Ten years on: Jon Thaxton on his boxing career, Ricky Hatton, Eamonn Magee, and more...
- Credit: Eastern Counties Newspapers
As Jon Thaxton positions himself on the ring apron, ready to chew the fat over a career inside and outside the ring, it's hard to believe he hasn't thrown a punch in anger for a decade.
He may be over the lightweight limit nowadays, but he looks fit and strong. And when he begins to talk boxing, it's clear the passion he took into the ring on 45 occasions is still there.
It's 10 years ago today that Thaxton slipped back through the ropes and out of the professional ring for the last time, having been stopped by John Murray in the fourth round of a British lightweight title fight in Altrincham. Beaten, downhearted, dispirited and with the words of father Kenny ringing in his ears.
"I remember it well, I remember the lead up to it and everything else. My old man said to me straight away - Jon, don't take the fight. Retire. Walk away. I remember you coming around and doing an interview with me and my dad. I should have listened to him.
"Bottom line is, I don't think I even wanted to be there. I won the first round against him but then after that I just thought what am I doing here? What am I doing? The mind was willing, the body was just not able and I should have retired."
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Boxers aren't exempt from the dogged, obstinate streak that top sportsmen have, which forces them far too often to take on one challenge too many.
"You think you can do it, and I thought I could do it and leading right up to it I was training hard but, I have got to be honest, I don't think I was ever the same after the Dave Stewart fight and that was the British title defence, I won the European title after that but that fight was so hard. We fought at York Hall and we knocked hell out of each other. I went to the wire and I don't think I was ever the same after that. Although I went on to win the European title, but if you remember, I won the European title with a third round knockout. I could always punch and they always say the last thing a fighter loses is his punch. I thought if I catch Murray I'll win and right up to it I thought, 'I am going to win'. I always knew that was going to be my last fight, I knew, I thought, 'I am going to win that Lonsdale belt and then I am going to walk away'. But I shouldn't have done it."
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Paint a broader picture of Thaxton's career, and the self criticism ebbs away. Of those 45 fights, Thaxton won 34 - 19 by knockout - and lost 11, winning the British and European lightweight titles on the way.
"I was the best I could be," he says, modestly. "My ambition was always to be a world champion, I never became a genuine world champion, but I became the best I could be and to become British and European champion, how can you knock that?"
Thaxton's 17-year career did have a two-year hiatus when he retired after a car crash left him with a shoulder injury.
"That was probably the best two years of my life, for my career, because number one I wasn't getting punched for two years and number two it gave me time to reflect on the mistakes I made. How I over-trained, how I did things wrong. So I thought, you know what I got a dead-end job, I have got no qualifications, I didn't do very well at school and so I thought I am going to have to get a job so I got a dead-end job and I thought boxing is easier than this. So, after two years, I thought, I'm going to make a comeback, I am going to fight again.
"So then I teamed up with Graham and we did it our way. It was start with the British, European and then, if we can get to it, the world title. Who knows?" There are a lot of people on Thaxton's thankyou list - the likes of Neil Featherby, Carl Moore and, of course, trainer Graham Everett, the man he now works alongside.
"I don't miss the competing side of it, don't miss it at all. I still train every day, I still work out every day. I train with the boxers, not in the boxing ring but in the fitness studio. I love it, I love training, I have always loved it. But I don't miss getting punched in the face every day. I had a career, a fantastic career that I am proud of and now I am working here developing boxers and I am loving it.
"I used to think that I was a good boxing trainer and then I teamed up with Graham and he pointed out the flaws and picked things up and now he is sort of developing me, although he developed me as a fighter to become British and European champion, he is now developing me as a trainer so we work very well together."
So, the verdict?
"I am I happy with my career - over the moon with it. I couldn't be prouder. I wasn't any good at it but I was exciting and I was hard working."
JONNO'S QUICKFIRE ROUNDS...
Favourite fight: The Ricky Hatton one is my favourite fight. Even sitting in the corner, I am thinking to myself I am enjoying tonight, I am loving tonight. The first round I cut him, 28 stitches, and I thought, I have won the lottery here. Second round I am thinking, the mortgage is paid. Third round, the victory speech is all sorted. But he kept going on and let's be fair about it Ricky Hatton went on to achieve multiple world titles, he was a lot better fighter than me, he adjusted his game plan and he beat me fair and square. But I gave him a good run for his money.
Best performance: The best day of my life was Lee Meager. Winning that British title and even now the hairs on the back of my neck are standing up. I always look for my mum and dad and I turned around and saw my sister and she was 'you've done it, you've done it'. I went over and I saw my mum and dad and they were waving and that was massive.
The Lost Soul of Eamonn Magee: A fantastic book. I get loads of mentions in it and that is very good. When people say to me who was the hardest fighter you have ever boxed I would say Eamonn Magee. I went in there with a game plan and he just had an answer for everything. He stopped me in about six or seven rounds I think, but what a fighter. It says in his book he only got up for one fight and that was me. It was a bit of a shame on my account but it shows the respect that he had for me.
Fitness: You can't keep up with the Walshes, they are different animals. When it comes to the Joe Steeds and Billy Birds when they come into my arena I will push them, and push them and push them. A quick story about Steedy. We had two running machines; mine was in kilometres his was in miles per hour, he didn't realise, he couldn't believe how fast I was running. I was running at 14 kilometres and he was struggling at 10 miles an hour and to this day he still doesn't know.
Worst moment: Emanuel Augustus. He beat me, I was world number one by the WBO, ranked sixth by the IBF and I went in there with the absolute wrong attitude thinking that I was going to knock someone out. Like I said youth is wasted on the young.
Most respected opponent: I would go for Ricky Hatton. We had a great fight, afterwards we hugged each other, we had photos with each other, we had photos with our parents and you can't knock that.
Best venue: Obviously Norwich, I used to love fighting in Norwich and I also love York Hall although the changing rooms aren't the best.
Worst venue: I can't think of anywhere. I boxed at Wembley Conference Rooms once and I was the first fight on and I was on even before the doors opened and I was fighting in an empty room.