Robbie Regan: “Everything I did in my career, I dedicate to all my fans.”
By Will Lott
A love of boxing ran in the family of Welsh, former world bantamweight champion, Robbie Regan. But it wasn’t until a family holiday with his boxing trainer Uncle that Regan started taking the sport seriously.
As luck would have it, Regan’s future trainer Dai Gardiner happened to be there when he first attended the gym.
“The trainer was actually more interested in my brother than he was in me. My brother only went twice. I just fell in love with it. I didn’t actually have that many amateur fights, probably only about 30 odd. My style was more suited to the pro game. The gym was a pro gym so I was always sparring professionals. I was sparring eight to ten rounds and pacing myself but obviously as an amateur you’re only fighting for three rounds.”
Regan turned pro in 1989 and just over a year later, had already fought six times, all in Britain bar the one outing in Sardinia, Italy. Rather unusually for a hot prospect, Regan found himself with a record of three wins and three draws.
Before long Regan was fighting for domestic titles, securing the Welsh Area flyweight and British flyweight title in his 7th and 8th fights respectively.
“I was an underdog against Joe Kelly. He had a lot of experience but I ended up being the clear winner.” However, Regan lost the title in his first defence to Francis Ampofo.
“I was winning the fight and it was the 11th round when the fight got stopped. It was a round to go, my cut couldn’t get any worse. I could see fine.”
In an immediate rematch, Regan defeated Ampofo on points to regain the title.
Regan targeted the European title a few fights later and defeated champion Salvatore Fanni over 12 rounds after just three years as a professional.
“He was a good champion with a lot of knockouts on his record. It was the first time he defended his title outside of Italy. We paid a lot of money to get him over to Wales and I was the convincing winner. He was a great sportsman.”
A first defence was followed by a few successful ‘stay busy fights’ whilst calling out the champions.
“I agreed to fight Jacob Matlala in Wales but then he wouldn’t come”. Regan would eventually dethrone European flyweight champion Luigi Camputaro in 1994.
“I wore new boots in that fight and it was the worst decision of my life. I had third degree burns on the bottom of my feet.”
Regan finally got his world title shot against Alberto Jimenez for the WBO flyweight title, who would hand him his second and final defeat by way of a ninth round retirement.
“I had a badly damaged hand before the fight so I couldn’t spar. I had to pull out of the fight. For that he wanted more money which was to be taken out of my purse. He then pulled out of the re-arranged fight and I said I wanted what was originally agreed. I was then told I’d get that but come the day of the fight I was told it wouldn’t happen and Frank Warren told me if I felt like that to call the fight off. For the first time in my career I felt I didn’t want to be there. I’d sold the tickets though and felt I had to fight. Jimenez was a tremendous champion but he never fought the real me that night. He fought my shadow.”
A knockout victory over Ferid Ben Jeddou for the IBF interim flyweight title helped to elevate Regan back into world title contention.
“When Danny Romero came back to the weight, he was supposed to fight me for the full title but he refused. Therefore, I should have been made the full champion but they wanted me to fight another contender with a 50/50 purse split. Frank Warren came to me with a chance to go to bantamweight which I’d been hoping for and should have done two years prior.”
Regan reached the pinnacle of the sport in what would be the final time he stepped in the ring in 1996 when he attracted Daniel Jimenez to defend his title in Wales.
Regan would go on to win a unanimous decision and become the WBO bantamweight champion. His fanbase was what convinced champions to defend their titles in Wales.
“Every title I ever won, a piece of it belonged to every one of my fans. I achieved my dream in boxing but maybe I could have fought outside of Wales more. The title is what you dreamed of and the hurdles you wanted to overcome.”
Devastatingly, Robbie Regan would never have the chance to defend his title. Regan was diagnosed with glandular fever the following year and went on to fail his brain scan as he attempted a return.
“No one could diagnose what I had until I saw a guy who specialised in unusual blood disorders. I kept trying to train but I was just breaking down. I just had no energy. I’d go for a run in the morning and I couldn’t get past the second lamppost. It turns out I had the same virus as Jonah Lomu as my doctor was in contact with his doctor.”
The failed brain scan followed and he announced the end of his career after his failed comeback in 1998.
“Two doctors said I could fight and one said I couldn’t. That was it finished. I think it was a blessing in disguise because I just couldn’t do it anymore. It wasn’t worth the risk.”
His career had come to an abrupt end at the age of just 29 with a record of 17 wins, two defeats and three draws. Alcoholism and a stint in prison unfortunately followed.
“You spend 15 years of your life getting to where you want to be and it’s taken away in a second. Depression took over and I just dealt with it my own way. I started self-medicating with alcohol.”
Regan was handed a 12 month sentence for assault after confronting a man in an outhouse he had been renting out.
“I went in to make him leave and the boy attacked me with a baseball bat. I punched him once and I wound up in prison for it. I had a lot of fans in there though so we were able to watch some of my fights. After prison my friends and I opened a gym but unfortunately they sold the building so we are looking out for another space.”
Thankfully alcoholism is no longer an issue on Robbie’s mind and he can focus on finding a new space for his gym.
Regan finished the interview by paying tribute to his supporters.
“Everything I did in my career, I dedicate to all my fans. Every title I won belongs to them.”