Accepting the end gracefully is part of being a professional athlete. Calling an end to dreams that are left unfulfilled is the hardest part. Life is all about doing your best with the cards you’ve been dealt; that is what I have done time after time. Sadly, after 7 operations on my eyes in 2 and a half years, I am forced to admit that they are too damaged for me to safely return to the boxing ring. With a heavy heart, I have to retire from professional boxing with my dreams unfulfilled.
Today marks the end of my boxing journey. It’s been one hell of a ride: from walking into the boxing gym as a skinny, gap toothed 12 year old, to travelling the world and meeting some remarkable people. I’m grateful that I’ve been blessed enough to do what I’ve loved to do for the last 18 years.
This retirement statement, and my life, could now go one of two ways from here on out. I could be bitter or I could be better. I could be bitter at having my career cut down whilst I’m in the prime of my life. A devastating succession of injuries prevented my professional career from taking off and now I’ll never get the chance to realise my true potential and show the world what I truly had in the locker. Plagued with thoughts of what I could have been are enough to make a man bitter.
I choose to be better.
I can be a better person learning from everything that I’ve been through. It’s inspired me to be more humble, thoughtful and an all round stronger person. It’s also made me realise I have the platform to encourage others fighting their own battles to keep going. This will not define me; this will be the making of me.
My career has been a relatively short one filled with hurt, pain and frustration. I’ve been injured for a combined period of 6 years and 4 months as a result of: 3 shoulder dislocations, shattered eye sockets, broken bones, and damaged ligaments and tendons. All in all, I’ve had 17 operations and dedicated myself to intensive rehab, whilst watching friends and peers fulfil their dreams as mine dwindled. Moving forward, I’ll endeavour to focus on the incredible things that this boxing journey has enabled me to do and show my gratitude to the people who made it possible.
I want to thank John Cremin, Frank Bacon and Triple A Boxing Club for the hugely instrumental part they played in my early boxing career. I thank John and Frank from the bottom of my heart for giving me their time, effort and energy. I wholly appreciate the hours spent with me down the gym, running me on the beach and helping me to channel my love for this game.
England youth coach Jim Davison gave me my first England vest. Under his tutelage, I went from Schoolboy Champion to European medallist to Junior Olympic Champion and finally to Junior World Champion. He also bestowed upon me the England team captaincy which heightened the immense pride that I have for my country. Thank you Jim.
After my first serious injury which led to my removal from the GB team, Robert McCracken brought me back in from the cold in 2010. Thankfully, he saw my hunger and potential, when others had written me off. In my first major championship, I got beaten by Darren O’Neil 11-1 at the Europeans. This did not sit well with me. Darren went on to win a silver medal losing by a landslide to the Russian Artem Chebotarev in the final. With the Olympics less than 2 years away, Chebotarev became the standard to beat if I wanted to become an elite amateur boxer. Hard work under Rob’s tutelage enabled me to set the record straight. A year later I beat Chebotarev in spite of re-dislocating my shoulder in the second round. 8 months on from the Chebotarev win I managed to become one of the best amateur middleweights in the world when I medalled at the London 2012 Olympics, even though 6 of those 8 months were spent recovering from a shoulder operation and whilst my Mum was fighting for her life in hospital during the Olympic Games - I did it against the odds. I’m proud to have beaten European, World and Olympic medalists along the way, including 2 reigning world number 1s, Vijender Singh and Levan Kheytrov. Thank you Robert and his staff, in particular Lee Pullen and Dave Alloway.
I would like to thank Oscar De La Hoya, Robert Diaz, Eric Gomez, Monica Sears and the Golden Boy team, along with Richard Schaefer, for believing in me and signing me as a professional boxer. Thank you too to Nisse and Kalle Sauerland for co-promoting me and for your unwavering support. For me, it is very harrowing that my body didn’t enable us to have the journey that seemed destined.
It’s been an honour to have worked with so many fantastic trainers and coaches in my career. In addition to those already mentioned, a special thank you goes to Graham Everett, Tony Sims, Richie Woodhall, Mark Seltzer, Travis Allan and Chris Roberts for their time and expertise.
