By Terence Dooley
“My dad was one of those types who supported his children. If I’d have been an ice-skater he’d have been into ice skating. He was proud of all of us. When I first started out in boxing, I told everyone that I’d be British champion. He knew that was my dream, he’d have been mega proud.”
Curtis Woodhouse, 22-6 (13), isn’t an ice-skater, he is the former footballer turned boxer who turned the formbook on its head on Saturday night to defeat British light-welterweight champion Darren Hamilton, 14-3 (1), on an Eddie Hearn-promoted bill at Hull’s Ice Arena by scores of 113-116, 116-115 and 116-114 from Michael Alexander, Steve Gray and Marcus Mcdonnell respectively.
Franz Kafka once summed up the huge presence our fathers have in our lives by writing: ‘Sometimes I imagine the map of the world spread out and you stretched diagonally across it’. The content and meaning may have been different, Kafka had a discordant relationship with his old man, but the sentiment is apt: they mean everything to us. Our fathers are one half of our very being. They share, often foster, our hopes, dreams and aspirations, and they are there by our side striving to help us achieve them, be they dead or alive.
Woodhouse made a promise to his father, Bernard, when he turned professional in 2006, he pledged to win the British title, the Holy Grail for any British boxer worth their salt, and has often spoken about keeping that promise. His father’s epitaph is a famous song title: ‘A stubborn type of fellow’, and his son doggedly pursued his own dreams. Earlier today, Woodhouse draped his cherished belt across his father’s grave. Job done, promise upheld it was a time for quiet reflection.
“I felt a massive weight was lifted once I’d done that,” said Woodhouse during a telephone conversation with BoxingScene. “I could relax. It was something I’d promised to do. It was nagging away that I hadn’t done it yet so it was a big sigh of release that I’d done what I’d promised him I’d do.
“It was something I’d been chasing for so long, I knew it was close (on Saturday night) and thought I couldn’t let it slip through my fingers. I put my foot on the gas, I knew I was tired, but I had time to rest on Sunday so had to put it all into that night.
“I’m a little bit sore today—I feel like I’ve been in a car crash. It’s been unbelievable. Listen, you’ve known me a long time, I’m rarely lost for words, but this is one of those times. I just don’t know how to feel. It is like a Rocky movie, but Rocky’s made up and this shit’s for real. I’m just excited and chuffed that I’ve done it.”
Hamilton’s ability, fine form and seasoned style made him the pre-fight favourite. Woodhouse, though, fought like a man possessed and would not be denied. The 35-year-old champion’s look of controlled confidence slipped as the rounds ticked by yet the Bristolian rallied often enough to keep it nip-and-tuck on the cards.
“I knew I’d beat him if I could get him into the type of fight where it was a case of who wanted it the most at the backend,” said Woodhouse. “Skill for skill, there’s people better than me, but nuts for guts I’m up there with anyone.
“The corner told me (after the ninth) I had three rounds to win the British title, which gave me energy I didn’t know I had. I stuck it on him, he was ready to fold—a few more rounds and I think I’d have a got him out of there.”
“I thought I’d won, yeah,” he answered when asked if there were any niggling doubts when it went to the cards. “I knew it was close, but I thought I had it by a couple of rounds. Boxing’s subjective, you don’t know how people are seeing it, so I was nervous when they said ‘Split decision’. Then it came in and I can’t put into words how it felt. It’s the best feeling I’ve had in life. If I could bottle and sell it I’d be a multimillionaire.”
Woodhouse’s career reads like a checklist compiled by a hardcore British boxing fan. Sign a professional deal: check. Fight up and down the country: check. Box for titles: check. Win titles: check. Fight on Sky TV bills: check. Secure an emotional crack at the British title in my last fight and squeeze Adam Booth and Ryan Rhodes into a corner that already boasts Glyn Rhodes: check, check and double check.
The Zen-like presence of Booth added calm in vital moments. However, a brace of right hands from Hamilton in round one suggested that it would be a long, hard and frutless night for Woodhouse.
“Before the first bell, Adam said to me: ‘Keep moving to my right-hand side’,” admitted Woodhouse. “He asked If I’d got it and I said ‘Yeah’ so he said: ‘Are you listening to me’, and I said: ‘Yeah, no problem’. I walked straight out, moved to my left and got banged with the right hand—two in a row. That did me a favour because I thought: ‘I need to wake up here or this could be a quick night for him’.”
Going in, a lot of the talk focused on Hamilton’s jab. Woodhouse, however, proved nifty with his left when fighting Frankie Gavin—a split decision loss in 2011—so he does have that punch in his arsenal when he isn’t embarking on a kill crazy rampage. It was a useful tool against Hamilton on Saturday.
“I knew it would be the element of surprise,” he said. “I knew they wouldn’t think it a possibility that I could out-jab him. As the fight went on, his confidence in himself felt like it was draining. I felt stronger, he felt as if he was wilting.
“After the fight, Darren conducted himself as a champion. It was a close fight. We couldn’t have had too many arguments if it went either way. Boxing’s boxing, we shake hands once we’re done and Darren conducted himself well, fair play to him.”
