The row of pastel-coloured houses keeping watch along the shoreline in Aberystwyth, West Wales, look entirely tranquil, with the sun bouncing off their long, welcoming windows. They are beautifully picturesque, as are the rolling green hills and crumbled castle ruins.
This isn’t the type of traditional seaside town you’d expect to find troublemakers or tough guys.
With the historic and quite stunning Aberystwyth University – almost cut and pasted directly from the Harry Potter franchise – it’s primarily become a student town, boasting a population of approximately 15,000 lucky residents.
One of them is Jamie Ambler (12-72-2, 3 KOs), a quiet family man, currently balancing a variety of roles at the University, ranging from key admission for new students, portering of equipment and general handy man tasks. The job suits him perfectly in fact, given the arduous nature of his previous means of income.
Nowadays, not many people would pick Ambler out of a crowd, but if you’ve seen him box, you’ll remember him giving some of the brightest British talents and future world champions a difficult night’s work.
Former WBC cruiserweight champion Tony Bellew made his debut on October 6, 2007 after a sterling amateur career; on the other side of the ring, relaxed and ready in the ‘away’ corner, was Ambler. Two weeks prior to facing the proud Evertonian, Ambler found himself opposite tattooed future world title challenger, Martin Murray.
He lost on both occasions, but that was kind of the point.
“I was never the one who wanted to do the boxing, really,” he told Boxing Social, in his only ever interview. “I was going to play football and I had to work on my fitness, so I got into it through that. I was the weakest one from the three or four that were going [to boxing], but I sort of found my feet. I started being the stronger, better fighter and the better boxer. I don’t know how, but it just all came together.
“I was quite a quiet boy; I wasn’t a massive troublemaker in school – or a massive academic lad – I just got through. I kept myself to myself and I had a lot of student friends. I think I lived a bit of a student life, even when I was fighting as well. I never went to Uni, but I had a taste of that life. I started doing an apprenticeship and working after school, but then I got into boxing and it all came together quite quick. I had 34 or 35 [fights] in the amateurs.”
Ambler turned over aged just 20 and would kick off his career as a professional with a stoppage victory (WRTD3) over Bristol’s Liam Stinchcombe. Stinchcombe would only fight once more, stopping debutant Lee Thomas in a fight that neither boxer returned from.
Nevertheless, Ambler was out of the blocks running. But he was faced with a limited understanding of the sport’s requirements for fighters to sell tickets, and also the inevitable impossibility of hosting a show at home due to boxing’s ‘Golden Hour’ rule, which meant Aberystwyth was too far from the required neurological expertise and medical provisions.
He lost six fights in a year after stopping Stinchcombe, pretty much cementing his status as a journeyman, despite his initial ambition to secure a title.
“I thought the Jason Welborn fight [Ambler’s second professional contest against a future British champion and world title challenger] came too soon. I wanted to still be unbeaten. I knew Welborn was quite a good kid, I got beat by him and then it was just ‘on the road’. I continued from there and it was, ‘Fight, fight, fight,’ you know?
Ambler continued, “I was so durable and I was doing well. I had such a good defence and I never got injured, I never got done to the body, so people could hit me as hard as they could to the body and I just seemed to absorb it all. I was like a sponge! When I was fighting Bellew, I had injured my femur, so that was a bit of a crazy story that I was even in the ring with him, to be honest. On paper, he was [the best I faced]. But I had a good go at him! I was wary of my leg in that fight, really, but the power and the strength of Bellew came through.
“I had some good scraps; I’m trying to think of some other names that stand out. It was weird – they brought in these guys to toughen them up, but most of them have gone quiet now. Liam Williams, he’s fighting for a world title soon, but that was a tough fight for me. I had a year-and-a-half out before that fight, then I got in with him straight away and I held my ground.
“I had all the skills. Well, I thought I had. The durability, the range of punches and stuff like that. It was just a matter of selling tickets and if I was in a better area, maybe? I’d have to hold a show in Swansea or Cardiff to try and bring my home fans there, selling tickets and getting them to travel. It just didn’t feel like I could do it. It’s all about having that funding and having a promoter that will push you for titles, hoping to make his money back.”
Despite struggling to make a mark domestically during his prime fighting years, there wasn’t a drop of bitterness in Jamie’s tone. It seemed clear during his chat with Boxing Social that he wasn’t involved in boxing for the fame or the money – it was recognition and respect.
