Ashley Theophane is a man who dances to the beat of his own drum when it comes to the boxing industry. While it may have limited some of his chances here in the UK, he has enjoyed a rounded, cultured career, scoping all corners of the globe leaving him with a fascinating story to tell as he prepares for a homecoming clash, years in the making, against the fan-friendly Sam Eggington.
Before we got on to clash with Eggington, I wanted to know how Theophane got involved in the sport.
“My dad is a fan of the sport so he used to watch the big American fights and I must have caught him watching it one day and I started asking if I could watch the big fights with him. He would get him up at 3am, then I’ll come downstairs to watch the fight.
So, that’s basically how I fell in love with the sport at five years old. I just loved to watch fights. So I asked my mum and dad if I could start going boxing. For about two years my mum said no and then when she saw that I kept going at it, she allowed me to go down to All Stars Gym on Harrow Road and I just had some much fun there on my first day. That was in 1988”.
While some of his friends would play football, Ashley was in the boxing gym honing his craft and it wouldn’t be long before that passion would turn into a profession. Looking at Ashley’s early record, it was clear that he approached the sport with that old-school mentality of taking on challenges without a desire to build a padded record.
“Because I didn’t have a big promoter behind me, I had to take risks to prove my worth and to get opportunities. A lot of people will hold it back and play safe until they get the big shot, whereas I had to take a chance to prove my worth.
It was weird, I wasn’t really getting any love here and I would go to America and spar with these world champions and do well. I would come back home and I wouldn’t get any love again. It was weird being at home and getting no love but then going to the USA and getting love in the gym”.
British Lightweight King
While he may have been frustrated with the progress, or lack thereof, he was able to make in the UK, the man known as Treasure did win the British lightweight title in 2011 against a credible opponent in Lenny Daws. I wanted to find out how much that meant to him.
“Winning the British is weird for me and I’ve got to be careful about what I say because I don’t want to get a fine! Basically, I’ve never really got respect here so, when I took that fight, I had just beaten the world number three in America, that same year I had just lost a split to Danny Garcia (yes, that Danny Garcia). So, when I came back for this fight, they were still saying that Daws was going to win. How can Daws beat me when I’ve just fought two guys on the world scene?
A lot of fans as well, they didn’t want me to win and they kept saying go back to America because I was saying that I was only going to win it and go back to the USA. Why would you be mad at me for wanting to go back to the USA to go and get the big fights? I can’t get the big fights here. So, I came back to prove the doubters wrong, the promoters that didn’t show me any love. Everyone, the fans who hadn’t shown me any love.
It was a hard fight and I like Daws, I think he was a good British fighter and he could have done more. I’m proud I was British champion but it was hard for me to train in America, sparring with all these names there and then to come home to fight guys who I had never seen fight before or heard of. So, finding the motivation for that was always hard.
When I did lose (to Darren Hamilton), a lot of the promoters and folks here were glad that I lost and they thought my career was over. But as I said live on Sky, bad decisions go down, I didn’t think I’d lost and I’m going back to the USA. They laughed at me. Then exactly a year went by and I joined with Mayweather Promotions. So, you know…”
Frustration with British boxing
I couldn’t help but recognise that it must have been difficult for Theophane being criticised by fans for going to America without the understanding that it was extremely difficult for him to land big fights here in the UK. I asked him if that was a source of frustration throughout his career.
“It’s really difficult to say what is really happening behind the scenes because then you get shut out. There’s only a handful of promoters here and if you start to talk your mind and say what’s what, then they just won’t work with you and you won’t get any fights. You’re stuck. You just have to take it, can’t really talk about it.
In 2006, I beat Alan Bosworth and I was supposed to fight the British champion next but I didn’t fight the British champion for four years. I was trying to get fights with them but they would not fight me. So, I did what I had to do.
They asked me to fight this Bosworth guy because they thought he would win. But I stopped him, made it look easy, then they didn’t want to know so I was on the outside again and I can’t get any fights here again. Then you had Colin Lynes as champion, Barry Morrison as champion, all these guys wouldn’t see boo to me. They wouldn’t give me a chance. So, I had to go to America as I couldn’t fight the British champions here’.
Signing with Ricky Hatton
Before going to America full-time, after becoming British champion, Ashley was a wanted man and he decided to sign with Ricky Hatton but it was a relationship which did not quite go to plan.
“Frank Warren, Hearn and Hatton all wanted to sign me. Hatton gave me the best deal but I didn’t fight at all so it was pointless. I felt let down because I went to his house and he said everything that he was going to do for me. I went to his fight with Kostya Tszyu so you’re with a man who has done it at the highest level and he’s saying that he is going to help you. So, I signed with the man and I didn’t have one fight with his promotion in the 18 months that I was with him.
The final straw was when he had his comeback, I was supposed to be on the card against Vyachleslav Senchenko. I was a floater and they kept moving me along. I was supposed to fight straight after he fought but because he lost, the whole show was off and I didn’t get to fight. That was the point where I said ‘I’m out of here’. I wasted a year and a half here and it’s a shame because it’s from Ricky, who used to fight. He knows the way the sport is. He knows that we don’t get treated too good and he did that to me. It is a shame”.
The Floyd Mayweather Connection
After being signed to the biggest name in British boxing at the time, the only way forward was to be signed by the biggest name in world boxing and that is exactly what Theophane set out to do.