I’ve loved every minute of training with Barry O’Connell in the State Of Mind Fitness gym over the past two and a half years. It is heartbreaking to not be able to put the things we have been working on into practice on fight night. With his professionalism and phenomenal attention to detail, I have no doubt that Barry will be one of the best coaches in the country one day, taking the right fighter straight to the top. I wish it could have been me.
Dave Davis and Paul Jarvis, your abilities as strength and conditioning trainers are second to none; I’ve been in the best shape of my life. Thank you for keeping my head up and helping me when I literally couldn’t see the weight plates at my feet.
Kevin Lidlow deserves as big of a thank you as anyone. He’s the best physio on the planet and has brought me back from the brink of retirement many times. Ravaged achilles tendons to dislocated shoulders, nerve damage and back injury. Kevin thank you, for everything. If it wasn’t for you, my career would have been over a long time ago.
DL, thank you for moulding me into not just a better boxer, but more importantly a much better man. Even though my body has proven not to be, because of you, my mind is bullet proof.
Respect and gratitude goes to Diamond Dallas Page for his guidance and for introducing me to DDP Yoga. As well as Aidan Goggins for always getting my weight and nutrition spot on.
The appreciation I have for everyone at Wasserman is immeasurable. Thank you for bestowing so much faith and belief in me, right up to the end. I am very proud that I was the first boxer of the Wasserman Boxing Division, a division destined to house more and more World Champions. Fahri Ecvet and Claire-Louise Hinde, your support and friendship means so much.
However, there are two people from Wasserman in particular who have been integral not only to my career, but to my life: Dean Baker and Duncan Ross. Throughout this turbulent journey of heartache and pain, you two have become more than a management team. Thank you for your guidance and support, for your honesty and friendship. Thank you for always believing in me, and for keeping me safe.
A special thank you to Mark Seltzer and Damien McSorley. You’ve always been an integral part of my journeyman and a core part of my team as a professional since day one, but above and beyond that you’ve become close friends for life.
Both the local and national media that have covered my journey (and the injuries that have ravaged my career) from the very beginning deserve a special thank you. People like Adam Smith, Mark Armstrong, Kugan Cassius, Gavin Glicksman, Ron Lewis, Don McRae, Steve Bunce, John Dennen and Gareth A Davies to name but a few. I have always been impressed at how you’ve articulated my struggles in a positive way, and in a way that may inspire others, which has always been my intent. Thank you for not turning me into a victim; I appreciate how fortunate I am.
I want to thank my long term partners Nike. I am privileged to have been signed by the best sports brand in the world. Since watching Ronaldo at the 98 World Cup it was my dream to be signed by Nike. Not only did Nike sign me but they stayed with me over a troublesome and testing 4 year period, always supporting me and believing in me when all my other sponsors dropped me. It’s been an honour to be part of the Nike family and that’s exactly what they are, family, I hope to continue being an ambassador for such an amazing brand.
After the early complications with my eye, I was lucky to meet some amazing eye specialists that worked so hard in trying to keep my dream alive and get me back in the ring. Dr Guyton, Dr Hunter in Baltimore and Boston respectively, were amazing. Professor Holmes from The Royal London was tremendous. A special mention goes out to Joe McQuillan who demonstrated such professionalism with me and supported me more than an orthoptist should. Additionally, Sherylle Calder and Christi Botha from EyeGym gave me every chance at training my eyes and brain to work together again.You guys really do make a massive difference.
Many people tell me how unlucky I am because of the injuries, but I am lucky to have the most amazing friends and family. Thank you to my Mum for being an inspiration to me, to my sisters for always supporting me and to the co-captains of the OArmy for never letting me down.
The biggest thank you of all however goes to my wife. For 16 years Casey has dealt with the making weight, the training, the sweaty clothes, but most testing of all, the injuries and my bad moods. She’s always been there, supported and believed in me when others didn’t. Thank you for taking me to the toilet when I couldn’t walk and helping me cross the road when I couldn’t see. I’m sorry for making you my emotional punch bag for so many years. Thank you for never giving up on me and for being a strong, independent and impressive lady in your own right. I am forever in your debt and if we lived a thousand lifetimes, I still wouldn’t be able to show you what you mean to me.
