Joe Pigford’s arrival on the domestic super-welterweight scene was announced by the most peculiar of sounds; thousands of his supporters chanting: ‘Release the Pig!’
High ticket sales and highlight-reel knockouts earned Pigford (16-0, 15 KOs) a promotional contract with Frank Warren and prominent undercard slots on televised shows.
By the middle of 2017, ‘The Pig’ was on the verge of challenging for titles after stopping the then-unbeaten Aarron Morgan inside five rounds.
Yet three years on, Pigford is still waiting for his opportunity.
A fight with Kieran Smith, with the WBO European title at stake, had been agreed for the September of 2017, but the Scot sustained a laceration in sparring which forced him to withdraw from the contest.
Ultimately, niggling wear-and-tear injuries would prevent Pigford from appearing on the card, too.
In total, Pigford would be out of the ring for 19 months. While his emergence as a contender was loud, his disappearance was almost silent.
At the end of 2018, Pigford made a low-profile return, halting Daniel Urbanski in the third frame at the O2 Academy, Bournemouth.
Since the last sighting of ‘The Pig’, his contract with Frank Warren had expired and he had replaced Wayne Batten with Ricky Hatton as his trainer.
Over 250 miles away from the distractions of Bournemouth, the 27-year-old thrived in Manchester, yet opportunities were hard to come by as he only managed to have two more fights, making light work of usually durable journeymen.
With the arrival of his daughter nine months ago, Pigford has opted to base himself back down south under the watchful eye of Kev Thorniley and Steve Bendall.
The knockout artist was frustrated as he explained to Boxing Social how his career had stagnated.
“There’s more to the sport than just training and boxing,” said Pigford. “I suppose politics got in the way of me propelling forward after that Aarron Morgan fight. I hoped that would have been my breakout. I had that time out, I moved up to Manchester and got on well with everyone up there. I thought the training was good up there.
“I had three fights when I was up there, then I had a little girl with my missus, and I didn’t want to be away from my little girl. In Manchester, it was training, training, training with no definite fight coming up. I could be up there for two months and still not have a fight. I’d rather spend time with my daughter growing up. I moved back home and I’m back in Bournemouth with Steve Bendall and Kev Thorniley and I’m enjoying it. Then I’m back to the stop-start-career now that this Coronavirus shit has happened.”
While Pigford has not been able to secure the fights he desperately covets, he does not feel it has been wasted time. Despite the lack of bouts, he has diligently honed his craft and believes he is a better fighter now.
During his time with Frank Warren, Pigford developed a reputation as being a proponent of the manly art of no defence, often opting to take two shots to land one of his own.
Given his vaunted punch power, the tactic made sense when he was facing opponents who posed little threat, yet he adopted the same approach against Morgan. He held his gloves low by his side and Morgan was able to land with right hands in the earlier rounds. Pigford was unperturbed as he banged his gloves together and beckoned his foe forward.
However, Pigford is confident that he can be a lot more elusive when the occasion warrants it.
“My boxing wasn’t showcased at all in those fights,” he said. “In the Morgan fight, I didn’t box him because I felt I could take what he was giving, and I was comfortable. I thought I’d take over at some point and that’s what happened. I’m a much better boxer than that when I need to be. Having a bit of worry about what’s coming back at you makes someone like me box better. It’s stupid to say, but I didn’t feel that worry in that particular fight. When I went to Manchester, I definitely improved defensively, but at the same time, I don’t think people really saw my boxing ability. When you knock a lot of boxers out, people fixate on what you are good at, but it doesn’t mean to say I can’t box.
“I probably took five big punches that didn’t affect me in the slightest [against Morgan]. People probably got a bit excited about it. In the grand scheme of things, he had an alright two rounds and, when I say alright, it weren’t like he was battering me, but he caught me with a couple [of shots]. Then I think I took over the fight from there and dictated it, but because he got through with one or two shots that looked big, people got excited. If you watch it back with no commentary, I think I was quite dominant.”
Pigford believed he had secured an opportunity to display what he is capable of when Matchroom offered him a slot on the undercard of a show headlined by Commonwealth cruiserweight champion Chris Billam-Smith. Not only was he going to be back on TV, Matchroom were trying to find him a credible foe. It was the chance Pigford desperately wanted, but the Covid-19 outbreak quickly put paid to the plans.
“I was meant to be fighting on a Matchroom show just before all this started,” he said. “I got offered Kieron Conway, but he didn’t want to fight me. Regardless, I was going to be on the show in Bournemouth, then obviously this all happened.
“It was frustrating, but at the same time I didn’t really care because I knew I was fighting on the show regardless and they were going to get me that sort of calibre of opponent. I feel that calibre of opponent is a good fight for me. I win that then I’ve got a nice big fight coming up. That would have been for some sort of title, then I would have been right back where I wanted to be. Conway or not, the plan was beat them and get back to where I wanted to be. Hopefully, we can pick up where we left off before all this madness happened. If I take a big fight next fight, I’m 27, so even though I’m getting a few grey hairs and that, I think I’m still young enough.”
Boxers refusing to face him is an all too familiar problem for Pigford. While he is acutely acquainted with the issue, it continues to exasperate him. His power is both a blessing and a curse.
Despite the infuriatingly intermittent nature of his career, Pigford has not lost hope. He is optimistic that he is on the verge of securing the opportunity he craves.
“As much as knocking people out brings a bit of excitement and makes people want to watch you, it makes it fucking hard to match you sometimes,” he said with a sigh followed by a laugh. “I see two people who’ve turned down fights with me fighting for a title and my mates would be like, ‘How come you ain’t won any titles yet?’ When the bloke who’s just won the English title didn’t want to fight me. I can’t say I’m a champion because they won’t fight me. It’s frustrating. Hopefully, we can get this situation turned around this year and win a couple of titles so that my career isn’t a fucking waste when I’ve retired. I’m confident something will happen soon.
“I don’t want the smaller fights anymore. I want to get the big fights in. I want to win some titles. Once I win my big fight, it’ll put me right where I want to be. It will be a catalyst for the rest. I want to get active, win some titles, earn some money and get back in the ring.”
Main image: Queensberry Promotions.