PAUL INGLE’S eyelids fill with tears as he talks about his final appearance as a prizefighter.
He has no memory of that night in December 2000, but he knows what happened. The IBF featherweight champion lost his title to Mbulelo Botile. He left the ring on a stretcher. A blood clot was found on his brain. His career was over. All Ingle was left with, at the age of 28, was a fight for his life.
Weeks passed before he opened his eyes to see his mum by his side.
“I said to her, ‘What are we doing in here? I’ve got a fight next week.’ It was all as strange as f***. I asked her again, ‘What am I doing here? Have I had an accident? Have I been run over? I need to get out. I need to go and fight.’ My mum told me to calm down. ‘You’ve boxed, Paul. You lost. Everything is alright, though. Calm down.’ I couldn’t believe I’d lost. I was heartbroken. I can’t remember weighing-in. I can’t remember the last week of training. It all upsets me, even now.”
Sporting hangovers are the worst kind, and the hardest to budge. They hang around, like a spiteful disease, punishing those who dared to fly.
Ingle’s 14-year haze is starting to clear. The depression is lifting. The incredible weight-gain he initially embraced, before it swelled beyond control, is slowly being reversed. Moments of regret and bitterness occasionally threaten his recovery, but as he sits in his Scarborough home, surrounded by photographs of his fighting peak, and the belts and trophies he claimed while there, Ingle has almost forgiven boxing.
“I can’t watch that last fight and I never will,” Ingle explains. “It would upset me too much to watch it. I’ve been told it wasn’t me in there. I don’t want to see myself like that. No. I’d cry my eyes out. People tell me it wasn’t Paul Ingle in there. They knew it when I was making my way to the ring.”
Ingle has been told he was injured in the lead-up, that he was having trouble making weight.
“I can’t understand why I went through with the fight,” he says, wrestling the unsolvable problem for the umpteenth time. “But I can’t remember. I just can’t remember. In my right mind I wouldn’t have gone through with it if I didn’t feel right would I? It’s not like I was being paid £50 million. Why didn’t they put the fight back?”
Keen to steer the conversation, and the mood, away from the crux of his misery, we turn the subject towards happier times. Before his career trod on a landmine, Ingle was a remarkable fighter. Multiple amateur titles were punctuated by an appearance in the 1992 Olympics. In his 15th professional outing he stopped former world champion Colin McMillan to win the British title and, after subsequently securing Commonwealth and European titles, he challenged unbeaten WBO champion Naseem Hamed in 1999.
It was an opponent that Ingle had been chasing for a long time. The Northerner claims Hamed had avoided him as an amateur.
“The atmosphere that night was, phwoar, it was electric,” Ingle enthuses as his mind trots down a far more welcoming memory lane. “I knew it would be a tough fight. I knew that. I knew he was good by the time we fought. He had the perfect punch power for his weight. It was tremendous power. Early on in the fight I was thinking, ‘Hang on, I thought he was supposed to be powerful’. There were nowt there in his shots. Then all of a sudden he hit me with a f****** shot. A real crispy shot and I was like, ‘F*** me’. He’d put me down with a body shot which had never happened to me before. I looked across at him when I was down, and he was smiling. That smug smile of his. And I just thought, ‘I’m going to rip your f******* head off’.”
Hamed’s head remained in place, but Ingle’s reputation soared. He emerged from that opening round knockdown to hand the flamboyant braggart one of his toughest fights, before being stopped in round 11. It was Ingle’s first defeat, but it proved he belonged on the world stage; a platform he targeted the moment he first pulled on the gloves as a nine-year-old boy.
Next up was cunning IBF champion, Manuel Medina. The wily Mexican was a fantastic fighter, one who enjoyed several title reigns, and only lost to the very best. At the Ice Arena at nearby Hull, in November 1999, the pair crafted a corker. Ingle looked set for victory when he dropped the champion twice in the second, only for Medina to confirm his class by rallying hard. The pair exchanged knockdowns in the final quarter, and although Ingle – bruised, gashed and exhausted – looked to have done enough, the decision was in the balance.
Almost 15 years on, Ingle delights in regaling the moment he realised victory. His face screws up briefly, like a child who cannot contain their excitement, before it unfolds with infectious glee.
“When they said ‘and the new…’ F****** hell, you what? What a feeling that was. World champion? Ooh, you what? Every single hair on my hands, arms, and legs was standing up. Even the hairs on my ears and my f****** nose stood up. Oh yeah. It was a special feeling. The best feeling in the world.”
After gruelling wars against Hamed and Medina had left him at the top of the world, Ingle hoped a straightforward defence would allow him to enjoy the view. It was not to be.
