WOW YES, HE CAN CRACK A BIT! JACK HUGHES RETURNS FROM RETIREMENT
A six round win shouldn’t be made much fuss over, at least by those long in the tooth and jaded, cynical: these small hall fights are every week. But these bouts aren’t every week for the fighter, they train hard, work a day to day normally, and have to shift scores of tickets just for the opportunity to step on the canvas.
Jack Hughes last trod the punching boards in the summer of 2019, a shutout points win after the pain of defeat in what was the first ever Southern Area Super flyweight Title fight. That night Ricky Little just edged Jack 96-94 in a tense and entertaining fight. It was one Jack could have won, and the momentum of a Southern Area Title can’t be dismissed. Titles are currency, a bartering tool for bigger and better baubles and paydays.
Despite the post title fight win, the wheels came off for Jack Hughes' boxing career. “The Punk Kid” is an enigma, unique and a friend, I’ll admit up front. A man who has historically battled with identity and confidence. Early in 2020, at only 27, he retired. Feeling “used” by his team he was “sick and tired”. This was not helped by repeated rematch pull outs by Ricky Little, a man who seemed so genuine at the Area fight has proved to be less than reliable, reneigning on three fights- at significant cost and stress to his opponent. Jack went into post boxing life, fed up with it, for a while.
“I was pretty content with life, and then lockdown happened and it got me thinking about things. Steve [Goodwin] did a podcast and it got me thinking about the glitz and glamour (I assume Jack’s joking) and I got fully focussed and devoted my life to it again.”
The rematch reappeared, Ricky Fickle again offering his belt to a resurgent Jack. I went to see Jack in his new gym in Finchley and he was obviously determined; trainer Ciaran Duffy impressed me with his calm, clear orders. Jack has enjoyed time under him, “I wasn’t myself, and Ciaran had to sit me down and talk me through it. We got the fire back.”
As the fight grew nearer, as camp got down to the vinegar strokes, Little went AWOL again. Hughes read the signs, posting a video calling Ricky’s silence out, then chastising his abandoning his commitment to defend his title, which is now vacant due to his rather upsetting record of no-shows. Personally I have no idea about Ricky Little’s reasons, I hope he is well, but he could at least be honest, and honest earlier. Jack is forthright,
“Pffffft what can I say about Ricky Little? He’s just proved to boxing that he’s an embarrassment. What he did was just disgusting on so many levels. Who’s going to fight him now knowing he probably won’t show up. He should be ashamed.”
He has a point.
Jack’s return was exciting to me, the removal of the title fight upsetting that but Steve Goodwin offered an opponent that frankly I’d have said a hard no to; a former African Champion, Raymond Commey, who was, at super bantamweight, four weights above The Punk Kid’s comfort zone. I’m not a fighter, though.
“There are many reasons I took the fight. I’ll take any challenge that’s thrown at me, and in small hall boxing you have to sell tickets and if you keep selling tickets and pulling out, and selling tickets and pulling out, even when it’s the other guy causing it, eventually people aren’t going to want to give you their money. “
Raymond Commey, I was told by people who had seen him up close in London’s gyms, is a hard fight. Tough but limited, hard to look good against, and bigger than Jack. “I didn’t want to let everyone down again”. Fair enough.
Fight night came. Supported by his Mrs, Terri-Jayne- who does seem to have grounded the sometimes helium Hughes, the bitter cold queue outside York Hall made the reality set in- if Jack loses, where does he go? It’s a long way back, even to a Southern Area shot, even with the weight jump caveat. Jack was calm and even bubbly, looking unique and in my opinion a bit ridiculous (but I’m boring and he carried it off with aplomb), the fighter was also unfazed.
“To be honest it wasn’t the smartest idea going up three, four weights, but at the end of the day when people look back at my career they’ll see yeah, this guy didn’t back down.”
York Hall was cold and moderately busy. Commey came out first. Terri-Jayne’s nerves rattled through the roof and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried. Jack looked supreme on his ring walk. Relaxed but intense. Again, this is a six rounder on a show which doesn’t have pizzazz, but when you care about the fighter, when you know and understand what put in, it may as well be a the world cup final.
“Fight day is what we live for. I used to be filled with nerves, now I wake up and I have a smile on my face and I’m excited. I love the buzz, your friends and family are there and you’re the center of attention.” Jack does love the attention. Who can blame him?
Jack bossed it, mostly, and having seen him in sparring a few months before, was transformed. Clearly listening to his man in the corner. “Ciaran is honest with me. He told me he thought I’d lost round four and I had to go in, get the job done and win the next two. At the start he hit me and I thought ah this is ok but then after a bit I realised oh wow yes he can crack a bit! But I have a titanium chin.”
Jack got a little too confident knowing he was ahead, while it was fun for the fans Duffy “wasn’t happy with the showboating though!”. Jack took it 59-55, dropping the fourth.
Seeing someone you care for win after so much turmoil, emotionally, monetarily, and with so much on the line, meant so much to me. I’ve seen friends stopped and it hurts them, physically and emotionally- but watching it makes you feel a bit ill. That feeling was gone and fast descended into celebration. And celebrate we did! Bethnal Green has numerous venues populated 49/49 with hipster tosspots or the rough and ready (for a fight). We managed to find the 2%. Top notch bars. It was nice.
Reflecting the next day, a no doubt heavier Jack, who likes a pizza and some deep fried goodies after a fight, reflected on his evening and career.
“If I could live yesterday again on repeat I would, it’s a great feeling! This is a bigger win than beating Ricky Little would have been, in hindsight, Raymond has done much more in boxing than Little will ever do. He’s fought at a higher level and is physically bigger. It looks better on my resume but unfortunately it wasn’t for a title.
I won’t be staying at 55kg, The people are just too big compared to me. [Super bantam Gymmate] Razor Ali looks like a light heavyweight stood next to me! 52kg is my division, I’m looking to takeover.”
Taking over would be a big task and will have to start somewhere. Flying off this convincing win, where he looked so assured, there is a logical next step.
“Southern Area Title is next.”
Yes it is and Steve Goodwin, who Jack was at pains to thank, has a great track record of securing those shots. Should/ when Jack wins, that title is a stepping stone to bigger evenings. As for last Saturday’s experience, I can only tell you what I felt. From nerves to pure elation, and pride. I love boxing, and so does Jack Hughes again.