Fast rising Welsh super-middle hope Alex Hughes’ pro slate might show just seven fights (all wins) but the manner in which the rucker from the Rhondda has conducted himself in recent spars with the British elite suggests it won’t be too long before he gatecrashes the championship mix, writes Glynn Evans.
The five time British junior champion initially learnt his craft as a sparhand to top grade stable mates Enzo Maccarinelli, Nick Blackwell and Liam Williams at manager Gary Lockett’s upwardly mobile Cardiff camp. Latterly, he has earned plaudits for the practice he has provided for stars further afield.
‘It’s really brought me on and built up my confidence,’ insists the 6ft 2in counter puncher who meets Huddersfield hard case Alaister Warren over eight rounds on the bonanza bill at Cardiff Ice Rink on July 16th.
‘Enzo had to drop me with a body shot to put me in my place when I got a bit too lively as a youngster but I’ve learnt from that. (Ex British middleweight champ) Nick Blackwell was tough as old boots, just relentless and, though I’m a stone heavier, I can’t hold back against Liam (Williams, the reigning British and Commonwealth light-middle boss) because he punches like a mule!
‘Recently I’ve been away sparring ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan for a fortnight over in Dublin. I spent a week in Glasgow with David Brophy and spent a whole eight week camp sparring George Groves. The confidence that’s given me is unbelievable. I was holding my own towards the end and it’s woken me up to what I could be.’
The gifted prospect hails from Maerdy, a former pit town that breeds notoriously hard men.
‘Maerdy is the end of the Rhondda Valley, the end of the world! It’s a dead end place but the people are fantastic,’ says Hughes who won 48 of 54 amateur bouts.
‘As a kid, I was never a scrapper, in fact I was just about the most laid back boy you could meet. I only started training, aged eight, to pass time. At the Ferndale amateur gym, we were pretty much left to do our own thing, just hit the bags. Despite winning pretty much every tournament I entered, I never really took the amateur game too seriously. It was just a hobby.
‘The Welsh selectors only chose me when they had no choice. I was one of only two Welsh lads to win gold at the Three Nations yet they still bypassed me for the Commonwealth Youth tournament. Being overlooked due to our isolation counts against all Rhondda sportsmen and sports teams.
‘It’s great for my fitness up here, mind. We’re right up in the woods, with very steep climbs. I run roughly six miles every other day and then do a 10 mile ‘fat burner’ through the forestry on the weekend.
‘When I was 16, I started to do some sparring at Gary Lockett’s pro gym in Cardiff. Gary had a very good relationship with Frank Warren and BoxNation and, at the time, coached Enzo Macc and Gavin Rees who both provided an insight into what I needed to put in if I was to get to the top. Gradually Gary started to add the conditioning needed to do justice to my talent.
‘But when I applied to turn pro at 18, they found an abnormality on my brain and I was denied a licence. Eventually they relented because the discrepancy never changed size but it took two and a half years to resolve.’
After finally debuting in May 2014, hitman Hughes routed three of his first four foes, then enhanced his education in tough six rounders with grizzled circuit fighters Wayne Reed and Kieron Gray.
‘To be honest, I wasn’t happy with my form in those fights,’ he concedes.
‘I perform way better in the gym than on fight night. I’ve always believed that the better the opposition the better you’ll see me. There’s another 50% in the tank that fans are yet to see.’
In his most recent gig, last December, the valley commando finally replicated something akin to his best gym form when he battered local hope Murad Dakhaev over six on a prelim to Maccarinelli’s sensational knockout of Roy Jones at the VTB Arena in Moscow.
‘Russia was such a laugh, an experience I’ll always have,’ recalls Hughes.
‘It was phenomenal being around Roy Jones, a legend I’d looked up to since I was a kid. For once I boxed well but my Russian opponent was a very tough boy and good shots just bounced off him.’
Now he intends to shine far closer to home when he steps up to eight round contention in the Welsh capital on July 16th.
‘The bill is stacked with world class talent and I’m absolutely buzzing for it,’ enthuses Hughes.
‘This is a massive opportunity for me to perform before my own fans and I expect the home crowd will add 20% to my performance. I know I’ve GOT to deliver and I’m in great shape.
‘Liam (Williams) lives only three or four miles down from me and he’s already sold hundreds of tickets. Hopefully it sells well and Frank (Warren) will keep coming back here.
‘Alaister Warren normally comes out firing and is coming off a great win over (previously unbeaten) Myles Cash so I’ll need to be on my game. He upsets apple carts but once I start landing I can’t see it going the distance.’
Manager-trainer Gary Lockett adds: “Alex is a natural counter puncher. He’s improving noticeably in every area and he can really crack. He’s daft as a brush – funny daft, not stupid – and he has us all in stitches but he’s developing into a very intelligent fighter.
‘As an amateur though he was successful, his ‘pick and poke’ point scoring wouldn’t have been successful in the pros so I’ve had to transform him. He’s a still a novice at the new style we’re developing.
‘We’re in no hurry. He doesn’t need to be fast tracked. He’s still only a young kid and he had no senior amateur experience. He needs to be around the gyms, getting plenty of rounds (sparring).
‘Having stopped three of his first four, he started loading up too much and had to really dig deep after fatiguing against Wayne Reed but he came through that and his stamina has matured since his last fight in Russia.
‘Alaister Warren is a very decent test for his first eight rounder. He always has an honest go and can be dangerous with his head so Alex needs to be careful. Plenty have beaten Warren before but it’s the manner in which Alex wins that matters. He needs to impress and I’d expect him to score a stoppage.”
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