Cleland’s Stephen Newns Jnr has been waiting four years for this. Since exiting the Commonwealth Games in Australia’s Gold Coast back in 2018, he’s been thinking, learning, improving, and maturing. Now, just days away from the opening ceremony of the prestigious sporting event’s next edition, Newns knows he’s as ready as he’ll ever be.
The young fighter from one of North Lanarkshire, Scotland’s little mining towns, was introduced to boxing by his father – a former fighter himself – and is now desperate to recognise one of his major life ambitions. Newns spoke to Boxing Social just weeks from the Games, this time held a lot closer to home just a few hours away in Birmingham, and the Boxing Scotland representative was optimistic about his chances of securing a medal.
“I wouldn’t say it gets more nerve-wracking [this time around]; I would say the spectacle of the Commonwealth Games is unreal – it’s brilliant to even be involved in that. But at the end of the day, it’s still a competition. We’re there to perform regardless of where we are and no matter the standard of the competition, we’re there to win. I’m a wee bit older now, I’ve gone through setbacks and wins, ups and downs.
“I know how to handle myself in both scenarios. I’m going into this with more confidence now; I feel like I’m a better boxer technically now than I was four years ago at the Gold Coast. I’ve had the opportunity to move up two kilos as well, so I’m that bit stronger.”
It was falling at the last pre-medal hurdle in Australia that strengthened Newns’ resolve, as he’d won his opening two bouts to reach the quarter final stage. Then, he suffered defeat with a guarantee of a bronze just points and punches away, and it’s been a long road back, waiting and competing in other respected tournaments, continuing on the path to international success.
Newns, now aged 24, kept himself busy away from the glory and the disappointment of elite amateur boxing, dedicating himself to education, setting himself up for whatever follows his career between the ropes. He graduated just last month, draped in the ceremonial gown, somewhat reminiscent of a fighters’ ring attire. When explaining his studies, the Cleland-man spoke with pride at his achievements – switching between the dedication required to succeed for Team Scotland, and the capacity to effectively continue higher learning.
“I went to college and University after the Gold Coast. I went and done my HNC, my HND, went on to Uni and that took me an extra two years. I graduated this year with my honours degree, and I’ve managed to do that while training as an amateur boxer.
“It’s felt like I’ve been a full-time boxer; I’ve trained and worked like one. But I’ve balanced with that focus and that work at Uni, that’s been good for me mentally. Now that I’ve finished Uni, I have the opportunity to go and do a Masters, which I haven’t decided on yet.”
The light-middleweight prospect continued:
“After this in Birmingham, I need to have a sit down and have a think about what I’m gonnae’ do. I have the option to turn pro, but I don’t want to look too far ahead and miss what’s right in front of me.
“My intention is to box as a professional one day. It’s something I definitely want to do, and I don’t want to miss the window by being too old to have a good go. I’ve sparred many pros and I’ve done well, but I believe I’ll be successful whatever journey I take.”
It has been something of a journey thus far, with his father Stephen Snr starting out in Salford, Manchester before moving north of the border following the conclusion of his own amateur boxing career before his son was born. Living in the little town of Cleland, not far from Carluke or Motherwell, the family run the local boxing gym, which Stephen Jnr explains has its busy periods when the winter evenings hit and the children need alternative hobbies, and its quieter spells during the summer months. It is integral to the young children living nearby, regardless.
“My dad was the coach at the boxing club – he boxed himself and then working life took over, so it meant he couldn’t push on as a professional, but it was different back then.
“Boxing’s changed over the years, it’s evolved and there’s a lot more money that’s went into it. He took me to the gym when I was eight-years old, so I just joined in. I had no idea how far I was gonnae take it; I managed to get my first contest at age 11, stopped the guy in the first round. I won my first 11 [fights] and ended up in the British final. I won the Scottish championships – got to the British final and lost in my 13th fight.”
“When I was winning boxing fights, that sense of achievement felt much better, and it was something I did with my dad, so it helped develop our relationship. Aye, so, I pretty much kept going to the gym back then.
“Not much goes on in Cleland, everybody knows everybody, everybody has always been here, do you know what I mean? The boxing club gets spells where there’s not many in, but we had a lot of boxers on the club show [recently] and they can see what I’ve done just by going to the gym; you can get to travel the world and fight in different countries. I hope some of them can go a lot further and do better than me. I had my dad to take me along; I don’t think I would have tried boxing if it wasn’t for my dad. These youngsters, they want to try boxing for themselves and that has to be admired.”
Stephen Newns Jnr was one of those little kids, gazing around the open expanse of the boxing gym, listening to the thuds and the whacks of the heavy bag, wondering how he’d generate that power in years to come. He has a second chance next week to capture a medal for Scotland, a chance well-earned. Taking a gold back to Cleland, where everybody knows who he is and what he does, would mean the world to him. And it would help him scale another sporting peak with his father – boxing is special in that way.