The initial stages of a fighter’s career consist of their debut, gradual moves through the fight distances and then a proving ground, which will demonstrate whether or not they have what it takes to move beyond the infancy stage.

There are, of course, unbelievable exceptions to the rule. Individuals who possess off-the-chart abilities that mean that they can jump ahead of the queue and into high stakes fights very early on. Vasiliy Lomachenko is one of the best modern-day examples you can find. A two-time Olympic gold medallist and a near 400-fight amateur stay were just a couple of reasons why he was thrust into a world title fight five months after his debut in October 2013.

In the UK, the accepted method is about learning your trade on early undercard slots where you can count the number of people who are watching, or making a name for yourself on the small hall circuit or hotel shows. Jack Bateson has navigated himself through 12 fights so far in his home city, primarily on his father’s promotions at the Leeds United Banqueting Suite. A couple of spots on Josh Warrington undercards have given him a taste of the bright lights. On Saturday night, Bateson has his future in his own hands when he fights Joe Ham, who had a respectable amateur career but now faces a crossroads test against his 26-year-old opponent.

Ham (16-2, 6 KOs) has had two fights during his 18-bout career where questions have been asked and, against Tyrone McCullagh and Qais Ashfaq, he was not good enough on each occasion. 

Bateson vs Ham, an eight-round super bantamweight bout, is part of MTK Global’s latest instalment on how to put together a well-matched, domestic card at the University of Bolton Stadium on Saturday.

“It’s a good, hard fight. A good 50-50 fight,” Bateson (12-0, 3 KOs) told Boxing Social just over a week out from his 13th contest.

“Joe’s campaigned at a good level, both amateur and professional. Everyone knows Joe’s a good fighter but it’s a fight that I’m obviously very confident in winning. When the fight got offered to me, I saw it as a great fight for me to show what I can do. I’ve been looking for this sort of fight for a while now. A good win here would take me to that title level and people would start to take notice of me and hopefully I get the opportunities. To be honest with you, if we were living in a normal world right now this fight would be at title level.”

A win against the former Scottish champion will propel Bateson into debates and conversations about his place among his rivals at 122lbs in Britain. It is a must win fight for both men. A defeat may not spell the end but spots on shows are limited right now because of the lack of small hall promotions throughout the UK.

The global pandemic has affected the lives of many on a much greater and important scale than boxing but there are fighters out there who have families to feed and bills to pay just like the rest of us. Without ticket sales or sponsors a small-hall fighter is then reliant on his day job should he have one, savings or family and friends to help him out. Sponsors have played such a vital part in the livelihoods of many fighters over the past year and Bateson is one of them.

“I’m lucky that I’ve got a few sponsors that have continued to support me throughout because it’s been really tough times for everyone,” he said. “Other than the boxing side of things I’m just blessed that my family are all safe and well and we can hopefully come through the other side and crack on with our lives as normal.”

Bateson has fought the majority of his career to date on shows where there are not thousand and thousands in attendance or TV cameras following your moves throughout fight week. Bateson fight nights see the locals come out in force to support their own in Leeds. Friends, family and then hopefully it snowballs into a good night for everyone including the fighter’s pockets. These are trying times and Jack has seen his father, who promotes shows in Leeds, suffer.

“With my dad being a small hall show promoter he’s really struggled, and he’s been trying and trying and trying but financially it just doesn’t make sense [to put on a show]. I’m really hoping that it does come back for the sport in general because there’s a lot more than these televised fighters. There are hidden diamonds out there that can break through.

“It’s a real shame for the amateur boxers too and what they went through last year. You see the pain in them. They haven’t been able to train, never mind competing. I’ve actually had a few messages off people asking if I can do certain things. 

“Luckily, I think there was one or two small hall shows last year and I managed to get on one of them [in Liverpool] and I was out of pocket for that, but I love boxing that much. I’m blessed to have a few sponsors that I could afford to do that, and it has set me up nicely now, but it should never have to come to that for everyone and some people aren’t in the same position as me. I really hope it comes back.

“The income hasn’t been as good which is normal for everyone, but I’ve been able to survive. A lot of people have had to do something that they wouldn’t usually do to make ends meet and sacrifice certain things. I’ve been blessed and lucky to get through it. It’s been tough for everyone but we’re hopefully almost through it and, like I say, I’m very thankful for my sponsors who continue to support me through good times and bad times.”

A setback and a comeback live on the same street. A couple of nouns that marry into one another should they come together once a person overcomes adversity and moves on to a brighter day. It can relate to many incidents and experiences in boxing such as not being able to train, injuries, a ban or a heavy defeat. The latter is something that Bateson’s good friend and fellow Yorkshireman Josh Warrington suffered in May.

The former IBF featherweight champion relinquished his belt to move on to bigger and better things in his eyes. Opponent Mauricio Lara was the roadblock that needed stepped over, not an articulated lorry to go through it. Turned out Lara was more than a roadblock; he was an 18-wheeler Mexican truck that ran through Warrington as soon as he was in his way. Warrington endured nine rounds of hell in February. A derailment of such significance that should a rematch take place this summer then it is win or bust for his career. It was a tough watch, but his friend’s nightmare was also a valuable lesson for Bateson.

“It was hard to watch to be honest. Josh is a good friend of mine and he’s a good lad,” said Bateson. “There’s arguments whether it was stopped too late. It’s a hard one because these refs have such a hard job on the night. With a champion like Josh and an underdog which was Lara it’s a hard one to call. That sort of fight proves this boxing game nothing is ever promised. Expect the unexpected. You could be the ultimate favourite and the other man is there to take you out. At the end of the day, it’s another man ahead of you and it’s between you two so you’ve got to perform. I watch fights and I notice little things; I won’t do that, and I won’t do that but it’s getting it right on the day and that’s the most important thing because we’re all good fighters at this level. It’s making sure you get it right on the day and that you have a game-plan and the right attitude going into the fight.

“Our city is looking forward and itching to support the likes of me and Josh and I’m really looking forward to these big nights. It’s on me now to create them for myself now that I’m getting these opportunities. I have seen Josh is back in the gym now. I know for a fact he’ll be back, and I know if that rematch comes off, which it’s looking like for Headingley, I’m sure he’ll be back on top and I’d love to be a part of nights like that.”

Ham is a risk for Bateson but that’s the way it should be after a dozen fights. We’ll find an awful lot out about the Englishman this weekend. By the end of Saturday, he hopes to have ripped off the prospect tag and replaced it with title contender.

Main image: MTK Global.