“I get in there and do my job, I get out and I serve Jaffa cakes.”
Rylan Charlton found out he had a powerful punch during his early years at high school.
Before you begin secondary education the nerves and fears of what lie ahead travel with you from the moment you finish primary school, then throughout the summer holidays and, once life in the big leagues commence, your stomach is performing gymnastic routines you never thought possible.
While many first-year pupils may be the target of traditional pranks, Charlton, who admits he messed up during his time at the City of Norwich School, made a name for himself as a 12-year-old when he took part in what he called ‘Dead Arm Fights’ against boys two and three years older than him. Dead Arm Fights: You hit your opponent in the arm until they can no longer continue.
“I used to win them all the time against bigger lads. I was tiny at school, but I could always whack. That’s when I knew I could pack a punch,” Charlton told Boxing Social. “It was great fun. I used to win which was a massive shock to them all because I was tiny.”
Joe Laws found out on October 17 that Charlton (6-0-1, 3 KOs) could do more than just give people dead arms. ‘The Benwell Bomber’ came into the fight playing his part in boxing’s revival in the North East of England, headed by Lewis Ritson. Laws was looking like another Matchroom Boxing project given his colourful personality, entertaining fighting style and the column inches featuring Laws because of a sparring session he had with American star Devin Haney.
Charlton, who stands at 5ft 7ins and is nicknamed the ‘Pint Size Powerhouse’, walked into the ring for the six-round fight at the East of England Arena in Peterborough, live on Sky Sports, ready to pop a heavily inflated reputation and then rip up what was left on the floor.
What he did was put a beating on the 26-year-old, described as ‘exciting and popular and hard-hitting’ by Matchroom’s ring announcer David Diamante. Soon, we might hear the Fagin lookalike belting out those same words to describe Charlton.
After 80 seconds of round one, Charlton smacked Laws body with a left hand, which the bookies favourite visibly hated. The away fighter’s tactics were clear. While Laws loaded up far too often to no avail the relaxed Charlton stalked his man and sprung back into action near the end of the opener dropping the grunting Laws with a left hook.
So began a disastrous night for Laws and a new beginning for Charlton. A whipping overhand right by the Norfolk man in round three finished Laws, who had already been down earlier in the session, and ensured Charlton’s bad intentions from the first bell were not just a facial expression for the cameras.
“I didn’t expect it to be as easy as it was,” Charlton told Boxing Social reflecting on an emphatic win that could earn him another fight on television in the future.
“He’s got a reputation for hitting quite hard and he’s got some stoppages and I thought he would hit a lot harder than he did. But I suppose when I had seen the guys that he had fought they’re not much of a high level. We also both boxed the same guy [Michael Williams]. I knocked him out and he [Laws] didn’t knock him out and I thought that’s sort of given me an advantage there. It was easier than I thought, and I don’t like to say this because I sound a bit big headed, but it wasn’t my best performance. I had a lot of ring rust there and I hadn’t boxed since January and that was two weeks’ notice I got for that fight. I’d been training, ticking over but I didn’t get my full six to eight-week camp so there’s a lot better performances coming.
“I had to step up a weight because I normally fight at super-lightweight. Also, my sharpness wasn’t there because I only had one decent spar which was a week before my fight. I only had the one spar with Conor Benn and that was it. I’ve sparred Conor Benn and the guys down the Matchroom gym quite a lot but that’s when I’ve had my other fight camps. This was two weeks’ notice, and I was like, ‘Oh shit I need to ring up Tony [Sims] and see if he can get me in with Conor for six rounds’. If I had a good six weeks of sparring, then my sharpness would have been a lot better.”
What we witnessed in Peterborough, allied with Charlton’s comments about a lack of sharpness and informing ‘Social that we only saw 50% of what he can do, is an admission that places him in the dark horse category at either 140 or 147 pounds. What we do know is that Charlton’s name is now out there. The power is as memorable as his nickname. It is something to build on. Fans and fighters are fully aware of what his fists can do if you allow him the opportunity to do it.
“I know I was making a lot of mistakes,” confessed Charlton. “I wasn’t using my angles but it’s easy to hit someone when they’re standing in front of you like Joe Laws does so it made it much easier. When I was watching it back, I was thinking I could have used my angles here, there… I could have used my head a lot more. I could have used my jab a lot more.”
