A KETTLE boils. It first rumbles low and slow before the pitch changes to a high, frantic squeal. For most, this sound, this screeching runaway train, is the precursor to a warm caffeinated beverage. For Jamie Cox, however, it’s the noise in his head, his soundtrack. He will even at times liken himself to a kettle insofar as, “It boils and boils,” he says, “and then it’s ready.” Ready not for tea or coffee but a decision: fight or flight? Only in this case it’s not even a question. When the kettle steams and reaches its crescendo, the click is heard and the racket abruptly stops, he, the fighter, invariably fights. It’s just what he does.
Fighting and Jamie Cox has long been a passionate, volatile marriage. When it’s good, it’s really good. But when it’s not, Cox yearns for a divorce, freedom. “Less stressful,” he says when asked to imagine a life without fighting. A laugh follows. It’s a laugh which grows in strength and a kind of desperation the longer he contemplates this seemingly blissful notion. “But,” he continues, “I’ve come this far now, so let’s get that world title. That’s my main goal right now, no matter what stresses or hurdles are put in the way.”
The southpaw from Swindon was never even supposed to be a boxer. His hands were meant for purer pursuits, like golf, the sport his father, Anthony, guided him toward from an early age. Football was another option. But, despite these alternatives, Jamie had a knack of getting in fights. He also, in March 1996, found himself mesmerised by images of “Iron” Mike Tyson dismantling Frank Bruno on a television set in his family living room. The fight itself was alluring enough – the hype, the drama, the violence of it all – but just as arresting for an inquisitive nine-year-old was the sight of his father and his father’s friends gathered around the television sharing the moment. “I was only a kid but I just remember getting addicted to it from that point on,” he says. “That’s one of the first boxing memories I have.”
Jamie was eight years of age when he initially entered Walcot Amateur Boxing Club in Swindon. That same week he stepped into the ring and sparred another boy. Thrown in the deep end, is how he remembers it. Lots of energy, zero quality. Even so, he knew instantly he belonged.
“I fought a kid called Michael Graydon in my first ever fight and we didn’t know the routine or what was supposed to happen,” he says. “I just remember turning up, weighing in and next thing I knew I was in the ring. It happened so quickly. I didn’t know what was going on. Before I knew it I was throwing punches at this boy. I didn’t have time to be nervous.”
Cox describes himself as an “everyday kid” in an attempt to emphasise the normality of his upbringing. At 13, he had a job working construction alongside his father. “It didn’t bother me, the work,” he says. “My dad was a very, very hard-working man. I think that’s where I get my work ethic from.” From his mother, Linda, meanwhile, Cox gets his love of fitness. “My mother has always been into her fitness,” he says. “She’s a very, very fit woman for her age. She’s training every day, twice a day. She does weights, circuit training, running, everything. For a 49-year-old woman, she ain’t doing too bad. She’d beat most of the men in the fitness stakes. She probably trains harder than me, to be fair.”
Jamie’s father passed away five years ago. Now it’s just Mum. There are siblings, also; Lance, a brother, and Toni, a sister, both of whom found their calling in the banking world, a world far removed from the one Jamie inhabits. Sometimes Jamie thinks about that, being removed from boxing, being in a different world, not fighting, but each time he does so he is just as quick to shake his head and serve himself a reality check. “I always keep fit,” he says. “I couldn’t be one of those people who go to work and then go to the pub. That’s not me. My dad always said to us, ‘If you’re going to do something, make sure you do it 100 per cent.’ That’s what I try and do.”
For now, Cox considers himself an underachiever. He calls himself an underachiever in spite of winning a gold medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games and then winning a Commonwealth super-welterweight title as a professional in 2011. He calls himself an underachiever because, frankly, he knows he should have achieved so much more.
“Winning the ABAs in 2005 is my best achievement so far,” he says matter-of-factly, almost dismissively. “I was quite young then and it meant a lot to me. I won the Commonwealth gold medal but it didn’t feel the same. There was something special about winning the ABAs.”
Cox turned professional in July 2007. He boxed four times that year, five times in 2008 and then four times in 2009. Routine fights, easy fights. Yet to listen to Cox recall this period is to listen to a retired former champion recall the very peak of his career, such is the sudden happiness in his voice, such is the longing to return to those halcyon days. “The first couple of years were really enjoyable, the best years I’ve had as a professional,” he says. “But then you start getting to know the game and the business a bit and it ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes you have to dig deep and never quit.”
