Features

Akeem Ennis Brown: Maxwell isn’t in my league

Akeem Ennis Brown takes the latest step on his perfect, if not slightly stop-start, journey through professional boxing when he defends his British and Commonwealth titles against Sam Maxwell this weekend. The Frank Warren promoted card is loaded with an enticing mixture of title fights, with a further two British and an English strap on the line.

For the Gloucester-based super-lightweight, this will mark his first defence of the coveted titles that he claimed following a unanimous points victory over Philip Bowes last September. That this fight is only happening five months after its initial scheduling – following a back injury to Ennis Brown (14-0, 1 KO) in training – is nothing new for the 25-year-old. After all, his title shot with Bowes was rescheduled twice – once on the actual afternoon of the fight – before finally sealing the victory 10 months after the intended fight date.

Now injury-free, the Gloucester man is relaxed and confident about his chances against the big-punching Maxwell (15-0, 11 KOs). Never taking the easy option, he is keen to test himself against another highly regarded opponent in a bid to finally get the recognition that he believes he deserves at a domestic level, before using it to kick-start a bid for further honours.

“It’s voluntary. I haven’t been made to fight him,” reveals Ennis Brown to Boxing Social. “For me, it has been weird. Before I won these titles no one wanted to fight me. I was the most avoided fighter in the super-lightweight division. But now I’ve got the titles I’ve got everyone calling me out. Every day I wake up and go online and they’ll be another person saying that they want to fight me.

“I’m definitely not short of options, which is a good way to be. But for my first defence, I want to make a statement and pick the best out of them all. And out of all the people that want to fight me I think he [Maxwell] will be the hardest and best challenge.

“I like challenges,” he adds with a smile. “So, let’s get him up first!”

For some, this may appear to be an unnecessarily high-risk strategy, but for Ennis Brown it is just his latest hand of high stakes poker as far as his career is concerned. With an awkward, elusive style, lacking connections, and competing out of the relative boxing backwater of Gloucester, he has routinely been compelled to gamble in order to propel his career forward. The luxury of a clear and trouble-free path to titles and rankings is not one that has been afforded to him.

On his ledger he already has positive results, mostly achieved from the away corner, against the likes of Chris Jenkins, Glenn Foot, Freddy Kiwitt, and most recently Philip Bowes. And despite both he and Maxwell having virtually identical unbeaten records he is confident that the greater quality of his vanquished opposition will be a key determining factor on fight night.

“My record has definitely been the harder journey,” he confirms. “What makes the fight interesting is that he had the amateur background [Maxwell was a member of the Great Britain team from 2012-16 and winner of a Commonwealth Games bronze medal], whereas I didn’t. So, people can watch and see whether the guy with the amateur pedigree will be better off, or instead the guy that’s done it the hard way professionally, through hard, tough fights. 

“I know he’s a good fighter, but so am I. I know without a doubt that he’s not in my league. I know I am a way better fighter. I want to put in a performance that shows that. My game plan is just to get in there and beat him up.”

But, it is clear that the lack of respect afforded to his achievements thus far in the ring is something that still rankles. “I think it’s a bit ludicrous,” he says through a resigned chuckle. “With everything I’ve done compared to other people it really makes no sense. All the time I think to myself that I need a big name or something to get respect, but I do already have big domestic names on my resume. I think maybe I need that ‘active’ big name.

“When I beat Glenn Foot [for the English title] people just said: ‘Oh, he’s too old’ – then he won the Commonwealth belt afterwards and suddenly he’s a good fighter after all. But he wasn’t Commonwealth champion when I beat him. It’s the same thing with Chris Jenkins. People thought he was over the hill when I beat him, and then he goes on to win the British and Commonwealth [at welterweight] less than a year later.

“Maxwell is an active name. Right now, they think he’s the man. If I can beat him whilst he’s the ‘man’ then I’ll get the respect I am due. But I say that, and they’ll probably make an excuse for him as well; like he’s too old or not even that good. They’ll always find a way to under-rate it. I’ve just got to keep getting the wins, then eventually they can’t deny me anymore.”

