TOUCHING down in Mérida International Airport, George Jupp had accepted an invite into boxing’s unknown. As the ink of his passport stamp struggled to dry in the Yucatán state capital’s humidity, beads of sweat trickled down the side of his jet-lagged face, while he attempted to answer questions from the assembled press. A rabbit in the headlights of a Mexican fight week, Jupp struggled to catch his breath. The hard assignment ahead of him now seemed closer to impossible.
Over four years have passed since and Jupp’s life is unrecognisable to the one mixing it with the cream of the 130-pound crop. A pie and mash shop is where the Bexley fighter now feels most comfortable, 5,000 miles from a ring that defined his previous career.
“You know that I’ve called it a day though, mate?” George Jupp, 15-3 (4), messaged me modestly ahead of a rare interview. I confirmed my assumption on his retirement, as he kindly agreed to elaborate to Boxing News. Since a shutout victory over journeyman Damian Lawniczak in February 2017, Jupp has disappeared from the boxing world. After speaking to him extensively over a blustery Thursday evening, it’s obvious why.
“I knocked it on the head last year,” Jupp confirmed. “I guess I wasn’t interested in doing some big attention-seeking retirement thing as that just isn’t me. If someone asked me I would have told them. I knew, my family knew, and my trainer knew – that’s all that really matters to me.”
A scan of Jupp’s Twitter and Instagram accounts confirm his preference for a quiet, unassuming life. It’s a little trite to overplay the importance of social media for the modern fighter, but Jupp’s reluctance to engage in publicity was evident throughout his career.
“To be honest, that’s one side I never really helped myself with,” he conceded. “I’m not really a social media type of person; I’m a very private guy. I didn’t enjoy all the cameras and press conferences; I hated that side of boxing.”
It was slightly surprising to hear. Speaking openly and assertively to me after years away from the sport, Jupp exuded confidence and charm. He portrayed a man who was the antithesis of the character he was describing, a character, perhaps, moulded through a career tangled in the complex web of the boxing business.
“For a while after retiring, I was so despondent with the sport that I didn’t really watch anything or stay in the loop,” he added. “I really began to hate it. But now, I’m glad to be back as a fight fan again.”
This melancholy relationship with boxing only materialised in the latter years of Jupp’s professional career. Up until then, a childhood obsession with the sweet science would fuel his dreams to achieve domestic recognition. Born into a boxing-mad household, weekends would be spent in front of the television charting the rise of his idols – Ricky Hatton, in particular, struck a note with a young George and his working-class roots.
Bromley and Downham ABC and Nemesis Gym in Erith formed a huge part of his introduction to boxing, where a nine-year-old George would begin honing his craft, but it was a visit to the TKO Boxing Gym in Canning Town, aged 15, that sparked the fuse for a career in the sport.
“For a kid, it was like training at Old Trafford,” Jupp explained. “There were guys like Kevin Mitchell, Graham Earl, Matthew Marsh and Martin Powers all training there and all fighting for British titles. The gym was absolutely buzzing. That was what really convinced me that I wanted to turn professional.
“I wasn’t a great junior, but I had a pretty good senior career. I boxed for England once, but I never went to a big tournament. I never thought I’d be a multi-weight world champion or anything like that or even fight at world level, but if someone told me I would never fight for a British title, I wouldn’t even have bothered turning pro.”
A modest amateur career – losing to Martin J. Ward in the London ABA finals – gave Jupp that extra incentive to turn over as soon as possible and he pays special thanks to trainers Johnny Eames and Peter Swinney, who helped him with the transition. It’s a decision he questions to this day, but one he was convinced at the time would be of benefit to him.
“I was never really introduced properly to the professional game,” Jupp recalled. “I didn’t really get that run-of-the-mill start to my career where you get eased in. On my debut, I boxed another debutant. I was 19 and he was like a 32-year-old man [w pts 4 vs Peter Barney], so my first fight was a war straightaway.
“I was never shy about getting stuck in, though. I got offered a spot in Prizefighter, and it was quite a new concept at the time. I thought, ‘F**k it, let’s go.’ It was a great platform to be on Sky Sports.” Following a semi-final loss in Prizefighter, Jupp would string six victories together before landing a shot at the vacant Southern Area super-featherweight title in 2014. Craig Poxton was his opponent, and Jupp found himself up against it. “That was a real tough fight,” he admitted. “But to be honest, I made it a tough fight for myself. I looked at just one video of him and thought it was going to be an easy night’s work, but it turned into a f**king war. He caught me with a cracking shot in the first 30 seconds, and my nose was streaming for the whole of the fight. It was a good test to come through knowing I could do those 10 rounds.”
Jupp’s reign as Southern Area champion was a frustrating one. Opponents were limited and promises were broken. But he was finally offered a route when all seemed lost.