“It was March of 2013, I was thinking ‘what am I going to do now because no promoter here is going to sign me here, I can’t get fights here’. I was at Floyd’s gym for two weeks before so I said I’m going to go back there because he showed me mad love and I’m going to try and get on TMT and that’s what I did.
Nothing is ever perfect but the first three years with Floyd were great. That’s because they were the last three years of his career so to be around this all-time great while he’s in camp, you learn so much from him seeing him train. I got to spar with him, like five times during those three years. It was great just to soak up so much stuff from him. It was great, great times to be with one of the best teams in the world”.
During his time with Mayweather, Ashley was able to realise a dream which every boxer has but few manage to do which is to fight for a world title in a big Las Vegas fight against Adrien Broner. Although he came up short in that fight, it’s a stage very few fighters make it to.
“I respect Floyd because everything he said to me when I was trying to get signed, he did. Whereas you see with other promoters, they might talk a good game to get you to sign and when you sign, they don’t go through with what they said. So, when Floyd got me the shot, he said ‘I’ve done my job. It’s up to you now to do your job in the ring.’
Camp was great, I’d give it nine out of ten but sometimes it’s bringing the form from camp in the gym to the fight and I just thought I didn’t bring that form in the gym to the fight. I haven’t watched the fight back because I didn’t feel it went the way I wanted it to go or the way I felt it should go.
I’m still proud I got there because in 2010 I was world number four and because I didn’t have a promoter then, I didn’t get a world title shot. I had to wait six more years to get my shot. So yeah, Floyd did everything he said he would do with me. As much as he gets a bad rap because he flashes his cash on Instagram. he’s helped so many folks change their lives.
I fought at the MGM, headlined in Vegas too which very few Brits have done. In my career, I’ve fought many big names and sparred with many too so I can look back at my career and be proud of it. I come from here (the UK) too, I’m not even American, I went over there and did the best I could do”.
Boxing World Tour
After his time in America, Theophane embarked on a fascinating journey of which I do not believe I’ve heard of before; a boxing world tour of his own.
“I saw an interview I did like three and a half years ago and I spoke about wanting to go around the world. I forgot about this interview and I saw it the other day. it’s weird sometimes how you think of things in your head, you forget about it but then you end up doing it anyway.
So, I left Mayweather Promotions and I wanted to fight back home because the sport was doing good back here. I couldn’t agree terms for a fight back home so if you can’t get fights it means you have to retire so instead I thought ‘I’m going to go on a world tour’.
Also, I wanted to get to 50 wins because at the time I had 41 wins so I’d do a world tour to get to my 50th win. I’d go onto BoxRec to see which shows were on over the world and just email the promoters and say who I am and that I want to box on your show and we’d agree a deal and then I would go over there.
They knew who I was, what I had done and knew I had been with Floyd so it was so great to be shown love all over the world. It was fun and the last fight I had last year when I got my 50th win against Kassim Ouma. After that, I wanted to retire but I also wanted to fight back home”.
Long Awaited Homecoming
After lobbying for a fight against Conor Benn which didn’t come off, Theophane goes up again Sam Eggington on Friday 11th December. I asked him if he is looking at this as one final dance on home soil or what would his plans look like if he won?
“I don’t want to go into it, but for me to fight here it’s just so hard. I might explain it after my fight but to fight here is very hard. So, for me in my head, this is my last fight here. I could win. The funny thing is I haven’t even watched Sam fight. I heard how he fights, he just comes at you. I know he’s an all-action guy but for me, I try to concentrate on me to get myself in the best shape I can be.
I try to spar with guys that come at me. These young guys that come at me and try to do their thing and they’ve done a great job to help get me in shape. I’ve looked at the guys he’s fought and the guys he’s lost to and I think if I can fight anywhere near the way I fought like four years ago, then I believe I can beat him. He might be good at what he does but he’s lost to a lot of guys so he’s not unbeatable. He can lose.
Just last night, I told my coach I don’t care if I win or lose, I care how I fight. If it goes to points, they won’t give it to me on points, the only way I can win is by a KO. I know that so we’ll see how it goes. He still has goals and wants to go on to fight for the world title. I don’t have anymore goals, I wanted to fight for the world and I did that, I headlined all over the world and I achieved my 50th professional win. I have no more goals. I just want to fight here one more time. I just want to go out in a good fight. If I win or lose, I don’t care. It’s how I perform that I care about”.
Life After Boxing
Whatever the outcome will be on Friday night, Theophane has already started planning for life after boxing.
“I’ve released my book Raised by the Hood and I have started work on my own gym. I think a lot of us box for too long because we don’t have anything else we can do. So, I wanted to have my own gym because All Stars Gym helped my life and I see so much good it does for so many kids that go there.
I’m not sure exactly what I want to do but once I have my gym, I’ll go from there. If some guys come and ask me if I want to work with them, that’s cool but I haven’t really decided that yet. At the moment I just want my gym to be there and be good for the community and that’s my aim at the minute”.
It was a fitting way to end my chat with Ashley, a full circle journey from walking through the All Stars Boxing Gym doors in 1988 to plans of opening his own doors to the community over 30 years later after a hell of a career where no stone was left unturned.
Date: Friday 11th December 2020
Venue: Fly By Nite Rehearsal Studios, Redditch
Channel: Channel 5