Shayne Singleton - A life in the pro ranks

A professional debut for any sportsman or sportswoman, in any particular field, at any level, will always be considered both defining and monumental.

Friday, 30th March 2018, 9:00 am
Shayne Singleton downs Adil Anwar at the Manchester Arena
Shayne Singleton downs Adil Anwar at the Manchester Arena

At Colne Muni, the Mecca of boxing in Shayne Singleton’s hometown, the hard-hitting yet elegantly agile lightweight readied himself, tucked away in a pocket of the 700-capacity venue ahead of the contest, for his bow against rookie Jason Thompson.

In the sweltering heat, radiated by the lighting system that illuminated the ring from above, Singleton secured the first of his eight career stoppages, with a barrage of punches forcing referee Steve Gray to intervene in the penultimate round.

“I remember that like it was yesterday,” Singleton said. “It was seriously special. It felt like I’d trained harder for that fight than I did for any other fight, even though that isn’t the case.

“It was only six two minute rounds. It just felt like it was the hardest because it was my first proper camp. I put that much in to it because it was my first ever fight and what a result it was, in Colne as well which was brilliant.

“It was nerve-racking, exciting. The feeling when I walked out there was something else. The adrenaline was pumping, I was buzzing, my body was tingling.

“It was very good at Colne Muni. People keep telling me to have one more fight there before calling it a day. I love that place.

“The atmosphere was crazy, absolutely electric. There was banging, noise, shouting, screaming. People who didn’t have a clue about boxing were getting involved.

“It was a very good experience. I did about 500 tickets for that first fight and the Muni only holds about 700. Some of my best days in boxing were there, definitely.”

In a three-year spell Singleton would go on to beat Marius Jasutis, Carl Allen, Daniel Thorpe, Kristian Laight, Ali Wyatt, Gavin Deacon, William Warbuton, Sid Razak, Sean Gorman, Johnny Greaves and Mark McKray before bringing home his first belt at the expense of Nicaraguan southpaw Santos Medrano.

The Englishman showed that he had the heart and the engine to succeed when stepping up to 10 rounds for the first time, owning every single one of them to earn a unanimous decision victory at the Macron Stadium and claim the International Masters title.

But there seemed something fundamentally wrong with the system once Singleton dethroned former one million pound footballer Woodhouse as the super-lightweight king of England in his next encounter.

Victory over the former Sheffield United midfielder had been enough to land a title defence against Tyrone Nurse, who later became British champion at 140lbs, but Singleton had out-grown the division, physically, and had to relinquish his prize as a consequence.

The unbeaten fighter never developed a potentially self-damaging sense of entitlement following his achievements but he expected more from the puppet masters who make things happen.

“I worked really hard for my opportunities,” he said. “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know in that game. I had to have 20 fights unbeaten before I even got on TV.

“I should probably have been given opportunities earlier in my career. I was a better boxer, with better style, back then. If I got in with the right people and was given the right fights I might have got that British title sooner. By the time it came around, after plodding on, I was meeting the likes of Eggington and Bradley Skeete who are European, fringe world level fighters.”

Returning to the small hall shows, and seeing off Kevin McCauley and durable Welshman Leon Findlay, he did add the WBC International Silver welterweight title to his collection, scoring a unanimous triumph over Hungarian Laszlo Fazekas.

Despite his successful revolution against Woodhouse, it wasn’t until seven fights later, which spanned two years, that Singleton was presented with his next big opportunity.

After dispatching Steve Jevons, Nodar Robakidze and Adam Jones, Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn pulled some strings for Singleton to take on the much-fancied “Savage” at the Ice Arena in Hull, live on Sky Sports.

That night, for the first time ever, Ince’s student experienced what it was like to hit the canvas. “It was the first time that I’d ever been knocked down, even in amateur fights and sparring. I never knew what it was like to go down. It was frustrating from my point of view why I was going down.

“I absolutely killed myself to make weight for the Eggington fight. I was a real mess. Whether that had an effect on my punch resistance, I think so. I wasn’t knocked out, I wasn’t dazed, I was just being lifted off my feet. Every time he caught me with a big shot my body couldn’t cope with it.

“In the end I think I went down three times and I’ve been down in fights since that. Fair play to him though, he was a bit of a beast. When I was in that zone they didn’t hurt. You can have 20,000 people shouting at you and you won’t hear anything. You get punched and you don’t feel it because you’re in the zone. Those punches were like a ‘thud’ and then I just found myself on the floor. It was strange.”

At that point, having been ranked fourth in the country at 10st previously, Singleton had been rubbing shoulders with one-time IBF World welterweight champion Kell Brook and former unified light-welterweight world champion Amir Khan at the head of the class.

“It’s amazing,” beamed Singleton. “That alone, just looking at those rankings, at one point it was Amir Khan, Kell Brook, Frankie Gavin, Sam Eggington and then me. That was at 10st 7lbs.

“I was two places behind Kell Brook who has been a world champion and three places behind Amir Khan who I think is an absolute legend. He’s a multi-weight world champion. He’s done amazing. My name was up there with those boys. It’s brilliant.”

Singleton’s road to recovery brought hard-fought wins over Gary Cooper and Wayne Reed, with the latter posing another new test for him as he experimented with more intimidating physical specimens at middleweight.

It was, without question, a huge risk, but one that Singleton felt he had to take after his bout with London-based Irishman John O’Donnell fell through in what was to be a British title eliminator at the O2 Arena on the undercard of David Haye’s comeback against Australia’s Mark De Mori.

Singleton’s reward for his 22nd career victory was another TV appearance, this time against Prizefighter champion Adil Anwar at the Manchester Arena, the location he used to attend as a fan to watch his idol, Ricky Hatton.

