At times, boxing can feel more like a business than a sport. Essentially, fighters are a product which promoters attempt to get the public to buy in to – literally. As a result, promoters’ primary objective is to protect their investment, rather than delivering competitive fights.
Each bout is risk assessed as matchmakers attempt to find the worst opponent available that fans will find acceptable. Thankfully for those in that role, the bar has been set so low that a fight where the home fighter is a 3/1 on favourite is deemed to be a good one, despite an implied probability of 75 per cent that said boxer will win.
There are two factors which consistently spring surprises, prospects, and punchers. It is hard to accurately assess a fighter’s ceiling during the infancy of their careers. As a result, they are matched even more carefully than those at the top of the bill. However, with each step up, there is an element of risk. You never truly know how good a fighter is until they lose.
Those capable of delivering one-punch knockouts are wildcards. They can spend an entire fight looking for one shot that never materialises, while losing each round. Conversely, they can be behind on the cards, only to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in the final moments of a bout. Deontay Wilder summed up the threat posed by knockout artists when he declared:
“My opponents have to be perfect for 36 minutes. I gotta be perfect for two seconds.”
As a result, I find novices that can bang to be intriguing. Buried on the undercard of the European and Commonwealth cruiserweight title fight between Chris Billiam-Smith and Isaac Chamberlain is a boxer that matches that description – Joe Pigford.
Despite having been a professional for almost 10 years, there are as many questions surrounding ‘The Pig’ as there are about the Voynich Manuscript. Sporting a 19-0 record with 18 stoppages, all of which came inside five rounds, the only certainty is that he hits hard.
We should know more. Five years ago, the Southampton man was on the verge of title contention. In May 2017, Pigford had recorded the biggest win of his career, halting Aaron Morgan in the fifth round, in a clash of undefeated fighters. Morgan boxed well but unravelled under the pressure applied by ‘The Pig’.
Despite securing an impressive victory, Pigford received criticism from some quarters due to the regularity with which his opponent was able to land punches on him. Pigford maintains that he can be defensively responsible, but felt his rival posed little threat: “In the Morgan fight, I didn’t box him because I felt I could take what he was giving and I was comfortable,” he told Boxing Social in 2020. “I thought I’d take over at some point and that’s what happened. I’m a much better boxer when I need to be.”
A few months later, while fighting under the Queensberry Promotions banner, Pigford was set to take on Kieran Smith with the WBO European super-welterweight title at stake. It would have been his second consecutive unbeaten foe, but unfortunately, Smith had to withdraw from the bout after sustaining a cut in sparring. A suitable replacement was not found and ultimately, niggling injuries prevented ‘The Pig’ from appearing on the card.
In total, Pigford was out of the ring for 19 months, on his return, it was all change. His contract with Frank Warren’s promotional outfit had expired and he had replaced trainer, Wayne Batten, with Ricky Hatton. Without major promotional backing, Pigford found fights hard to come by.
As previously outlined, economics and boxing are intrinsically linked. The South Coast has not been a hot bed of talent recently and Pigford’s perceived technical shortcomings meant that he was deemed to be a high-risk investment, despite his ability to sell tickets and a style made for television. Pigford is acutely aware of this: “There’s more to the sport than just training and boxing,” he said. “I suppose politics got in the way of me propelling forward after the Morgan fight. I hoped that would have been my breakout.”
Three fights under the tutelage of Ricky Hatton resulted in three knockouts, but they were not against the calibre of opposition the 29-year-old had hoped for. He had to settle for facing journeymen, but still managed to make a statement by halting a trio of survival specialists.
His time in Manchester was cut short when his partner gave birth to their daughter. Months spent in camp, over 200 miles from home, waiting for fights that never came to fruition became too hard to bear. ‘The Pig’ moved back to Southampton to team up with Steve Bendall and Kev Thorniley.
Having been disillusioned with the sport in the past, Pigford has regained his love for boxing. Promotional outfit BOXXER have played a significant role in reigniting the Southampton native’s passion by signing him last year. Three fights in nine months followed, with all his foes being halted inside five rounds.
When Boxing Social caught up with Pigford in January, the frustration had dissipated. In the recent past, Pigford would be calling for fights with any and all comers, now he has complete confidence that BOXXER, with the backing of Sky Sports, will be able to secure the bouts he craves
“I just want to stay active.”
“I’ve never been the most active boxer. I just want to keep fighting. I’m not too fussed on the route I go down. Everyone loves a British title, but because everyone loves it, it is very competitive. If that opportunity comes up, I’d happily take it.”
The British super-welterweight title is currently in the possession of Troy Williamson. The Darlington man captured the belt with a devastating knockout against Ted Cheeseman, last year. A match-up between Williamson and Pigford would likely be fan friendly; two big punchers, what’s not to like? The champion has been ordered to make a mandatory defence against Northeast rival, Josh Kelly. If Kelly turns down the chance, Pigford would be an interesting replacement. The 154lbs division domestically has produced some fantastic fights of late and Pigford could well be an intriguing addition to the mix.
However, ‘The Pig’ must first overcome Rafael King, on Saturday. The Ghanaian himself is somewhat of an unknown quantity. There is not a great deal of footage available on King, but he holds a 15-1-1 record, with 13 stoppages. Like Pigford, most of King’s wins have come against low level opposition. If nothing else, it is possible that King could check Pigford’s punch resistance; a test all prospects must past.
Will Pigford’s power lead him to domestic dominance, like Lewis Ritson’s run at lightweight? Could he make it to world title contention similar to Dmirty Kudryashov? Perhaps, his right hand will lead him to world title glory, as Randall Bailey’s did for him. It is equally possible he comes unstuck long before reaching any of those levels, who knows. One thing for certain is that in a sport where the outcome is often almost predetermined, his unpredictability will ensure that Pigford’s career will be fascinating if nothing else.
As master of ceremonies, Mark Burdis, used to declare ahead of Pigford’s ringwalk:
“It’s time to release the pig!”