Historically, the former pit towns of England’s north-east have served as a breeding ground for ‘no nonsense’ hard men and Sunderland super-lightweight Glenn Foot fits that stereotype perfectly.
The 30 year old former ABA finalist, known locally as ‘The Hammer’ has had as many scraps on the streets as between the strands and twice his promising career was almost curtailed by ‘out of hours’ skirmishes.
‘I’m from Marley Pots which has always been a real rough council estate. You had to learn to fight just to survive up there. There were a lot of joy riders and we used to fight the car thieves. I think I flattened every one of them!’ recalls the straight talking former Prizefighter titlist and English champion who has lost just twice in a 23 fight pro career that commenced in September 2010.
‘When I was about 13, an amateur boxing gym started up there and I joined with my brother Gavin and all my cousins. Gavin was national Golden Gloves champion and won a Six Nations silver.
‘In the amateurs, I boxed absolutely everybody who had a name, around my weight. I stopped (2014 Commonwealth Games champion) Paddy Gallagher inside a round, beat Mark Heffron and got well robbed against (British welterweight champion) Bradley Skeete. I enjoyed the amateurs but, back then, it didn’t suit my style.’
The Wearside warrior fought more than one hundred times in the singlet, captaining England on three occasions, but his professional aspirations were almost doused after just half a dozen starts.
‘In 2011, I lost my licence for fighting with a doorman at a boxing tournament at Seaburn. I was young and daft. You learn by your mistakes,’ says Foot who copped a suspended sentence and had his boxing licence temporarily revoked by the Boxing Board.
After nine months on the naughty stool, contrite Glenn resurfaced to win the January 2013 Prizefighter welterweight tourney – pasting three unbeaten prospects en route – and, shortly after, rinsed Maesteg’s one time European lightweight champ Jason Cook inside seven rounds. However, on the cusp of a British title shot in December 2013, ‘bother’ reared its ugly head again.
Foot explains: ‘Following a disagreement between two families, I had half my right arm chopped at with a machete. My wrist was also broken and the surgeon insisted that I’d never box again.
‘The arm was only about 40% right but I kept on with my life – attended to my horses and greyhounds – and eventually it got stronger and I was able to make my return. I always had it in my mind.’
Remarkably, within 20 months of the incident, this hardest of hard men found himself inside a British championship ring swapping slugs with Stourbridge strongman Sam Eggington for the 147lb crown.....albeit not at full pelt.
‘Initially, I was pulling back with the right hand and that affected us big time,’ claims Foot who lost a technical decision after bailing out with a cut at the end of round eight.
‘Sam moved on to win and defend the European title so losing to him was no disgrace but that wasn’t the real Glenn Foot. Today, the confidence is back and I can throw the right hand perfect.’
A fistful of victories – including highly credible 10 round decisions over Kirk Goodings (11-2), Adam Little (17-1) and Philip Bowes (15-2) – led the Sunderland slayer to the English super-lightweight crown. However, in July he lost a game of tag (and his title) to the ultra evasive Gloucester switcher Akeem Ennis Brown on a 10 round majority.
‘Watching it back, I felt it should’ve been a draw but I’ve never met anyone so awkward,’ says Foot.
‘He didn’t come to fight, he came to run away and ended up pinching the decision. The game plan went wrong. I knew I was down (on the cards) so I pushed forward recklessly and started to make mistakes.’
Now into his 31st year, Glenn knows he has to gamble if he is to fulfil his British title ambitions and this Saturday at Newcastle’s Metro Arena, he rolls the dice against Guisborough’s gifted Josh Leather (12-0) in a Tees-Wearside war that seems certain to deliver.
‘I’m motivated to prove that my name should be right up there where I belong along (Commonwealth king) Josh Taylor and (British boss) Jack Catterall,’ says Foot who will inherit Leather’s IBF world rating if he prevails.
‘After (bantamweight/featherweight) Billy Hardy, I’m gonna deliver Sunderland only its second ever British champion.’
