EVEN as a longstanding British and Commonwealth champion, life’s been very, very hard. You’re on the breadline. Even with two successful defences, I still live in rented accommodation, here in Rhiwfawr [a hamlet of just 40 houses in the Swansea valley]. It’s very barren, very rural.

It’s so frustrating. I’ve always been an honest fighter. I turn up in shape, give of my best and I’ve been involved in several of the most exciting fights in the division over the past decade but I’m stuck out in the valleys, 20 miles from Swansea. No one talks about me, no one writes about me.

Perhaps I’m to blame cos I’m not vocal enough on Twitter and don’t be an asshole at press conferences. I’ve always respected opponents. My pride means more than money.

Around here, they’re all old miners, survivors, very humble people and I’ve never been a material person myself. Fashion-wise, I don’t care what I look like. As a kid, my parents did everything they could for us but, if the money weren’t there, we just didn’t have it. I was always Hi-Tech never Adidas! My kids and my wife are my only priority now.

Because of my commitment to the boxing [training] from such a young age, I never had much of a childhood. I didn’t have many friends, missed out on invites to parties and, later, missed out on drinking sessions and chasing girls. Besides, as a kid I was a real ‘header’ [head case], a bit of a boy. At 12 and 13, I was burning fires, setting bins alight, robbing caravans.

It’s been a real struggle but, when I reflect, 20 years on, boxing’s done me no harm. I’d not really change anything bar the cuts. Let’s just say, today I’m only a good-looking man when it’s dark!

But boxing’s guided me, made me behave. In addition to teaching me how to take care of myself physically when required, boxing has taught me values. Respect. Respect for others but also respect has been reciprocated back to me because of my achievements. That’s why, when I find out people are bad mouthing me, I just rise above it, refuse to bite. I’ve grown up.

I’ve always felt the runt of the litter, the outcast of my own family. Sadly, I’ve not spoken to my parents for a couple of years. But I’m a free ranger. As long as my wife and kids are happy. When I’m done, I’d like fans to remember me as someone who never gives up, not just in boxing but in life…’

Back in the amateurs, I boxed at two World championships and two Commonwealth Games. I won three senior Welsh ABA titles and a Four Nations gold medal. So when I joined the pros in 2012, others might have expected I’d win a British title but, truthfully, my goal was just to fight. I never had any ambition whatsoever to be a champion so I think I’ve done alright.

I started out with 16 straight wins, coached by my uncle, Ronnie Morris. I won Prizefighter and the WBC International [super-lightweight] title but suddenly became jinxed. There were those close decisions to Tyrone Nurse [a draw and a split points loss in 2015 British super-lightweight title spats]. The loss to Nurse was definitely my hardest, not physically but from a mental point.’

Twelve months before I finally became champion, I came very close to quitting. I was getting cut, forced to fight short notice to save shows. After being dropped in round one, I’d boxed Phil Sutcliffe’s head off for the next nine rounds but got robbed blind over in Belfast. I lost on cuts to Akeem Ennis Brown in his hometown of Gloucester [round 5, May 2018], then, next fight, my brows gave out again versus Darragh Foley [TD3, cuts, August 2018]. Afterwards, I phoned the wife to tell her I was packing up. I just didn’t want to do it, no more.

But then a very close mate took his own life which hit home hard. Too much heartache left behind. That forced me to re-think, open up to those who really cared. Thankfully, the wife [Helen] persuaded me to dig in, push on for one more year. She’s brilliant, allows me to pursue my dream while she tends to the house and kids. [Manager] Mo Prior and Richie Garner also helped me financially with a bit of sponsorship. I literally can’t do anything else other than fight so had to keep going with my boxing.

Joining Gary [Lockett, his current trainer-adviser] after the loss to Nurse was also huge. I needed a change and he instilled my needed self-belief. I’m naturally pessimistic but Gary gets all negative thoughts out of my head. He’s stopped me brawling all the time. I’ve a decent dig but needed to use my smarts to realise my full potential.

Gaz somehow kept me motivated and just six months after Foley, out of the blue, I finally got an unexpected third British title shot against Johnny Garton at the Royal Albert Hall [in March 2019]. If I’d lost, I’d definitely have hung ‘em up, but that night I boxed out of my skin. I was always one step ahead of Johnny. That was my ‘coming out’ fight. It was also my hardest. I was pissing blood afterwards. Then, shortly after, another close mate took his life. It f**ks with your head, man.

Unfortunately, winning the title didn’t bring the credit and benefits, I’d anticipated. Fighting on the road doesn’t bother me but, as champion, you expect some advantages. Defending my British title in Belfast against Paddy Gallagher, I was made to enter the ring first and he got announced second; against all the sports traditions.

Walking towards the ring, Paddy’s fans would put their hands out for a shake then pull it back and making vulgar gestures, name calling. After the fight, more of the same.

But, that night, I delivered the blueprint on how to beat Gallagher. My cuts were definitely ‘heads’. When you’ve been cut as many times as me, you just know. Though I lost the round when I was dropped [body shot, round six], it was only 10-9. I half expected to get robbed but, luckily, justice was served. [Jenko was ahead 86-85 on all cards when cuts rendered the Welshman unable to continue after nine rounds].

