Maxi Hughes: Feet on the ground, but reaching for the stars

A defeat to a boxer called Daryl Baptiste in his amateur days will play a pivotal part in the future of Maxi Hughes’ career.

The pair fought three times and began with Hughes giving his opponent a ‘hammering’ in their first fight, as he described it.

“There was blood everywhere, splattered everywhere,” said Hughes, in his Yorkshire brogue, recalling the event from 2007.

A painful loss for Baptiste, a comprehensive win for Hughes. That was on a club show. The rematch took place in the latter stages of the ABA championships. Hughes suffered a painful lesson. It wasn’t bloody nor a physical battering, but Hughes lost, and he holds himself fully responsible for the reasons why.

“He obviously thought about the hiding from the last time and he needed to be proper on it. He was on it. I wasn’t prepared,” Hughes told Boxing Social. “I underestimated him and I lost, and I was like, ‘Shit, what have I just done that for?’ I learned a hard lesson. I was out of the ABAs. I was hoping to win it that year. It didn’t happen and I learned a valuable lesson.”

Hughes got the nod in the rubber match making sure not to underestimate his now familiar dance partner. 

“I’ll never underestimate anybody.”

Over 10 years on, Hughes (22-5-2, 4 KOs) now finds himself in the middle of a purple patch and the form of his life. Three fights in 2020 have culminated in three wins. The second and third of the year against Jono Carroll (W10) and Viktor Kotochigov (W10) now see Hughes in the possession of the WBC International lightweight title and a No.16 ranking with the governing body in its November rankings.

The success, one of British boxing’s feel good stories in a year where there haven’t been too many, has been a long time coming. Hughes now has something that others would love to have and there is a chance that his next fight would see him walk in as the betting favourite but he will never take an opponent for granted again thanks to Baptiste.

“My mentality is to always prepare properly and to never underestimate anything or anybody,” he says. “I think sometimes I overestimate people, if I’m honest, and pay them too much respect. I’ll watch a bit of someone and if I see him throw a certain shot, I’m like, ‘That were a good shot’. I might then go into the fight expecting that shot to come and then, before I know it, the fight’s over and he never even let it go and I’m like, ‘I wish I could have done a bit more’. So, yeah, it’s just finding that balance. If I was to go into any fight as a big favourite, I certainly wouldn’t treat it like that. I would just pretend I was the underdog again and go in there with that mentality and make sure I get the job done.”

Hughes, who still works as a painter and decorator, was building a garden room for his young daughter while talking to Boxing Social. A lovely and enjoyable dose of reality – DIY style – after a win over a former world title challenger and an unbeaten Kazakh in Dubai. 

A rejuvenated Hughes (right) stunned Carroll in August.
Photo: MTK Global.

The two-time British super-featherweight title challenger credits his family as one of the reasons for his upturn in fortune, along with being trained by Sean O’Hagan and working alongside IBF featherweight champion Josh Warrington.

“When I think about it, I feel better than I’ve ever felt. I’m enjoying it. There was no pressure on me against Carroll and Kotochigov,” he said. “I’ve got a stable life at home. Wife, daughter, good family, good friends. A great atmosphere in the gym. We’ve got Josh, a world champion he’s right up there amongst the best. Maybe that helps because what I also did is go running with Josh. He’s a great runner. Everyone knows he’s got a fantastic engine. He said, ‘I’ll help you; we’ll go running I’ll set the pace and we’ll make sure your fitness is right up there’. That’s definitely helped. Just being in a happy place, enjoying my boxing. I think I’ve always had that ability and I think after [the last] two wins my confidence is higher than ever. I’ve got momentum.

“I’ve known Sean for years,” he continued. “For the last five or six years, he was in my corner during fight night and I’ve been sparring Josh and always been friendly with him since I’ve known him. Because I now live in Wakefield rather than Doncaster and since my daughter were born, I needed to be over here [at home] so I could see her more and help out more at home. And Sean’s gym, it’s moved now, but it’s only 15 minutes away. I train later so I’m able to come home see my daughter, put her to bed and have my tea and then go to gym. Just for my home life it worked out and Sean were more than happy to take on that role, [as trainer] so it worked out for everyone.”

And as a consummate professional, Hughes hasn’t littered his body with junk food, drugs or unhealthy amounts of alcohol. A look through his record shows a man who has fought some very good domestic fighters but never been in career-shortening wars. Life begins at 30 in more ways than one and it certainly has been the case in his boxing career.

“Everything is going well and I just don’t want it to end,” he said and then joked, “I feel like messaging [Vasiliy] Lomachenko saying you’ve just lost your belts. I’ve got one you can come and fight me for!”

Hughes (right) has won three straight since a November 2019 reverse against Liam Walsh.
Photo: MTK Global.

That may have been tongue in cheek, but Hughes is ambitious and has every right to be. A look at the WBC top 15 sees Devin Haney as champion with challenges below coming from Javier Fortuna, Luke Campbell, Ryan Garcia, Jorge Linares and so on. The depth and threat is real for anyone looking to crack the organisation’s top 10. Hughes career is in the hands of MTK Global and, when the call comes, he is not a man to duck a challenge whatever the size. However, if it were up to the Yorkshireman, he would like to go to the top floor to see the boss.

“I’ve been watching Devin Haney and obviously he’s a talent. He’s not fought the top, top guys and he’s only 21. I’ve been watching these training camp documentaries he’s done, and the kid is absolutely full of himself,” said Hughes. “I think if I could get that fight with him, I believe he would train hard but in his mind, he’d be thinking he just needs to turn up. I’d love that fight and go in there and shock him and just give him a reality check. There would probably be a lot of money that comes with that fight as well. I’d love that chance. Ideally, I’d say just send me to the top, let me go and have my chance at that world title and, if it doesn’t come off, then I’ll work my way back up again. Him and his team are probably going to want to look at unifications though. Everybody looks up and want to keep pushing further but we’ll see. I know MTK are brilliant at what they do so hopefully they can secure me something good. I’ll put my career into their hands and let them choose.”

And while champions Haney and Gervonta Davis argue on social media about who has the biggest bank balance, the world of Maxi Hughes is more down to earth, more likeable and something that the average working man can relate to.

“The next vehicle I’m eyeing up, I’ve got a works vehicle, is a [Ford] Transit van. An older one at that. Just for some other jobs I’ve got going on. That’s where I’m at with my vehicles, looking at a Transit van. If they do a UK press tour for a fight with me and Haney, I’ll show up in the Transit!”

Main image: MTK Global.