Joel Haigh on helping the homeless, Hull's boxing boom and Jim Watt
So many times we hear tales of boxers that have taken wrong turns in life but the discipline and rewards from the sport have saved them. For lightweight prospect, Joel Haigh (7-0-1), he has been on the other side trying to help those that have went off the beaten track.
For the last five years, the 23-year-old from Hull has been working with homeless people trying to get them back on their feet and re-housed. Whether it has been through issues of an alcohol, substance or mental nature, Haigh has found similar rewards helping those that have had nowhere to turn to just as much as seeing his hand raised in victory at the end of a fight.
Haigh, now a Property Administrator as well as a father of one (with another on the way) now looks to pick his career back up after a slight stumble against the 79-fight veteran Youssef Al Hamidi (a fight that ended in a draw) last July.
“I wasn’t in the best shape for that fight,” Haigh admitted to Livefight yesterday.
“I was in a bit of a rubbish state with my own lifestyle to be honest but I’ve made a few changes now and I’m in a lot better place. I’m fitter, stronger and more mature. My training’s been better, I’ve dedicated myself more. And before my last fight I was working nights and I haven’t done for this one which has made a difference. I’ve got a new job as a property administrator and I’m working days so it’s a lot better for me and my training. It’s a lot better than when I was working nights. I was working, going to sleep and then going to training.”
Now managed by Steve Wood after leaving Carl Greaves’ stable, Haigh makes his 2014 bow on the ‘Fighting Pride’ show alongside fellow Hullensians Tommy Coyle and Luke Campbell. Haigh finds himself in a six-rounder against the (3-10, 2 KOs) Andy Harris, who Campbell defeated on his professional debut last year.
“It’s a New Year and a new start. Things have changed now, I’m feeling a lot better and I’m in a better place. Training’s gone brilliant, sparring’s gone brilliant so I’m looking forward to this one.
“With my last fight against Al Hamidi, you forget that he’s a tough kid who’s beat some good lads. The result wasn’t what I wanted, I wasn’t going in there to get a draw I go in there for the win. It was a disappointing thing for me but I think it’s done me the world of good to get that draw so when I fight on the 22nd I can prove to people what I can do. And that’s what I’m going to do with this fight,” said Haigh.
Joel, who dedicated himself to boxing from the age of 13 was never thrust into the most unforgiving of sports by his father, Gordon, a former boxer himself who amassed a record of (6-8-2, 4 KOs as a featherweight from 1981 to 1985). The decision was left to his son and as Joel put it “I’ve never looked back.”
Now with new management in place, Haigh hopes to fight again in May and is looking ahead to winning a British Masters or Central Area belt in 2014. Perhaps as soon as before the summer. But like all fighters he doesn’t want to get too carried away.
“I do want to get a title around me in 2014 but we’re taking it one step at a time.”
And Haigh is once again looking forward to boxing under the lights in front of the Sky Television cameras. A part of his career that he has quickly become familiar with.
“I’ve always boxed on relatively big shows to be fair. I boxed on the undercard of Kevin Hooper who was fighting for English titles, I always boxed on the back of him. I’ve always been used to that sort of thing like cameras. Don’t get me wrong it does give you that bit of added pressure but when I’m in there you don’t really think about it to be honest.”
And his home city of Hull is enjoying something of a boxing boom at the moment. The sport has never been a stranger to the area but now with the emergence of Tommy Coyle (who is likely to be in a world lightweight title eliminator before the summer) and the fast-moving progress of Olympic medallist Luke Campbell, it’s definitely something that guys like Haigh are loving being a part of.
“Everyone’s getting behind all the boxers,” Haigh enthused. “It’s brilliant. Everyone knows your name so it’s great seeing people and those that get tickets off you. And that’s putting food on my family’s table. I’ve got a little lad and a baby on the way so it’s brilliant for me.”
Haigh has experienced job satisfaction on two fronts. Winning in the ring and winning for an individual or family who needed a roof over their head in a time of crisis. There will be many that owe thanks to him and he owes them for giving him his ring nickname of ‘Gentleman’.
“Basically my favourite boxer was ‘Gentleman’ Jim Watt,” he revealed “And when I was working with homeless people I just sort of picked the name up. I’d told them about him being my idol. And then they’ve said: 'Well you should have a nickname like that’ and since then I’ve been called ‘Gentleman’ Joel.”
Limited tickets remain on sale priced £30, £40, £60 and £120 for VIPs and are available from Matchroom Sport on 01277 359900 and at www.matchroomboxing.com
The bill will be shown live and exclusively on Sky Sports HD