OFTEN a child will embark on many of their greatest adventures behind a parent’s back, yet rarely do they end up in a boxing gym pursuing the very thing their father hoped would forever remain off limits. Certainly, when former British and Commonwealth champion Willie Limond left for work one day, he wouldn’t have expected to later return to discover his sons, Jake and Drew, had found what he had for so long tried to hide from them.
“This isn’t what I wanted for my boys,” said Limond, meaning, of course, boxing. “I never took them to the gym or put them on this path. That was their mum. I was away working in Fort William at the time and when I came back I found out the boys had been to the boxing for two weeks. I was like, ‘What the f**k is going on? This wasn’t the plan.’”
Regardless, once both had been bitten by the boxing bug, that was it for the Limond boys. Now, with Jake 18 and Drew 16, and with both plotting what they hope will be successful careers (Drew as an amateur, Jake as a pro), their father has had to come to terms with, and respects, their decision to follow in his footsteps. “They’re pretty good at it, they live the life, and they’re dedicated,” he said, “so we’ll see how far they go.”
Given he was only five or six at the time, Jake, Willie’s eldest, remembers very little of the day he first went to the boxing gym. Unlike his father, for whom this moment was somewhat seminal, Jake merely saw the day as a day like any other. “The only thing I remember,” he said, “is sitting on a staircase and my dad coming back from work and my mum telling him, ‘I took the boys to the boxing.’ But that’s genuinely all I can remember.”
He then added: “When I was really young, like five or six, I didn’t know anything about boxing, but I just liked watching people fight. Then when I grew up a wee bit I became a strange wee boy. I stopped liking sports and got pure out of shape.
“Now I’ve got an interest in it, and watch the odd fight, but I still try not to revolve my life around boxing. I don’t want all my personality traits to come from the fact I box. I love Star Wars, Marvel, Pokémon, and Lego. I’m a pure nerd, man. My room’s covered in posters and me and my pals collect comic books and stuff like that.”
The world of make-believe and fantasy is of course a world less daunting and dangerous than that of boxing, which is no doubt something Jake’s father will be quick to remind him should a reminder ever be needed. For now, though, Jake, currently 1-0 as a pro, appears to be in the sport for all the right reasons, having initially taken it seriously for reasons really quite admirable. “When I was a wee guy, I was morbidly obese,” he explained. “I was pure fat, I’m not going to lie, and I just wanted to lose weight and have an amateur fight. I had a few exhibition bouts before I turned fat, but wanted a fight where it mattered if I won or lost to get me back in shape. That was my plan. But I quite liked it and ended up carrying on from there.”
Having carried on and never stopped, Jake this year kickstarted a pro career with his father’s own career as both the inspiration and template. The idea, in theory, is to presumably learn from his father’s mistakes, while his father, the one to explain these mistakes, must learn when to both move close and step back, a difficult challenge for any parent, irrespective of their child’s chosen profession. “It’s horrible watching them,” Willie said. “I cannot wait until it’s done. I like to see both boxers safe – my boy and his opponent. But it’s f**king horrible until that point. I’d rather not watch it, even if it’s an enjoyable fight. I’m just waiting for it to be done. My heart is racing. That’s just the father in me.
“I’m an upfront person and speak my mind. If for one second I thought they didn’t have it in them to do this, I would say, ‘Look this isn’t for you.’ They’re old enough to make their own decisions, but I would have no fear telling them this isn’t for them. As it goes, and I know it’s early days, but they look to be doing okay right now.”
In contrast, whenever Jake sees his father in a boxing ring, either competing or sparring, he describes the sensation as being no different than “watching a normal guy box”. Such is the disparate nature of their roles, that of father and son, Jake, the son, is able to relax in ways Willie, the father, cannot when watching a loved one in a boxing ring. Moreover, it is likely the comfort Jake experiences when watching his father box stems from the knowledge that his father, even at 43, can more than handle himself.
“I was never allowed to watch his fights growing up,” Jake said. “He was fighting close to midnight a lot of the time and my bedtime was seven o’clock. I’ve since been on YouTube, though, and watched some of them, and I also went to watch a couple live towards the end of his career, like the Curtis Woodhouse one.”
Doubtless Willie has filled in the necessary gaps where his boxing career is concerned. However, if too humble for that, let me be the one to remind all who need reminding that Willie Limond was a stylish, textbook boxer who won Commonwealth titles as a lightweight and super-lightweight, as well as a British title, at super-lightweight, at the third attempt. In a career that started all the way back in 1999, he boxed 46 times professionally and shared the ring with the likes of Érik Morales, Anthony Crolla, Alex Arthur and, perhaps most famously, Amir Khan, whom he came ever so close to stopping in 2007.
