With waves crashing off the rocks at the scenic Watergate Bay or craggy Fistral Beach and with bodies bobbing up and down, attempting to regain their balance on novice surfboards, there wasn’t a punch in sight. It wasn’t that kind of place, Newquay.
A popular destination for domestic holidaymakers, watersports and rugby dominated conversation as groups conversed whilst sipping cider, somewhat stereotypically. Boxing was cast aside – an event rarely watched by a small sub-section of the Cornish community.
In an attempt to make history, North Cornwall’s Brad Pauls (12-0, 7KOs) steps up to challenge for the Southern Area super-middleweight title on June 8th. He wasn’t expecting his own street in Newquay, but joked he wouldn’t mind a statue, such as the late Bob Fitzsimmons tribute in Helston, the South West region’s last champion.
Twenty-six year old Pauls had enormous boots to fill when reviewing the career of Fitzsimmons, known strangely as ‘The Freckled Wonder’. Boxing’s first ever three-weight champion and the lightest heavyweight champion in history, he’d beaten Jim Corbett and fought James Jeffries, travelling the world, showing off his face, bereft of any damage absorbed from combat and a source of pride. Fitzsimmons died at aged fifty-four – his last professional outing just three years previous.
Pauls described his own journey, “I started boxing when I was ten and that’s when the Newquay amateur boxing club opened up. So, in Cornwall, boxing is just barren, there’s barely anything, maybe a couple of amateur gyms and that’s it. As soon as there was one in Newquay I was straight in there when it opened. I trained there until I was eighteen, but at the time I wasn’t boxing very often because there wasn’t a lot of opportunity.”
“Boxing didn’t thrive [in Cornwall] and there wasn’t any competition, so it was hard. There was no one else who had done it and taken it to the next step, so for me growing up, there was no real paths to follow. There was no one else. Boxing was just a thing on the TV up the country that was a mystery! It was really weird, but going to Uni that was where the real progression was made. You hear about the pros, you’re around the pros. If I didn’t leave Cornwall, I wouldn’t have made anything of myself, I don’t think.”
Far from the whisper of the coast during his current camp, Brad’s chance to make history was fast approaching. The fitness and personal training graduate spent his career working with Loughton-based coach Terry Steward, often seen working the corner of two-time world champion, James DeGale. With his gym mate and close friend Linus Udofia recently stopping his next opponent Darren Codona in March, it was an intriguing clash with Pauls preferring pressure on the front foot.
Alongside Udofia, the Club KO stable consisted of another Southern Area champion with Sean Robinson capturing his maiden title when beating competent challenger, Joshua Ejakpovi. With that coveted brown, leather strap making itself at home in Pauls’ place of work, it served as inspiration as he attempts to follow suit. Terry Steward had become more than a trainer to the boys, especially the young man from Cornwall, laser-focused when separated from his nearest and dearest.
“I’ve been with Terry [Steward] since the day I moved. It’s a long time ago now. He’s literally like a second dad. He looks after everyone. He’s so knowledgeable and knows so much stuff, whether it’s boxing specifically or anything else, you just trust him. I boxed for twelve years before I met Terry, but I trust the rest of my career with him. Hopefully, I’ll retire with him in my corner, that’s ideal.
“If there’s any other issues outside of the ring, he’ll help you. He properly looks after his fighters and he hasn’t got a massive ego. With a lot of boxing coaches, they wanna be in the limelight and be seen with this guy or that guy – Terry does not give a fuck. It’s refreshing in boxing.
“We’re all going through a similar sort of journey. We all have similar problems, similar issues and where someone might be a tiny bit ahead, they might be able to give some advice. Like Sean Robinson, we try and help him with social media but he’s old school and doesn’t use it. We’re all similar weights and a similar level, so in sparring it’s just so competitive. It’s different each time. I spar Linus and take things away to try and use them. The track work, all I do is chase him round the track (laughs). When you train with better people, you have to level up or you just won’t survive.”