Charlton’s phone hasn’t stopped since the win. Something he expected given his confidence he would prevail, but perhaps not the volume of requests and messages he has had. “It’s a bit surreal,” he said.
While he waits on a potentially life-changing call from promoter Eddie Hearn, Charlton is back to reality and something he enjoys just as much as fighting. Working as a chef at the Carleton House Care Home in Norfolk has become the perfect job for a young man who began washing dishes in a pub at 15. Thereafter, Charlton pounded away at the restaurant industry for years. Ninety to one hundred hours a week were tougher than any camp for a fight, he said.
Charlton’s skills and love for cooking means that meal preparations during camp are his own work. No need for a third-party outlet who you have to advertise on social media.
“It helps being a chef because healthy food can get boring, but I can make it taste nice. It’s a win-win,” he said.
Ten years in the restaurant industry eventually got him a job where his 10-hour shifts would begin early, allowing him to train in the evenings. The long hours had its demands but the upside was that Charlton allowed himself to save up money so he could travel to parts of Asia, Australia and Central and Southern America.
Like boxing, travelling can be a bug and can be addictive. Months of hard work followed by months of peace, friendships and, at times, welcome solitude getting away from the repetition of everyday life.
Thailand was where the adventures all began for Charlton when he was 20. A one-way ticket for him and a friend. Freedom, no responsibility and no daft o’clock alarms. Bliss. Then came Malaysia, Indonesia, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Colombia and Cuba. There was also Costa Rica and the six months he spent enjoying his own company Cambodia when he was 23.
“I wasn’t really a fan of Costa Rica that much,” he said. “Maybe I went to the wrong places. The cities were awful, they were really dodgy. Every street you went down you felt like you were going to get shot. I wasn’t really a fan of that. There must be some nice places, but I don’t think I would go back to the cities of Costa Rica.
“I did really enjoy Cambodia. I really did. I got to enjoy my own company. I was there for a month with my friends, they went off to Australia and because I’d been to Australia I couldn’t go over there unless I was on a holiday visa and I’d already used my year’s visa. I just learned how to enjoy my own company in Cambodia. I was always on the beach alone, reading a book, swimming or snorkelling. Just had fun on my own really.”
Charlton has crammed a lot into his life over the last 10 years. From washing up in a pub having left school with nowhere to go, to racking up 50-odd amateur fights, to sitting on a beach in Cambodia with just him and a book. Throw in being a chef, and a man could look back in his rocking chair and say, ‘Not too shabby’.
“I’m 28-years-old but sometimes I feel like I’m 38. I’ve seen people in poverty hit countries and you look at them and their lives are hard. They live on the street, the kids run around, and they’d come and pick up my plate and eat the scraps off my plates that I won’t eat. That’s a tough life,” he said. “Here, in England, it’s so easy. I get up. I drive to work; I drive to training. I think that’s the main thing I learned being the way how lucky we really are in the country we live in. It has made boxing easier.”
Charlton in the ring is a contrasting figure from the man outside of it. The two personalities of the fighting man can mirror one another but not with Charlton. Against Laws we watched a fighter who can inflict hurt, a face filled with an eagerness to cause pain and not waste time doing so. That is the ‘Pint Size Powerhouse’. A nickname courtesy of his friends and Charlton recognising what he had in his hands. Rylan the chef is a grafter, someone who enjoys working, someone who would find it hard to say goodbye to his ‘real’ job if his other ‘job’ became full-time.
“I’m pretty chilled out,” was how Charlton described himself without the gloves. “You saw me in the ring [against Laws]. I’m a chef and I also push a little tea trolley round serving tea and coffee, give them pink wafers and Jaffa cakes and that kind of stuff so it’s completely what you would not expect. I’m pretty chilled out really most of the time. When I get in the ring, I just see that as a job. I get in there and do my job, I get out and I serve Jaffa cakes.”
He continued, “I love the people there. It’s nice to just make the residents happy. They don’t have a lot there. When you cook them nice cakes and nice food it gives them a good smile on their face so yeah, I do really like working there and it allows me to do the training. I’ve done my time in the trenches working in the restaurants.”
Charlton’s time in boxing’s trenches is yet to come. He hasn’t earned those stripes yet in a professional ring, but he has elsewhere and, perhaps because of that, you might not bet against him making it through and then sitting on a beach once again, with a book but also a championship belt.
Main image and all photos: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.