The road to redemption is a phrase used to describe the fixing of one's life. It is often used in the sport of boxing to describe a fighter who is coming back from defeat, whether it be in the ring or whether it be in life. It creates the perception in an audience that there is a certain road that the individual must travel to reach their ultimate goal and the resultant satisfaction that they have always strived for.
Mark Hobson is a fighter who many British fans have followed throughout the 2000s, enjoying the highs and sympathising with the lows of his boxing career, but as we took a trip down back to the 1980s, Mark described his early days and his introduction to a sport which would ultimately take more from him than he would take from it.
“When I was a kid I was a big fan of Rocky Balboa, and one day my dad bought me home one of those spring balls that you could hit and it would bounce right back at you, and with it was a book which had a telephone number to call if you wanted to find out where your local boxing gym was. So, me and my dad we called the number and we went down to Keith Tate’s gym (Batley Amateur Boxing Club), and from day one I was just transfixed with boxing.”
“As an eight-year-old walking into the gym for the first time, it was like ‘Wow.’ The guys in there looked like they were sculpted out of marble. When you are watching them knock lumps out of each other you think that there is no way that I can get to that level, but you can, however, you have to be prepared to work hard, as boxing is the hardest sport in the world, without a doubt.”
In 2001 after amassing a respectable record of 14-1-1 (6KOs), Hobson was presented with an opportunity to fight for the world boxing union cruiserweight title against Sebastian Rothmann (12-1-2 9KOs). Now, this was a title that had previously been held by Thomas Hearns in 1995 and James Toney in 1997, so the opportunity to fight for what was then regarded a reasonably respectable title seemed like an opportunity that could not be turned down. However, it is a decision that Mark looks back on now with regret.
“At the time my promoter Tommy Gilmour had a strong relationship with Barry Hearn and Matchroom Boxing, now they had Rob Norton who had the WBU title at the time and they brought Rothmann over from South Africa expecting Norton to beat him, but Rothmann beat him and the only other cruiserweight Tommy and Barry had in their stables between them was me. At this point I knew I was nowhere near ready for the step up - the most I had done at this point was 8 x 2-minute rounds - but I think at the time they thought let's sling him and see how he gets on.
“The most I had earnt from boxing up to this point was fifteen hundred pounds from a fight, and when they told me I would be getting a fifteen-thousand-pound purse I was like, ‘Yes, no problem,’ without even really thinking about it. The problem at this point is that I was nowhere near mentally and physically prepared for that level and, as always throughout of all my career, I was still working full time during the day and then going straight to the gym.”
“After the first round of that fight I thought ‘Fucking hell, this is going to be a long night.’ He stepped through with a jab and it rocked my head right back and that is when I knew that this was a whole different level to what I was used too. Now after that fight I realised how far away I was from where I needed to be, and the Monday after we made some major changes in training after learning that massive lesson. On the positive side, the fifteen grand I got for the fight I was able to put down on a house, so it wasn't that bad!”
It would not be too long before the first real taste of success would arrive for Mark, when in 2003 he beat Abdul Kadou (13-2-2 2KOs) for the vacant Commonwealth title, stopping him in four rounds. This was where the career of Mark Hobson really took off, when later in the year he put his title on the line and also contested for the vacant British title against Rob Norton (23-2-1 13KOs), in a fight which was back and forth throughout with Hobson dropping Norton to the canvas in the bout only for Hobson to nearly taste canvas himself. Hobson would go on to win a points victory in a fight he recalls as he best night in boxing:
“That night against Norton was a very hard fight. He had such an awkward style, but I always enjoyed fighting southpaws, and I was able to control the fight using my jab and then I would follow through with a straight right. I knew that it was my time that night., I thought if I was going to make it to the top this was the night.”
Following on from his title victory, Hobson would go on to make three successful defences of the title against Tony Moran, Lee Swaby and Bruce Scott, cementing his status as the best cruiserweight on the domestic scene; however, a certain Welsh foe would lie in wait in the form of Enzo Maccarinelli who was the WBU champion after picking up the title that Sebastian Rothmann had vacated in 2002. Enzo would secure the unanimous decision over Hobson with two of the judges having him only a point ahead on the cards in what was a tight-knit affair between the two, and Mark recollects the fight in detail:
“I always fancied my chances with Enzo, but I knew how dangerous he was, so in the fight, I tried to get him on the backfoot because if you let Enzo swarm all over you then he will do damage. Luckily, I was cool and calm under pressure, and it was a hard-fought battle. Unfortunately, I came off on the wrong end that night, but credit to Enzo, he is a nice guy and as hard of a fight it was, I did enjoy it”
Following the loss, to Enzo, a chain of events would take place that would ultimately lead Mark into the darkest place of not only his boxing career but his life.
“Before the first fight with Enzo, I had seen two proposed fights with David Haye cancelled and it meant I lost two training camps and I lost a fucking fortune. It literally emptied my bank with the costs involved in preparing for that magnitude of a fight. On three weeks' notice, I took the fight with Enzo and everyone was buzzing about it, so after that fight, we went down to see Frank Warren, who I was signed with at the time, and he was talking about doing the Enzo fight again in the future.
At this time, I just wanted to be kept busy, so they got me the fight with “Buster” Keeton in June. Now I had come off the back of a hard twelve round fight and went straight back into training camp for the Keeton fight. Like an idiot, I was also still working full time at the same time, and I went down pretty heavily in that fight with Keeton - obviously, I got back up and went on to stop him. Now it was about a week or two after that, I have gone back to work after having two lots of time away for the two fights, and I got a call from Frank saying he had a dinner show and asking whether I wanted to fight for a world title on the show, so I go back into training and at this point, my body is falling to bits because I have been in two camps, two fights and then I am still working at the same time.
