SNAPPED up by one of the country’s most prominent promoters fresh from becoming a national ABA champion and then being hailed as the new Ricky Hatton – it seemed as though the only way was up for Joe Hughes at the beginning of his professional career, writes DAN BARNES.
But that was three years ago and 36 months later the 23-year-old from Malmesbury now knows things don’t always go to plan.
A series of injury problems took their hold on Hughes midway through 2012 and kept him out of the ring for more than a year before he made his long-awaited comeback in Trowbridge last month.
Hughes has no problems admitting that thoughts of hanging up his gloves crossed his mind but he is hoping to turn his injury nightmare into motivation for success.
He said: “There were a few points where I thought ‘am I just going to keep getting injured?’, ‘when will I fight again?’ or even ‘will I ever fight again?’ Was keeping getting injured my body telling me to knock it on the head?
“(Quitting) does run through your head. There are a lot of fighters that get injured and you never hear from them again. There are people I’ve trained with that it’s happened to but luckily I’ve come out of the other side of it all.”
Hughes’ enforced ring sabbatical came in the wake of his clash with Mark McKray in October last year.
He said: “I was already injured going into that fight with my knee but I wanted it so much. I ended up hurting my hand and my coach sat me down and said ‘we’re going to have to have a break and not arrange any more fights’.
“I was still in the gym doing what I could but I had to stop all of the running and the impact stuff and I had cortisone shots in my leg and my hands.
“Luckily enough, I’ve got a few sponsors (Bush building and bricklaying and Bankham Surfacing) and if it wasn’t for them, I probably would have put boxing on the back-burner because I’ve got bills to pay. Boxing is my job. I work for two months up until a fight and only get paid afterwards, which isn’t a lot, so it’s very tough living almost on the breadline.
“Most pro fighters have to work full-time and train on the side but I’m trying to give it a good go and I’m lucky to have that sponsorship. My goal is to become British champion and I want that to just be the start so, to do that, I have to give it 100 per cent and be training full-time.
“Now I’ve gone through it all I think it’s made me hungrier and made me appreciate the sport a bit more – it re-motivated me.”
After signing with Frank Maloney in 2010, Hughes’ introduction to the pro ranks took place as far afield as Sheffield and Doncaster.
But following Lennox Lewis’ former manager’s retirement from boxing promotion earlier this year, he is currently working solely alongside trainer Andy O’Kane.
“Being with Frank was strange – it was good in some ways, bad in others,” he said.
“It was bad because we were relying on them to have TV shows and I was always waiting to hear when they were going to be. But it was great to be on the really big shows and I’ve got that experience in the bank now so when I step back up, it’s nothing new to me.
“When you’re on a TV show, you don’t know when you’re going to be fighting half the time. Someone can get knocked out in the first round of a 10-round fight and you’ve got to go on half-an-hour before you were supposed to.
“When I first turned pro, I was aiming to have six fights a year but that didn’t happen. It’s almost been like I’ve had to start again.
“I was hoping to have six fights a year and by now I would have had 18 fights but as it is, I’ve only had eight. I did have 70 amateur fights so I have had a lot of experience in the ring but it is very different to life as a pro.
“I’m hoping that my bad luck’s out of the way and I can push on now. My coach is the man managing me now and he’s going to get me as many fights as possible on as many shows as possible.
“I feel ready now to challenge for titles. I feel that I’m good enough and experienced enough to do it but it’s just about getting that opportunity.”