Sport may just be about winning for some – but for former Southern Area champion Jamie Speight, boxing involves so much more than that.
Most young, up-and-coming fighters dream of lifting world title belts aloft or earning Floyd Mayweather money, but reality for the vast majority can ultimately be quite different.
After eight victories in his first eight fights as a professional, Jamie Speight probably had similar ambitions. But, with 26 more defeats than victories on his record in a career now spanning a decade, he has a different perspective on his role within the sport these days.
Speight – a scaffolder by trade – usually fights out of the away corner and is what many would describe as a ‘journeyman’ boxer – a role commonly misunderstood, especially in an era where just one loss can devastate fans’ perception of a fighter.
By his own admission, Speight was a “wimp” as a young kid; often pushed around and bullied by his classmates. He used boxing as a way of toughening himself up.
“I was one of these quiet, polite kids who didn’t want to upset or hurt anyone. I got bullied by the same five kids every day – it was just nit-picking, name-calling, not letting you in the group, being picked last for everything. And then it started to become a bit more physical as time went on, ” he says.
“My old man said ‘the school’s doing nothing about it, it’s time to take you down the boxing gym’. It was just to toughen me and so I could defend myself and I never looked back.”
From contender to away fighter
After a solid amateur career, Speight turned professional in 2009, defeating Pavels Senkovs on his debut in Bristol, and going on to win his next seven contests.
He went on to box a close fight with a current world champion in Josh Warrington in 2013, and picked up Southern Area belts in both the featherweight and super-featherweight divisions.
However, back-to-back defeats on Sky Sports in 2017 made Speight reconsider the direction of his career.
“I boxed Reece Bellotti for the WBC Silver International title live on Sky Sports at the O2 Arena. It was a good fight. Reece is a good kid, he broke my ribs in the sixth and stopped me in the eighth,” says the former English title challenger.
“After that, I got another shout for a Sky Sports show at the York Hall, where I boxed Joe Cordina. I knew Joe prior to this fight, I’d sparred him when he was an amateur, it was 50-50 and a good spar, it went well. I took the fight thinking I’d be fighting the Cordina I’d sparred as an amateur, but he was so much better.
“More often than not, if you’re ringside for one of my fights, you’ll hear me speaking to my opponent… the best time to learn is on the job.”
He continues: “That’s the point where I went ‘that’s me, then’. I’d done my best, the best I can possibly do. I just thought ‘this is where I’m at now, I’ve had a good roll of the dice, I’ve had a good time, so let’s now earn some money and try helping some people along the way’.”
The role of the ‘journeyman’
The ‘journeyman’ role is an often confused and yet crucial job. You’re not necessarily there to win, but you can’t be a bad boxer. You’ve got to be durable, tough, technically sound and avoid getting stopped regularly in order to keep the British Boxing Board of Control off your back.
Speight ticks those boxes, although the term ‘journeyman’ doesn’t necessarily describe his role in the best way. He’s more of an in-ring mentor to younger fighters coming through the pro ranks.
“More often than not, if you’re ringside for one of my fights, you’ll hear me speaking to my opponent. I’ll be saying ‘tuck that left hand up a bit more, don’t do that, don’t do this,’ and try and give them advice, as the best time to learn is on the job.” the 31 year-old explains.
Speight travels here, there and everywhere, all over the country, trying to pass his knowledge and experience onto rookie pros with only a few fights to their name, despite never really being given much chance of glory in the ring himself.
“I can have a fight and come out with blood, cuts, bruises. But I know I’m alive, I feel alive, I feel high on adrenaline and just generally happy. You’ll never see a happier fighter than me”
“You’ll hear people say this a lot: ‘Boxing is the most corrupt sport on the planet’ and that’s one of the truest statements ever made. I’ve had promoters tell me ‘Don’t beat this kid, move him round, don’t beat him, don’t hurt him’. You’re actually given instruction on what to do and what not to do,” says the veteran pro.
Just imagine Ole Gunnar Solskjaer asking Jurgen Klopp to kindly go easy on his current Manchester United side… And that’s not even mentioning the limited notice some of these ‘journeymen’ get for some fights.
“The shortest I’ve had is when I was at home on a Saturday morning, dropped my partner at work, I came back, just picked up my bag to go to the gym, my phone rang and it was my manager.
“He said ‘I need you to fight, get up to London [from Plymouth].’ I got changed, got straight in the car up and boxed that afternoon. So it can be that late, up to a few hours’ notice,” recalls the experienced fighter.
If the grassroots, small hall level of boxing can verge on the farcical at times, what keeps people like Speight in the sport?
“The best way I can describe it is the sport is like a drug. And it’s the most addictive drug you’ll ever have. It’s what I call living,” he says.
“I can have a fight and come out with blood, cuts, bruises. But I know I’m alive, I feel alive, I feel high on adrenaline and just generally happy. You’ll never see a happier fighter than me.”
Despite his love for the sport, boxing is a notoriously dangerous game. Many fighters have paid the price for going on too long, and the recent, tragic passing of American boxer Patrick Day underlines and emboldens the peril involved in the sport of boxing.
“If I’m being foolish, I can make it last as long as I want because I’ve not burnt the candle at both ends, I’ve not been out every weekend like a lot of fighters,” says Speight.
“The more and more these things happen, the more it puts the fear of god into you. I value my life more than I value boxing, as much as I love it. I’m going to finish this year, give it one more after that and then that’s me.” he wraps up.
It’s likely that the role of fighters like Speight will never truly be understood. Fans will look at his record, see 41 defeats and go ‘he must rubbish’. But without guys like him, the sport as we know it doesn’t exist.
‘Journeymen’ keep the sport ticking over and they deserve a lot more respect.
Photo credit: mikeyray2013 via Instagram. You can follow Jamie Speight on Twitter.