“It was about two weeks out from the fight with Pavol Polakovic (11-1-0, 1KO) and I am on my arse. I had nothing left, so they brought in Michael Sprott and he knocked the shit out of me and took what little I had left. Now I went on and won the title beating Polakovic, but I was flat and it was a terrible fight, so after the fight, I went on the piss for about a week solid after what was the hardest six months of my life.
“It was only one week after that fight and bearing in mind I have been drinking and taking cocaine for a week solid, I got the call from my manager to say that Johnny Nelson had pulled of the fight that was scheduled against Enzo Maccarinelli, and I knew exactly what he was about to ask me. And even though my body at the time is screaming no, the fifty thousand pounds being offered was too much to turn down regardless of the fact I had absolutely nothing left in me.”
The second fight with Enzo Maccarinelli was for the WBO cruiserweight title and Mark’s chance to capture what was regarded as a legitimate world title, however, given his previous six months and the fact his “body was in bits”, the fight turned out to be a disaster. He was stopped in the first round after a hard-right hand landed which sent him down, for him then to be waved off by the referee after being in seemingly no position to continue.
“I should not have taken the fight, but I did not want people thinking less of me for not taking it, so foolishly I did and the night before I did not sleep a wink. It's normal too for boxers, in the lead up to fights, to go to a dark place, to get themselves ready mentally, but for the first time in my career when walking to the ring that night I was thinking, ‘Fucking hell what am I doing?’
“I walked out of that ring after seventy-two seconds, and I had completely messed up my career by taking that risk knowing how exhausted I was. I took that fight when there was no need to, and I went completely off the rails.”
After the loss to Enzo Macarinelli, life outside of the ring for Mark would take a drastic downward spiral, one which would involve drinking excessively, the use of drugs and gambling all of his hard-earnt fortune away... but not before he fought one more time against former foe Jon Keeton, to recapture the British title that he had vacated before his fight with Macarinelli. This would see the end of his ten-year boxing career, but the hardest fight was yet to come, as he then embarked on a ten-year battle for his life.
“I had one more fight against Keeton, but by this point, I was a broken man and I had lost that discipline that boxing had taught me over the years, and when you lose that self-discipline, you lose everything, and it took me a long time to realise how much I thrived from the discipline.
“For ten years, I could not see what I was doing to myself and the people around me. I would work all week, then on Fridays, I would go out until 5 am Saturday then look after my kids all day. Then Saturday night I would be back out with the lads, and sometimes I would not even go to bed until Monday morning, and this would happen on repeat every week, and I could not even see that I had a problem, even when I nearly lost my house I did not realise that I had a problem. There were times where I would end up taking drugs every day, and I just thought I was one of those guys who just liked to party.”
This cycle would continue in Mark’s life for nearly ten years of squandering his money and pushing those closest to him away. That was until one day he would discover a certain narcotic from listening to the Joe Rogan podcast which he claims after using, it changed his life forever.
“One day I was listening to an episode of the Joe Rogan podcast and they were talking about how they had been using the drug LSD for medicinal purposes. Now after hearing this, I decided one day that I was going to give this a go, and I kid you not it was the first time in years that I could see what I had been doing to myself. It was like I was able to see myself from a completely different perspective and I could not stand the guy who I saw.
“LSD saved my life; it really did, and the very next day I woke and thought what the fuck I have done. Getting off cocaine was not easy, the first thing I had to do was stop drinking because every time I had a drink, I wanted to take drugs as well because the alcohol alone was not enough. Then I stopped going out with the mates that I would always end up doing the drugs with, and for every week I was off the drugs and alcohol, every week I felt better within myself.”
Since being able to come away from that party life, Mark has been able to repair and rekindle some of the relationships that he lost during that ten-year period and has been appreciating the simpler things in life, recently becoming a father once again and generally being able to find the motivation to achieve once more.
“I have started to realise what makes me happy., I used to think going out and partying with all the lads made me happy, but it didn’t; it made me quite unhappy really, but I could never understand it, why I was so depressed all the time. I have realised now that I love being at home, and I am at a good place in my life. I exercise on a regular basis and I eat healthily, and I have become a dad once again to a beautiful baby girl, who has come into my life at the right time. I am enjoying life, just the simple things like walking around the park on a Sunday afternoon. Life is just perfect right now.”
When looking back at Mark’s boxing career I wondered what more he could have achieved should life not have taken that dark turn. The prospect of more big fights? Would that fight with David Haye ever have come about? And would he have ever become a world champion? Well from Mark’s perspective, he is more than happy with what he achieved in the sport, even though those four fights in 2006 took more from him than he was probably ever able to give back.
“I won the British, Commonwealth and the WBU world title and created some amazing memories whilst meeting some great people along the way. The relationship with Enzo Maccarinelli is like a brotherhood. We went through an experience together. It’s a weird experience boxing: when you're in there together you can smell each other, banging heads and trading blows, but at the end of it all the respect you give to each other is something else, and I can honestly say I am satisfied with what I achieved in the sport.”
After a long road with many highs and some extreme lows, it seems that Mark has since found peace within himself, and he has now found the redemption he has been so desperately searching for. After going through a turbulent ten years, which nearly cost him everything he ever had, it is a true reminder of why we should never take life for granted, and whilst the road to redemption can be a long one, it is just as rewarding as the first time a fighter wins a major title in the sport.