“I’m not a stupid man,” said Jupp. “I was considering my options. The sport wasn’t giving me what I wanted and I’d had enough of the game. I had a meeting with Frank [Warren] and he said I’d get a good run of fights if I came through some tests. “I was buzzing with that as it gave my career some direction. I had one fight against Barrington Brown [w pts 8], then I was thrown into the Mitchell Smith fight. It was a great opportunity to prove myself.”
After a heated build-up, including an entertaining press conference, Jupp secured the biggest win of his career in defeating Smith in December 2015 (w pts 10). With that came a WBO ranking and an opportunity that proved impossible to resist.
“I don’t know how they really justified it [the WBO ranking],” Jupp stated. “I’d never fought at world level, neither had Smith. I didn’t really pay much attention to that to be honest, as I was never looking at a world title or anything like that. I was more trying to work my way to the British, not getting ahead of myself.”
This opportunity was a last-minute offer to face Miguel Berchelt in Mexico. With this, Jupp expected his career to explode. He faced a daunting trip to Mérida, and having struggled crafting opportunities as a professional, this appeared a timely lifeline. “I was at work – my dad’s scaffolding company – on the Monday, and we got a call offering the fight against Berchelt. I hadn’t even heard of him,” Jupp revealed. “I watched two videos of him and looked at his record. I wondered if it was a bit padded as he hadn’t fought outside of Mexico and there were no stand-out names. The videos I found of him showed he wasn’t really sleeping people; he was just getting solid wins.
“We decided to go for it, but I wasn’t fully prepared. It appeared a win-win situation – there was nothing to lose in trying to mix it with the best.
“We flew out on the Wednesday, and it was all a bit of a whirlwind. I didn’t have any time to come back down to earth. I had every intention of winning, but obviously, I had doubts in the back of my mind of what would happen if it didn’t come off. As long as I put in a good performance and didn’t get ironed out in a round, I thought my stock was only going to rise from it. It all happened so quickly.”
Jupp would lose inside six rounds to the Mexican in a fight for the Interim WBO super-featherweight belt. He was spirited and resilient in the opening exchanges, boxing to a game plan, but in the end, was outclassed in a huge step up on away soil. The intention was to build on this roll of the dice, but it many ways it signalled the end.
“After that fight was when I really fell out of love with the game,” he confessed. “I was straight back in the gym waiting for the phone to ring, but nothing materialised from there.
“The Berchelt loss didn’t mean anything. That should have been a springboard into opportunities, but nothing came. I never lost domestically; there was never any justification for me to be at the back of the queue for fights.”
Training for three fights over 10 weeks – British title eliminators against Sam Bowen and Anthony Cacace, and a Mitchell Smith rematch – that all fell through, Jupp detailed his frustrations with the boxing business. “It’s just one of those things,” he conceded. “I’ve been around the sport for a long time and spoken to so many fighters. They fall in love with the game and they let that control their feelings and their actions. I’ve always tried to look from the outside in – I’ve got a family to provide for, I want nice things in life and I want to get on in life. I sacrificed a lot to be a fighter, so I’m not going to waste my time in the gym if nothing is going to come my way.”
Boxing is a sport littered with heart-rending tales outside of the ring. Intrigue fuels this addictive voyeurism as we seek to unravel the stories of fighters who slide into unimaginable chasms following retirement. Jupp is acutely aware of how his story could have unfolded but has taken the brave decision to paint his own colourful future.
“It can just go in the blink of an eye,” Jupp accepted. “You can train for years and years with nothing coming, then you hit 30 and you’ve got no trade behind you; washed up, nothing. It wasn’t really a hard decision to be honest with you.
“The ‘what could have beens’ still creep in now and again and I have no doubt in my mind that I could have achieved more, but I wasn’t willing to let people in the business f**k me around and be a fighter that was forced to take the wrong opportunities. The two fights I managed to land after the Berchelt fight were small hall shows where I had to pay for tickets and earn minimum wage. I wasn’t willing to do that 20 fights into my career.”
We laughed as I asked what he misses most about boxing, with an answer of “peak fitness through constant training” another indication of Jupp’s clean break from the sport. He reminisced fondly of his relationship with former trainer Del Grainger, who “drove [him] mad and nagged [him] more than [his] girlfriend,” and credits the ex-pro for the effort he put in to maximise his career. Now, Jupp takes orders from his energetic son Henry and is more likely to be spotted at his family-run Cathedral Pie House in Kent, than attempting to make a return to the ring. He convinces me he would never fight again, and why would he?
As darkness falls on Bexley, just south of the River Thames, Jupp has found peace with the sport where so many of his peers have struggled. He wraps up our exchange with a positivity that has underpinned his life as a retired fighter.
“People told me I’d regret it, but it’s been over a year now, and it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s like I have started my life again. I’m doing alright for myself – I wouldn’t have got that from boxing.”