Chris Jenkins
James Chance/Getty Images

The old eyes again gave out in my second defence, also on the road. [Dumped by Middleton’s Liam Taylor in round two, Jenkins’ face resembled a ketchup commercial following repeated head banging. He was just four seconds from conceding his belt on a technical decision when referee Steve Gray curtailed his thrilling second defence late in round four]. The cuts were all heads and, besides, it’s not a four-round fight. It’s 12 rounds. Look, I broke my nose four weeks out and couldn’t spar because of the pain. I also had a tooth out but, proper champion. I battled through it. The knockdown, from a punch round the back of the head, was more a balance thing but it woke me up and I thought: ‘OK, let’s go to war.’ Liam was knackered by the third and fourth and I’m very confident I’d have stopped him late on, had it continued.

But after earning well from three title fights in 2019, I’ve not fought since. I was five weeks into my camp for a rematch with Johnny Garton and had shelled out a lot of money in expenses when the April [2020] date got pulled.

Lockdown has been mental. My employers shut down shop. For a while, there was no money coming in. Worrying times. Lately, I’ve been working with my sponsor Sammy from S.P Motor Recovery at his garage, some days cleaning duties, others washing cars. It’s been a lifeline. I’m a self-employed jack of all trades. I also clean windows, do a bit of painting anything, to earn a pound for my family. A champion’s life is very glamorous!

Spending some family time with my kids, I’ve come to fully appreciate how hard it is for my woman who’s with them on her own when I’m away because my kids [nine year old twins Jacob and Jaxson and three year old Jenson] are nuts… I mean really nuts! But they’re healthy and that’s all I care about. Provided they’re bathed and fed, the house is looking nice, happy days.

Thankfully, I managed to maintain general fitness through Covid. It’s so picturesque around here, it inspires you to run up the mountains. Plus we’ve a big garden. I attach my punch bag to the kid’s swing and I do ‘ab’ work and circuits there.

Unfortunately, the best contenders in the division are signed to a different camp. The politics haven’t been kind to me. Conor Benn was my mandatory and I’d have loved that fight. Big money. Finally, fighting someone better known than me. It was my chance to prove wrong people inside and outside of boxing who don’t rate me. But a few days before purse bids, Benn pulled out.

I’d have been very confident. All Conor has over me is raw power but I’m more experienced and a far better boxer. He actually looked good in his last fight but, let’s just say, he’s benefitted from very good matchmakers and promoters. It’d be squeaky bum for a few early rounds but I’m confident I’d keep him mid to long range and beat him.

Josh Kelly was another. But [European champion] David Avanesyan had not read the script. Avanesyan is no easy fight. One tough man. Was Josh rushed? Who knows?

If anything, I’m improving with age. I might be 32 now, but I certainly don’t feel it. I don’t drink or smoke so I feel great in myself. Four or five years ago, when I lost for the British to Nurse, my style was all over the shop. Now I’m British and Commonwealth champion and not getting caught with punches. The only post-fight bruising I suffer is from heads.

Of late, we’ve brought conditioners on board to assist with the science side, the diet. Marginal gains. At 32, I’m still fitter than these younger kids in the division and I’ve got good technical boxing ability; a very good jab when it’s on point, good feet since I was a youngster, good distance. I know when to throw, when not to. The way I feel, I’ll fight another 15 years!

I’d love to own a house, so a big payday against someone like Amir Khan or Kell Brook would be nice but my sole focus is on winning the Lonsdale Belt outright; something to pass through future generations of the family. Become part of our local history. I want everyone around here to know about it. I’m not materialistic. Honour and pride are far, far more important to me than the money. I need two more wins.

Once achieved, I’ll happily have a go at anyone. The [belt-holders] at welterweight, Spence, Crawford, Pacman, are different level but maybe winning the Lonsdale might lead to a shot at the European [Avanesyan]. Anything beyond British champion, I’ll have over achieved.

This fight with Essuman was originally due to take place in March but sparring a young unbeaten lad, I was caught on the ear with a right hand. Suddenly there was a buzzing sound and everything became muted. I continued the spar but my balance wasn’t the best. After my run that night, the missus mentioned blood was coming out of my ear. Perforated drum. More rotten luck but Essuman said some very unpleasant, disrespectful things. He’ll pay.

It’s nice to finally receive a firm date even if I’ve only had three weeks’ notice – I know the challenger had far longer than me – so it’s just a case of moving training from gear three straight up to gear five with Gary in Cardiff.

I have to accept that if things don’t go right, if I lose decisively, Essuman could possibly be my last fight. I know he has 14 wins, zero losses but hasn’t really boxed anyone. If he thinks because I’ve been out for 20 months, he’ll catch me unfit, he’s hugely mistaken. I worked my nuts off to get the belts and I’ve no intention of giving them away. I’ve the experience, the IQ to retain. I can box his head off or slam him in close. My choice.