By Alistair Hendrie
This June, Curtis Woodhouse and Dale Miles stood toe to toe at Rotherham’s Magna Centre and traded knockout blows for five rounds in one of the most staggering wars of attrition in recent memory. Every time Miles threw, Woodhouse dug in and replied with aplomb. As always, something had to give. Woodhouse used his ring craft to back Miles up, although when he dropped his hands in search of a finish, he walked on to a jarring short right that sent him flailing to the canvas.
Remembering that galling fifth round knockout, Woodhouse says, “I was devastated.” The Yorkshire fighter has since regrouped and picked up the English light-welterweight title, defeating Dave Ryan on points. That Miles loss was still a tough pill to swallow, though. His pride dented, Woodhouse suffered a break from hard sparring due to a slowly but steadily healing face. He only got back to training two weeks after the fight and, even then, he could only engage in shadow boxing.
There were no titles on the line during his renowned battle with Miles but Woodhouse won respect from the fight, a tag that is almost as valuable as a belt in a business such as boxing. Woodhouse’s promoter Dave Coldwell says, “If you take a fighter like Arturo Gatti who still lost three fights in a row at one stage, boxing people and fans alike respected him for the fights he was in. I’m not comparing him in terms of ability at all, but I think something similar is happening with Curtis.”
Woodhouse, who entered boxing as a latecomer at 26 after a fleeting career as a professional footballer, admits he had to overcome several obstacles by embarking on such a gamble. “I was 26 and had never laced up a pair of gloves,” he remembers. “Obviously I get a lot of doubters given how I came into the sport but I feel I’ve earned the respect of my peers, especially after winning the English title.”
Indeed, Woodhouse learned tough lessons from the Miles fight that he harked back to during the English title bout. “There was one point,” says Woodhouse, “when I got hit on the back of the head against Ryan and the room was spinning. Against Miles, I’d have fired back, but I just had to hold on for a moment to compose myself. It was a great moment for me and a great achievement to become champion of England.”
His clash with Miles, it seems, defines Woodhouse’s career and acts as a turning point towards his euphoric English title win. Along with Coldwell, Woodhouse admits the fight taught him a lot about the values of defence. The adulation that comes after a gut check and a war such as that, however, is something that Woodhouse takes with open arms.
“People were saying it was the greatest fight they’d ever seen,” he laughs. “It’s nice to hear something like that and I think the fact that I went through hell and back for 12 weeks in my camp, training as hard as I possibly could, makes the loss slightly easier to live with.”
“Even during the exchanges I was thinking, wow, this is some fight! The crowd were going so crazy I couldn’t even heard my corner between rounds! He hurt me in the first round; I hurt him in the second round. Whenever he caught me with a good shot, I just planted my feet, bit on my gumshield, and just thought, fuck you; let’s have a fight!”
Those scattergun attacks may be pleasing for the crowd, but that surge of adrenalin Woodhouse felt still had lasting effects. Woodhouse revealed he fought on with a fractured cheekbone and a broken nose. Coming into the sport as a wide-eyed novice, soaking up any information and advice when he could, you might think Woodhouse would shy away from the more punishing sides of boxing.
Credit must go to Woodhouse, though, as he has taken the pitfalls and dangers of boxing in his stride. “If you don’t want to get hurt don’t become a boxer” is his steely yet commendable statement. The former Sheffield United defender continues to claim that boxing isn’t always a nice sport. “It’s not tennis, you’re in there to have a fight,” he professes.
That machismo and tough talking stance from Woodhouse may put some observers off, perhaps understandably so. Before his fight with Frankie Gavin, the two had to be forcibly separated at the weigh-in. “During the build-up to fights, tensions sometimes boil over,” claims Woodhouse. “It’s a tough sport for tough men, so you might expect emotions to run high.”
Thankfully, Woodhouse has managed to channel that competitive nature into hard work outside and inside the ring, and his ambitious switch to boxing seems to have paid off. Coldwell oozes with enthusiasm when discussing Woodhouse’s future.
“We want Darren Hamilton, who is the British champion, then the Miles rematch. That’s the plan,” he confirms. Considering Hamilton’s upset over Ashley Theophane for the British title in May, there are many who have sounded off about Hamilton’s waning credentials as British champion.
“He doesn’t do anything great, but he does everything correctly,” says Woodhouse. “He’s got really long arms, jabs well, and proves that if you get the basics right, you can go far in boxing. There are certain things he makes look very easy in the ring, and he’s clearly worked very hard. I say good luck to him, but I want to rip that belt from him.”
“I’ve got options to defend my English title, so if I can’t get a British title shot, I’ll go down that route. My aim is to stay busy. If anyone wants to fight me, I’m always willing to listen. I could have quite easily got to 13-0 fighting a load of journeymen, but I want to fight the very best in Britain. A poor record is not something that interests me.”