Sharing a gym with welterweight champion Sean Robinson and Hayemaker Promotions’ Udofia wasn’t the trio’s only link, with all three fighters managed by reputable manager/promoter Steve Goodwin, the landlord of British boxing’s Mecca, London’s York Hall. Pauls had been featured on the poster for the most recent edition of the Ultimate Boxxer, but missed out on the tournament after a scheduling conflict when the knockout competition switched dates at late notice. The exposure provided by BT Sports would have boosted Brad’s profile, but Goodwin had another trick up his sleeve.
“I trusted Steve [Goodwin] that he would get me a shot at some point. We had a few bits and bobs going on in the background, other opportunities. I said to Steve that I just wanted to be busy, cos I hadn’t fought in so long so I just wanted to get some momentum back and shake off the ring rust. I knew Steve would deliver something, whether it was a title or a TV opportunity.”
On Ultimate Boxxer, he explained, “It was agreed and everything was set for it to happen. I was well excited, I had been calling it out for ages and I thought it suited me. Then they changed the date, which really didn’t suit anything I was trying to do. Steve gave me my options and I had to decide. It seems justified now that I’ve got my shot and I didn’t decline the tournament for no reason.
“It’s entertaining for the crowd, obviously, but not necessarily the best fighter will always win. You might have someone who was amazing over three rounds, but you fight him over ten rounds and he’d lose. So it’s quite a risky tournament. Obviously the platform is good, with BT. The prize money is good, but the tournament is a bit of a weird one. You think, back in the day if you won Prizefighter, within your next two fights you’d be doing something half-decent. I think the winner before [Shakan Pitters], he hasn’t been up to much either, has he?”
Away from the complications of the sport, Brad was a relaxed character, often preferring to switch off social media when it’s not being used in conjunction with boxing. I’d been following his career for a number of years and watched him enjoying downtime with his family on the South Coast. His brother Ashley was always supportive, pushing ticket sales, proud of the strides made by his sibling, chasing dreams in the Big Smoke.
Despite a keen understanding of marketing and self-promotion, Brad told me he would like to retire to Cornwall, eating a pasty by the water and reflecting on an accomplished career. It wasn’t about the bright lights and endorsements, he was a country boy that liked to fight – nothing had changed, except the more testing opposition. Beating journeymen had become disheartening and since besting Diego Burton over ten rounds, it was a shot at the Southern Area title he’d been waiting for with baited breath.
“I’m motivated. It’s completely different from training to fight a journeyman, to be honest. It’s like a completely different sport, a different feel. I’m excited to test myself against someone a bit better and I’m looking forward to it. It was hard, cos you gotta do all the work. You gotta make weight, sell the tickets, do everything you would normally do for something that doesn’t excite you. You’ve done it before and there’s very little to gain. It was hard. I think having a harder fight makes it easier to get motivated. It’s like your apprenticeship. You do your apprenticeship with the journeymen and I felt like I’d done it, but sometimes you just have to grind it out.”
In just over three weeks, Brad Pauls could etch his name in Cornish history, alongside that of legendary fighter, Bob Fitzsimmons. Fighting and winning titles in three different divisions didn’t seem important to him. Battling through a thirty year career seemed implausible, never mind retiring at the age of fifty-one. It wasn’t about matching Fitzsimmons achievements or walking a path already tread – it was about occupying his own little corner of history for Newquay, for his family and for himself.
“I’d like to look back and have won multiple titles. I wanna make a path for all the other young boxers in Cornwall. There is a way to do it, I didn’t have a path to follow. They can look at me and say, ‘Brad has went on and he’s won this title or done this’ then I would have made a path for the next generation. People in Cornwall like boxing, but they can see it’s possible for young lads to go and do it. I didn’t have that. I’ll hopefully have a few houses and just chill out in Cornwall for a bit!”
Interview written by: Craig Scott
Follow Craig on Twitter at: @craigscott209