] show in India [in July 2017, televised by BoxNation in what was the first major pro boxing event in the country]. it would have made perfect sense to take me, but they just said no.”

After leaving Warren later that year, Patel dropped off the British boxing map, but the Londoner traversed the globe as a self-managed boxer. The 24 bouts that followed over the next six years were contested in 10 countries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

“I got so depressed with boxing after leaving Warren, I went travelling with my missus at the time, just visiting different cities abroad,” he says. “I saw a [fight] poster in Budapest and thought ‘I could box on that’, so I called the promoter, got myself licensed, and boxed.

“It was the same in other countries. I just contacted promoters and said ‘give me a list of guys I can fight for this budget’. I just jumped on shows and started building the record up. Now I’m well known in those places; ask any boxing fan in West or East Africa or Eastern Europe and they know Prince Patel.”

If indeed Patel is known, most of his opponents were not, yet he brought back from his travels several caseloads of souvenirs in the form of no fewer than 20 belts. They included the utterly unknown (BBU Youth? No, me neither) the superfluous regional straps of the big four sanctioning bodies (WBO European, IBF African), the ‘world’ titles of minnow bodies (WBFed, UBO) and, somehow, despite Patel being a British citizen of Indian descent, the national championships of Hungary, Egypt and Tanzania.

Such a haul might make for good imagery, but the belts also provide an opportunity for self-deprecation – something nobody would previously have associated with Prince Patel. While he boasts on social media of being “buried in gold”, in person Patel admits the real worth of his collection. “I love that picture of Floyd Mayweather with all his belts laid out,” he says. “I could recreate that picture, but with a pile of shit!”

But there is one crown the Prince has worn which has genuine worth, and in winning it Patel claimed a real piece of history. In March 2021, by beating Tanzania’s Julias Thomas Kisaware in Ghana, he won a Commonwealth championship (at 115lbs), making him the first Indian to do so.

Prince Patel draped in the Indian flag

Regrettably, it was a result missed by Boxing News. It was an honest omission, with BN, blinded by all the bling Patel had amassed, assuming the Kisaware fight was for more of the same. Indeed, there were four pieces of fool’s gold up for grabs too, perhaps obscuring the famous rainbow belt, one of the few truly meaningful championships in the sport.

Missing what was, and remains, the high point of Patel’s career added to his belief he was being deliberately snubbed. “I used to buy Boxing News every week, but I stopped because they never wrote about me. I don’t get how certain boxers get write-ups, yet I’m British and winning recognised titles, and I don’t get even get a mention”.

This article will be the biggest traditional media exposure Patel has received since July 12, 2019. That was the night of his biggest fight, in front of a huge terrestrial TV audience on Channel 5, supporting Amir Khan in Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately for Patel, the spotlight he craved came when he suffered the first and so far only defeat in a 28-1-2 career; a unanimous decision to Venezuela’s Michell Banquez.

He offers none of the excuses you typically hear from more outspoken boxers after being beaten: “I didn’t really feel myself, but I’m not taking anything away from him – I lost to a better man.”

Patel will hope this BN exposure – and his repackaging as a more humble man – leads to a return to TV, especially as he is now back boxing in the UK, having scored a win in London in April and looking to get out again as soon as possible. Patel is still self-promoted, though in association with Mo Prior, but understands his ‘world’ title dream likely depends on big-name backing – and that he has a greater chance of securing this if he doesn’t upset the wrong people.

But he’s finding it hard to shed the ‘heel’ persona. A public apology to Barry Jones in 2021 did not placate the amiable ex-champ. In a video on YouTube channel Boominator TV, Patel admitted he “verbally assaulted him [Jones] for no reason” and said “I was stupid, I was immature, I was naïve as to how I thought boxing worked.… I’m sorry; I should never, ever be insulting people, let alone a ‘world’ champion… I’m sorry to him; I’m sorry if any of his family members watched that.… I wanna apologise to my mum as well, ’cause I wasn’t raised that way.”

Forgiveness has not been forthcoming. “It wasn’t personal; he just happened to be there. But attacking Barry kinda makes sense if I wanted to have people talk about me, as he’s such a likeable guy. But he achieved my dream of being a ‘world’ champion so, if anything, he laughed last, and still is laughing. We’ve exchanged a couple of inbox messages, but he hasn’t accepted my apology, really. Mud sticks, and I accept that.”

And, like mud, reputations can be just as hard to shake off. Controversy still follows Patel, and there will always be others ready to press his buttons, knowing his reaction will generate online attention.

The feuds with Charlie and Sunny Edwards have continued for years. There’s been a row with ex-pro turned YouTube host Tyan Booth. Even heavyweight Frazer Clarke has been wound up by this 118lbs man. And there’s a running beef with Isaac Lowe – and, by extension, the wider Fury family (Lowe is Tyson’s cousin), none of whom have ever been known to back down from a petty squabble.

“I was doing an interview with TV and Lowe commented on my Facebook, ‘your bum give in’,” says Patel. “I took a screenshot, put it on Twitter and said, ‘instead of trying to bully me, why don’t we box?’. They offered a figure, we offered the same, he went back on it. That was in March.”

Foul-mouthed videos and trash-talking tweets have gone back and forth since then, but any fight between the two would require careful negotiations about weight, with Lowe a featherweight who’s boxed as high as 139lbs and Patel feeling he’s best at super-fly.

“I’m confident I’d beat him, but boxing is a dangerous sport; you shouldn’t fight guys who are a lot bigger,” he says. “I’d box him at bantamweight with a rehydration clause or super-bantam with a rehydration clause and same-day weigh-in. He won’t agree, though.”

If they did fight, it would create the kind of social media buzz both thrive on, but given how BN typically frowns on grudge matches, it wouldn’t further a more wholesome item on Patel’s wishlist. “I’ve always wanted to be on the cover of Boxing News,” he says. “Will I be on the cover for this?”

I let him down gently. Starring on the front page, if ever it happens, would depend less on views and chatter than on the Prince delivering on promises made more than eight years ago.

“I’m only still in boxing to be a ‘world’ champion,” he says. “I hate boxing. The only depression I get is through boxing. I only feel rejected through boxing. I’ve sacrificed my whole childhood, the best years of my adult life, for that goal – I want that status of being the first Indian ‘world’ champion.”

Again, that would probably depend on Patel signing with a big promoter, and while he may no longer wish to play the heel, he reminds any would-be backers of the power of a showman.

“I can shift a lot of tickets,” he claims. “My videos get bare views. I don’t believe in fans and haters – they’re all supporters if they’re buying tickets.

“I’m back in the UK by popular demand, and a lot of Indians are getting behind me. You can’t have a country of 1.5billion people and not have a ‘world’ champion; it’s about who’s gonna get there first – and I hope to.”