Fighting some of the best in the UK added credibility to his CV and credence to his claim of possessing ability. And when he won a fight, he really won it. Given controversy with scorecards and results of late, he could take something from that, at least.
Boxers adopting the role of the journeyman featuring on small hall shows up and down the country were drafted in with varied periods of notice, and this was something that began affecting Ambler’s home life, he explained: “It’s very hard. You’re always late for things or always in the gym. Our gym is open until 9:30pm, and you’re working during the day – you need to maintain the day job. You eat your last meal at about 10pm. It’s boxing – work – sleep – repeat. I think boxers really regret losing out on time with their young children, you know? Thankfully, mine came towards the end of my career, so I didn’t miss out on that stuff as much.
“Sometimes the phone would go, and I needed the money, but I wasn’t 100% fit and I didn’t wanna be there; I was a bit fed up. Sometimes you’ve had two hard fights in a month and you hear your opponent thumping away, all keen in the changing room. You hope he doesn’t come on too strong, and hopefully you can have an easy night, so you do get fed up with it a bit.”
It’s been almost three years since Ambler got “fed up with it”, last facing James Farrell and losing by TKO in Liverpool. Farrell hasn’t done much, and that was probably an indication of where the Welshman found himself on the night. Stopped for the 10th time in 72 defeats, it signalled the beginning of the end and a return to quiet, civilian life in Aberystwyth. He was okay with that.
There’s a misconception that only fighters battling for titles on television can miss the heat of the ceiling lights, scolding their bare backs as they throw hurtful punches. When boxing is said and done, the best fighters struggle, but what happens to the guys led to the ring in the promoter’s hope of losing? They miss it just as much, Ambler revealed.
“I like it mostly [life after boxing], but even after all the hard parts of boxing, you do miss it. I still miss it now. I say to myself, ‘I wanna get back in,’ and people ask me about it,” he said. “But I know my limits now and I just have to accept it. Life is good; I’m still known as the town’s boxer and I get recognised at the gym. My friends treat me like a champion, and with respect for what I’ve done.
“The street cred I get in my home town is very nice. They know the names I’ve fought and although I was never a world champion, they know that I was a durable fighter. You see some British fighters who won’t lose for 10 or 11 fights, but they’ll just fade out. I think I’ve put my own little stamp on boxing; I hope my name has stuck a bit. It’s nice in that respect. Boxing is a tough sport, but there’s people who look after you, they’d put you up in their house if you asked and give you whatever you needed.
“When I fought for the British Masters title, I really wanted to win that one. I trained so hard, and the money wasn’t really an issue at the time, I just wanted to win the fight. But I didn’t. And it makes you think, ‘I could have got the same money for that fight over four rounds’. You lose heart a little bit. You lose face, but losing isn’t really a thing any more. You lose. That’s it.”
Becoming numb to the elation and disappointment of results can signal danger for fighters, and Ambler escaped to focus on his family, with his young son his driving force. Many continue, racking up hundreds of fights, losing in triple figures but mostly staying safe. Not Ambler, he didn’t need it anymore.
He regularly spends time with the Welsh Ex-Boxers Association, mingling with like-minded ex-pros and fans alike, discussing boxing’s highs and lows, reminiscing about what could have been and the tiny part he played in the careers of Bellew, Murray and Williams.
It might be small, but it’s significant. Ambler proudly told Boxing Social, “Even though I never won a title, I feel like I’ve walked away a champion with all that I’ve done and I hope I’ve left my little boy something to look up to.
“We’re a big part of the sport. Without us away fighters, you wouldn’t have these boys today, these world champions. The stepping-stones we give them, we test them and you can’t imagine a world with everyone fighting 1-0 fighters. Everybody would be petrified of losing. There would be no development. They need to see if they can make it to British or European level.
“I would like to have [had] a go at staying unbeaten, but I’m not upset at what I’ve done. I’d like to have won an area title fight, but I look back at it and think, ‘Okay, maybe I should have put a bit more money away’. I wanted to hit 100 fights. I find in boxing, you can say you want to stop at a certain time, but boxing chooses when you stop fighting. When your body’s not right, it tells you, you don’t tell it, you know? It’s ‘get out before you get hurt’, really. That’s the most important thing to me now, to spend that time with my family.”
Main image: Jamie Ambler (left) takes on former world champion Robin Reid in Bolton in 2011. Ambler lost 39-38 on referee Steve Gray’s card. Photo: Dave Thompson/Press Association.