MAXI HUGHES didn’t know when his time was going to come. All he knew was that it was going to one day come and that he would have to remain patient and improving until that day arrived.
“I remember one of my old amateur trainers, Dave Croft, who is no longer with us, saying to me once, ‘You’ll have your time,’” Hughes told Boxing News. “Every time I came up against an England squad lad in the championships, usually in the quarter-finals or semis, they would always get the decision after a close fight. I used to get some disgusting decisions go against me back then and that’s when Dave would say to me, ‘You will have your time. Whether it’s in the amateurs or the pros, you will have your time.’ Now I know what he means. I am having my time now.”
Unbeaten since losing a 10-round decision against Liam Walsh in 2019, Hughes, 31, is currently riding an impressive five-fight win streak which includes the scalps of Jono Carroll and Patrick Hyland, against whom he won the British lightweight crown. Eager for more, last time out in Leeds, Hughes pitched a masterclass to outpoint Mexico’s Jovanni Straffon over 12 rounds.
“It was a very special night,” Hughes said. “Everything just went to plan. Everything I had practiced and visualised came off. Maybe it could have gone better if I’d got him out of there in the fifth, but I was happy enough to win every round.
“As long as I stayed switched on and did everything I was supposed to do, it felt comfortable in there. That was how we trained. If you prepare for a certain type of fight and then the fight doesn’t go that way, your opponent does something different, you can be surprised. But I didn’t have any of those surprises on the night. Jovanni was everything we expected and everything we had prepared for, so I just had to continue doing what I’d been doing in training. It went as expected.”
The same could be said for Hughes’ career. After all, despite various ups and downs along the way, the level-headed Yorkshireman has always believed in playing the long game and has always believed his patience would finally pay off. “I think it’s down to perseverance, hard work, and dedication,” he said. “I’ve had my setbacks but it’s never deterred me or affected my motivation and desire. I suppose it’s not knowing anything else. I’m a family man, I work, and I box. That’s pretty much all I do, so I wasn’t ready to throw the towel in after the first sign of setback.
“Eventually, when you work so hard at something, something good will come of it, I believe. That’s what’s happening now. I’m getting my reward for my hard work.
“I think back to the fighter I was when I fought Scotty Cardle eight years ago. It was my first fight on Sky Sports and I’d never experienced anything like that. I am naturally an introvert and quite shy, and back then I’d never done interviews or spoken up at press conferences in front of people.
“What was going through my mind in those first couple of rounds was this: don’t do anything stupid and don’t make a mistake because you’re live on telly. That shouldn’t be the mindset of a fighter fighting for a title. I think I was mentally fragile and inexperienced. The fighter that I am now, I’ll talk a glass eye to sleep. Nothing really fazes me now in terms of boxing.”
Certainly, these days Hughes seems to possess a fearlessness that is often the by-product of not only winning fights but losing fights, too. He has, for better or worse, now seen, experienced, and felt most things in a boxing ring. He knows what danger looks like and he knows how to keep himself safe in such moments. He also knows, at 31, exactly what he wants going forward.
“The main one I want is the Devin Haney fight in America,” Hughes said. “I’d love to get that fight and add the WBC [lightweight] title to my collection. That’s the dream I’ve got at the minute and I don’t think it’s too far away, either.
“I got tagged in something by Bill Haney, his dad and manager, and they were obviously watching (Hughes’ most recent fight). My name is in their mouth now and Bill Haney, in this interview, said that is a fight they would like. It’s a fight that’s nearly there.
“I got laughed at when I won the WBC international [title] and said I wanted Devin Haney. But now look at what’s happened. I just keep getting better and better. It’s no longer a laughing issue. It’s a stone’s throw away from being reality.”
A master of winning fights he is expected to lose, Hughes, 24-5-2 (5), has every reason to be confident going into a fight against Haney, be it this year or next. Moreover, it is also worth remembering this: just as very few people will pick him to beat Haney should the fight get made, even fewer would have predicted Maxi Hughes to be here – winning titles and fully deserving of that fight – back when he was losing against domestic opposition only a few years ago.
“I’ve watched him and I follow his YouTube channel,” Hughes said of Haney. “He’s becoming a big, big star. When you mention Devin Haney, even your casual fan knows who he is. He’s a good, quick, flash boxer, but I back myself. As we’ve seen, I rise to the occasion every time and I’m continuously improving and have full trust in my trainer, Sean O’Hagan. It’s a fight I believe I can win. I fully believe I will go over there and upset the applecart.”