BEFORE Twitter and Facebook took over, boxing fans could take to the forums that were knocking about to see rare glimpses of fighters knocking a few words out and interacting with fans. People within the trade would interact with each other, usually in a friendly or jovial way, but every so often spats broke out in those proto-social media days and when the spats spilled over they dovetailed into either a fight-to-be or a fight that was signed when the arguments would intensify.
It is hard to believe now, but David Haye and Chris Aston, then trainer of former British, Commonwealth and WBU cruiserweight Champion Mark Hobson (27-5-1, 14 KOs), who was named as a Haye opponent in 2005, went back-and-forth a few times on a forum to add a bit of spice to a contest that fell through. Hobson’s choice was to step back from the arguments in the hope that he would get to settle things in the ring with Haye.
Hobson was on something of a roll at the time, he won the vacant Commonwealth title by stopping Abdul Kadou in four in 2003 then added the British belt later that year with a decision win over Rob Norton. Successful defences over Tony Moran (KO 3), Lee Swaby (TKO 6) and Bruce Scott (W12) led to a WBU shot against Enzo Maccarinelli in 2006, a decision loss in which he pushed Maccarinelli all the way. Despite sitting out 2005 waiting for Haye, Hobson went for it with four fights in 2006, but in retrospect he believes it led to his early burnout and retirement.
Alas, the twice-mooted Haye fight never materialised for Hobson and it was one of a few occasions in the boxer’s career when he came close to doing bigger things only to be thwarted by either circumstance, the Haye fight falling through, or defeat to Maccarinelli in March 2006. The he was wiped out in a single round in their much-anticipated rematch later that year, which in true Frank Warren style took place close to midnight on the aftercard of Joe Calzaghe’s tepid win over Sakio Bika.
Hobson’s career was certainly an up-and-downer. It was always likely to pan out that way for him. Hobson and Aston set out together on their journey in 1997 only to discover that in professional boxing learning on the job can be a costly, damaging experience.
At the time, Hobson was happy to be part of a new team on the block, content to gain experience alongside his trainer in the hope that they would break new ground. It was a long-shot and as Hobson told Boxing-Social, it was one that brought him some highs as well as lows.
“I got into boxing early on — I just liked it,” he said. “My mum used to take me to the gym. Most people will tell it was their dad who got them into boxing, but my dad had a boozer, so he moved around a lot. To be honest, I didn’t see much of him after I was six-years-old, but my dad did used to fight in the air force — I suppose you just end up finding your way to these things.”
“My boxing ended up costing my mum one of her marriages,” he added. “She was married again after my dad, but she was driving me up to the gym every night over in Dewsbury. That ended up costing her. I don’t often say it enough, but huge respect to my mum. I’ve got kids myself, so I can’t imagine spending four hours a night in the gym after doing the tea then getting back about nine or 10 at night. My gym was the next town away, so we had a bit of a drive.
“In the end, her new husband got jealous as she was with the lads all night. She’d work in the office, taking subs from the lads and doing all that type of work. I wouldn’t be talking to you now without my mum getting my arse down to the gym every night. My dad used to get the pat on the back from people because he’s the dad, but it was down to my mum.
“I was brought up in a boxing gym. I was a bit fucking wayward, you know, so she took me there and they wouldn’t take any bullshit from me. They taught me boxing, self-respect, discipline. You don’t even realise at the time the messages that you are getting taught. You only realise once you lose boxing that it was giving you the structure some people need in their lives. It is an old, boring story of, ‘Oh, I could have been in jail’, but it is real for me. I had ADHD, didn’t sleep, got into trouble and was hyper. I needed that channelling from people I respected. To me, my boxing coach was like God. You don’t always get that at home or at work.”
Hobson also had an addictive personality and a need to prove himself. These factors parlayed their way into a sport and a game that you don’t just play — you have to live, breathe and sleep it. However, for many fighters sleep doesn’t come easy and once they leave the sport they are left floundering without any support from the organisations and people that used to take money from their purses.
“The problem with boxing is that you are left feeling empty when it is over, and you don’t even realise that,” Hobson explained. “I’ve talked to you about drugs before, but I was addicted to boxing before I’d even tried drugs. You go into the gym, have a spar at night and then you feel like a million dollars coming out, but you can’t sleep. It is a drug.
