by Michael Walsh
Jamie Speight has had about three boxing careers crammed into the span of his very eventful journey in the sport which is still ongoing. He tells a fascinating story of going from an up-and-coming contender to a championship fighter to an in-ring teacher who is now eyeing up a career as a coach when he eventually hangs up his gloves.
Rarely have I heard such gratitude from someone for what the sport of boxing has given to them, met with meaningful action behind that sentiment to give back to the sport and guide the young talent trying the make their way in it.
Jamie’s actual introduction to the sport ironically came from a negative place but one quite familiar with other fighters. While his initial impression of boxing stemmed from watching it with his dad, obsessing over the brilliance of Mike Tyson, Jamie found his way to the boxing gym as a means of self-defence.
“I had been getting bullied at school from when I had started by the same group of kids. It had gone on right through my early school life from about five until seven years old. I’d been complaining at home about it, my mum and dad had gone into the school to talk about it and nothing had been done.
“My dad told me ‘I’m taking him the gym and he’s learning how to defend himself, simple.’ I was a bit of a wuss to be honest. So that was it, I went to the gym at seven years old. It was a bit daunting at first because it was something I had never been accustomed to other than watching on TV.
“I picked it up and by the time I had my first fight at 11, I had grown in confidence and a bit of self-esteem. I believed I could look after myself and I remember going back to secondary school when I was 12 and bumping into these kids who had bullied me. I gave three of them a right walloping and got sent home from school.”
A career in the Royal Marines?
After having a productive amateur career which included junior ABA finals, semi-finals and bouts against the likes of Tommy Langford and Sam Maxwell, Jamie found himself at a crossroads in life at the age of 15 when he left school on ‘study leave’.
“As soon as I left on study leave, I didn’t touch a book, pen or pencil. I went out and got myself a set of spanners and was out scaffolding with my dad at the age of 15. In my head, going into further education didn’t always mean you had a good job.”
After growing bored with his first venture in the working world, Jamie decided to explore other avenues. “I didn’t think about turning pro, I looked to the Army and things like that. I decided that if I’m going to go to the Army I want to be with the best so I went with the Royal Marines.
‘I was in Royal Marine recruitment training and I got as far as week 23 but I had been in touch with people in boxing and I had got an offer to turn professional. After spending a few weeks thinking about it and speaking to the lads in my team they said: ‘follow your dream, you’ll regret it if you don’t.’ That’s what I did. I pulled out of marine training. I came home and started training.”
Pro career off to a flyer
I reminded Jaime that his professional career had got off to a perfect start; winning his first eight contests but he was quick to tell me that his sharp start may not have been all that it seemed.
“The thing I’ve learnt with professional boxing is that nine times out of ten, you are not told the truth. As a young aspiring pro, you want to believe all the good you hear and you do, you believe it until the end of the earth.
“That’s why now I’ve sent away for my training license so I can pass on what I’ve learnt, make sure young fighters aren’t left in the dark and know how hard this game is. It’s no good me lying to you and saying you can be world champion, you’ll earn millions and its easy because you can’t. There’s only a handful who do that.
“But it was amazing, I was 8-0 and beating everyone easily with a good amateur style. I was still converting from that amateur style to that pro-style. I wasn’t really an inside fighter.
A career-changing fight with Josh Warrington
“I just did the same as when I left the Royal Marines, we have one shot at this, let’s try it.”
After a tough loss in his ninth fight to Nigel Wright, a three-time English welterweight champion, Speight bounced back a few fights later to win the vacant Southern Area Super Feather title against Scott Moises.
“I didn’t know much about Scott, he was one of the tallest Super Featherweights in Europe. I think he was 6 foot tall. He was really big for the weight but I got the decision pretty convincingly. It wasn’t a bad fight but I had better feet and better boxing skills on the whole. I think after winning that I moved down in weight. I made the weight so easily, I thought ‘if I can make super feather, I can do feather’ so I then moved down to feather.
This move down in weight brought about a raucous fight with Josh Warrington in Leeds which would change the direction of Jamie’s career.
“That is where my career changed. I was training with a guy down here near Devon and I’d been training with him every day. He’s an ex-fighter. The night before we were leaving for the weigh-in, he told me that he couldn’t come to the fight and explained why.
“I panicked and wondered what I was supposed to do. I’d been training with him twice a day, every day for 12 weeks. My head was all over the shop but it went on. The next day me and Josh boxed. I lost on points over ten rounds against the most hostile crowd I’ve ever been in front of.
“After the fight, me and Josh became very good friends and I ended up moving to Leeds and training with Josh. It happened after Sean O’Hagan (Warrington’s dad) came into the changing room and we had a chat.
“I explained to him what had happened with my trainer in the build-up so he offered to work my corner if I ever needed him to, wherever I was in the country. I thought, ‘what a lovely gesture’, took his number and stayed in contact with him for a couple of weeks and then one day he said: ‘why don’t you come and train here with us since we’re getting on so well?’ I just did the same as when I left the Royal Marines, we have one shot at this, let’s try it.
“I learnt a lot and it really changed me as a fighter. It was up in Leeds where I learnt to fight inside. Sean is the best coach I have ever worked with. The way he dissects and divulges the information, he narrows it down and puts it to you so simply that you can just pick it up.
“The other week I was speaking to Sean about old times, he said: ‘It’s unfortunate the way things happened with you, the logistics not fitting because if they had we would have won a world title.’ It hit me quite hard.
