It was getting late in Hull, and the chants of “Yorkshire, Yorkshire” echoed throughout the Ice Arena crowd in a passionate rendition tinged with hope. The locals were witnessing something special. Their man,Curtis Woodhouse, was taking it to the British junior welterweight champion, Darren Hamilton. On paper, it doesn’t seem anything out of the blue. These kinds of title defenses occur often in boxing, but it was the back story that added drama to what was an already intense spectacle.
Woodhouse, 33, is a former professional footballer, who once was sold to Birmingham City for £1 million and made several appearances for England’s under-21 side as a youngster. His football career drifted from thereon out, though few understood that Woodhouse had other ambitions in mind. While playing non-league football, he publicly announced his secret love for fighting, and became a professional boxer. This decision was made in spite of Woodhouse’s complete lack of amateur experience. It was a gung-ho call by the Yorkshireman, but one that would lead him down an exciting and memorable path.
The journey from football to boxing is not a road well-trodden. The sports share few similarities and the lonely, enclosed space of the boxing ring must feel like a small, dank boiler room when compared with the expansive and lush pitches of professional football. With this in mind I was forced to wonder as Saturday night unfurled – as Woodhouse beckoned Hamilton to trade in the midst of a dogged long-distance fight, that surely, even if in the deepest recesses of his mind, Woodhouse was thinking of jumpers for goalposts and 5-a-side kick-abouts?
Such a notion was scorned as Woodhouse poured everything into the twelfth and final round, plunging forward, marking up, giving and receiving punishment. His former footballing colleagues might think Woodhouse to be a sadist, the truth is he was living his dream. Shortly before his father died, Woodhouse promised him that he would win a British title, and here he was waging battle in the name of that promise.
Woodhouse had announced that his fight with Hamilton was to be his last, win or lose, and he was going out with a bang. He was turning in the performance of his career, in front of a home crowd emphatic in their support for him. He had jabbed surprisingly well, worked the body consistently, and with the final seconds ticking away he rocked Hamilton with a heavy overhand right. The outcome was a split decision in Woodhouse’s favor and the ecstatic crowd provided a noise I’m sure will resonate with the footballer-come-fighter for the rest of his life.
That noise, as well as the British title strapped around his waist, were all a part of Curtis Woodhouse’s glory night. He had scoffed at the form book and paid no attention to the experts. He had also ignored the people that had “laughed at him” for wanting to be a professional boxer. He had chased his dream and succeeded, but most important of all, he had kept a promise made to his late father.