“When I left boxing, it was my time to leave. I was burnt out. My team around me was inexperienced. I came from an amateur gym where the coach was great. One of his fighters was Chris Aston, who became my trainer and manager after there was a fallout and split. Chris was a pal, he set-up a gym and we got on with it, but at the top-level we were just winging it.
“By the end, I didn’t have anything left in me. The team was inexperienced, so I can’t blame them for it. I was fucked by the end of it. Saying all that, buck stopped with me, and I accept that. Chris is a nice guy, one of my mates, and at the time we thought we knew better. Hindsight is 20/20. I watch these YouTube videos of training camps and how to drop weight. Back then, we didn’t have a clue what we were doing, we knew nothing about boxing at the professional and the top-level.
“You’d be a right c**t to blame Chris, though, because he didn’t know any better, either. Chris was from a kickboxing background, so we’d do everything they way they do it, which is at a hundred miles an hour. Eventually, you are going to burn out.
“We’d get to the gym every day and say: ‘Let’s go fucking full on here’. Looking back, I can’t believe how we did things. All the damage I got in boxing was from sparring and training. I didn’t get that much damage in fights. It was all sparring. Our gym motto was: ‘If you ain’t giving 100% then get the fuck out.’ That were it. That was how we did it.”
Hobson was hit with an irregular brain scan result in 2007 and that was it. He wasn’t done with the sport, the sport was done with him. Once you’ve served your purpose people within boxing, and, let’s face it, boxing fans, are done with you. When you can pull your weight, you get the level of respect given to Boxer, the cart horse in George Orwell’s Animal Farm who served as an allegory for the working person. Once you can’t do the work anymore you face the same fate as Boxer and are sent to the glue factory.
“They brought Michael Sprott to spar me for the second Enzo fight and he knocked the fuck out of me,” Hobson recalled. “Then again, what are you supposed to do? You’ve got to learn how to fight so I see both sides of the argument. I learned from the hard sparring, I learned how to come through shaky patches and how to toughen up, but there has got to be a way to programme the software without damaging the hardware, mustn’t there?”
There was also the issue of the drink and the drugs. This writer has met and befriended a lot of boxers over the years. Some of them are consummate professionals who live the life and had that dedication programmed into them as star amateurs. On the other hand, most of them are young lads who are suddenly given acclaim, fame and money.
Whatever the level you operate at, there are nightclubs that will give you free entry, free bars and you can take along “friends” who will encourage you to take a different path. It is a case of too much, too young, and not everyone can handle the pressure.
Boxers know that the invites to nights out will stop when they retire, so they take what they can while they can get it. It is counter-productive, but you have to ask yourself what you would do in that type of boom-and-bust situation. Throw in the fact that most active fighters who aren’t plucked out of the chorus line have to work and it becomes a vicious circle of training, fighting, earning, spending then wondering when you will fight again.
“I got married young, too, and had a young family, and then suddenly you are boxing and get loads more mates pulling you all over the place to shows, dinners and all that,” said Hobson. “You end up going out a lot and think: ‘Fuck boxing!’ I’d advise any boxer to stay away from booze while you are boxing. Go home and rest instead.
“I fell out with it in the end. You do it for 10 years it, but it starts to wear you down. I got a few good paydays against Enzo — not enough to retire on, though — so you carry on working as well as trying to box. When you are a working man, you don’t get enough time to think. I should have took a leap of faith and walked away from work to concentrate on boxing and done it professionally. You get home from work and think: ‘Fuck this — I’m going out!’ I was supposed to be a pro, so I should have been a pro, but it was only my job that kept me going. I spent 14 months hanging around for Haye. He’s still getting money, but where is my money coming from while I’m waiting? I’m fighting on the Saturday then back in the work on the Monday morning.
“I’m trying to keep my boss at work happy before a fight by asking for time off. Then another fight happens and I’m going to my boss again. Then I don’t know when the next fight is coming, and my boss has got the arse with me. The hardest thing about boxing at a certain level is that you don’t know when the fights are coming. The money comes in, you don’t know when it comes again, and you have to try and work things out.