My career shouldn’t be judged on the medal or title success I did or didn’t have. I’d rather it be judged on the way I played the game. Each day, each training session, each fight I went into it with unrivalled amounts of determination, resilience, and pride. I never cheated, never skipped a session, never ducked an opponent or an opportunity -oftentimes to my own detriment. Anyone that ever saw me train, knew that every day I turned up, laced up, and gave it my all. That same vigilance has been shown in this eye journey, the last 2 and a half years I’ve literally given my life to be able to box again.
I’ve conditioned myself to live a life of ‘never giving up’, so I’m struggling with the fact that on paper it looks like I’m giving up on my career. Mentally I want it more than ever, but my body for the final time, has given up on me and on my dream - I am not fit for task. Out of respect to my family and people who love and care for me, I have to say enough is enough. I’ve learnt there are many things in life you cannot control, but you can control how you deal with those things . This is the challenge I face now, overcoming this conflict and channeling that ‘never give up’ attitude into something else. Winston Churchill in his Never Give Up speech says “never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense”. My body has given in to the years of physical abuse I have put it through; I must honour this situation and let good sense tell me I can never fight again.
I am and will always be a fighter to the core. There are some golden examples of this that I will never forget. In the amateurs I overturned a never been done before deficit, with one arm, beating the Georgian to qualify for the Olympics. In 2012, I beat the World number 1, a Ukrainian that nobody gave me a chance against. I did it with a patched up shoulder, ravaged achilles, a broken rib and worst of all my Mum was in a coma and I didn’t ever think I’d see her alive again. In the pro’s I was back to fighting with only one arm again. One time in Germany I had to put it back in the socket using my own knee between rounds! Finally, my last ever fight I tried to box on for 8 rounds, even though my eye socket was shattered and I was 78% visually impaired. In spite of all the adversity, each and every time I laced up and gave it my all. I now know I have the capacity to overcome insurmountable odds. I’m devastated I never got to show the mainstream British Boxing fraternity what I am capable of.
I’ve always said boxing is a snapshot of life, boxing has taught me many things in life. It’s taught me that the best man doesn’t always win, you don’t always get what you deserve and sometimes boxing, like life, isn’t fair. But there are two things we can do. We can cry sulk and whinge about it, be bitter about it and get absolutely nowhere, something that I have done in the past. Or you can bite down on the metaphorical gumshield, and push on forwards to become a better person. That’s what I’m doing now, I’m biting down hard and I’m pushing on forwards to carve something out for myself. When I sat six years ago at the press conference announcing my decision to go pro, I said that I wanted to become a legend, I wanted to win the highest honours and one day I wanted to be knighted. I don’t think I’ll be a British boxing legend, but I still want to do something legendary. I still dream of being knighted.
I didn’t achieve my goal in a boxing ring. But I’m still going to hold my head high; I’ve got a lot to smile about. I became a multiple time national champion from schoolboy to senior level, I represented and captained my country on numerous occasions and at major championships all around the world. I became Junior Olympic Champion, Junior World Champion, Commonwealth Games silver medallist and Olympic bronze medallist. I’ve done numerous primetime TV shows, bringing boxing into the mainstream. I always tried my best to conduct myself as well as possible and be a good ambassador for British boxing and my fellow boxers. I wanted to prove that the old stereotype that boxers are thuggish and unintelligent is just that, a dated stereotype.
Forgetting the negatives I’m focusing on the positives. I’m walking away from this sport a healthy man. My eyes are damaged and I cannot box, but walking away now will mean that I will one day be able to read to my children. I was lucky to escape that last fight with just a fractured eye socket and damage to the eye. I quite easily could have suffered much more severe injuries. I was being hit with punches that I didn’t see coming. Any one of those punches could have put me in a coma, damaged my brain or even killed me. It’s the punches you don’t see coming in boxing that cause serious damage.
If I was born just 20 years earlier my first shoulder operation I suffered when I was 19 would have signalled the end of my boxing career. There’d have been no Olympics, no Golden Boy, Sauerland, nothing. From that perspective I was always on borrowed time. I think I did pretty well.
I’ve been through a lot in my career. I’ve had 17 operations and suffered every pain imaginable. I’ve won, lost, cried and hurt. But if you were to ask me would I do it again? In a heartbeat. I love this game.