National Amateur Championships 2021: Male Over 91kg quarter-final preview

December 3, 2021 | by Matt Halfpenny

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All have different motivations and backgrounds. All have overcome different challenges and hail from different parts of the country.

But like Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua, Joe Joyce, Derek Chisora, Audley Harrison, Frank Bruno and so many others before them, what unites the eight men boxing in this weekend’s England Boxing National Amateur Championships 2021 quarter-finals Over 91kg category is their desire to be number one.

When the tournament reaches a conclusion on 11th December, what they are all dreaming of is putting a coveted national title belt around their waist, and having to right to claim they are the best amateur boxing in England.

It will put them among extremely illustrious company – with so many stellar names having won the blue riband weight division – and is what has kept made them drag themselves out of bed for that early morning run in the rain, or complete one more set of lifts at the gym.

Being NACs champion as a super-heavyweight carries with it kudos and prestige and can also lead to great opportunity, as the most recent past winner, Delicious Orie of Jewellery Quarter knows only too well through his subsequent elevation onto the GB Boxing squad.

The most intriguing thing for all of us watching is, who will grab that opportunity?

 

Courtney Bennett certainly believes that this is his time – and, he feels, with some justification.

He comes into this weekend’s contests as the number one seed and on the GB Boxing programme, where he has been training full-time at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield.

The man who boxes out of the Royal Resistance club in Woolwich, London, also boasts plenty of experience on this stage, having reached the final before in 2018, where he lost to the Army’s Chez Nihell.

This time, he has an added incentive following the recent passing of his grandfather Maurice Graham, who was an avid supporter of his boxing.

Bennett would like nothing more than to win the title in his honour and, by doing so, underline why he is the favourite to seal victory.

“My grandad came to a lot of my bouts, especially when I was younger, going all round London to watch me and even beyond that sometimes,” said the 25-year-old.

“He died about six weeks ago, having had dementia for eight years and it was a very difficult time for him.

“I would love to win this title for him, in his memory, and I know he would be very proud if I could do it.  I am 100 per cent confident in my ability. I have finished as a runner-up in this and I have improved since then, so I can’t see why I can’t go all the way.

“I know that as the number one seed I will have a target on my back and people will be determined to beat me, but that just spurs me on.

“There are some great names who have won this title and I want to be the next one on that list. It’s the one you want to win and when you start boxing for your club, this is what you dream of. Now I have the chance to go out and get it.”

Bennett’s first obstacle to glory will be Newark boxer Michael Lindsay, who earned his place in the last eight with a unanimous pre quarter-final win last weekend over Studio’s Simon Ibekwe in Banbury.

The 26-year-old lives in the Nottingham suburb of Mapperley and travels to the eastern edge of the county for his training in between his day job as a primary school teaching assistant.

And one of the lessons he has learned during his career is that underdogs do have their day, as he believes he can against his much-fancied opponent.

He said: “I’ve come into this with a good win under my belt and I have the opportunity to keep that momentum going. It was a tough first bout and I had to go deep, but I think that shows I have what it takes.

“This will be another step up. Of course I have heard plenty about him and seen clips, but the only way to find out if I have what it takes is to go up against him. It’s my chance to find out how good I am and if you are going to win a title then you have to beat the best.

“I’m going into it as if it is a final and have prepared in that way. If I can come out on top, then it puts me in a really strong position for the rest of the Championships.

“My club, Newark, have been amazing and I’m very grateful for what they have done for me. I’ve had to work hard for this, getting up and training before I go to work and then again after I have finished, but I love this sport and I have put my heart and soul into it.

“I’m enjoying it and having fun every step of the way. If I were to win the Championships then it really would be the icing on the cake.”

If staying calm under pressure is an essential pre-requisite for boxing success, then there is no wonder that Border City’s Ike Ogbo is an accomplished performer.

The 28-year-old earns his living as a A&E doctor in Carlisle, so is well accustomed to the stress and strain of working in a testing environment.

The England Boing Development Championships 2019 runner-up is hoping his ability to stay calm and collected whatever is thrown at him, both metaphorically and literally, will serve him well in Staffordshire.

