A devastating knockout defeat can mean many things all at once. In the case of Jake Ball, the light-heavyweight from Frimley, a first-round knockout loss to JJ McDonagh in 2016 acts as inspiration and motivation, and has also encouraged him to alter his style, rely less on power, and essentially rediscover his boxing skills.
But that doesn’t mean he wants to think about it, much less discuss or revisit it. A necessary evil, it is something that was profoundly negative and damaging at the time but has since been reshaped into something positive, something that, he believes, will turn him into an all-round better fighter.
“I took a lot away from that defeat,” he tells Boxing News, “and my last few fights have shown that. I’m a lot more composed and patient now. If I hit them and hurt them, I’ll try and knock them out, but it’s not all about the knockout. You just have to win.
“I’m a boxer, not a brawler. That’s what I did throughout my amateur career – box. I’m not a big knockout merchant. I know I carry power but I think what you’ll see me display now is my boxing ability rather than my ability to take someone’s head off.”
The reason Jake Ball nearly had his head taken off his shoulders by JJ McDonagh was because Jake Ball was trying to take JJ McDonagh’s head off his shoulders. It’s how most big knockouts occur. It is, indeed, the very nature of the sport. But you don’t have to explain this to Ball. He knows this already. It’s why he is able to be philosophical about the loss and move on from it.
“That’s in the past now,” he says. “We don’t really talk about that a great deal. It’s been over a year now since it happened.
“I was literally in the gym three or four days later. I knew it was down to me that I lost the fight. I wasn’t thinking about the shots coming back at me. I was only worried about what I was going to throw. In the fights before that I was knocking everyone out. I got carried away. Sometimes you need to be taught a lesson and I was taught a big lesson that night.
“People seem to forget I walked on to the shot. It was my own fault. I hit JJ very cleanly at the start of the round and wobbled him. He went back and I went hell-for-leather. I went mad. I then got caught with a silly shot on the way out. It was my own mistake. It was inexperience. I rushed in with my hands down and paid the price.”
Ball, 25, admits he would have fought “the next day” if given the chance. There was, he says, no hangover, no sudden introspection or self-doubt. He simply brushed himself down, watched the trauma back on tape, and then worked extra hard in the gym with his coach Jim McDonnell.
“I’ve got to the point where things like that don’t really affect me,” he says. “I didn’t mind watching it. I’ve shown, coming back as strong as I have, that I’m over it. I know when I do something right and something wrong. As soon as it happened, I knew I had done something wrong. We sat down to see why it happened and corrected it.”
By “correct it” he means this: Jake Ball got back on the horse, fought four times in 2017, winning every single one of them, and ended the year with an impressive and comprehensive victory over solid domestic contender Miles Shinkwin to lift the WBA inter-continental light-heavyweight title.
“For me, 2017 was a great experience,” Ball says. “Getting two 10-round fights in the bank was brilliant. In the pro game it’s nice to get knockouts but that isn’t always the way. It’s good to know I could do the rounds. I thought I did the ten rounds with ease. That gives you added confidence because you know you’ve been there and done it.
“My last two opponents (Shinkwin and Joe Sherriff) were top British contenders. I fought 20 rounds against them and 13 of them I fought with one hand. I’m looking forward to having my hand sorted and being able to fight at 100%.”
The Shinkwin victory at York Hall didn’t just showcase Ball’s improved patience and composure, it also landed him a number 14 ranking with the WBA (albeit three places below the highest-ranked Brit, ‘nightclub entrepreneur’ Joe Fournier), the first world ranking of his two-and-a-half-year professional career.
“That’s what I’m in boxing for,” Ball, 11-1 (8 KOs), says of the ranking. “It’s good to be ranked at 14 but I want to be number one. This is a step in the right direction.
“This time next year I’d like to be between seven and five with the WBA. That’s the plan.”
Ultimately, the higher Jake Ball rises up the rankings, the more he distances himself from the very thing that pushes him to get better.