“I look back at boxing as a hobby that I got really good at. Then I’m fighting for titles, and I look back thinking: ‘How the fuck did I get that far?’ I had good fights, but there were different levels of fighters. I’d spar top-drawer fighters, people like Johnny Nelson who were full-time pros. I was just a part-time boxer, really, who managed to wing it to a British title that I won outright. Then you get up there and think: ‘What the fuck do I do now?’ Do I take the risk and pack in work not knowing when I next get paid?’
“The real problem came when I got all these title fights back-to-back when I’ve still got my job. How do I keep every fucker happy here? I’ve got to keep Chris happy, my boss at work happy, my kids happy and my wife happy. I end up not keeping anyone happy and I’m spread out like a piece of shite. By the end, I’ve got nothing left either way.
“I hope people don’t get me wrong here, I don’t begrudge David Haye his success, despite how it went. I respect him as a fighter, I just don’t like him as a man and think he’s a total cock. Haye was a different kettle of fish, a playboy who thinks he has all these fans and is trying to be somebody that he isn’t. I like a boots on the ground type of guy.
“It is all in the past now, but as an example, Haye turns up for sparring at my gym. He was at least two hours late. He spent 45 minutes warming up and getting a massage from Adam Booth. I’ve been waiting for the silly bastard to turn up. He behaved like some little diva. A man like Nelson turns up at the gym and within minutes he is ready to spar. I asked Johnny if wanted a warm-up and he said: ‘I’ll warm up in the ring during the rounds.’ That is my type of a guy.
“Despite all that, if you can make it in boxing to the level Haye did you deserve big respect. I look at the likes of Mayweather and Calzaghe, the level they got to, and I look at the level I got to, which was still fairly high, and I can’t believe how they can do it because everything gets so harder. If anyone gets to the top and stays there then they get total respect from me.”
More than one fighter has told me off-record that they became addicted to sleeping pills during their career. It makes sense as it is a stressful sport, you train in the evening and are hyped up in general, so you need something to take the edge of.
A former British Champion once told me that it got so bad, they became unsure if they were awake, asleep, or awake in a reverie daydreaming they were asleep or asleep and dreaming that they were awake. The chemical equation is a fine line, especially if you don’t have big money behind you to perfect it.
Throw in the uncertainty over when you will fight, for how much and for what, and it is clear why some fighters struggle to maintain control. “Most of the stuff in boxing you come across is bullshit,” Hobson declared.
“You have to get your head around that bullshit. You have to put up with the promoters and all the rest of the crap. If I was training for a fight and the phone went two days before it then you are expecting a change of opponent. It is: ‘Hey, so-and-so has pulled out, you are fighting this guy now.’ I’m sat there thinking: ‘Can’t you c***s organise anything?’ It is mad.
“I’ve been in a training camp for months for a fight that doesn’t happen. I’ve not seen my family. I’ve put my money into the training and sparring, I’ve got five grand for training expenses, which doesn’t cover it, then two months in you get a call saying Haye has postponed the fight, so you have to go again. Then you get people saying: ‘He’s a little bitch, he’ll postpone it again.’ And he did. You end up with the stress of it all, you get shingles from it and try to get your head down to sleep after training for a fight that you’ve trained for knowing deep in your heart the guy doesn’t want it.”
As our conversation wound down, Hobson floated the question that every fighter and fan asks themselves when they sit and think about the fact that they are passionate about a sport that asks for everything they’ve got and gives them very little back in return. Even Sugar Ray Robinson ended up with very little to show for his career, ending his autobiography with a line that sums up the experience faced by too many fights: ‘I know it wasn’t supposed to end this way for me,’ he wrote.
“What is it all about?” Hobson asked. “Boxing made me ill. The most I’d sleep in the months before a fight was maybe three hours a night. I wouldn’t get a night’s sleep the days before. You couldn’t do fuck all back then. You can do CBD oils now, which I’ve no problem with, but how the fuck were sleeping pills not allowed for boxers back then when it is a job that causes you sleepless nights and there is nothing you could do about it back then? In the end, it just wasn’t the right time for me.”
Drugs, sex, booze, gambling and redemption, you can read about Hobson’s post-boxing career here.