Dig deep and never quit is trade vernacular, a combat sport cliché, in fact, but it’s also, for Jamie, something greater than that. It’s a mantra he has often repeated to himself away from the ring and the gym. He said it to himself in March 2010, for example, when found guilty by jury of assaulting a man outside a Swindon bar. Suspended sentence of six months. Compensation. Community service. Career on hold. He told himself to dig deep and never quit, yet was nowhere near a ring or an opponent.
“You put so much effort into boxing and you try and get where you need to be and then the rug can just be pulled from under you,” he says. “It was no one else’s fault but my own. It was a little moment of madness that changed everything. I’m only human. At the end of the day I had a scrap in the street with a couple of rugby guys and I was eleven stone dripping weight. If they beat me up, I wouldn’t have gone to the police. But everybody is different. Sometimes it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”
Another go-to cliché used by professional fighters the world over. Cox, though, says it in relation to an unsightly “tussle” which happened away from the ring and landed him in trouble. As such, he hates himself for it. The words accidentally fall from his mouth. They are not said with pride, nor are they the words of an underdog attempting to convince doubters ahead of a title fight. Instead, they are the mumbled words of a man who knows he is now making up for lost time.
Time. It’s precious. Cox realises that now. He had the time of his life when turning pro and then sat out for some time in 2010 as a consequence of a bad decision. More time passed in 2013 when he broke his hand and was so concerned he may never fight again that he opened his own boxing gym with one eye on making a living from training others. “I was gutted,” he says, “but you can’t look on the downside. There’s always a way. You can’t put your whole life on one thing.”
He would box again, of course. He’d have his time again. And this time, he promised himself, it would all be different. At first, it was. In 2015 he beat Alistair Warren, Blas Miguel Martinez and Ferenc Albert. All three were dispatched in double-quick time, the first round, testament to Cox’s punch power, an indicator of their limitations, and just like that Cox was back. So was momentum. Then, however, in March 2016 there were reports in the news of a fight with a Russian and the boxing trade collectively rolled its eyes. It wasn’t a fighter, you see. The Russian wasn’t an opponent. Rather, the Russian was Viktoria Gribovskaja, a dancer, Cox’s ex-girlfriend, whose claim that the boxer harassed and assaulted her resulted in him being sentenced to 26 weeks in prison. She said he threatened to “kill her the Irish way”. Cox pleaded his innocence.
“My dog enjoys better conditions,” he says of his time in jail. “I don’t intend to ever go back. I didn’t want to be there first time round. I was wrongly convicted. I should have invested in a better solicitor because not all the evidence was used at the first trial. If I’d done the right things at the first trial, I would have never ended up in jail. But that was all due to my own silliness. I always do things the hard way for some reason. To be honest, I don’t like to even think I went there. I don’t like to dwell on bad times. I don’t like to talk about it.”
Cox was released from prison in May last year, as fresh evidence meant his conviction was overturned and all charges were suspended on appeal. “I always knew the truth would come out,” he says. “It almost felt as good as winning a fight. It was that kind of relief. When you’re in jail for something you haven’t done, it’s very frustrating. But you have to be careful, especially when you’re a boxer, of being caught up in the wrong situations. You’re a boxer and there’s a stigma attached to you when you’re in the court of law. You’re already tarnished.”
The super-middleweight, 21-0 (12), never claimed to be perfect. Nor, indeed, has he ever denied his penchant for an ill-advised scrap, hence his own kettle analogy. But he remains adamant about two things. One, he was innocent in 2016. Two, he is and wants to be a normal guy. “It happens to us all,” he says. “I treat people how I want them to treat me. You treat a dickhead like a dickhead and a nice guy with the utmost respect.”
Cox, now 30, is back to treating boxing like it’s the single most precious thing in his life. It is, he says, the only way. After all, time is running out. Chances are running out.
“I have definitely underachieved as a pro,” he accepts, “but that’s nobody’s fault but mine. I will get my opportunity. I always worked hard, but the last few years especially I’ve been working really hard. When John Costello [his trainer] suggested I move to super-middleweight, I did. It was a two-weight jump and I can feel the difference. In sparring I’m dropping and knocking out great fighters: British, European and world champions. These people are shocked. They don’t want to spar me again. I don’t want to name names, because I have a lot of respect for some of the guys I’ve knocked out, but I take great confidence from what I’ve done.
“This year I want that world title,” he adds. “That’s been my main aspiration since I turned pro and nothing has changed. I know I can do it. I just want an opportunity to show people what I’m really about. Who I really am.”
One senses the kettle will only stop hissing and boiling when a world title belt is wrapped around the waist of Jamie Cox. After that, silence. Sunshine and rainbows. Peace at last.