Devon’s Jamie Speight has entered the New Year in explosive fashion. With a very public, internet break-up with his partner of eight years on Christmas Day, and the recent, growing success of his little stable on the south coast, he’s left wondering what the next 12 months has in store.
Speight is one of boxing’s true characters. He spends countless hours with fans or journalists on the phone as he’s driving back home from York Hall, talking about his own performances, or providing in-depth reviews of the entire card. Many fighters, pundits or fans will tell you that they live and breathe boxing – but very few could hold their own when jousting with ‘The Genius.’
In recent bouts, Speight (15-46, 2KOs) has been fighting from the opposite corner, adopting the role of the journeyman. In fact, it’s now been 35 defeats on the spin. But if you’ve ever watched him boxing during the last three years, you’ll know, he’s choosing to educate the next generation.
There’s nothing delusional about those four-rounders and he can be heard quite clearly giving his opponents advice whilst working on the back foot: “Come on, throw the jab there!” or “Finish the round strong, it’s three minutes long, mate.”
Looking at his record will show you a sea of recent, red Ls, but Speight is an accomplished boxer. He was two-time, two-weight Southern Area champion and an English title challenger. He took current world champion Josh Warrington the distance – and actually ended up in Leeds, training with Warrington and his father, Sean O’Hagan.
Like many fighters before him, though, boxing all started when battling bullying from a young age.
“I started boxing because, from the age of about five, every single day I was bullied by the same five or six kids,” Speight told Boxing Social. “It started off just name-calling, but then, as time moved on and I got a little older, they’d be hitting me and kicking me and I’d go home every day feeling sad, and then I’d be angry. I probably wasn’t a very nice kid to be around because of what was going on at school.
“Eventually my old man just said, ‘Right, that’s it. I’m taking him to the boxing gym’. Mum didn’t like it; mum didn’t want me to box. I was a shy kid; I was a quiet kid. But then once I found my feet, I thought, ‘Do you know what, I ain’t bad at this,’ so I stuck at it, and I believed that this was the only way to stop people picking on me – to become great at boxing.
“My old man used to work on the doors, and he used to go for a session with a couple of pro fighters and all the other door staff on a Friday night before he started work on the Saturday. And he’d take me along with him, so I would watch and then I started joining in, and it just went from there.
“I had gone from this shy kid who got bullied and told what to do all the time, to having a little bit about me. I remember giving two of those kids a good hiding when I was about 12. I got bollocked and sent home from school. Mum gave me a right shouting at, and my old man said, ‘It’s good what you’ve done, it’s a life lesson’. So that was it. The bullying stopped for me from then on.
“My old man’s quite a big fella,” Speight continued. “At the time, when I was a kid, he was about 18 stone. Only about 5’11, but stocky, baldhead, gold teeth, tattoos. You’d look at him and you’d think, ‘Fuck that!’ Then he obviously used to do a bit of boxing, so I always had that in me. Before this all started, my old man was always an avid Mike Tyson fan, and that’s how my love of boxing started – watching Tyson and drinking chocolate milkshakes with my dad.”
Defending himself from school bullies soon transitioned to swaggering through the corridors with a chip on his shoulder, though never actively looking for trouble. Speight expected to have to defend himself, after all, it was his only pastime. But it would spill over as he entered his late teens, as boxing began to define him in Devon’s pubs and clubs.
Throwing five-punch combinations at the hint of crossed words would become his response and it led to various lucky escapes. Speight told Boxing Social that being the victim had instilled an element of fear in him, but it couldn’t continue. Coming from a small town doesn’t make you hard to recognise and, as his career between the ropes showed signs of promise, he’d encounter his last brush with the law.
“I had already turned professional and I’d been completely different, with regards to being out in town. I wouldn’t drink nothing, because of the trouble I’d had before. I would drink soft drinks – anything other than alcohol. If anybody would start anything, I would say, ‘Look, I can’t hit you. I’m a professional boxer’. And that would be my way out.
“Then one night, there was a couple of lads and a few of my mates all fighting, and my mates were winning, they were giving them a bit of a shinning on the floor. I’ve just run over and pulled them off. As I’ve pulled them off, this guy’s looked up [at me]. About three weeks went by, and nothing ever happened, and I thought, ‘Right, they’ve got away with that.’ Then next thing you know, I get a phone call from the police and they’ve come to my house and arrested me.
“It turned out the lad who was kicked on the floor, obviously the last face he saw when he looked up was mine. I was in the paper for a fight, one of my early pro fights, and he’d seen it in the paper. And he cut my face out of the paper and he’s took it into the police station and he went, ‘It was this guy. This guy did it’.
After two years of drawn-out court dates, Speight heard two words that breathed a new lease of life into his boxing career. Not guilty. His mum was there, crying her eyes out and wondering how it had all ended up like this; his dad was at work, unwilling to miss a day off for fear of losing earnings as a scaffolder. They were old school, the Speights.
When fighters speak of turning points or moments of clarity, this was a prime example. Composing himself and leaving the dock that day, Speight knew he could do something meaningful with his life. It might not have been world titles that were waiting for him, but it was better than a life of petty, violent crime.
After making his debut in 2009, it was smooth sailing for his first eight bouts, winning all of them by decision. Life as a boxer came quite easily, until he ran into the vastly experienced Nigel Wright (LTKO5).