“For somebody who has done that with his son and has been at that level, he’s seen me at my best day in and day out, to hear that from him was really flattering and will stay with me for the rest of my life even when my career is finished.”
Southern Area Featherweight King
While a world title may have alluded him, Jamie certainly made his mark on the regional scene, going on to win the Southern Area title three times at Featherweight. He was quick to point out which one of those victories tasted sweetest.
“Craig Whyatt. Mickey Helliet’s fighter. Me and Mickey get on now but I feel like I was stitched up on the scales. I was expecting to be 8 stone 12 pounds but I came in at 9 stone or something like that. Mickey told me I have an hour to get it right. So, I had to put a bin bag on and go out into the streets of London and run trying to get this weight off.
“I had about only 20 people in the whole venue cheering for me in his hometown. I basically listened to Sean and he told me to box and move, keep him coming with my jab and right hand over the top. He kept coming forward and we got to round five or six and Sean slapped me around the mouth and told me to stop dancing, step forward, and put it on him. So that’s what I did and I think I put him over in round seven and then stopped him in round eight.
“I was outgunned by a fanbase and I was expected to lose so it was nice to prove my worth and everyone wrong.”
Blinding lights of Sky
Jamie then got offered the opportunity every fighter dreams of, a chance to fight under the lights of the Sky Sports cameras in a big arena and in front of thousands more at home.
“I was offered the Reece Bellotti fight on five weeks notice which we know is not fair. Reece had 12 weeks. But I’m always fit, always in the gym and I was given the opportunity so I said, ‘yes no problem’.
“That was a real experience, in the O2, in front of about 18,000 people and we were chief support to Frank Buglioni and Ricky Sommers. It was a good fight; the puncher vs the boxer really. I boxed and moved and did a good job in the early rounds.
“He caught me with a body shot in the sixth round and at the time I just knew it hurt. He hit me in the same place in round eight and started unloading before the ref stopped it. When I got my ribs checked after I had broken one rib and popped two off the cartridge, so it wasn’t a bad body shot.”
That fight took place on July 1st, 2017, and exactly two months later, Speight was back on Sky against Joe Cordina in a fight that would change his career.
“In my head, I took it because I had sparred Joe when he was an amateur and it was 50/50 – it was a good spar. I believed I had more pro experience and knowledge to beat him. That was my biggest misjudgment in professional boxing because the amount he had improved since turning pro was unbelievable.
“As far as technical ability goes, he is the best boxer that I’ve ever fought. He was absolutely, ridiculously good. I’m a clever fighter, I make people make moves that they don’t want to make so I can get my shots off. He was probably three or four steps ahead of me at every moment of that fight.
“I had a good chat with him after afterwards and after that, I changed my career. I told myself I’ve had my run on Sky Sports. I’ve never been given a fair opportunity to be given 12 weeks, so I gathered that’s not going to happen. I’m not an Olympian or a massive ticket seller so I’m never going to get that fair shot. I might as well make myself some money now.”
The In-Ring Teacher
I was intrigued to ask how Jamie would describe his role in the game now and the answer I got wasn’t one I was expecting to hear.
“I describe my role now as an in-ring teacher. That’s exactly what I am. I don’t describe myself as a journeyman because nine times out of ten, journeymen can’t win, they don’t have the technical ability to win.
“If I turn up to a fight and the kid I’m fighting shakes my hand and wishes me good luck and shows me respect, then I’m going to help you.I’m just trying to teach him on the job. I believe if I don’t do that and he’s got to try and remember stuff that happened two weeks ago in a fight, it’s hard to retrace your steps.
“Whereas, if he’s doing it in the ring on the night and I say ‘don’t lead with the left hook’ or whatever, he can take it on while he’s doing it and correct it there and then. It becomes cemented in his brain.
“That’s what I do now. If you’re polite and respectful to me I will guide you through and teach you. If you make a mistake, I will catch you with a shot so you don’t make that mistake again.”
I found it fascinating that Jamie was able to go from a fighter harbouring ambitions to win titles to becoming an in-ring coach, guiding and talking young pros through their early bouts. I remarked to him that it seemed like he was able to make this transition peacefully, in contrast to a lot of fighters who hold on to an unattainable dream deep into their careers.
“On the surface it was peaceful, nobody from the outside looking in would have known that I was struggling with that decision because I was. I would be at home overthinking it, wondering if I would miss out on opportunities for British titles.
“I decided that I’ve had a long career at a good level with top fighters, done more than any of my amateur coaches said I ever would. I’ve proved a lot of people wrong. I might as well earn some money now and give myself some financial security for the future so that’s what I did. I told myself I was doing this for the right reasons.
“What I find the most rewarding is when they actually say, ‘thank you so much mate I really appreciate that’ or they message me a week later saying ‘thank you’. That’s rewarding to know that you’ve made an impact on their career and given them some advice that I wasn’t given as a young pro. It could be the difference between being a champion or not and that’s rewarding for me.”
A future in coaching
Considering his current role in the sport, it would appear coaching would be the natural route of progression for Jamie when he does hang up his own gloves.
“I’m not ready to stop yet, I still enjoy it. I’m still fit, healthy and I’m not posing a risk to my own health. I will do two more years maximum of fighting and then I’m done.
“The rest of the time I’ll be training my fighters, enhancing their experience, and taking them sparring. Hopefully, I’m here to give fighters what I didn’t have as a young pro. Any mistakes I’ve made in my career, my fighters won’t make because I won’t let them. Simple.”