Sam Sexton: a story of blood, sweat, tears... and a promise
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2017
There was blood. There was sweat. And there were tears.
Sam Sexton's long haul to British heavyweight title glory has had it all. In bucketfuls.
It has been two decades in the making, from the day he decided to stop fighting in the streets and tried his hand under Marquess of Queensberry rules.
The journey wasn't without its problems: injuries have dogged Sexton for some time now, to such an extent that he didn't even tell anyone he'd broken his nose a few weeks ago and it only came out after his title win in Edinburgh on Friday that he had also torn a shoulder muscle and a muscle in his leg during his preparations.
This time, he didn't want to hear excuses, because there was more than a bit of the last chance saloon about British title shot number three. Had he lost, we'd be talking about the past career of Sam Sexton.
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Fortunately, we are able to relive the journey, the path to glory. A path which ended with him dropping to his knees in victory, head on the canvas, in a rare show of emotion after beating home favourite Gary Cornish.
Sexton is a relaxed, laid-back sort of bloke, but for him, the Lonsdale belt was a holy grail.
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At the forefront of his mind was a promise he made to his mum Mandy, who died last year. To win the title. And the promise to himself to go and tell her, which is why, having got off the plane from Scotland on Saturday afternoon, he went straight to the crematorium in Norwich to show her just what he had achieved.
'I promised mum that the first thing I would do when I get back is take that belt and show it to her at the grave,' he said.
'I promised her I would.'
With that, Sexton summed up the determination and energy that drove him on, day after day, working with trainers Graham Everett – who has guided him from the beginning, 20 years ago – and Jon Thaxton, to achieve his dream. The blood, the sweat, and the tears.
'It has been a long, long road and we have had a few setbacks – just a few,' he says, with a wry smile and raised eyebrows. 'But we have done it. I went in there thinking, 'I am not letting this slip, this is my chance, this is my time'.'
And it was. Sexton had to dig in at times as a partisan crowd gave Cornish everything they had. Cornish, bigger and bulkier, resorted to a high knee in the latter stages and yesterday, back home in Norwich, Sexton's right arm was just a huge bruise, the result of Cornish twisting it during clinches.
Everett pushed him before every round, knowing there was no room for error as an 'away' fighter. And there's little doubt Sexton was reminded of his promise - and of his six-year-old daughter Connie.
There are emotional side-issues which can be as painful as a blow to the belly, and Connie had inadvertently delivered dad a body shot just a few days ago.
'It was probably a week ago when Connie called me, she was really upset. She said, 'all my friends say I haven't got a real daddy, a proper daddy', and I asked why. She said, 'they said you don't see me much'. Well I see her as often as I can. She lives with her mum in Barnsley, I have her every other weekend, school holidays I have her for weeks at a time, I completely support her and her mum, and I said to her, 'you have got a real daddy, a proper daddy', and she said, 'I know I have, but you have to tell my friends'. So I had to get on the phone to tell her friends who were at a party at a sleepover and I said 'she has got a real daddy, I'm here, I'm here!'
'And now she can say she has got a real daddy again – and her daddy is British heavyweight champion.'
Had daddy not been a bit of naughty boy, none of this might have happened.
'I was brought up on the Mile Cross estate and it was quite a rough estate while I was growing up on there and me and my brother Ben were always out on the street, always fighting – there were a lot of gangs around then and we were always in trouble for fighting. Mum and dad had a chat and said they were going to take us to a boxing gym and get rid of some of the aggression. I was more suited to boxing and I just stuck to it.'
Under Everett's guidance, Sexton turned pro in 2005 when he was 21.
'I worked up until I was about 23,' he said. 'I have done everything, I have been an electrician's mate, a dry liner, I have worked in factories, on the land when I was a kid, but mainly a groundworker, steel fixing and piling and stuff like that.'
And now he's British heavyweight champion...