Ben Wilkes is ready to step back in the ring for the first time in almost five years this weekend.
The Wolverhampton boxer last laced his gloves in May 2010. At the time he was a six fight novice with six wins to his name. He was building up a big following and lived and breathed the sport to the point where it was all consuming.
Putting pressure on himself to live right, train hard, sell tickets and hold down a full-time job, the then 23 year-old’s boxing world came crashing down as he was stopped against Latvian Janis Cernauskis.
It was all too much for Wilkes. Not the loss but the weight of expectation. Boxing is a hard game. He called it a day but couldn’t leave the sport. He turned to his manager, Wednesbury-based Errol Johnson, and went from fighter to trainer and cornerman.
For the next few years, the likeable Black Country lad worked the corners of most of Johnson’s fighters. Travelling the length and breadth of the country with the likes of Matt Seawright and Jason Nesbitt one week then working with former British Champion Martin Gethin and two-time British Title Challenger Jason Welborn the next.
He was content. Or so he thought.
With a wedding on the horizon – he is set to marry childhood sweetheart Vicky Whitehouse this summer – Wilkes wanted to get back in shape, and more importantly, into his suit for the big day. As the pounds came off, the desire to get back in the ring grew.
After months of training, and conversations with Johnson, Wilkes is set for his ring return this weekend as he steps in with Worthing scrapper, James Child, over four rounds on Black Country Boxing’s ‘A New Dawn Show’ at Walsall Town Hall
“It’s been a real journey for me,” Wilkes told www.uko-boxing.com. “I turned pro at 22 and threw myself into the sport. I put a lot of pressure on myself and was a perfectionist. I was my own worst critic and wouldn’t let anything go.
“I built up a good fan base and felt a bit of expectation for them to deliver. As I had more fights, my fan base grew but so did the pressure. Looking back, I put it all on myself.
“I found it hard when I lost and I thought ‘enough is enough’. I’ve always loved the sport though. I came into Errol’s gym as a big fat kid. I was about 18 stone! I worked my way down and he had faith in me so even when I stopped boxing, I felt I owed him something. That’s when I started training, helping out in the gym and working corners. I enjoy doing that but it’s not the same as being in the ring.
“I’d often be watching thinking ‘I’d have done this or I could beat this kid’. It could be tough.
“I put a bit of weight on last year and, with the wedding coming up, knew I had to lose a bit. I started training and the weight started to come off. I have always been sparring with the lads so I’ve never really been out of touch. The more I did, the more I wanted to do. I got to the point where I said to Errol ‘I want to go again’. He agreed and we’ve been working towards Saturday for months now.
“I just want to get back in there and see what I’ve got. I think I’ve got a chance to do something.
“I’m a bit older now and more mature. I’m 29 this year. I know that I let things get to me too much last time. I’m more relaxed and comfortable in myself as a person and a boxer. I think that will show.
“Hopefully this is the start of another journey.”
Tickets to see Wilkes are priced at £30 and £60 Ringside and are available from Walsall Town Hall Box Office on 0845 111 2900.
Rowley Regis light middleweight sensation, Jason Welborn, and Midlands Area Light Welterweight Champion, Luke Paddock, also feature alongside the likes of Stourbridge light middleweight, Steven Pearce, Staffordshire welterweight Rob Hunt, Stoke light welterweight Josh McLaren, Welshpool light middleweight, Warren Sinden, Ludlow light middleweight, Craig Morris, Wolverhampton welterweight, Sid Bowater, and Burton light welterweight, Tom Shaw.