BOXING IN THE BLOOD...ex-champion Junior Witter on quest to help the next generation of fighters at his Rotherham gym

By David Beddows | 29/01/2020

BOXING IN THE BLOOD...ex-champion Junior Witter on quest to help the next generation of fighters at his Rotherham gym
Junior Witter at his Rotherham base.

TUCKED away on a quiet road in Rotherham, a former world boxing champion is forging a new chapter in his career on the other side of the ropes.

Junior Witter, a one-time WBC light-welterweight champion, runs Witters Boxing Club, a place where people can go just to get fit or to strap on the gloves and pursue more exciting dreams.

Now 45, the much decorated competitor only retired from boxing last year, still super fit but frustrated he couldn't get the right kind of fights.

All the way through his 53-bout pro fight career, which included the British and European belt, the lad from Bradford knew he'd one day like to help teach kids to box and maybe create champions of his own.

Now the journey is underway.

When I was boxing I lived the life,” recalls Junior, speaking in the shadow of the ring and the row of punchbags that provide the centre-point for his training base on Chesterton Road, Eastwood. “I never had four or six months out of the gym. The only time I did was when I was injured.

“I was British champion and that title is the bomb. It is the best belt. The WBC is the best world title and I won that as well, so I got the best belt and the best title. I am the only British fighter at light welterweight to have won the WBC. My name is in the history books. I also won two Europeans, a Commonwealth, an international belt and another version of the world title. 

“I achieved and now I want to put something back in.

Junior with regulars at Witters Boxing Club. Pictures by KERRIE BEDDOWS.

“I have been training amateur boxers for the last four years. Even at my old amateur gym in Bradford I used to help out with the kids coming through. I always knew when I retired I was going to get back into boxing somehow.

“I coached at the Ingle Gym for a couple of years, I was head coach there for a while and then it was time to move on. This place became available and I took it on.”

It is 33 years since Junior first put on a pair of gloves and in 1997 he turned pro under the legendary Brendan Ingle at his gym in Wincobank where three other world champions in Naseem Hamed, Johnny Nelson and Kell Brook also learned their craft.

Naturally, Witter has adopted some of Brendan’s traits but is also very much his own man.

“A lot of what I do now is taken from Brendan,” he says. “He put grounding behind what I used to do. I'm following that and adding my little twist on it. You change your ways and as Brendan always said, if you stop learning then you are failing.

The late, great Brendan Ingle.

“Things such as footwork I've tweaked and brought it forward. Everyone is different and certain things work for certain people and not others. There are different ways of getting the same result and different paths to get to the same point. 

“Learning that made me a better boxer and it has made me a better coach as well.”

The St Thomas's Gym at Wincobank where Junior learnt his trade was a shrine to the power of boxing. Countless kids, many with issues, learnt the values of discipline, fitness and respect, whether or not they went on to achieve great things in the sport.
Junior has similar principles.

“With some people, the level they reach is more important than the win because it's about personal growth,” he says. “We're not all going to be world champions or British champions or area champions but if you grow as a person and it opens your eyes as to what the real world is about, it's a win.

“I want champions, 100 per cent, but I want to see people grow and improve and adapt.”

Witter's Boxing Gym is a hive of activity on its training nights (Tuesdays and Thursdays) and on Saturdays where budding boxers rub shoulders with people who simply just want to get fit and stay fit.

Among them are amateurs and pros like Dom Hunt, a fighter from Wakefield who has won his first five pro fights. Another, Matt Hunter from Sheffield, is making his debut at Magna on March 8, six years after getting his pro licence.

“Matt has gone through so much trauma in his life,” said Junior. “For him to get in the ring is a massive win.
“It is brilliant to see a fighter improve and grow. It also helps team morale, you get an absolutely brilliant buzz. I remember the first lad I had for a year who boxed and won, it's great. It just takes the enjoyment to that next level.”

The same goes for his young amateurs.

As an amateur, Witter captained England Schools, boxed for Young England, was the last  person to box for Young England at 16., won a Junior ABA title and fought some big names.

“I understand the amateur game as the grassroots of boxing and things you need to do to get better,” he says. “The things you do in the amateurs to get better is very different to what you do in the pros to get better.

“It's a brilliant grounding, the best you can get.”

Junior raises his eyebrows when I tell him Rotherham has not had a British boxing champion since 1920, when Tommy Gummer won the middleweight title. Extra motivation perhaps?

What is clear is that he likes Rotherham and has found a “home” here.

“I live in Sheffield but I will probably move to Rotherham very soon,” he adds.

“I look at it now and think I have been around Sheffield and South Yorkshire for the last 23 years. 

“I am happy here. We have four amateur coaches, including myself, but we could do with some more because it is that busy. I work them hard, we have a laugh and the place is buzzing.”
 

Witters Boxing Club runs fitness classes Tuesdays and Thursdays (7pm- 8pm) and Saturdays (11am-12pm), open to all abilities and ages, £5 per session.
For more details on that and boxing training visit the Witters Boxing Club Facebook page.

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