“Working in an A&E can make it difficult to fit in the training, but the boxing is a great way to relieve the stress of work,” he said. “It’s something else to focus on and helps you decompress.

“I’m a fully qualified doctor now, but I have a real interest in cardiology and I’m looking to specialise in that… being able to intervene when people have had a heart attack with life-saving procedures is very rewarding.

“It’s hard work but it’s also fascinating and I think that’s the same with boxing. I think there are things that I can transfer across from one to the other.

“I’m doing the boxing because I want to challenge myself, push myself to my limits and see how far it can take me. Hopefully I can develop attributes that, one day, I will hopefully be able to teach my kids.

“Whoever I step in the ring with I have a huge amount of respect for them because I know myself how much it takes, with all the training and the nerves to get in there and do it.

“I managed to win the MTK Box Cup in my weight division recently, so I’m looking forward to these nationals. Covid gave me a little but more time to focus on technical aspects of my boxing, not just the fitness side, and I’m looking to bring that into play.”

Ogbo faces a tough assignment in his quarter-final having drawn the number two seed, Hoddesdon’s Gideon Antwi, a London courier by day, who is keen to go one better having lost in the 2o19 final to Orie at Manchester Central.

A former basketball player who was on the verge of taking up rugby, he eventually settled into boxing having grown up being a big fan of American world champion Evander Holyfield.

It was a fight in his younger days that convinced him to give boxing a go and helped him drop down from 24 stone – even if it earned him a clip round the ear from his mum.

“I gave one of the boys in my road a hiding, and that made me think that I might be able to give boxing a go, even though it got me into trouble with my mum.

“My dad, Benjamin Miller, helps coach me now and is in my corner. He was the one who first taught me the basics when I was growing up.

“Preps for this tournament have been going well with some good sparring and strength and conditioning. I had a bout in the Home Counties last week to blow the cobwebs away as it was the first time I had boxed competitively for two years.

“Having been the finalist last time out, I feel like I should be the one who is the number one seed, but I have to now go and prove why.

“I feel I belong at this level now, but if I could win the title it would really would show it, because from time to time you can still have doubts.

“I’ve boxed Courtney (Bennett) before at the GB Championships in 2019 and lost, so it would be good to get the chance to come up against him again and have another go.”

Representing the region of Merseyside and Cheshire as well as Liverpool club Marybone this weekend will be Ste Ferguson.

A former member of the armed forces, the 26-year-old fell on hard times when he became addicted to drugs and alcohol after suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

He credit’s boxing with ‘saving his life’ and helping to turn things around, dropping no less than four-and-a-half stone after his weight had previously ballooned.

His love of boxing means he now runs regular classes for junior boxers, those with disabilities and veterans.

“I boxed as a young kid for Kirkby, having around 35 bouts but then I joined up with the army,” he said. “I have struggled since then with addiction – drink and drugs – and had PTSD, which is not an excuse, but it obviously did have an effect.

“I knew I had to sort my life out, and it is boxing that has enabled me to do it. I joined a rehabilitation session as part of the programme that I was on that focused on boxing, run by Derry Matthews, which was the spark for me to get back in the ring and start competing again.

“I’ve now dropped lots of weight and I think there will be more to come –I will probably end up boxing at a lower weight in the end – and I have got that love back for boxing.

“It’s now a big part of my life and I’m loving it. I believe I can go there and win but, if I don’t, then it is just the start for me after so long out of the ring.

“It’s brilliant to be training at Marybone and then also volunteering there and giving something back to boxing, which has given me so much.

“People might look at me and think ‘he’s only a little guy at 6ft to be a super-heavyweight’, but I’m hungry for this and I’m also very grateful to get a second shot at it.”

Ferguson’s quarters opponent in Cannock will be another man who has given service in the forces in the shape of the Royal Navy’s Kyle De-Banks.

A change in role – moving from Scotland down to Portsmouth, where the boxing team is based – has allowed the 33-year-old to pick up his ring career once again.

The Mine Clearance Diving Officer, who has, in the past, been deployed across the Middle East in serving his country, is determined to use the opportunity to box again to honour his late father, Vaughan, who was in the Gloucestershire regiment of the army.

“My dad used to box and it was he who got me into it before he passed away,” he said. “I know he would be massively proud of me competing on this stage and to do well for him really gives me a fire in my belly.

