In his latest column for Boxing News former European super-lightweight champion Joe Hughes takes a trip down memory lane to look back at the three debuts which helped shape his boxing career.
LAST Sunday my eldest son competed in his first Brazilian jiu-jitsu competition. He’s been doing it for just over a year and did really well. Although BJJ is very different to boxing, it naturally got me thinking about some of my debuts in boxing.
Nowadays many youngsters have something called ‘skills’ bouts before they have competitive ones. These are basically spars in front of a crowd to give them the experience of everything that comes with a bout before they have a competitive one. It’s easing them in so to speak.
From having to weigh in, to a pre-contest medical, warm-up, walk out to the ring while being watched by the crowd and have their name announced and the many other things that happen at an actual show rather than just sparring at their club gym.
These skills bouts weren’t a done thing when I made my amateur debut back in 2001. I’d recently turned 11, which at the time was the youngest you could be to have a competitive bout in the UK. I’d been training at Malmesbury Amateur Boxing Club since I was eight years old but not long after I had to have a considerable amount of time off as I underwent surgery on my shoulder to try and improve the movement in my arm.
My dad only took me to the boxing gym as a trick to get me to do the physiotherapy required for my Erb’s Palsy. I despised doing it every day, but it worked. After I’d been in the gym for a while, I was desperate to have a bout. I trained every chance I could. I’d be in the gym every night it was open and train at home or go to martial arts classes when it wasn’t.
He also put a punch bag up at home for me and I’d work on that, practice my skipping and shadow box in front of a long mirror my parents had on the front of their wardrobes. I think realistically at the beginning no one around me really thought I’d ever be good enough to have a bout, but I slowly improved with a lot of practice and eventually got there.
I can remember my first bout relatively clearly for how long ago it was. I felt very nervous beforehand, warming up with my coach Tony Stannard MBE in a changing room that was separate from the building the bout was going to be in which meant having to walk outside when it was time to go.
Having left the fresh air outside I entered a smoke-filled room with a low ceiling. The ring in the centre was huge compared to the tiny ring at Malmesbury Boxing Clubs headquarters. I wasn’t wearing a groin protector as my coach hadn’t had any schoolboy boxers for a number of years and the rules had recently changed that whatever your age you needed one. I had to go back outside to the changing rooms, borrow someone else’s protector from another club and rush back to the ring to start the fight. I was the first bout of the night and feeling the anticipation of the crowd for the action to start and felt very embarrassed for holding it up. It worked out okay though as I won unanimously on points and actually boxed quite well.
My England debut didn’t go quite so well. I’d recently won the National Schoolboy Championships in 2005 aged 14 and was selected to represent England in the Four Nations Championships shortly afterwards. It was a huge moment for me gaining my first England vest but the actual contest, against the Irish Republic, was extremely scrappy and probably the worst I had boxed that season.
I was very disappointed in myself but that turned out to be the only bout I ever lost when representing England. I’m not sure if the occasion got to me a bit or all the new things such as staying away in the lead -up with the team etc affected me but that’s all part of it and something I learned to deal with. The year after I came back to the Four Nations and managed to get the gold medal.
My professional debut is something I look back on fondly. I won the senior ABAs in 2010 and decided to turn pro shortly afterwards but didn’t actually make my debut until five months after my final amateur contest. It took place at The Troxy, Limehouse in London which is really more of a music/theatre venue than what you normally see for boxing, but it was a good setting and quite an interesting place to make my debut.
It felt like a long time coming for me and I trained very hard for it. I was doing 6×3 minute rounds rather than the usual 4x3s for debutants which I was glad of. At the same time I knew it would be a challenge as it was double the 3x3s I was accustomed to in the amateurs. I had really good support and managed to shift a few tickets from my hometown of Malmesbury and also from Bristol where I train at Paddy Johns Gym and now live. It was my first experience of trying to sell tickets and I did feel a fair bit of pressure to perform with so many people paying good money to support me and also with the expectations placed upon me after a successful amateur career.
My opponent was Jason Carr and although he was in the journeyman role, he did put up a decent fight. I couldn’t really make much of a dent in him over the course but won comfortably on points. He retired a few years later having never been stopped. I’d been told many times by different people and so-called experts I’d never be able to box professionally. To actually do it and win was a great feeling.