Insight

The Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games boxing hopeful who's fighting more than just opponents

Tori-Ellis Willetts tells ITV News Central Sports Reporter Mark Kielesz-Levine what her life is like at home with her family


When I meet Tori-Ellis at her old high school, Higham Lane in Nuneaton, it's mid morning, but she's been there awhile and is already preparing to put current students through their paces. 

The first thing I notice when we say our usual friendly hello is the new black eye she's sporting- "from sparring", she tells me.

For Tori this is nothing and very much expected when you are boxing your way to a career in the sport. 

Before long she's got the kids going through drills- there's a bit of cardio and boxing technique being taught.

It doesn't go unnoticed that the session is mainly full of female students. This is the effect that the fighter is already having on those there. 

Boxing may not be a traditional female sport, but superstars like Katie Taylor have changed that.

Tori, herself inspired by Taylor's global success, is one of those picking up the mantle and attempting to carve her own name in women's boxing history. 

Tori-Ellis Credit: ITV NEWS CENTRAL

She's got her sights set on glory at the Commonwealth Games and is in a strong position to make Team England's roster.

Coming from Nuneaton, it would be a home games for her and one she's been aiming for ever since she changed her discipline from kicking to punching.

Previously a British and World champion kickboxer, the long term dream was the Olympics and since that's not possible in kickboxing, Tori turned her attention to boxing after she turned 18. 

The question was, how to get there? Tori became aware of an excellent boxing programme in the British Army and so she signed up, training and fighting her way through years under command.

Her time in the army hasn't just been about getting in the ring. She's completed all the training expected of a soldier and you can really see this discipline in the way Tori boxes.

There's a laser sharp focus when it comes to boxing and a feeling that nothing and no one is going to stop her achieving her dream.

The 'nothing' is a 'something' though. 

Tori is 26 years old but was recently diagnosed as having arthritis. Anyone who deals with the illness knows just how debilitating it is.

Tori tells me there are times when her body is in pieces after a combination of fighting an opponent and against the condition.

It's made for some really tough times and there have been more than a few moments where she's questioned whether it's all worth the pain. 

And yet, she trains no differently than anyone else.

Candidly, Tori admitted that she's still coming to terms with the diagnosis and has worries about what the future holds for her body, but says that by then she will have hopefully won world titles and it would have been worth the gamble. 

This pretty much sums up the Tori-Ellis I've got to know over the past few months. There's a relentlessness about her.

She appreciates she's on a long journey to where she ultimately wants to be- a boxing professional with belts around her waist and over her shoulder. But like her arthritis, it's failing to faze her.

There's no arrogance when you're around her either although there is, as you would expect, a quiet confidence in her ability inside the ring.

Friendly down to earth, with a sparkle in her eye, she's one of five children growing up in a household I'm told was loud! Tori was one of those making the most noise. 

Her mum Tracey and step-dad Simon both clearly admire her greatly, saying that out of all the children, it is Tori who works and did work the hardest, constantly feeling as though she had a point to prove.

Tori Ellis' parents tell ITV News Central what her future goals are

With a self confessed cheeky personality, she liked to push boundaries but always knew when to stop and this is very much reflected in the thoughts of her old PE Teacher Emma Mitchell.

I'm told Tori was a joy to teach, extremely competitive, cheeky, loud, but knew when enough was enough!

It was easy to see her doing something with sport professionally as every game, competition, contest had to be won at all costs.

That's something that's carried through to today.

During lockdown, Tori-Ellis set up a gym at home and spent hours in there training on her own

At Tori's flat, she showed me her medal and awards cabinet- filled full of boxing and kickboxing prizes.

A 'normal' life isn't possible when you dedicate so much of your life to sport, but judging by what she's already achieved, it's clearly paying off. 

During lockdown, she set up a gym at home and spent hours training on her own, prepping food and dreaming big.

No one had any idea what the future held, but Tori knew what she wanted to experience and that kept her going.

For her, it's very much 'all or nothing' and sometimes that's come at a cost. A few months ago, Tori came down with horrendous food poisoning whilst competing abroad.

Laid up in bed and constantly being sick, she still had a final to box in.

Staggeringly, despite not being able to keep even water down and being sick on the ring walk, she made it inside to box for a few rounds.

Unsurprisingly, she lost and actually ended up in hospital- the food poisoning was that severe.

Whilst it may have seemed reckless to most others for her to even think about boxing in that condition - Tori was willing to take that chance and put it all on the line, risking her own health for a win.

I know she isn't the only athlete to do that and often it's the ones with tales of glory who do.

First things, first though, Tori has to make the Team England roster for her home games.

Everyone I've spoken to about it, tells me they would be incredibly proud if she does.

And no matter where her boxing career takes her, I know it will be something she treasures for the rest of her life. 

But whatever happens I have a feeling that this summer is just the start.