Main event on a huge evening of boxing in Newcastle sees former WBO Super-Welterweight World Champion Liam Smith (25-1-1) rematch with bitter rival and current British Champion Liam Williams (16-1-1)
Country Durham’s Thomas Patrick Ward (20-0) defends his British Super-Bantamweight Championship against Brimingham’s Sean Davis (13-1-0)
Ricky Hatton-trained Heavyweight talent Nathan Gorman (10-0) faces undefeated German Heavyweight Mohamed Soltby (13-0) for the Vacant WBC International Heavyweight title.
Explosive Super-Middleweight Mark Heffron (Oldham, 16-0) another of Ricky Hatton’s excellent young stable of fighters, takes on former Tommy Langford and Jamie Cox opponent Lewis Taylor (19-4-1); undefeated Jeff Saunders (11-0) of Sedgefield takes on undefeated Liverpudlian Steven Lewis (14-0)
In addition, local prospects Troy Williamson (Darlington, 3-0) Kalam Leather (Guisborough, 2-0) Joe Maphosa (Thornaby, 1-0) and Michael Watson (Sedgefield, Pro debut) will all appear on the bill.
Sharpshooting Guisborough stylist Josh Leather believes he’s developed the firepower to make him a genuine title threat in Britain’s flourishing super-lightweight division.
The 25 year old former ABA champion and England amateur captain has impressed all whilst cruising to a dozen straight pro wins since debuting in September 2013. And joltin’ Josh has leathered his last five victims long before the judges’ cards were called.
Consequently the 5ft 10in stylist believes he finally has the full package needed to overthrow Commonwealth king Josh Taylor or British boss Jack Catterall, who join him as genuine contenders to be considered Britain’s brightest prospect at any weight.
‘Trust me, I’d love to fight those guys but I don’t think Frank (Warren, his promoter) wants to send me that route just yet. He wants to get my IBF ranking up even higher then maybe target the European,’ says the Middlesbrough born man who is coached by Imran Naeem at the Stockton Boxing Academy.
In his last outing at Leeds’ First Direct Arena in May, the ex roofer displayed the full gamut of his unquestionable talent to dazzle then daze 13-1 Dublin destroyer Phil Sutcliffe Jnr (to defeat inside six rounds).
‘That was probably the best performance that I’ve done,’ acknowledges the former three time national junior champ who has been boxing since the age of nine.
‘Everything went to plan. I knew Phil would come and give a strong fight but I boxed him beautifully before dropping the right hand on him.
‘People said I couldn’t punch but, as the opposition has got better, I’ve stopped five on the bounce now. Due to all the strength and conditioning work that I do, I’ve become a lot stronger physically. I’ve the experience of coping with different opponents with different styles but also my mindset has become nasty, more spiteful. I now understand when my opponent is hurt and how to apply the pressure. Consequently, I’m getting the job done quicker.’
The Sutcliffe slaughter brought the IBF Inter-Continental crown plus a world ranking of 14 and lightening Leather hopes to enhance that and collect the sanctioning body’s IBF East/West European bauble when he confronts regional rival Glenn Foot from Sunderland at Newcastle’s Metro Arena on Saturday. He can hardly contain his excitement.
‘Fighting in the north-east allows more of my Guisborough fans to attend on buses. I expect to sell a lot of tickets. They’re a very noisy, lively crew and it’s growing every time I fight in the north-east. Hopefully, one day, I’ll headline this arena myself,’ says Leather.
‘The region produces lots of top juniors. As an amateur, I always found winning the north-east division the hardest part when I won my national titles but there wasn’t much of a pro scene so the top lads would drift away. Other than (IBF Super-Bantam challenger) Michael Hunter from Hartlepool, I didn’t have many local heroes to inspire me, growing up.
‘That’s why it’s important all the local lads deliver in style on November 11th....apart from Glenn Foot, of course!’
Glynn Evans finds out more about one of the most gifted reigning British champions who defends his super-bantam belt against Birmingham hard case Sean ‘Showtime’ Davis in Newcastle on Saturday week, live on BT Sport and BoxNation.
How did you first become involved in boxing?
I came across all the other fighters from the travelling community - like the Furys and Billy Joe Saunders - at the horse fayres and, from an early age, my family knew who they were, their families knew who we were.
I’m the youngest of five. My eldest brother Martin (the former IBF bantam challenger) first visited the Birtley ABC boxing gym when he was 11, and though I was five years younger, I followed along and immediately fell in love with the sport. It became a huge part of my life from my earliest years, teaching me discipline and respect. Boxing made me grow up fast.
