AS Barry McGuigan’s first managerial signing, Troy James was national news. A decade on, James is retiring with “bittersweet” memories of a career during which he has seen most things in boxing.
He started out as a prospect on Sky Sports who sparred Carl Frampton, then drifted off to the small halls to build towards a British title fight that he lost before ending his career as a journeyman who fought Luke Campbell at 24 hours’ notice.
“Looking back, I think: ‘What did I do that for?’” the 35-year-old told Boxing News. “I hadn’t even been in the gym for two months. I thought I could go on the road and make money, but it’s not me. I want to win.”
As is the way with most boxers, James shouldn’t be remembered by his last few fights. Better – and fairer – that he’s known as an honest pro who didn’t get as much out of boxing as he put in and who, with a bit more luck, might have won the British title.
A former Midlands Area super-featherweight champion, James told me once he wanted to be thought of as “a people’s champion,” a fighter who never turned a fight down and always did his best. It fitted.
Not that the people who respected him really understood his business. “People I meet haven’t got a clue,” said James, who bows out in Coventry on Saturday, October 12. “They think I’m minted. We don’t all get the money Amir Khan does. But they don’t understand that. I didn’t box because I thought it would make me rich anyway. I did it because I love it.”
James’s motivations are tattooed on his chest – ‘My Family, My Life’ it reads – and the father of four (aged six to 18) admitted: “They need me more now. Physically, I’m fine and I still love boxing. But I’ve been boxing for years now without getting paid and now I have to put my family before my hobby. Financially, I can’t do it anymore.”
James only started boxing at 20, inspired by watching Ricky Hatton, and admits that if he had his time again, he would have stayed amateur longer. But at the time, the chance to work with McGuigan was too good to turn down. James came to McGuigan’s attention during the Novice championship in 2007 when Troy and Shane McGuigan boxed on the same show in Newdigate, Warwickshire.
McGuigan outpointed future pro Curtis Valentine, and as he usually did, James won by stoppage. Short for the weight, James would come forward, block and counter with heavy shots that usually, left his opponents on the floor.
“Looking back now, I wish I had had another year in the amateurs,” he said. “I could have done with fighting open class lads with different styles. I didn’t even watch boxing as a kid. I only started at 20. I’ve had a few people now asking me for advice and I say: ‘Box amateur and face as many different styles as you can. You should use your amateur career as part of your education.’”
As a novice pro, James had the best education imaginable. “I remember watching Carl [Frampton] spar and thinking: ‘I should be OK,’” he remembered, “but it was deceiving. You think he’s in range and he’s just outside range – and when he counters he hits very, very hard.”
James describes his career as “a great journey,” but as is to be expected, there are regrets.
“I don’t want to come across as being sore,” he said, “because ultimately, it’s down to me and if you’re good enough, you make it. But I just think if certain things had turned out differently, I would have got what I wanted – and that was to be British champion.”
He got his shot at Liam Walsh in April, 2016 and after holding his own early on, James was stopped in the eighth.
“All I asked for was a fair shot,” he said, “and I didn’t get it. I got four weeks’ notice for the British-title fight – and I was going on holiday when I got the call. We all know Liam can’t make 9st 4lbs at four weeks’ notice, so he must have known the fight was happening before I found out. That upsets me a bit. It should have been fair – and it wasn’t. I was the mandatory challenger and should have had more than four weeks’ notice. On the night he was the better man, but people don’t know the full story.”
James would rather remember the good nights; the one-round blast out of Chris Male and best of all, his 10-round taming of Ronnie Clark in Bedworth in September, 2014
“Nobody has outboxed Ronnie Clark the way I outboxed him – and I can’t box,” said James. “I’m not even a boxer.
“It all came together for me that night. I remember thinking afterwards: ‘Where did that come from?’ because I was never a boxer. That was the best small hall show I ever boxed on. After the decision was announced everyone was singing and dancing. If that had been on television, I think my career would have gone in a different direction, but I’m happy with the memories I’ve got from boxing. It made my life better. It was a great journey.”
James is staying in boxing. He is training Midlands Area super-featherweight champion Josh Baillie. He added: “I might start going to local amateur shows, see who’s about and try to build a stable of fighters.”