Steve Whitwell, the head coach of St Ives Boxing Club, has taken on his first professional fighter and last week Karl Wheeler won his comeback bout after eight years out of the ring.
Wheeler forced Paul Morris to retire with a cut left eye at Bushfield Leisure Centre in Peterborough to win his first fight back after quitting the sport with a wrist injury in 2005. And for Whitwell it was the first time he had coached a full-time pro to a win under the banner of his St Ives gym.
“Karl and I have a two-to-three year plan for a British title,” said Whitwell, who has experience of coaching pros for other stables, but who is now hoping to bring more of his boxers through into the full-time game.
“But we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves – we need to get three or four nice little wins together and then we will reassess the situation. There’s no rush.”
Wheeler fought 13 times as a pro winning seven, losing five and drawing one, before suffering the wrist injury that forced him to take a break and eventually quit the sport when he became a single parent.
But he was coaxed back into gym and then the ring by Whitwell after his son, Onri, came home from school one day and asked him what he did for a job.
“I told Onri my job was looking after him,” said Wheeler. “I asked him why and it turned out they had a discussion at school about their fathers’ jobs. He couldn’t think what I did.
“He came home and told me that and it broke my heart. He went to bed and I had a little sob and I thought ‘I have to sort myself out’. The day after I took him to school and went straight to the gym and started training.
“Then I met Steve and he was impressed and we began working together and he changed my style amazingly. Steve has got me fitter and better than I have ever been.
“And here I am a year and a half later winning a pro fight.”
Six-foot-three tall, Wheeler is a cruiserweight and stopped the first opponent of his new career, 34-year-old Lancastrian Morris, in the third round.
He said: “Morris is a good guy, he has only been stopped four times in 29 fights and he’s a heavyweight as well so he was a big guy. Fighters like that hardly ever get stopped.”
Whitwell added: “We are basically starting again because Karl didn’t have a good experience the first time around. We are looking at those 13 fights as his amateur career and now he has won one pro fight from one.
“I have been a pro coach now for four years, helping other people, and now I am trying to get my own camp going.
“I have the experience now and as a coach I know what I am doing, that goes without saying, but I want to start bringing through local talent.
“We have got Bradley Smith here and we will be looking at him in three years or so – not too early, but when he is ready, and little Jack Smith as well is another promising young boxer. Hopefully what Karl does will pave the way for them.
“We have a great team here at St Ives – there is a good atmosphere and no attitude and I only train people I like. Karl, Bradley, everyone else in here are nice guys and they love their boxing. They are in it for the boxing, not for the money.
“Karl has a son to support and he has to make a living but he is also in it for the boxing – and when you have that kind of attitude I think it sets you up nicely.”
St Ives have an amateur dinner show at Burgess on Friday to celebrate the club’s 10-year anniversary.
Tickets are £40 and include a four-course meal. Tickets are available from Whitwell on 07775 485186.