For Ennis Brown, who trains under the guidance of Jon Pitman at Gloucester’s Fight Factory Gym, proving people wrong has become a habit. From first walking into the gym as a slightly built 12-year-old, through the nursery slopes of a newly minted professional career, each rung that he has climbed on boxing’s perilously unsteady ladder has been predicted to meet with disaster. From day one he was adamant that he would one day be a world champion and that conviction, despite obvious early ridicule, has not subsequently left him. His whole mindset is focused on realising the dream and proving the doubters on the side-lines wrong.

“I’ve been saying what I am going to do my whole career and I don’t really care if others believe it or not. It’s what I believe that matters,” he says emphatically.  

“People said I’d be lucky to win a Southern Area title at the start. I remember thinking: ‘Wow; this boxing must be really hard’. But I went and bypassed the Southern Area and won an English title instead.

“If somebody says I can’t win something it makes me try doubly harder. I have never wanted hand-picked opponents. I only want hard fights. That has always been my mentality. In the end, it makes you feel a lot prouder.”

So far this has proved to be a recipe for success for the 25-year-old. He is adamant that it is his readiness to test himself that ensures he maintains the necessary level of focus and motivation. This is especially so when the challenge concerns one that the ‘experts’ and watching public conclude that he is not equipped to overcome. “It helps to have a big goal in front of me and the opportunity to do something that people don’t think I’m capable of,” he says. 

“I fought Freddy Kiwitt in my first away fight after only having six fights. That was exciting to me. The same with fighting Glenn Foot up in Sunderland after just eight fights when he’d had 21.

“It’s just about rising to the challenge. Of coming away thinking ‘Oh my god! That’s cool. What can I do next?’ Whereas I have had some of my worst performances against journeymen, who have come just for the payday and everyone knows you should beat up. I get nothing from that. The harder the fight the more I know I need to be on the top of my game.”

As far as Ennis Brown is concerned, victory is assured on Saturday night. Despite taking the threat of Maxwell seriously, to him it is merely the end product of several months of dedicated focus and training. Too much energy, over multiple years in the gym, has been expended to reach this level and to establish a platform for it to crumble around him now.

A Lonsdale Belt and a Commonwealth strap should already be sufficient to place his career on an international footing, but victory against the highly touted, 31-year-old Liverpool-based challenger would finally make that inevitable. “It should open a lot of doors for me,” says Ennis Brown, known to many by his childhood nickname of ‘Riiddy’, when considering a successful defence of his belts. “I am ready for the next level; I am ready for world level. But I wouldn’t mind defending the British title. I love it; it’s a nice belt. I also think there is a lot of experience that you can get at British level as well.

“A lot of people make the mistake of moving onto the international route, getting the ranking at world level and then get beat, smoked, or worse. I want to be in it for the long run. But at the same time, I have always wanted the European title.

“It has always stood out for me as a hard belt to get. The step-up from British to European is a big one. How many British prospects over the years have gone for the European after clearing up domestically and have got smoked? You see that all the time, so for me the European route would be a good development and preparation for world level.

“I don’t want any of this false preparation of international or intercontinental. There will definitely not be any hand-picking of opponents to get a ranking. Once you get beat at European level it’s game over. You’ve got one shot at all of it and I want to give myself the best chance I can.”

As fight night approaches, a heated press conference last week spilled over into an all too familiar shoving and shouting match between champion and challenger. On the face of it, it may appear to add extra spice to the contest, but no additional seasoning is really required. Truth be told, Ennis Brown is a savvy operator who has realised that attention results in internet clicks; something that is essential without a large city fanbase behind him or an internet showreel of emphatic knockouts.

But equally the Gloucester man understands the universal truth, that in his chosen sport like anywhere else, you must be able to back up words with actions. “People wonder: are you the real deal or just a talker?” he muses.

“Everyone hates someone who claims they’re the real deal and then they get smacked over. You know, people hold their cards close to their chests till they can see what you can actually do. For me, Maxwell is the missing key for finally getting their respect.”

Main image: Queensberry Promotions.