“Then they gave me Junior Jones in New York,” Ingle snorts about his penultimate ring appearance. “I asked Frank [Maloney] to get him over here but I had to go over to Jones’ back garden. I was world champion. I thought after the Medina fight I’d have some easy defences. But it was Jones in New York. Old hammer punch Junior Jones. It was getting harder and harder.”
It threatened to get even tougher. He was told days before that he would have to hit the scales on the day of the fight. Such an event would have broken all manner of rules, and Ingle, who was already craving his post weigh-in meal, declared he would pull out. His bout was chief-support to heavyweight king Lennox Lewis’ defence against Michael Grant.
“Jones was struggling to make weight but I was starving myself too,” Ingle says, his mood dipping. “I told them I didn’t give two f****. If I had to weigh-in on the day of the fight I was f****** off back to England. It was as simple as that. Frank [Maloney] tried to tell me I’d be alright, that it was okay, but Lennox Lewis wasn’t being treated like that.”
Ultimately rules were adhered to and Ingle won again. It was another epic struggle. He bulldozed Jones into defeat in the 11th round after absorbing some hellish punishment along the way. That success, his final win, is the performance that Ingle today rates as his finest. But clearly, and the clarity of such hindsight is almost tragic, the IBF champ’s body was struggling to take the strain of making weight and being forced through battle.
Ingle admits a move to super-featherweight could have followed the Botile fight. Again his mind starts to drift into a warzone.
“That last f****** fight,” he says. “It should never have been fought.”
Sitting opposite Paul is his great friend, and former professional boxer, Sonny Pollard.
“There’s nothing you can do about that, mate,” Pollard says softly. “It’s all about the future now.”
The majority of hangovers can be eased by paracetamol, a fry up, or fresh air. But Ingle’s poison, injected in so ruthlessly in conflict, refused to budge. Pollard would provide the cure.
Ingle was a young man when he was told he could not box anymore. His world crumbled. His motivation disappeared. He was not the same man as he had been just weeks before. There was an alien in the mirror.
He had spent his life in training – give or take a month’s break here and there – and with that taken away, confused, lost, and miserable, he started to put on weight.
“It was a comfort thing,” Ingle explains. “I’d start to put a bit of weight on and not think too much about it. Then my clothes started getting tight. When I was fighting I’d always have two sets of clothes – one for when I was training, and some slightly bigger ones for when I wasn’t. But this was different. Suddenly I was wearing extra large, and at the end, I was wearing triple XL. I knew it was getting ridiculous. But it’s not like I was eating fish and chips every day, eating chocolate and drinking 10 pints of beer. My body has always been like a sponge.”
Years went by and Ingle ballooned beyond recognition. Doctors fed him pills, put him on strict diets in an effort to shed the mass but, despite Ingle’s best efforts, nothing was working. He almost tripled in size and developed a hernia. His mum, who had watched her son being battered into an inch of his life before struggling to come to terms with being alive, was in despair.
“I was so pissed off,” Paul reflects. “I went to the doctor and he’d put me on tablets and diets to lose weight and I was just putting it on. I was religiously doing what they told me to. But nothing was working. I’d walk to the doorbell and I’d be out of breath. I’d come and sit back down and my face would be all red. My breathing was dreadful. My mum was crying because she could see I was trying but the weight wasn’t coming off. I didn’t want to go out for a drink with the lads because I felt so s*** about myself. Then Sonny came along to help me.”
Pollard insisted that his friend, for whom his admiration is obvious, try a special diet. It involved multi-vitamins, protein shakes, and sensible eating. Almost straight way, Ingle started to lose weight. One year into his new routine and Ingle is seven stone lighter. He has been told by doctors they can now treat his hernia. Pollard recently opened a gym in Hull – The Paul Ingle Boxing Academy – in honour of the former world champion.
“The gym is first class,” Ingle beams. “I’ve turned the corner and I can’t thank Sonny enough. My breathing is better, I’m moving around and I feel different. It’s like another life. It’s given me a buzz about life again.
“When I start training the weight will come off even more. When I go to the gym and start training, I know I’m going to want to fight again.”
The 41-year-old knows that is not an option, but he wishes, more than anything, that it was. Fighters will always be fighters, no matter what came before.
After all, hangovers rarely dissuade the aching head to indulge again.
“I’ve hit the bag and I loved it. I would love to fight again. Even with everything that has happened. I never thought anything could go wrong. Not to me. But I know now I’ve been so lucky to have achieved what I have achieved. I’ve been world champion. And the friends I’ve got now, like Sonny, make me realise how lucky I am and how lucky I have been.”
For more information on Paul Ingle’s gym, diet, and his ongoing progress, visit www.paulingleboxing.com or contact Sonny Pollard on 07793003616