THIS weekend at the Nottingham Arena, Dec Spelman will be in attendance watching the action inside the ring, wishing he was there. Every muscle, bone, and sinew, that makes up the 5ft 11ins of Dec Spelman screams fighter… except he isn’t one anymore.
Spelman should have been out there under the lights, trading with Cheavon Clarke in an eliminator for the English cruiserweight title, but instead he will now be sat at ringside watching others do what he would love to still be doing himself.
A little more than two weeks ago the dream was still alive. Finally injury free and almost on weight after a good camp, he felt in supreme shape and ready to cause a shock against the highly-regarded prospect.
A failed brain scan as part of his annual British Boxing Board of Control-mandated medical was initially written off as a blip. He’d never had any difficulties before and as he spoke to his manager Carl Greaves, and the fights promoters, Matchroom, everyone hoped they could get everything resolved in time.
The potential resolution arrived by way of a six-hour roundtrip from Spelman’s Scunthorpe home to Newcastle. “I went up there to sit a two-hour memory test,” he reveals to Boxing News. “To be honest, I thought it was quite hard, but I didn’t think I had done too badly. At the end I remember asking the guy how I’d got on and him saying: ‘You’ve done okay, but your short-term memory is really alarming.’”
Soon afterwards, the BBB of C pulled Spelman’s licence. “For them to knock you back on the memory test it has to be quite bad,” admits the 30-year-old. The former English light-heavyweight champion is still waiting to hear further details from the Board in regard to the finer details of the failed test, leaving him concerned for his future. “My next route will have to be through the NHS and to see what they can tell me,” he said. “They can request all my old scans. There must be some change in them for the Board to immediately revoke my licence.”
Yet, despite this nightmare, the man nicknamed “Kid Nytro” continues to radiate his own brand of cheery optimism. Retaining a positive attitude amid heart-breaking turmoil – “I am trying not to dwell on it,” he reveals – is something that the unforgiving sport of boxing instils. Yet he knows better than most how cruel this trade can be.
Almost five years ago to the day that the Scunthorpe man should have been entering the ring this weekend, he fought Scott Westgarth in an English title eliminator at the Doncaster Dome. Spelman climbed off the deck from an early knockdown to send his opponent tumbling through the ropes in the bout’s final seconds. The bell allowed the Yorkshireman to claim the win on the referee’s card, but tragedy followed as Westgarth slipped into a coma, never to awake.
“Attending the funeral was one of the hardest things I have ever done,” he remembers. Yet, much of Spelman’s career following that fateful day has been a form of tribute to his fallen foe. Building up a strong rapport with Westgarth’s family, dedicating his English belt to him, and continuing to proudly wear his name on the waistband of his shorts, are all marks of Spelman’s profound decency.
It is said that the way a boxer performs in the ring is often a reflection of their personality or character. The 30-year-old, who has made a career out of going toe-to-toe, standing his ground, and taking his licks, has proved that in life he is just as fearless and honest. He admits this weekend’s outing against Clarke would have been difficult. “It would have been a nightmare for four rounds. I would’ve had to dig deep, but I’m confident I would’ve stopped him late on,” he asserts.
With that old life now disappearing behind him, Spelman is steadfast in his intention to stay involved with boxing. “I have been doing some work with some good lads in the gym and will now have more time to focus on that,” he says positively. A longer-term goal is to get involved in the management side of the sport. It is tempting to conclude that his English title success must be the high point of his 25-fight career, but the Scunthorpe man disagrees. “It has to be boxing someone like Anthony Yarde [who beat him in six rounds in 2020],” he says. “It’s a bit surreal thinking I have been in the ring with someone like that.
“I was never a top-class amateur. I got there through grit and determination. I only turned over to go on the road. I just loved boxing and wasn’t bothered about anything else. I think I achieved what I deserved because I put so much effort into it.”
It is interesting to see him already slipping into the past tense when recounting his career. Perhaps, he has already found his own closure, despite the ongoing insecurities concerning his scan results. Nineteen wins and six losses will forever be the final score, but those scant numbers don’t begin to do justice to Spelman, a role model for the best and worst that this toughest of sports has to offer.