By Terence Dooley
Sunderland’s Tony Jeffries has announced his retirement from boxing due to persistent injuries to both of his hands. The hugely popular 27-year-old made the tough decision after agonizing over his future during recent months. It means that the 2008 Olympic light-heavyweight bronze medalist’s record will remain forever stalled at a promising 9-0-1 (6).
“Today my boxing career is officially over,” said Jeffries when announcing the news on his Facebook fan page. “After injuries to both hands, I’ve had to accept I will not fight again. I’ve had problems with my hands for years, but after winning my last fight this time last year the pain got too much, and I had to get them assessed followed by an MRI scan. I did everything I possibly could to get do to be able to punch again. I had surgery from Mike Hayton, the UK’s top hand surgeon, after discovering I had a hole in my right knuckle and a tear in my left hand.
“A couple of months ago I had a procedure called BM PRP, where they took bone marrow out of my hip, then divided out the plasma and platelets from red and white cells and with HGH injected it back into my knuckles. Since then I’ve been taking lots of supplements, medication along with more therapy. The surgery helped the pain and movement, what’s great for every day life, but not enough to be able to punch again. I tried last week for the first time in ten months, but before I even did it I knew it was going to hurt because just making a fist still hurts. It seems I’ve been lying to myself for so long hoping it would get right. I suppose I just didn’t want to come to the reality of not been able to fight again. Now I’m absolutely gutted to say I have no other option.
“I’ve had the best support I could wish for from my Mam, wife Sarah, sisters Sarah and Lucy and my trainers, Tommy Brookes, Joe Dunbar and Sean Casey. Their support has meant the world to me. I get asked loads of times every day, ‘How’s your hands doing?’, and it’s great so many people care and want to see me in the ring again, but it’s not great having nothing good to say back. So I’m sad to say at the age of 27 I will be retiring from the ring.
“If when I started boxing aged 10 someone asked if I would settle for half of what I have done I would have said YES. I’ve won seven national titles, five European medals including a gold and two Multi-Nation gold medals. I captained England and Great Britain around 16 times, and fought for my country 57 times. I won a medal at the 2008 Olympics and was named BBC North East Sports Personality of the Year.
“I was undefeated as a professional, and really helped bring pro boxing in the North East back onto the map, bringing national TV Sky Sports to the area a load of times for big shows. Probably my biggest achievement, though, is helping raise well over £200k for charity. I’m really honored to have done all this!”
Luckily, Jeffries has other irons in the fire. He lives in L.A. with his wife and has opened a boxing gym with Mickey Rourke, who has acted in a few films, but more importantly was once a member of the boxing tribe. Rourke compiled a 6-0-2 (4) record between 1991 and 1994; the sport destroyed his face and this impromptu facial reconfiguration soured the actor’s movie career. However, the mixture of Rourke’s star wattage and Jeffries’s boxing knowhow will be a powerful combination.
As for Jeffries, I was in the gym with the fighter, his then-trainer Joe Gallagher, who was replaced after only a single fight, and nutritionist Kerry Kayes during Christmas 2008 as “Jaffa” prepared for his professional debut — a first-round TKO win over Aliaksandr Vaiavoda at Barnsley’s Metreodome in February 2009. I was also in the dressing room ahead of his maiden outing and saw firsthand the desire, trepidation, optimism and relief of a fledgling pro as Jeffries carried out this first assignment with aplomb.
During those early sessions at Gallagher’s Gym, the former star amateur told me that he had worked hard to master the amateur style of point scoring fencing yet had completely switched his attention to getting up-to-speed with the professional way of doing things as quickly as possible.
“Being an amateur I followed the amateur game and not (the) pros,” said Jeffries during an interview on Boxing Day 2008. “I don’t even know all the rules of pro boxing yet. I gave everything to my amateur career. Now I am a professional, and I am going to learn everything about professional boxing.”
Gallagher shared this dedication to the cause. The two men worked hard to tailor the fighter’s talents to the pro ranks only for Jeffries to move on from Gallagher’s Gym a few months later after an amicable parting of the ways.
A switch to Manchester’s Bobby Rimmer in May of 2009 was followed by another striking stoppage win — a two-round success over Roy Meissner. Once again, Jeffries underlined his potential and showed why promoter Frank Maloney had put so much effort into hyping the 6’ 2’’ North East star as the next big thing in boxing.
After a few more impressive wins under Rimmer, Jeffries started to struggle for form. His inexperience was plain to see when drawing with Michael Banbula in fight number eight. Jeffries celebrated when the bell rang to end round six that night only to be told that it was an eight rounder and that he had six more minutes of action to negotiate. Clearly distracted and rattled, Jeffries struggled through the final two stanzas and was bitterly disappointed when a score of 77-77 created the first, and only, blot on his pro slate.
American trainer Tommy Brooks was drafted in, L.A. became Jeffries’s new training base yet Jeffries picked up cuts and received heavy criticism after his failing to showcase his undoubted ability during his next two outings — a stoppage and decision win over Tommy Tolan and Paul Morby respectively.
Despite this stuttering professional slate, the former star amateur impressed fans due to his determination to overcome chronic hand injuries. There has been a lot of goodwill and support directed towards the man who used to sell burgers outside Sunderland’s Stadium of Light.
Ironically, Jeffries had hoped to headline at the home of Sunderland FC at some point in his professional career. It wasn’t meant to end this way for Jefferies, but, and given the determination he showed in both boxing codes, it is likely that he will achieve great success in the next phase of his life story.
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