Only a boxer knows what it takes to be a boxer.
We may, as close observers and/or as ardent ‘fight fans,’ feel qualified to speak about the sport in a way that would suggest that we know it – inside out. We may, come fight night, be sat at ringside or somewhere else in the darkened hall or arena, pint glass in hand or within reach – but when the first bell rings and the fight is underway we can often feel like it’s us that is in the squared circle, throwing every punch, skipping and moving, swaying and evading, drenched in sweat and water with our emotionless poker faces unchanged whilst we ignore the pain (stinging or otherwise) that we feel and in some cases the distinct taste of our own blood as it trickles in through our open lips.
We see every punch before it lands. We see every move, every decision, every step to or from. We think the we know what the Cornerman should advise at each and every interval and what the judges should have written on their scorecard each time he or she scribes a record.
But the truth is that nothing could be further from the truth. Only the boxer knows what it takes to be a boxer. Only they can truly give an authentic insight into the thrills, the spills, the agony and the ecstasy. On fight night only he or she has lungs that are burning or arms and legs intoxicated with lactic acid and that are screaming for respite. Only he or she is moving deftly and sometimes desperately to avoid defeat, injury or even death. Only he or she feels pain – stinging throbbing or otherwise, or tastes the blood on their lips that same night or who could be staring down at the blood in their piss the following morning.
And of course you will know that this potentially withering effort is not one that is confined to the time and space of fight night. Boxing is a life choice requiring a protagonist to adopt a boxer’s lifestyle if they wish to achieve success, whether this be the success of maintaining a career as a journey man or achieving the heights of fame associated with being an elite or World Champion level pugilist.
Clearly, history shows that the effort to be a top fighter in the professional game can take its toll. Ask guys like former heavyweight Tony Tucker who slipped into using crack cocaine following the disappointment of losing to Mike Tyson in 1987 or look at the career of guys like Eddie Machen whose short life (sadly, he died at just 40) in book form would make incredibly sad reading in places due to his struggles against law-makers, with his finances and with his own mental health. Or even former Champion Pinklon Thomas who came to know heroin use from the tender age of 12 and who then battled with further addictions during the height of his success. The sport offers both incredible highs and often unimaginable lows. The weight of expectation not just from the public but also that which the fighter can put upon themselves, is a hard weight to cast off if/when the impact of a disappointing outcome hits home. So fighters can sometimes find what they believe to be solace and escape from the wrath and rigours of the fight game and from the sorrow and pain of their own life challenges such as bereavement, divorce and estrangement, through the use of and in the form of alcohol and drugs.
In his book ‘Jesus In My Corner. A Boxer’s Journey: From Hell To Christianity’ former professional boxer Andy Flute chronicles his struggle to overcome a myriad of life-long challenges with violence and alcohol. It’s a harrowing yet also enlightening and inspiring story that speaks volumes of human nature and what it can take for a person to not just survive but emerge triumphantly from the bleakest and most unforgiving of circumstances.
Andy is a former Captain of the English Boxing Team and a British Middleweight Title challenger. He was a rock solid fighter with a lion’s heart who would always give everything in his fights. He faced a lot of good fighters too sharing the ring with fighters like Terry Magee, Robin Reid, Glenn Catley and David Starie.
He once told me,
“I never turned a fight down. I never turned no sparring down – no matter who it was with.
“If it was Joe Calzaghe, if it was Chris Eubank, if it was Nigel Benn, if it was Henry Wharton, if it was Herol Graham, if it was anybody. I sparred with everybody.”
His record at his retirement in 20014 read 22-15-1. It’s a deceptive record in that you don’t immediately see from simply looking that he only lost 3 of his first 18 fights. His fourth defeat came in his 19th contest and with his first Title fight when he took on the Champion, Neville Brown at the Aston Villa Leisure Centre. Commentator Harry Carpenter was watching at ringside and described it as a ‘hard, cutting, bruising fight.’ which it certainly was for both fighters. Badly cut around both eyes Flute was retired in Rd 7.
Although he won his next contest against Graham Burton, a points win that kept him in contention for challenges (at the very least -at British level) the rest of Andy’s career took on the feel of an exciting yet often precarious rollercoaster ride. And behind the scenes, there was much of the same, as his debut publication so eloquently and powerfully portrays.
Today Andy is an active member of Sedgley Community Church. He regularly attends prison workshops and shares his testimony in schools around the region.
Jesus In My Corner. A Boxer’s Journey: From Hell To Christianity was published by Austin Macauley Publishers and can be purchased via their website at AustinMacauley.com