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The Esham Pickering Story: The Journey of Brown Sugar

Updated: Aug 10, 2020

The warrior's code will forever be a tough one to get to grips with. Many young men enter the sport with lofty aspirations but quickly find out just how hard and gruelling boxing is. However, one feel-good story is that of Newark’s Esham Pickering. Just a young man who came into boxing not looking at the lofty heights but still achieved so much with hard work and determination.

“1991, I was mad on football and did a bit of cross country running, long-distance running and athletics but I was always an active kid, I wasn’t a fighter was brought up by my mum on her own but my mate did boxing so I went there. I started boxing just before my 15th birthday within three months had my first amateur fight and the first season I had 16 fights in 7 months so I was busy.”

“I always liked watching boxing but never thought about doing it, I was a bullied kid brought up in a white community as mixed-race so that brought trouble until I boxed and it all changed.”

Despite having a relatively short amateur career Pickering managed a fair amount of success.

I had 47 fights in four and a half seasons, so I was really busy, on my third season I won a national title at 54kgsdown in London the next seasonIboxed for England against Scotland and the year after that I went down to Brendan Ingle and turned pro.”

Brown Sugar remembers boxing Carl Froch as an amateur and says that the Froch we know now was vastly different from the younger version of the Cobra.

“Carls gym is only about 20 minutes away from us - he boxed for a club in Phoenix but he moved to Newark for about seven to eight months and only came down about ten times probably. He was very different from the Froch we know now he was very skilful and was about my size and the next thing you know he's Middleweight ABC champion and turning pro at Super Middleweight.”

“He’s a legend. He was strong as a bull, he’s got an Iron chin he turned out the opposite he was quite slim and turned out complete opposite to what I knew back then, he was slim and my size, the same weight but what a fighter he turned out to be.”

Pickering recalls meeting Brendan Ingle and pondering on whether to turn pro or not.

“Brendan asked me if I'd like to move down here, train here and put all your time into boxing and I went away back to work for a month and thought yeah I want to do that so I saved a bit of money up and I got a few grand together and moved to Sheffield. My first pro fight was September 23rd and they kept me busy but was a good ticket seller. In the beginning, I had 10 fights in the space of a year, I had to sell my tickets to pay my purse and my team so it wasn't great money but I built my record up by fighting regularly on the small hall scene.

Esham With The Late Brendan Ingle & Heavyweight Tim Witherspoon Centre

After turning pro, Pickering flew out to an unbeaten 11-0 KO 5 record and was then granted a British title shot at Featherweight.

I had my first title fight against John-Joe Irwin and it was a bit too soon for me, he was more experienced than me and had more championship fights then I had pro fights and he beat me on points so it was just a little too soon for me but he was a good boxer, it was the wrong weight as well, just the wrong fight for me was John-Joe.”

After the loss to Irwin, Esham put together six wins before moving down two weights to Bantamweight when he got the call for a WBO world title fight.

“The fight came about thanks to Frank Warren, Brendan Ingle and all their connections because I didn’t deserve a World title shot especially at two weights below. I got well paid, got a house out of it, boxing is a business but I did get knocked out and it did set me back, eighteen months after that I boxed for a title in Gran Canaria at Super Featherweight so went up and down the weights but I was always a Super Bantamweight.”

“It was still a good move because to come back from that bad knockout showed major desire as well as winning the three titles (British, Commonwealth, and European) not many people hold those three all at once.

Pickering picked up his first title as a professional and quickly began collecting gold before a big meeting with the unbeaten Michael Hunter but Esham’s personal life had begun to unravel.

“The atmosphere was very hostile, but that didn’t affect me at all but I had no excuses, my life was in turmoil at that point though - I’d just found out I had a son six months old and my girlfriend was pregnant six months after that and it was all too much for me but when I think about how close I was too big things before losing to Michael in what was a close fight but I thought he deserved it because he wanted it more and was on home soil.”

“But I take nothing away from Michael, it was the best he ever boxed, and probably deserved it.”

Reflecting on his career, Esham admits he should have retired in 2005 and took some time away.

“I should have retired in mid-2005 and had a year out the game. I wasn’t prepared mentally for any of those fights from 2005 up until I finished I was going through turmoil in my life. but all you see is the losses and that’s it. I tell all the lads at my gym there are no excuses because at the end of the day all you see is a loss, you have the same time to get ready as you, the same preparation so you shouldn’t have excuses.”

“I wasn’t myself and could have used excuses and if I was it would have been different fights but that’s not the story and that’s not the facts so no excuses for any of my losses.”

Pickering faced off against Sean Hughes in back to back fights splitting the two 1-1 but admits that the first fight was a hard beating.

“The first fight against Sean was the biggest beating I’ve taken. It was an eight-rounder, he cut me on the inside of my mouth and I couldn’t swallow for weeks. Mick Hennesey rang me for the rematch ten weeks later for the British title, and everyone told me not to take it and if I took the fight I'd get beat. Sean was tough & got up from heavy knockdowns but that was a nice little episode for me to come back from a tough beating, to then beat him ten weeks later.”

Since retiring Pickering has opened his gym and has begun training fighters both amateur and some pros.

“I’ve been doing this for eight years now and I'm loving it. I’ve got twenty amateurs, I’ve had a few journeyman pros and I’ve got a few fighters coming through that will hopefully next year turn pro and we’ll start building them up, I’ve got aspirations, I never became World champion so I’m going to do my best to make one.”

Pickering has high hopes for some of the lads in his gym and reckons they could go onto big things in the pro game.

“I’ve got three at the minute, two are eighteen turning nineteen and ones nineteen turning twenty, ones a little bantamweight called Danny Canter and I’ve got twins, Sonny Steele and Danny Steele who have both had over fifty amateur fights. Danny has got the finals and boxed for England and they’re doing well so hopefully we can get them in their twilight next year.”

Whilst it is often said, boxers do not get what they deserve from boxing, Esham feels he could have achieved more in his career.

“If I made some decisions when certain things happened in my life, I feel could have gotten more out of boxing and got another world title shot and have a good chance of winning it but when I was on that wave of knocking everyone out and when I was doing well if I'd have just kept myself together I was confident I could have gone all the way.”

“But I’m proud of what I’ve done winning those three prestigious belts and gone down in history so I can't disregard that achievement but I’m pissed off at the same time.

The Esham Pickering story is one of the highs and lows, determination, self-discovery, and whilst Pickering may never have achieved what he believed he could, it's nice to see him putting in time in the gym and teaching the next generation everything he picked up. I for one wish him the greatest of luck.

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