Somerset fighters punching above their weight

PUBLISHED: 10:55 22 May 2011

(click on image for larger view)Kings Amateur Boxing club, Highbridge,

(click on image for larger view)Kings Amateur Boxing club, Highbridge,

Archant

THE names of boxing greats line the walls - Ali, Cooper, Tyson and Mayweather.

But this isn’t a gym in London, New York or Chicago, it is King Alfred Amateur Boxing Club, housed in a disused room in a Highbridge industrial estate, a club that is punching above its weight in more than one way.

The club has a burgeoning reputation for producing some of the region’s finest young boxers, a point proven by the rising success of its star pupil.

But as well as coaching young boxers determined to be the West Country’s equivalent of Ricky Hatton or Joe Calzaghe, the club is providing a community role, keeping youngsters off the street and giving them positive ways to channel their aggression.

The club has been running for 12 years now, but a lot of its success can be attributed to coach Roger Cross.

Roger had no past links to the sport when he decided to coach 11 years ago at the age of 53, but has now seen hundreds of youngsters pass through the club’s doors, and fellow coach Andy Churches.

The 64-year-old helped move the club from its old location in the Moorlands Industrial Estate, where it was paying £6,500-a-year rent, to businessman Terry Rickards’ Burnham Waste site next to the Asda supermarket, where it is allowed to run without paying any rent.

Roger said: “Since the club was started, we’ve had hundreds of kids come through here.

“It’s important to have this club here, there’s not much for kids around the town to do and a lot of them start causing trouble and mischief.

“Coming along to the club means they’ve got something to keep them busy, something for them to look forward to, where they can channel any aggression they’ve got properly.”

Fellow coach Chris Edwards, a former boxer who was forced to retire when a car accident shattered his fibula, tibia and femur, backs him up on this point.

He said: “It’s very important, we’ve got a lot of kids here, some have anger problems, or issues at home.

“They get to come here instead of hanging around on the streets, and they can have something to keep them occupied and keep them fit.”

Matt Watts, a 13-year-old Worle Community School pupil who has been part of the club for three years, and unanimously won his first bout in Derby only a month ago, said: “I was looking originally for football or rugby, but then I saw about the club.

“It’s been great, the coaches are really good with you, and you get the chance to box against other youngsters from around the country.”

But far from just keeping teens occupied, the club is building a rising reputation about the quality of its fighters, with 16-year-old Michael Hughes top of the class at the moment.

After being narrowly defeated in the semi-final of the Royal Navy junior national ABA Championship in Felton by a single point earlier this month, Michael has his sights trained on world domination.

Having had his first bout for the club at 11, the youngest age a member can fight at, he won his first nine matches on the trot, and was named county champion for his age group at 12.

And after his agonisingly close defeat in the semi-final, he is set to jet off to take part in a national tournament for England schoolboys in Canada, while he has been invited to train at pro-trainer Chris Sanigar’s Bristol gym.

And with the world at his feet, Michael is determined to aim high. He said: “It’ll be great to train with Chris, and take part in the tournament in Canada.

“In 10 years I want to be British champion, if not the world. But I wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere without the gym.”

Younger brother Wayne, 11, whose older sister Lizzy is making waves in the female circuit at age 13, is already fast on his brother’s heels with wins in both of his first bouts.

He said: “I really enjoy coming to the gym. I’ve come along since I was nine, it’s great.

“Michael’s done really well. But I want to do better.”

If you’re interested in going along and seeing what the club’s about, pop along to one of its meetings on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings, between 6.30-8pm.

The club is also looking for more experienced boxers to give up a few hours of their time to coach – if you’re interested, give Roger a call on 01278 794087.

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