“Ironically, I lost three times to an army boxer in my bid to be able to pull on a UK Armed Forces vest, so I’m really pleased to be able to wear one now and represent them.

“I got back in the gym because it was something we couldn’t really due during Covid and I got the taste for it. I contacted the boxing squad and got trials, started training again in September, and managed to get on the team, helped by winning a bout against a good opponent.

“I have done my best in my preparations so I know I can now look forward to it and know that it’s the real me going into my bouts.

“I don’t think it would have been possible to do it without moving down from Scotland, but now I have a bit more scope to fit in the boxing around my work.”

Looking to make the transition from a stand-out prospect in the Under-18s ranks to senior contender is William Howe from Hartlepool-based Headland.

The 19-year-old has twice won England Boxing national titles as a Junior and again at Youth (Cadet and Open class in each) and has also competed for England on the European stage.

A talented sportsman who represented England at rugby in his junior years, he opted to concentrate on boxing from the age of 14.

And although he holds down two jobs with a security company and working at a garage, he insists it is his training that comes first, making his way over from Middlesbrough to work with England Talent coach John Stubbs.

While the 19-year-old will be conceding plenty of years in terms of age, he insists he has the boxing skills and experience to take the step up to the next level in his stride.

He said: “It’s all gone really well for me over the past six or seven weeks getting ready for this after the initial period when we returned to gyms after Covid, which was quite hard.

“I’d not boxed much for about a year and not had a bout for 16 to 18 months, which was a long time to go without one. Then when I came back it was hard to get bouts because some have not started up again and others are still only just getting back into it.

“But now I’ve had my first senior bout, which went well, and while it is different, I don’t think there is a massive difference.

“I always wanted to box from about the age of nine and what really appealed to me, that wasn’t the case with team sports, is that it is all down to me. Whether I do well, or not, is down to me and only me. As quite a solitary person, boxing suits me.

“I think boxing in the Europeans three times will definitely help me because each country has a different boxing style and the places themselves – the food and the culture – is as well. It’s a lot of pressure on you and you have to learn to adapt.

“I take my boxing very seriously, which you have to do if you want to be the best. I’m now going up against men who are a lot older than me, but I’m looking forward to meeting the challenge.”

Rounding off the quarter-final hopefuls is Hillcrest’s Harvey Dykes, who, following the recent exploits of his brother, knows he has a lot to live up to.

Only last weekend, sibling Charlie clinched the England Boxing National Youth Championships 2021 Over 91kg Youth Development title, meaning that the older Dykes stands to get plenty of stick if he cannot emulate that feat over the coming days.

The England Boxing National Senior Development champion for 2019 would certainly love to create a little piece of history as he gets back into his boxing following the lockdown period when he established, with a work partner, his own rubbish clearance company.

The 25-year-old knows he faces a tough quarter-final assignment in teenager Howe, but is relishing the bout nonetheless.

“I watched my brother last weekend and I was very proud of what he achieved,” he said. “He boxed very well and to be a national champion at any level is some achievement.

“I probably won’t hear the end of it now though, especially if I can’t match him and win in my own category. He will be watching me, I ‘m sure, on the streaming, even though he won’t be able to get up to the venue in person.

“I can’t have him getting the better of me, so my only option is to go out there and win it! I can’t imagine two brothers have won national titles at the same weight in two different age groups in the same year before.

“I’m Brighton born and bred and so I was with Moulsecoomb for a long time, but I moved with my coach when he moved to Hillcrest (in Newhaven) because I’ve been with him a long time and it felt like it was the best thing to do.

“I know my opponent has won four national titles and is experienced in terms of bouts, but I’m hoping this is my time and that I can take this opportunity.

“It was great to win the Developments, but this is the one everyone really wants to win and what I have my sights on. I need this at the moment and, fingers crossed, it’s going to be a great weekend.”

*****

Boxing at the England Boxing National Amateur Championships 2021 starts at 12noon on Saturday and Sunday.

Click here to view streaming details and click here to see the Key Info Circular. To keep up to date, go to the National Amateur Championships home page here and follow the action on social media using the hashtag #EBNAC21.