“IF it’s going to be my last fight, I don’t want it to be in Eddie Hearn’s back garden!” Ashley Theophane told Boxing News from inside his home in Paddington, London. The former British super-lightweight champion, now 39, had been in the running to take on unbeaten Conor Benn at Matchroom’s impending Fight Camp.
“I was a massive fan of Nigel Benn, so to fight his son would be great for one last outing,” he continued. “But to be honest, I don’t even want to fight in an empty arena, let alone a garden. If I’m going to have one more fight, I want my family and friends there as they’ve wanted me to fight back in London for ages. I haven’t fought at home in eight years.”
Theophane is still open to the fight with Benn but on more favourable terms. Despite a 16-year disparity in age, he’s confident of his chances. “A fight with Conor could go either way. I still feel good, and I’m fresh off of beating a former world champion [w pts 10 vs Kassim Ouma]. I’ve got vast experience over him. He has youth, but the occasion could get to him. I might stop him if he’s not ready for the step up.
“I think it would be a great fight regardless of who won,” he added. “As I told Conor, I wish him the best in his career, unless he’s fighting me.”
After being taken, aged eight, to All Stars Boxing Gym by his boxing-obsessed father, Theophane’s story in the sport started. A modest amateur career preceded blossoming into life as a pro, with a win over the home favourite Lenny Daws [w pts 12] for the British super-lightweight title a career highlight in 2011. The lack of promotional backing in the UK often hampered Theophane and a trip to Floyd Mayweather’s Las Vegas gym later that year gave him the motivation to seek permanent pastures new across the pond.
Theophane went on to help “Money” during his camp for the Robert Guerrero fight in 2013, establishing himself amongst the Mayweather team. “Treasure” would go on to fight on the undercard of Mayweather vs Canelo Alvarez later that year and revel in the support and tutelage received.
“I’ve achieved a lot in this game. Not many Brits can say they have headlined in Las Vegas,” he said. After parting ways with Mayweather Promotions following five successful years, Theophane, 50-8-1 (19), set off on a sunset world tour in 2018, or “pay-cation”, as he cheerily cites. Wins in Hungary, Poland, Mexico, Dubai, Romania and Denmark formed part of his unbeaten adventure, but a contest in Ghana stood out in particular.
“I loved fighting in Ghana. They made me feel at home. The local support was obviously there for their fighter, but they were good to me. When you go abroad, even if you fight an easy guy, you still get nervous that you may get robbed or something against the home fighter. Even though they are overmatched, they come to fight and have a proper go at me!”
It’s a period in Theophane’s 59-fight career that he cherishes, but one that was derided by some. “Guys were saying to me ‘oh you’re fighting all of these bums who don’t mean s**t’. But some of the best guys in history would travel the world as world champions and fight guys with poor records. Sugar Ray Robinson, Julio Cesar Chavez and Muhammad Ali fought guys who should never have been in with them. Younger fighters should take note of this and travel more.”
As his career winds down, he now focuses on his own community. “I’ve started doing talks in schools, and it has spurred me on to write my book to inspire kids,” he explained. “I want to be able to say ‘look, you can start off bad, but you can change your life and do whatever you want to do’.”
Helping to combat knife crime in London is at the heartbeat of his projects, including the proposed opening of “Treasure Boxing Club” later this year.
“Nothing much has changed in 20 years,” he continued. “Kids continue to get caught carrying knives and go to jail. I’ve been doing a lot of work to get my own gym opened – it’s my life after the sport. I saw what a gym did to me by changing my life and what I achieved because of it.
“I’ve been taking courses – counselling and mental health training with England Boxing – too. A lot of guys that will be coming to the gym will have a lot going on in their lives, and it’s good to understand how to speak to them.
“I think mental health in boxing gets overlooked. Many guys have suffered from depression. It’s a sport where you assume you have to ‘get on with it’. Sometimes it’s too late, and we see guys taking their own lives. In the last three years, I’ve known three or four guys that have taken their own lives.”
Theophane’s altruistic ambitions burn bright as he seeks to support the next generation of fighters. But the desire to fight himself remains, at least for now.
“Even though I’m not considered a big star, I’ve done more than most British professional boxers have done,” he concluded. “I’ve achieved everything I’ve wanted to achieve in this game. I guess I’m just trying to scratch that itch one more time.”