The financial pressures of being a fighter in a money orientated sport are unbelievably great. Some fighters never make it to the heights of area-level due to lack of ticket sales or financial backing, whereas some opt to fight in the away corner for a guaranteed payday, but these are factors that the fighters are more in control of than anything, so when a global pandemic comes along and literally forces a fighter to make a life-changing decision regarding their career, you cannot help but feel sympathy and to ponder what could have been.
The ‘Pexican’ is an apt nickname for Peckham’s Johnny Garton (24-2-1,10KOs), whose fighting style mimics that of a stereotypical Mexican fighter but who has now made the agonising decision to retire from the sport at only thirty-three, just as his career was really approaching the heights of the big domestic showdowns that the British welterweight scene has to offer.
“I was training for the rematch with Chris Jenkins and it fell through, and two or three weeks before it was meant to happen, I lost my sponsorships and everything fell through and then on top of that because of the lockdown, companies started shutting up shop so I had no support financially and the expenses of a four-week training camp came out of my pocket.
“I was also in the process of buying a house at this time as well which meant a lot of what we had put away went towards that, then after the fight fell through I lost out on the purse and then as the lockdown was put in place the sale of the house went through which then left us in dire straits. We have had to end up borrowing money as a result to keep us afloat.
“Basically because of the coronavirus pandemic which has led to boxing being cancelled, it has put my family in a very difficult position, so I have had no choice to make the decision to retire and I am absolutely heartbroken about it. I have cried for days over this, but at the end of the day I have a family to provide for and I have gone out and got a job to support us and help pay off the debt we are now in.”
The past couple of months have become a sad state of affairs for many fighters, with many not even able to even get their careers started, but when speaking to Johnny and discussing his career it was evident that he is very proud of what he has achieved in the sport.
As the conversation went on Garton discussed how the love of boxing came at an early age, and he fondly recalled how he became involved in the sport:
“I had relatives that used to compete in the amateurs, so I and the family would always go to watch them and my love of the sport stemmed from that.
“When I was eighteen, I was going out drinking and fighting all the time. Just generally getting up to mischief as you do that at that age. I started to put on a bit of weight and so decided to start going to the boxing gym with a couple of my friends, and got beat up a few times in sparring, but my mentality was to always go back and try and get the better of them, and slowly but surely I did.
“My amateur coach Terry Palmer convinced me to have some amateur bouts, so I did, but I was not very skilful; I just had grit and determination which got me the bouts and I learnt along the way.”
Garton turned professional in October 2011, competing at the world-famous York Hall in Bethnal Green, London and recalls the very first time he stepped in the ring as a professional:
“It was a weird and funny night because nobody in boxing really knew me, but I actually think I had sold around 500 tickets, and they put me on last so all my supporters had got steaming drunk. Then I got a knock on the changing room door asking who Garton was – this was because the supporters were raising the roof off the place, and I was told that they were going “fucking mad out there” waiting for me to make my entrance.
“It is a night I will never forget and one I would say was one of my best nights in boxing.”
Eleven fights into his career, Garton was presented with an opportunity to get on a TV card. Having spent his career to date on the small hall circuit, this opportunity was on the Matchroom Boxing’s highly successful “Prizefighter” series, which had helped propel the career of many fighters, including Jono Carroll, Terry Flanagan and Rocky Fielding. Garton would be unsuccessful in his attempts to win the tournament, as he was stopped in the second round against Birmingham’s Sam Eggington.
“The fight with Sam was a good fight, but I think inexperience on my part played a big part that night. Sam come out and rushed me straight away and I didn’t expect it, so when I went back to the corner after the first, rather than thinking that I have lost the first but could win the next two, I panicked and instead decided to go for broke in the second and I just played straight into his hands and got stopped.
“I learnt a lot from that experience, and when I got the call to compete in the tournament it was a no brainer really. My entire career at that point had been spent on small hall shows which were not televised and I was also being paid very little money. Initially, my coach Al Smith did not want me to take the offer as it was short rounds and I never suited that, but I could not refuse the money being offered so I took it and the rest is history.”
