Louise Orton: British Boxing’s Best-Kept Secret
You can label Louise Orton in many ways. Britain’s unluckiest fighter, British boxing’s best-kept secret, would both be more than reasonable.
She turned professional in 2019 after an impressive amateur career with much hope. As we approach the end of another year, Orton is still waiting for her professional debut. Orton can’t seem to hitch a ride on boxing’s merry-go-round.
The pandemic has played its part, either directly or indirectly, all that initial hope has made way for frustration and thoughts of just giving up on the sport that often takes far more than it ever gives.
The latest disappointment was just a few weeks ago. Fight week started with anticipation and belief that this time it would happen. But yet again, just 48 hours away from finally making her first professional walk, it happened again:
“It’s been an absolute nightmare. It was cancelled two days before the fight. It was originally supposed to have 10 fights on the card, then it went down to just 4 fights. I’m not quite sure why, but obviously the show couldn’t go ahead with just 4 fights on the card. That’s the second time my debut has been cancelled two days before the fight, but prior to that I have had my date changed about 8 times now.”
Orton has suffered more than most, normal life put on hold, physical and emotional sacrifice. And it still goes on. The wait isn’t over, offered another potential date, Orton has, for the time being, had enough. The super-featherweight hopeful told FightPost that while the dream hasn’t died, some hope has. Orton has been kept waiting, now she is the one who needs time:
“I have kind of said to myself, that because it has happened so many times it has made me feel down. You are pushing your body to the limit and I have been in training camp since the 4th January getting ready for my debut. Everything else in my life has had to go on the backburner and it’s getting to the point where I am starting to feel down about it. I now need time to catch up with everything in my life which has been put on hold. I need to catch up with that, get my head straight. It’s not just the fact that they have all been cancelled, I am now losing faith. They gave me a new date of the 5th November, but because it keeps happening I have lost faith. In my head, I don’t think I can go through with it again because if it gets cancelled again that is another mental process I have to go through. I need to build myself up again, get physically and mentally strong again and then go through it again in the New Year. So I am going to take the rest of the year to get lean and get my mojo back.”
Even some fighters who have turned professional since the first wave of the pandemic hit, are now a few fights into their careers. For Orton, this adds to her frustration:
“You see fighters turn professional much later than me and they are now into their second or third professional fight and it is like a kick in the teeth. When the shows have been on at the weekends I have watched them but it has been upsetting for me. It’s like rubbing salt into the wound. So I need to get past that and get the love back for it again.”
To the masses Orton is unknown, to her fellow fighters, she is anything but. She holds her own and more in sparring with the elite. Boxing’s inner circle know the quality she undoubtedly has:
“I appreciate all the support I have had, including from the likes of Natasha Jonas, Chantelle Cameron, Ellie Scotney and others. They all know the potential I have, I just need the opportunity.”
When each fight date comes and goes without any reward there is a hidden cost. The financial cost of any training camp has to be picked up by the fighter. No fight, no purse. Staying in camp also affects the body, constantly being denied what we take for granted eventually takes its toll:
“I struggled to make weight in this camp in comparison to how I made weight for the last time. When I spoke to my nutritionist about it, he explained that when you are stressed you can struggle to lose the weight it does make it harder. There is no other explanation, I was on meal prep so he knew what I was eating and he always gets it right. What people don’t realise is that each camp I have been in costs me well in excess of £1,000. There is also my sparring, I travel to London 3 or 4 times a week and it all costs money. So each camp I have had to pay all this money out and I haven’t even boxed. I am working full time as well so trying to fit training in as well is stress in itself. So it has taken its toll on me, not only physically but mentally as well.”
With women’s boxing on the march to unprecedented popularity, the search for talent has been wide. But to add to her frustration, despair even, the likes of Matchroom and Boxxer and others haven’t yet made the call much to the surprise of the fighter herself:
“I honestly don’t know why. I have had people put my name forward and things like that but I am not getting anywhere and I really don’t know why. I am better than the people who have been signed. What I am starting to see is it is about who you know and not what you know. I am just going to have to box in my debut and then they will come knocking. I am an entertaining fighter and once people see me box I will be pushed quite quickly. I will take any opportunity I am given.”
Despite the pro debut being constantly put on hold, Orton isn’t short of confidence. Her division is perhaps the deepest in women’s boxing. The likes of Mikaela Mayer and Terri Harper add quality, depth and intrigue to the super-featherweight ranks. Orton thinks she belongs with the best in the division:
“Terri Harper is the number one in my weight division, and she is the one who I am looking for. I believe I can beat her right now.”
Before the combat sports bug got hold of Orton her life was very different. The teenage rebel without a cause, Orton could have been another statistic. Bad decisions, the wrong friends, the self-titled ‘Devil Child’ was threatened with being put into care by her mum:
“She got to the point where she had no other avenue and she did threaten me with that saying this is the road you are going down. I don’t think she would have done it, it was more like a sort yourself out kind of thing. I was a nightmare, a tearaway, hence the devil child label. I got involved in the wrong crowd, police were knocking on my door. Nothing major just silly things. I struggled a lot with my own emotions as well in an aggressive way. So I was kind of an angry child, I got politely asked to leave one school. Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. But kickboxing and boxing helped me get back on the straight and narrow. I have grown into a decent person and I am quite proud of myself for what I have gone through in my life to the person I am today.”
Those troubled teen years in Rochester, Kent, have given way to a different way of life, a person unrecognisable from what she was previously. A brief spell in kickboxing gave her what she needed, an outlet for her aggression. When there was an acceptance kickboxing would only take her so far, Orton made the switch to boxing.
But there have been other changes in her life. The struggles with early school life are now forgotten. There is now a thirst for knowledge:
“I’ve got an undergraduate in psychology and criminology, I’ve also got a Masters in forensic psychology and another Masters in mental health nursing.”
Orton plans to continue her studying, and has plans way beyond her boxing life:
“At the moment I am working in the prison service as a mental health nurse and I will probably stay working within the prison population. My long-term aim is to set up a charity or an organisation for ex-prisoners with mental health problems and get them involved in sport. It would be working with the prison system or the local psychiatric hospital and providing them with a general opportunity to learn about sport and get them involved and try and get them some qualifications and get them on coaching courses and to get them to give back to their community and help other people. By helping other people I find it has helped me and other people have said the same. We run a mental health scheme in the prison where the prisoners help mentor other people and listen to their problems and we find that it helps them too.”
At 31, the clock is ticking in many ways. Eventually, family life will come a calling, Orton knows she can’t wait forever for what boxing can hopefully give her.
But the dream and her ambition are still alive, and her talent should be allowed to thrive. Why she is still a secret in a sport that needs depth and new stars is one of life’s great mysteries.
Orton is recharging the physical and emotional batteries after one disappointment too many, hoping the call she craves will finally come.
The confidence in claiming she can beat the likes of Harper might sound deluded to some. But there is conviction in her voice, and the very least she deserves is the opportunity to show us just how good she is. For Oton and indeed her sport, that call can’t come soon enough.