FORMER amateur star Sam Maxwell fulfilled a boyhood dream by snatching the British and Commonwealth super-lightweight crowns from defending champion, Akeem Ennis-Brown, in a close but controversial fight in the summer. Out of action since, and with a baby on the way next year, the 33-year-old is hoping 2022 is a successful year both personally and professionally.
The contest with Ennis-Brown was originally scheduled for March, then postponed until July before eventually taking place in August. The outcome being that the Hackney-born and Liverpool-based star – alongside new trainer Steve Maylett – spent the best part of seven months in the gym.
“With training all the way through it was definitely a long camp but it was worth it as Steve wanted me to be really fit. The one thing people fear about Akeem is that he’s got a really good work-rate. He’s very fit, and we knew that if I could match him there, then my skills would be enough to win.
“I got loads of sparring in ahead of the fight, awkward guys like Akeem. We kept it simple; straight shots, fast feet and a high guard. We didn’t want to try and guess where his shots were coming from as you can’t really predict them. The plan was just to have a high guard, score when I could and use my feet to get away.”
Such an approach seemed to be working perfectly until near disaster struck just five weeks before the contest.
“I got a bad cut, just above my right eye. One second everything’s going great then, Boom! It could be all over. At first I thought it would be called off again but I was lucky, it didn’t need stiches. It was glued and ended up healing nicely – but I had to stop sparring straightaway.”
Maxwell agrees that such a slowing of his momentum in training may have impacted his performance in the fight but he also acknowledged the sheer awkwardness of his opponent meant he found it difficult to be, “as sharp as I could have been.”
“I probably underestimated just how awkward he could be. Early on I thought the fight was going okay. Neither of us were dominating but I felt the better boxing was coming from me and I was hoping the judges would see that.”
Having watched the fight again how does Maxwell rate his performance?
“Whilst he was awkward, little things Steve told me to do all through camp I didn’t do as much as I should have. I didn’t have as much urgency. Maybe his style was the reason for that and I was too respectful of his ability. Whatever it was I didn’t just put it on him when I got the chance and, when Steve called for the shots, I was delaying or just not throwing them. I could definitely have done better.
“The early rounds were close but I think the turning point was the ninth, when I got cut. If it had been stopped there then he might have got the decision. Thankfully my cut man, Andy O’Neil, stopped the bleeding. The ref and the doctor gave him a chance to work on it and from then on I think I won rounds nine, 10, 11 and 12 and they ultimately won me the fight.”
As British and Commonwealth champion and ranked 10th by the WBO – he also holds that sanctioning body’s European strap – the 33-year-old feels it’s time the opportunities now available to him resulted in better rewards financially.
Having proposed to long-term girlfriend, Sascha, and with the pair expecting their first child in March 2022, the issue of making money from the sport is more important than ever before.
“I’ve been boxing 22 years and made nothing really. Certainly not more than having a decent job. I’m the champion, I’ve got three belts, I’m undefeated and ranked in the top 10 in the world by the WBO so maybe I can start asking for more money? I’m starting a family and not just earning for myself anymore.
“I’d planned to propose not long after the [Ben] Fields fight in March. I used some of that money to get a ring and then had to explain to Sascha how we couldn’t get stuff for the house as I didn’t have the money! I then planned to do it on her birthday, in June, but that didn’t happen so I thought it’d be good to propose on the night of the title fight itself and that stuck – even through the postponements. Then I realised I had to win it as, if I didn’t, everyone would be down and I’d be asking her to marry me in that sort of atmosphere.
“After I won everyone was celebrating back at the hotel and I managed to corner her. She kept saying she wanted to go to bed as she was tired, but I persuaded her to wait for me after I’d gone into my room to get the ring. I pretended I couldn’t open the door and, when she opened it, there I was, down on one knee. Everyone was outside with her too, so we all celebrated together. It was a great night.”
Marriage and baby on the way – and highly ranked in a hot division – Maxwell is understandably upbeat.
“I want to get out again as soon as possible and work my way towards bigger and better titles. This is my time now, and I’m not going to let it go.”