Not the average Joe – “I’ve been injured my whole life”

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Many fighters will go into the ring not at 100 per cent. A niggle here, a niggle there or something that hinders their performance and affects their chances of winning.

Having been born with Erb’s Palsy Joe Hughes walked into every single fight with an injury. Limited use of his right arm, meaning his left side was put to work harder than normal.

In this week’s column he looks back at four fights in his career where he fought 48 rounds out of a possible 48 with more problems than your average Joe.

When I boxed Tyrone Nurse for the British title, I was sparring with Tommy Langford a month before. He was on the show against Avtandil Khurtsidze. It was good sparring for me because Tommy’s nice and tall and Khurtsidze might have been shorter than me, so it worked out well for both of us. In sparring I tore a ligament in my left elbow, nothing major but enough that I couldn’t spar anymore. Being my left arm, it wasn’t ideal, so it wasn’t great to be going into that fight like that. I still think I won the fight pretty comfortably, but I wasn’t at my best.

After that fight I had to have surgery on my left elbow. The ligament was only half torn but I had some extra bone in the elbow and needed it cleaned out. And then I got offered the fight against Anthony Yigit. It was only a few weeks after the surgery. Going into it my left arm was no good really. I’ve always had good endurance in my left arm and shoulder.

When I had time off from the injury and surgery, I then starting training for the fight, but my elbow was never the same again. My endurance in my left arm waned a bit. It was a European title fight, so I took it. After doing well for four rounds my arm was in agony, my elbow was killing me. I remember going back to the corner at one point and told my trainer Andy, “My arm’s gone”. It ended up being a long night and a hard fight, but I toughed it out and lost fair and square.

Before I boxed Sandor Martin, I was meant to box Lewis Ritson in the August of that year. I got injured in sparring. What was supposed to be a body shot I took on the back and it was in bits. It was that bad I couldn’t even shadow box. So, my trainer pulled me out of that fight.

Then I got offered the European title fight against Martin in Barcelona in the December. I trained, my back felt not too bad, and I said yes to the fight. In my eyes it wasn’t to regain my European title because I felt like I never lost it [against Robbie Davies Jr]. I had a mindset of defending it not challenging for it.

A month before the fight I took another shot on the same spot on my back, and it went again. My training sessions for the duration consisted of doing the cross-trainer and using the versa climbing machine. They weren’t too bad on my back, but I couldn’t spar, I couldn’t hit the bag and I couldn’t run. I managed to do a little bit on the pads, but it wasn’t great. I went into the fight thinking it doesn’t matter I’ll still win. But I knew my punching wouldn’t be brilliant.

In the early rounds I boxed at a low pace and every time I tried to step it up it just wasn’t there. The sharpness wasn’t there, the explosiveness I would normally have wasn’t there. My cardio was fine, but my punching was crap, and it was the worst I’ve ever felt in the ring in terms of my performance.

You have a certain mindset as a fighter. If I said I’ll do it whatever shape I get to as long as I can get to that ring, I’m going to go through with it. I was brought up like that I suppose. Every single fight I have I go in at a disadvantage compared to everybody else because I’ve been injured my whole life with my arm. I don’t want to make any excuses about a bad back because every other fight I’ve had something else has been wrong with me. I don’t make any excuse about that. It’s almost drilled into me that it is what it is, and you don’t make any excuse about it.

It sounds silly but it’s an example to my kids. Just because something is tough doesn’t mean you don’t do it. I wasn’t going to say no to those fights before actually having a fight. If I don’t go in there at all I might not have a loss on my record, but I haven’t got a win either. That’s just my way of looking at it. I’d rather go in there and give it my best shot and see what happens than look back on it and think maybe I would have been alright.

A month before I won the European title in Italy against Andrea Scarpa my middle boy was born, and he was really quite ill. Nothing serious but he was in and out of hospital a lot over that month. My mum’s got MS and during that time she was in Mexico having treatment that was like a stem cell replacement therapy. She had to undergo chemotherapy and it was really intense. There was a small chance she could have died but she didn’t, thankfully. My grandfather then died a week before the fight. And I was also ill after my eldest had been at a party and gave the whole house a stomach bug.

I could have easily turned round and said I’m not going to be at my best so let’s pull out. If I’d have done that, I might never have been European champion which is the crowning achievement of my career.

My dad was a big part of the attitude I developed in my upbringing and especially when it came to my disability. I got told, “You can’t use any excuses,” which worked out for me personally.