Woodhouse has made a number of promises over the years. In addition to the one he made to his father, he promised his own children that he would bring home major titles. For the one he brought back prior to Saturday, the 33-year-old has had three occasions when he has come back empty handed after a title fight. Saturday allowed him to pick up some double bubble when it comes to promises kept.
“I said to [manager] Dave [Coldwell] just before that walking into the house with the belt was the best feeling in the world. My son watched the fight. My wife’s mum told me that he cried from rounds one to 12. Bringing it home to my family was just as good as the fight. Seeing how proud they were of me felt like a million dollars.”
Woodhouse has crossed over to the mainstream a few times due to his former career as a Premiership footballer. He also hit the headlines after driving to another town to confront a troll who had taken to Twitter and accused him of letting his dad down following his loss to Shayne Singleton, a hotly disputed split decision loss in the first defence of his English light-welterweight belt last March. The crossover has continued, the Driffield-based fighter has been as busy as a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest since winning the title.
He said: “It’s been crackers. I’ve spoken to so many people. I feel great because everyone seems genuinely delighted that I’ve done it. It’s been great to hear people talk about how it made them feel. I’ve inspired people, they’re telling me they might go and do something even though they’ve been told they’ve not got a chance—it’s inspiring to hear. Miracles happen, I proved on Saturday night that dreams do come true.”
As for the retirement issue, there will be opportunities offered for further fights, but Woodhouse made a promise to retire whatever the outcome. Many hope that this is the one promise that gets away. Some, this writer included, want to see him walk away at the peak of a career that attracted ridicule during the early days.
Still, I firmly believe that a fighter should decide when to walk away, as long as they are deemed medically capable of boxing, so the choice is Woodhouse’s to make, and he will make it in the knowledge that there is now a big, fat target on his back.
“Yeah, there’s that definitely,” he said. “I said I’d retire win, lose or draw and that gave me the extra motivation, but saying it and doing it is difficult. To walk away as British champion is the right thing to do. I also want to fight, I want to defend my title—retirement’s not what I want to do, but I think it’s the right thing to do. I don’t want to make the wrong decision, so I’ll hang fire because I need to get this one right.
“I am on such a high, to say I’ll never do that again is something I’m finding difficult to comprehend. I’d be walking away at the peak of my powers. I feel my skills are getting better and I’ve got something to give. I know it’s the right thing to do, but I also know eating vegetables is the right thing to do, it doesn’t mean that I have to enjoy eating them.”
Saturday’s upset win has placed Woodhouse’s name alongside the likes of former 140lb British titlist Ricky Hatton, which is music to his ears. “That is unbelievable,” said Woodhouse.
“I grew up watching Ricky Hatton so to see he’s a former British light-welterweight champion, like myself, is amazing. Obviously I’m not saying I’m on that level with people like that—it’s just unbelievable to hold the same belt. I looked up to Michael Gomez, who is one of my favourite fighters, Jamie Moore, Ryan Rhodes and Paul ‘Scrap Iron’ Ryan—they are the people I like to watch. They’re like gods, and now my name is on that list of British title winners.
“My pal said the other day: ‘Can you imagine Frank Bruno scoring the winning goal on Match Of The Day? That’s what this will be like’. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I don’t think anyone else will do what I’ve done. It’s an unbelievable thing.”
Woodhouse likes a scrap, so I closed our chat out by performing a public duty. I reminded him that, should he retire, he will get arrested the next time he has a punch up. It’s a sobering thought, but he is up for a drinking contest with “The Hitman” should the two ever show up at the same watering hole. Woodhouse can relax and enjoy the finer things in life until he has made his decision.
“To be honest, I’d definitely be in the Top Five in the country if we had a drinking contest, one million percent,” he replied, and that was that. It was only fitting that his friend, supporter, confidant and manager Dave Coldwell provided the final words.
“I’m still on cloud nine, still enjoying it,” said Coldwell. “I’ve achieved some pretty big things in my time as a trainer, manager and promoter: bringing Ryan back to the British title, George Groves beating James DeGale, Kell Brook winning a British title and working with David Haye, so I’ve had some big nights, but this tops them all.
“I said to my missus before the fight: ‘If Curtis wins this, it is my biggest achievement’. Curtis went from being a footballer who was looked as a gimmick, but we took him from that to a British title shot, then he went and won it to top everything.
“It’s a great crossover story, but not just a sports story. This is a story about human achievement—you’ve got to look at it that way. A guy who was given zero chance when he started on this road, but who proved so many people wrong. The people who have given us respect these past couple of years are the ones who didn’t give it to us during the first couple of years.
“People gave him respect as a fighter because he gave it a good go, they didn’t think he’d become British champion. For him to push on and achieve what he’s done shows that you can do anything in life.
“I’ve always said that if you give him the opportunity for the British title then I’d never bet against him because he’s got drive and determination. What shocked Hamilton, and his team, was that the drive and determination was shown in training, learning the things he put into the fight.”
Coldwell has always defended his man to the hilt. Woodhouse was once widely dismissed as a novelty act at best, a joke at worst. Well, did you hear the one about the Premiership footballer who became a boxer? He only went and won the British title. How’s that for a punchline?
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