Boxing 2017: Sam Sexton’s heroics sum up Norwich’s gym’s achievements
- Credit: John Rainford/Focus Images Ltd
Sam Sexton fell to his knees, years of mixed emotions of joy and terrible sadness exposed for all to see.
A dozen gruelling rounds in Edinburgh against home favourite Gary Cornish had ended and Sexton's arm had been raised in triumph. A triumph over personal turmoil, anguish, a triumph over many bitten gumshields, shredded by the manifestation of the grit and determination it takes to become a British champion boxer.
That the Lonsdale belt as heavyweight champion was coming to Norwich was just reward for a man who epitomises the sport as its best, most honourable level. Sexton has been through the proverbial mill, battling with the illness and then the death of his beloved mother. Injuries didn't help, although they paled into insignificance given the personal demons that kept slugging him.
The day he arrived home from Scotland, he went straight to his mother's grave. He had something for her – his belt. It was a hugely emotional moment, one he had promised to fulfil.
The next day he was in the gym, his shining new possession there for all to see, including trainer Graham Everett, the man who has guided Sexton, 33, from day one. The gym is the relatively new home for Sexton and Everett on the site of the Hewett school in Norwich.
It's also home to another trainer and former British champion Jon Thaxton and the Walsh brothers, Ryan and Liam. Ryan is the current British featherweight champion, Liam a former British super-featherweight belt holder.
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Four British champions, past or present, all trained by Everett.
For a supposed backwater, it is a quite stunning achievement – one recognised by colleagues 'in the business' all over the country, but one perhaps not quite so readily acknowledged by sports people on their own doorstep.
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The success illustrates just how important the city has become in the sport – and how important the sport has become in the city. And don't forget, the only reason Liam Walsh doesn't have the British belt is because he gave it up to compete on the world stage... not many Norfolk boxers get to do that.
Ryan defended his belt in May, beating Marco McCullough – as it was his third defence he was entitled to keep the Lonsdale belt, the first British fighter to do so since Billy Joe Saunders after his victory over Chris Eubank Jnr back in November 2014.
Ryan's next defence is in February, against Isaac Lowe, but Liam's next outing has yet to be decided. His last fight was back in May, topping the bill the night Ryan won, when he lost for the first time in his career, his challenge for Gervonta Davis' world title ending in the third round.
Liam was dejected afterwards, but he will come again – classy operators have a place in boxing and the world title picture still has a place for the man from Cromer.
That night was proof boxing can be an unforgiving sport goes and there are few boxing families who know better about the school of hard knocks than the Walshes.
But the presence of Sexton, Walsh and Walsh at the gym serves to encourage many others in the fraternity. Like Craig Poxton, the Lowestoft battler who appeared in two stunning fight of the year candidates in 2017, beating Boy Jones Junior but losing against Leon Woodstock, a fight which saw Poxton suffer a terrible cut – which later needed 12 stitches – after a clash of heads midway through the second round of their WBO European super-featherweight title clash in Leeds. Poxton is one of boxing's unsung heroes – a truly good bloke.
Bubbling under are many others – Iain Martell, new to the pro boxing game after a highly successful time in MMA and likely to be a big noise in the cruiserweight ranks very soon; Norwich's Zaiphan Morris and Nathan Dale, who will be hoping to overcome a persistent hand injury this year and show his true potential.
The new gym - created after the pros left the Kickstop Gym premises behind – also caters for visitors after the forging of healthy relationships with Suffolk and Essex trainers.
Norwich is the hub, but the lads who travel – like Billy Bird, Connor Vian, Alan Ratibb, Joe Hurn, Fabio Wardley – are all part of the family and all part of an ambition for the new gym to become East Anglia's centre of excellence. And with the gym shared with Norwich Lads Club that is no bad thing for the next generation either – nor is the sight of four British champions and their trainer leading the charge for major honours in the toughest sport of all... and one in which Norfolk excels.