“My manager at the time, Nigel Christian, he told me I could beat him, that he was on the slide. I got there, made the weight. He didn’t look big at the weigh-in, and when I got there the next day, mate, he looked like a fucking monster! I’m looking across the ring, and thinking, ‘Is this the fucking same fella?’ And, to be fair, he won every round up until the stoppage.”
Detailing his defining feature, Speight continued: “He was four rounds ahead, wining the fight comfortably. I started hitting him with some good shots, and I was getting confident. And then he hit me with a straight backhand down the middle, bent my nose right across my face, which is why it is like it is now. So, you can blame Nigel Wright for my ugly head.”
Losing is something the 32-year old would later become entirely comfortable with, but then, as an undefeated prospect, it was a bitter pill to swallow.
“It was absolutely heart-breaking. I told everybody I knew and I’d became a big face around where I live,” he said. “I’m this undefeated pro, everybody knew who I was – I’m in the newspaper all the time. I made sure they knew that I was going to be on Sky Sports and that they could watch me. It was like your world ending. I remember crying my eyes out in the changing rooms, my dad came back to see me after I’d lost. Crying my eyes out, all the way home to Plymouth.
“Anyway, I’m in this little changing room, and Nigel Christian’s looked at me, and my mates are all there as well. They’re all looking at each other and not looking at me, and then Nigel’s gone, ‘Grab him’. They’ve all grabbed hold of me so I can’t move, and then he’s grabbed my nose and snapped it back into place. It was right over the left-hand side of my face, and he just grabbed it and he snapped it back into place, and I screamed, ‘Fuck!’
“That’s why I’ve got a nose like an old welly boot,” Speight joked. ‘That’s where it started; it looks like I’m trying to sniff my left ear, doesn’t it?”
Speight is good fun, with his half-decent Scottish impersonations and his self-deprecating humour. The level of detail with which Speight recalls his career makes it impossible to write about everything. He talks for hours (really), and you can’t help but listen, his captive audience. He explains to me that he only hopes he’s “worth the time”.
It seemed important, though, to focus on two things as we continued our lengthy trip down memory lane: winning titles, and then making the decision to abandon championships, and to continue boxing four-round fights, losing time-after-time to plucky novices.
In March 2012, it was time for the first of Speight’s Southern Area titles, fighting Scott Moises (W10) at Plymouth’s Guildhall. Moises didn’t have the best record entering the fight, but hard-working men of his calibre treat Area titles like their own world honours.
“I trained for the Scott Moises fight, and I learned a few things prior to the fight. I learned he was quite good; but then when I done a bit more research, I found out that he was the tallest super-featherweight in Europe. Six foot tall, nine stone four. And I remember getting to the weigh-in in Plymouth, and he came down and I remember looking at him thinking, ‘He’s a fucking giant, that guy’, But yeah, it was all right. Again, I felt it was a boxing master class. It was amazing.
“I slept with the belt that night. It was my first big belt, my major first title, and it wasn’t until after I’d had the fight that I realised the history that’s steeped in the Southern Area title, and I started reading up about Henry Cooper being a former champion. He boxed Muhammad Ali. I was good. I was ready to roll. I almost felt like I was back to my best.”
Moises was the fall guy for Speight’s first significant success, and he’d exchange wins for losses when challenging for titles, capturing his second Southern Area belt by beating Craig Whyatt (WRTD8) down at featherweight. Ben Jones would stop him for the IBO International title (LTKO6), and future star Josh Warrington would beat him over the distance for the English crown.
After losing to Warrington, the beaten challenger took the decision to move to Leeds, living in a room in Josh’s aunt’s house for a tiny monthly sum. Working with O’Hagan and his team gave him a renewed hope, and it showed sacrifice in order to improve. He explained some contentious decisions/defeats tainted his love for the sport and, ultimately, halted his march towards more prestigious titles.
It was a fight with former Olympian Joe Cordina, which properly changed the trajectory of the Devon man’s career, “At that point I thought, right, I’m going nowhere. No one’s going to give me a fair crack of the whip, so I might as well earn some money. So, after the Cordina fight, I said to Steve [Goodwin], ‘I want to be busy now’.
“I backtracked at first. I’ve spent so many years being a proud, professional fighter. I go in there, heart on my sleeve, and I work my guts off. To part with that pride, and accept the fact that you’ll go in there to lose, was fucking hard. I’ve seen it as, ‘Right, I’m an experienced fighter and I’m knowledgeable, and that’s going to make me a fantastic coach and also a fantastic teacher’. I work with that, and I adopted this in-ring teacher sort of mentality.”
That’s where we are now. Jamie Speight, the former champion; the journeyman; the teacher.
Since 2017, he has fought 35 times and hasn’t had his arm raised. He believes that if he wanted to, he could “still turn it on”. He wouldn’t think anything different though, he’s a fighter. A tiny part of me wondered if he’d forgotten how to win – but only he’ll truly know that and it might be too early to say.
He wanted to be remembered as entertaining – that was it. Nothing more, nothing less. The titles won years ago still count for something; he was a champion. And when pressed for his plans for the future, his reply was short and simple, which seemed honest, and ironic.
“I think I’ll be in this game for the long haul, mate.”