“Everybody remembers me for that fight and sometimes it’s better to be remembered for something than not remembered at all,” said Willie. “It didn’t go my way but these things happen. I don’t agree with how it went, but, hey, it’s 15 years ago now. He had his moments and I had mine. He took his and I never took mine. The guy was getting long counts and all sorts but Amir got up and did what I didn’t do. He finished the fight [Limond retired on his stool after eight rounds]. I couldn’t do that. Fair play.”
As for his time with Morales, Limond may have again come up short versus world-class opposition but almost as good as victory was the experience and bond he formed with the Mexican as a result. “It was brilliant,” he recalled. “There were 56,000 people at the Plaza de Toros, the bullring. It was f**king unbelievable. The atmosphere was surreal. I wish I took my time to take it in. “I did well in the fight. I was ahead after four rounds but came back after the fourth and my legs felt so heavy. It was the altitude. I couldn’t move or breathe. The best way to describe it is like being in a sauna with a sweatsuit on trying to breathe through a straw. Érik then started coming on strong and that was that.
“But I must have done okay because I was Érik’s chief sparring partner for his fight against [Marcos] Maidana. We’ve also kept in touch over the years. In fact, it was only a few weeks ago I was in Tijuana training with Érik and his trainer.”
If the idea of Willie Limond and Érik Morales training in the same gym in 2022 sounds at all strange, it’s because it is, and Limond himself will be the first to agree. Indeed, while in the process of preparing for what will be his 47th professional fight this Friday (May 13), the Scotsman has questioned both his ability to still do something that once came so easily to him and, also, his sanity. “I was out running the other day and was three miles into a seven-mile run when I thought to myself, What the f**k am I doing this for? I called my manager Iain Wilson and said, ‘I think I’m going to have to call this off.’ It was just one of those days where I felt really tired. But I’ve got on with it and I’m looking forward to it.”
More than just his 47th pro fight, Limond’s bout against CJ Wood in Renfrew is notable because a fight in 2022 marks the fourth decade in which Willie Limond has boxed professionally, and, more importantly, because it will take place on the same night, and bill, as his son’s second pro fight. “I know Lee Haskins fought on the same show as his boy in Bristol, but I don’t think it’s been done in Scotland, so it will be good to be the first guys to do that,” said Willie. “We were actually trying to get the show as a pro-am show so that my other boy, Drew, could also box on it. But we couldn’t get that sorted in time.”
As well as their surname and profession, pride is another thing the Limonds share. It comes in many forms, too.
“I have to put on a better performance than him,” said Jake, who boxes Michael Mooney on Friday’s show. “My dad is quite good, though. That’s the hard thing. I’ve watched him sparring some top amateurs and he’s doing well.
“Whether he fights again after this is his choice. The people fighting for titles in their twenties are all training two or three times a day. My dad hasn’t got the time to do that because he’s working with the Scotland amateur squad. But I think if he got offered enough money, and it was a good opponent, he would give it everything for eight weeks and manage it. He will know whether he’s got that in him anymore after this next fight.”
By the sound of it, his father already knows.
“It’s more than likely this will be the last one,” Willie conceded. “I last fought three years ago and haven’t done a lot of training since. The last 12 weeks have been good for me. They’ve allowed me to get back in shape. I’ve missed the training and I’ve missed training for something.
“If something good gets offered to me after this fight, that could change my mind. But, right now, this is my last fight.”
If it is to be his swansong, Limond, 41-5 (12), will at least go out having boxed on a night to remember. Better yet, due to his sons needing his support and guidance, as well as many other boxers in Scotland requiring the same from him, he will, going forward, have the necessary distractions to help fill his days. This, for any retired fighter, is invaluable; more important, perhaps, than belts on a mantlepiece.
“I’ll struggle,” he admitted, “because I’ve always been about it. I’ve got a job with Boxing Scotland and train four pros, including my boy, but participating and watching are two different things.
“I know when it’s over I’ll be sad. But I also know how old I am and know it doesn’t get any better. Anything I haven’t achieved in boxing is not going to be achieved now, at 43. I have to be realistic about that.
“I’ve had a lot of hard times as a pro. I used to work 12-hour shifts and still have to train. My advice to my boys, and to any young fighter, is this: live the life. You’ve got to train hard and look after your body and mind. Boxing is a rollercoaster, both emotionally and physically. It can f**king play with your mind like nothing else. I know the pitfalls. I fell down a lot of them.”
And yet, crucially, he kept going.