Journeymen: The Life & Soul Of Boxing
By Oliver McManus
I’ve met a lot of nice people in the four years I’ve spent covering boxing; dozens of men, and women, who love the sport and whose enthusiasm remains undamped by the politics that consumes boxing.
Two of the most likeable names I’ve come across are Gavin Lane and Kamil Sokolowksi. Now Gavin and Kamil have subsequently gone their own paths, not for any dramatic reasons: Gavin continues to do excellent work with the kids at Barum Boxing Club whilst Kamil still fights on the road and increasingly in his home country of Poland.
The reason I mention all of this is that, as warm and personable as they both are, my mind has often drifted to ‘what if?’: what if the pair of them were given a fair crack at the whip and weren’t on the receiving end of shoddy scorecard after shoddy scorecard?
I wrote an article about journeyman four years ago after a British boxer approached me telling me the nightmare that fighters face out in Mexico and Thailand (that narrows down the potential candidates for who I was speaking to) and how their ‘away fighters’ would often fight several fights in one night, under different aliases, for a pittance of £250.
Fortunately there’s nothing quite on that level in the UK and some would say journeymen are handsomely rewarded (often to the tune of around £1,200 for four rounds) but that ignores, not only the subsequent expenses, but the toll it can take on a fighter’s mental resilience.
I last spoke to Gavin Lane the day after Sokolowski incredulously lost on the cards to David Adeleye. The biggest surprise is that that sort of a decision, gifted to the home fighter, is no longer a surprise. Gavin told me “(over the years) I have been so gutted for Kamil, it’s made me so sad but it will always be the same: it’s teaching boxers like Kamil to not bother trying.”
There’s an often misunderstood art to being a journeyman: especially in the context of judging a prospects record. A ‘road warrior’ has to strike the right balance of looking testing but not dangerous: moving but not running. The very best in the business will look to be on a show each fight week and that relies on a reputation of sturdiness but a reliability not to upset the applecart.
And if you do spring one or two upsets then suddenly then those weekly appointments can start to dry up: just ask Andrius Ruzazs.
Even among journeymen there’s a distinct hierarchy with firstly the separation between ‘away fighters’ who can genuinely box and the sort of imported trash that leaves you wondering how they were granted a license.
Take the heavyweight division and Ferenc Zsalek is a name you’d see dotted along the record of many novice British fighters. Zsalek is your typical Eastern European import: the type that builds their record in their home country against debutants, in between serving as the ‘B-side’ on a regular basis abroad.
Then you have the likes of Phil Williams – a more durable opponent that if you were to stop would signal an early statement of intent. A good chin is a much in-demand quality as a journeyman with a stoppage loss triggering an automatic 28-day suspension from the BBBofC: four valuable paydays ripped up.
My pick of the bunch: Lewis van Poetsch and Elvis Dube, two very different characters but mainstays of the small hall circuit throughout the last decade.
To be a good journeyman you simply CANNOT be a bad boxer but, then again, as a journeyman you just can’t win, can you?
Photo Credit: Matchroom Boxing