You were one of Britain’s most decorated junior boxers of the last decade. What precisely did you achieve?
All told, I had 64 contests and I won 60. I won a national schoolboy title, two junior ABAs, two National Boys Clubs titles and four British junior titles. At international level, I was a bronze medallist at the European schoolboys tournament in Serbia, then gold medallist at the European Under 17s in the Ukraine. I defeated a lad from Armenia in the final.
Wow! What were the keys behind that success?
Firstly, I have to thank my coach Graham Rutherford for investing so much time and effort into me. I always listened because I was keen to learn new things that would make me even better. I’d also study great fighters like Hatton and Mayweather. Even these days, I scrutinise Jorge Linares and ‘Canelo’ (Alvarez). Other than that, I just think, I’m naturally quite fast and I seem to read things better than opponents. I always seem one step ahead.
You turned professional just two months after your eighteenth birthday. With so much money available to top ‘amateurs’ these days, weren’t you tempted to stay on for a crack at the Olympics or the WSB?
Nah, I never saw that side of the sport. I even never boxed as a senior, in the amateurs. Our Martin was a pro at Neil Fannon’s gym in Hartlepool and I put all my trust in Neil to guide me through, which he’s done.
He and my manager Dave Garside really look after me. They kept me busy and unbeaten and when Frank Warren offered a promotional deal late last year, it was unbelievable. I started really young from the bottom and now I’m British champion at just 23.
Coming through, you boxed eight four rounders and ten six rounders. Was that necessary given your youth?
Probably. Neil and David brought me through gradually, level by level, but the whole time I was also sparring top class champions like Scott Quigg, Josh Warrington and Jamie McDonnell at the gyms.
I was very hungry, very eager. Neil’s a very good teacher and I’m a very good listener.
Your perfect 21-0 CV lists just three stoppage wins. Will you be able to fend off the champions at elite level?
My ‘man strength’ is still developing and I’ve a while yet before I hit very top level. But already I hit hard enough to earn any one’s respect. My timing and accuracy make opponent’s sore and send them into survival mode. I don’t knock people cold but I break faces up. If they keep coming, they eat a lot of leather. That said, I’ve always preferred to box and move. Taking shots makes no sense to me.
How was your mindset going into your British title challenge last May, at such a young age and against such an accomplished champion?
I expected it to be hard. We knew Jazza (Dickens) was good – only two world class lads had beat him - but I’m confident of victory going into every fight. I know what I’m capable of. That said, it was my first fight on the tele and I felt a lot of pressure to put on a show for those who’d heard about me but not seen me. That brought a certain buzz. (Ward bagged a nine round technical decision after an accidental head clash left him cut and unable to continue).
Did the inconclusive ending diminish your sense of achievement?
Yeh, it took a bit away. The fight was going how we planned and I’ve no doubt I’d have seen it through but I wanted to prove that I could go 12 rounds in good class because I had plenty left in the tank. People forget, I had Jazza on the back foot in round nine before the stoppage. But there was nothing I could do about it.
You’ve fought in Newcastle five times before, twice at the Metro Arena. How have you been received by the Geordie fans?
It’s a very nice venue and those Geordie fans certainly understand their boxing. They treat me well. It’s a fantastic bill and if I wasn’t boxing on it, I’d pay for a ticket myself. I’ll be bringing more than a hundred fans up and quite a few of those are ringside. Hopefully, Frank will bring more big shows up here and I can benefit from the exposure.
What do you know of challenger Sean Davis?
Very little. I seldom watch opponents. I leave all that to Neil and he comes up with the tactics. I’ll stick to his plan and do the business.
I’ll just prepare the best I can with the confidence that I have the ability to beat anyone. I’ve had fantastic sparring with Jamie McDonnell and I’m in great shape. We’re two weeks out but I’m ready to go now.
Why do you win?
My boxing skills will be too much on the night. They say he’s very tough but so am I.
Tickets for Ward v Davis priced at £40, £50, £70, £100, £150 and £250 are available from: Metro Radio Arena 0844 493 6666 www.metroradioarena.co.uk
In person from the Metro Radio Arena Box Office. Eventim 0844 249 1000 www.eventim.co.uk