By Terence Dooley
Driffield's Curtis Woodhouse made the transition from professional footballer to prizefighter in September 2006. Indeed, not too many people predicted big things for the raw, eager brawler when he posted a four-twos decision win over Dean Marcantonio in his début outing, but the 32-year-old came of age at Rotherham's Magna Centre on Friday night by beating Derby's Dave Ryan by majority decision to take the vacant English light-welterweight title.
Woodhouse (139¼lb) lost his last contest – a fifth-round stoppage to Dale Miles at the same venue – and he knew he was facing another tough against Ryan (139¼lb), so steeled himself for the fight by watching Arturo Gatti's first and third wars with Micky Ward on Friday afternoon.
A tough first few rounds raised the spectre of June's loss to Miles, in which Woodhouse landed some big left hooks early only to succumb to his opponent's size and greater boxing nous. However, a well-timed left hook in round three dumped Ryan to the canvas and helped Woodhouse wrest the initiative away from “Rocky”, who showed guts to get to his feet and keep things competitive for the rest of the ten-threes contest and now drops to 13-7 (3).
Despite a torrid final round for Woodhouse, who clung to his opponent to run down the clock, scores of 95-95, 95-94 and 96-94, from Steve Gray, Terry O'Connor and Howard Foster respectively, brought the former footballer his first professional title. BoxingScene had it for Woodhouse by 97-92. Coldwell Boxing promoted the show, the effervescent Dave Coldwell also manages Woodhouse and believes that the win will help propel his charge to a British title challenge.
“What a crowd, what an atmosphere – I am so proud,” said Coldwell when speaking to BoxingScene after the fight. “Curtis is a proper fighter. This English title is like him winning the European belt and the world title. I didn't think it was close at all. Each round was hard fought, but I thought Curtis won most of them and it was a bit wider than that (the decision). In close rounds, you can see how it can go the other way, but I thought he won it convincingly. In the last round, he looked tired and I didn't want him to get caught.
“Before he dropped Ryan, Curtis looked disorganised, but Dave has got some chin to get up from that. You could hear the punch. It was like one the hooks that Curtis landed on Dale Miles. It was a tough last round. Curtis was trying to hold on, so I was worried he'd walk on to a uppercut. The aim has been for Curtis to become British champion, and he's close – he's got a penalty kick coming up. Curtis is now a proper domestic champion.”
As for Woodhouse's pre-fght decision to watch a few Gatti fights, perhaps he would be better of taking in a bit of Floyd Mayweather prior to his contests? “I don't know about that – I don't know if he'll appreciate Mayweather's skills,” joked Coldwell.
After receiving treatment to a wound above his left eye, Woodhouse draped his hard-won belt around his waist and reflected on yet another memorable battle in which he had given and taken plenty of lumps. “It is very difficult when you're in there, but I felt I did enough to win the fight,” he said.
“I put him down in the third, was hurt myself in the second and felt I was on the Waltzer, but I put him down in the third and caught him nice – I didn't think he was getting up. He is a tough kid, it was a great fight and a tough day at the office – I'll have to ask Dave for an easy one next time.”
As for his struggles in the second round, which was a torrid session for Woodhouse, the 17-4 (11) champion put his troubles down to a troublesome hook to the temple that discombobulated him for a few minutes before lamenting the fact that, as was the case with Miles, his opponent seemed so much stronger at the weight on the night – at one point it had looked to be a case of deja vu.
“I was hurt, he caught me on my temple and I was disorientated, the room was spinning,” he said. “It isn't like getting hit on the chin. I held on, my head cleared and that was it. I don't know what it is, I think I've got to realise that I'm small because when I get in there they're all bigger than me. I was 11 stone one today, so I'd put a stone on since the weigh in. I think I'm just like my missus – all arse and thighs.
“The plan was to draw his jab, but when I felt I had him hurt he just came back. It wasn't my best boxing display, you just have to bite your gumshield and grit it out at times. This fight was all about the victory. Tonight wasn't a vintage performance, I got down and dirty to gut it out. I know I can win a dog fight, and neglected my skills somewhat, but you've got to give credit to him. I was watching Ward-Gatti one and three (today) to get me in the mindset of having a good, old-fashioned tear up, so maybe I need to get into the mindset of watching Willie Pep.
“It doesn't seem real that I’m the champion of England. No one thought I'd do this, I didn't think I'd do it because to be honest I was shit (in the early days) and had to graft really hard. I've been on the end of some decisions that I thought I'd won, so I heard the scores and thought, 'Here we go again'. It is great to be going home with this. I don't like going home and telling my son and daughter that I've lost. To be honest, I think my son thinks I'm shit, so instead of having him sucking his teeth at me, I'm looking forward to going home and telling him his dad is the champ.”
He added: “I get plenty of stick, people saying I was a shit footballer, shit boxer and now shit football manager [Woodhouse manages Sheffield FC]. I can take shit footballer and boxer, but we're third in the league so I can't be that bad (as a manger). Now I'm champion of England, so there must be some people out there who are shitter than me.”
Once seen as a novelty act, Woodhouse is now the English titlist and can expect to secure a British title fight or eliminator after his latest efforts. Not bad for someone who was written off before he even threw a punch in anger.
“Dave has said he'll get me that British title fight,” he revealed. “Without Dave and Spencer Fearn (of Coldwell Boxing) this wouldn't have been possible. I told Dave after the fight that he could work with about 20 better light-welterweights than me that they could sign and progress with, but they've shown faith in me – that means a lot. Dave has been there to pick me up and push me forward and I'm grateful he's given me this opportunity.
“I know my limitations, but every time I fight I show up to fight and always give all I've got. I'm not brilliant, I won't get near a world title, but if I can get to the British it will feel like I have and this feels like my world title.”
The mention of a rematch sometime down the line with Dale Miles , who fights Adwil Anwar in a British title eliminator on October 13, should have brought a grimace to Woodhouse's face, he instead shrugged and issued a “Bring 'em on” challenge.
“Boxers have big egos, I never thought anyone could do that to me, but I'll fight anyone – I'd go into the jungle and fight a lion with a toothpick, so bring him back to the Magna,” he stated.
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