The experience of the fight with Eggington would soon be called upon, as later that year (2014), Garton would taste his first major professional success as he beat Adam Battle (8-1) for the southern area welterweight title.
“I believe in the fight with Adam Battle, I was in the right position at the right time and like most of my career I was an underdog in that fight, but it was my night and I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
The victory over Adam Battle would send Garton on a successful run, as he then went on to defend the southern area title before going on to win the English welterweight title against Ryan Fields (8-2-1) and defended it against Tyler Goodjohn. However, it would be the very next fight for Garton that he says was probably his worst night in the ring:
“I boxed at Wembley arena for the first time in my career against the Nicaraguan Geiboord Omier (3-10-1), and it was not a great night. His style was so unorthodox and he did not box well; he kept on head-butting me in the face and getting away it, and my face was cut to pieces as a result. It was just overall a bad night in the ring, probably the worst night I had in boxing.”
It is safe to say that the defining night of Johnny Garton’s career was in October 2018 as he faced off against Gary Corcoran (18-2) for the British welterweight title. In what was a hellacious back and forth, bloody battle over eleven rounds – and one that stood out as a fight of the year contender – with Garton going on to stop Corcoran to pick up the coveted Lord Lonsdale belt.
“The fight against Corcoran was a special night all round. It was only at a small venue which made the crowd sound even more vocal than usual. Gary had great support with him and so did I, the place was just alive. When you look back the footage you can see how much it meant not just to me but to the whole team around me and the fans that had come to support me.
“I remember after the fight Jimmy Tibbs come up to me and he shook my hand and said thank you for having me in your corner, that was one of the best experiences I have had in boxing, so for someone like Jimmy to come out and say that was an honour.
“For me, it was a special night and the best one that I had in boxing.”
Subsequently, in his first defence of the title, Garton would face Chris Jenkins (20-3-2,8KOs), who was coming off the back a mixed year, having lost to Akeem Ennis-Brown (10-0) and then a draw with Darragh Foley (15-2) before picking up a routine points win in Newport. So it was expected that Garton would go on to defend the title to then set up a potential showdown with Conor Benn (16-0, 11KOs), but a bad night at the office led to Garton losing the title to Jenkins on points
“I have not got any excuses for that night. I know that I was not really my best and I was flat and could not get going and started to become frustrated. Chris boxed fantastically that night and he deserved the win and I can’t take anything away from him.
“The one thing that grates on me is that fact I feel that I give that title away, but if I was going to lose it I was happy it was to Chris because he is a nice bloke that has had to do it the hard way and I think he deserves it.”
Now that he has had a few days to digest the decision, Garton speaks about having no regrets over his career in the ring and shares his thoughts on some of the fights that he would have loved to have been involved in.
“I think if that rematch with Chris would have happened, I am 100% confident I would have reclaimed the British title, and then I would have got that fight with Conor Benn which would have been an absolute tear up between us, and who knows where that would have taken me. At one point we were on the verge of looking to fight Kerman Lejarraga (30-2,24KOs) before he lost to David Avanesyan (26-3-1,14KOs).
“It has been a difficult decision to retire, but I am very proud of what I have achieved in my career. People say I am an overachiever and they are right, I have always said that about myself. I took one step at a time all the way and I can honestly say that I have no regrets about what I have done in boxing.”
With some normality coming back into our lives as we start to phase out of lockdown, and boxing looking likely to soon resume in some capacity, there is always going to be the temptation for a ring return for someone like Johnny Garton, who let’s not forget is only thirty-three; and when I asked about the possibility of him coming out of retirement he said:
“I said at the start of this year that it would probably be my last one and although the decision was taken out of my hands, I have always been the type of man to stick to my word so it is very unlikely you will see me in the ring again.
“Obviously boxing has been my life for a long time so I will stay within the sport in some capacity, whether it’s helping out at the gym or being in the corner on fight nights. It is not something you can just walk away from easily, so you will see me again in boxing it just won’t be in the ring anymore.”
For Johnny Garton, he hangs up the gloves having achieved more than many including himself expected to, and he has provided fight fans with one of the best domestic dust-ups in years when he beat Gary Corcoran for the British title, a night and whirlwind career that many people will not forget in a hurry.