“Ricky Hatton was the fighter that made me want to fight,” he said. “I wanted to fight at the MEN Arena where Hatton boxed regularly. That was a dream and one that I never believed would come true.

“As things went on it ended up happening. I remember going to watch Hatton with my Dad, sitting in the MEN Arena with 20,000 people. I used to think ‘wow’, that’s what I wanted, and then it happened.”

Singleton grasped the opportunity with both gloves, sending his foe to the deck in the opening round and again in the eighth. Singleton’s face following the final onslaught was priceless, his expression spoke a thousand words, his reaction resembled that from victory over Woodhouse, only less bruised.

Singleton, who had been preparing for Dale Evans before negotiations broke down, said: “We had a plan and that went out of the window after the first round because I dropped him. I didn’t expect that. “Then the eighth round came and I landed the honey punch which ended the fight.”

“It was probably the sweetest shot of my career. Marius Jasutis at the Reebok Stadium for my second fight, a right hand, left hook knockout. That was a perfect shot. That right hand against Adil Anwar was also perfect.

“We’d been studying and Karl calls it a ‘Suzy’. It’s a drop down with a jab to the body and then swing the right hand over. You can hear him shout it about a second before and down he went. He got back up but I wasn’t letting him get away. What a feeling that was. It was live on Sky Sports, I had hundreds of people there watching. How many thousands would have been watching it on TV.”

Unfortunately, that would prove to be as good as it got for Singleton as his tenure hit a snag in his final three appearances. With his proposed British title challenge against Bradley Skeete rescheduled for the umpteenth time, Singleton sought a warm-up fight to keep him ticking over.

However, a last minute change of opponent at the Bowlers Exhibition Centre in Manchester concocted further complications which resulted in an underwhelming stalemate against Evaldas Korsakas in October 2016.

It was far from ideal, especially in preparation for a fighter who had out-smarted Eggington with an impeccable performance. Eventually, in June 2017, the moment that Singleton had been waiting for his whole life had arrived. It was his chance to land the prestigious Lord Lonsdale Belt as the mandatory challenger at the Brentwood Centre.

The away fighter took the opening two rounds against the holder, as he had against Eggington, and he was heading towards a third until, in the blink of an eye, a solitary punch changed all that with just seconds remaining.

“I switched off at the end of the third round and dived in with an uppercut,” he recalled. “I was getting too complacent and too confident. After the first round and the second round I had it in my head that it was going to be easy. That was probably the biggest mistake that I’ve ever made in my career.

“I went out and I tried to up the ante when I didn’t need to. I should have just carried on what I was doing. It was a big mistake. Even after going down at the end of the third I was still up. What happened after that, though, was a disaster. I was trying to chase it even though I was up on the scorecards.

“That’s where Skeete’s class and ability came in to it because I played in to his hands. Everything that I’d been training towards, for about 10 months with all the cancellations, just went out of the window. That one shot changed it.”

Whether Singleton had the mental and psychological acumen to match his strength, stamina and athleticism remains unknown, it was something he often questioned of himself, but he had ability in abundance and the desire that could take him further.

For everything he dedicated, all that he forfeited, for all the blood, sweat and tears that he donated, Singleton certainly deserved a more befitting conclusion. Criminally, his final memory of the sport, one that he once loved, left a sickening taste in his palate.

After tempers flared at the press conference, and things boiled over at the weigh-in, Singleton would then lose a controversial decision against veteran Peter McDonagh on the undercard of Hughie Fury’s WBO World heavyweight title clash with Joseph Parker. It was that charade, coupled with the five-month ban imposed by the British Boxing Board of Control, which brought the end.

“I should never have taken that last fight against Peter McDonagh on that show after the build up,” said Singleton. “It was on, off, on, off, there were no press conferences until the last minute. Nothing felt real. I just think that I got screwed over. He started at the press conference and again at the weigh in.

“That made me think ‘there’s more to life than this’. I sacrifice a lot to fight and then that happens. I’ve given too much to the sport to be treated like that. I really loved it but over the final 12 months I wasn’t enjoying it. I ended up going to the gym because I had to go, not because I wanted to go. Once upon a time I couldn’t wait to get there and graft.”

Regardless, for all his success, Singleton will go down as one of the best boxers that this region has ever produced. He’s won six titles - International Masters, English, British Masters, British Challenge and WBC international Silver on two occasions - at three separate weights and he’s competed at the very top of the domestic rota.

His face still adorns the walls at Sandygate ABC as a means to inspire a future generation, and it’s no surprise. Singleton is undoubtedly a role-model for all those wanting to make their way in boxing.

“I’ve done what I’ve done and I can’t complain with the titles, the positions I’ve been in and the fights that I’ve had. My belts are lovely and they’ll always take pride of place. I was desperate to get the British title. I fought for it though and I’ve done myself proud.

“I grafted for the chance, I had to work myself in to a mandatory position to fight for it by the Boxing Board of Control, I wasn’t used as a voluntary defence, I earned my position. That means a lot to me as well. I was the number one challenger in Britain to fight for that title. I was happy with that.”

While Singleton is a born winner, and would love to finish his career with his arms held aloft, he has stated categorically that he won’t be making a return to the ring. He said: “I would love to, I really would. That’s why it took me so long to make my decision. Should I have one more fight?

“I couldn’t get that love back for one last fight though. Making weight has always been hard for me. It’s always been a battle. I have to train hard and diet hard. It was grim so I couldn’t put myself through all that again for one last fight.

“I have to leave it now even though it would have been nice to finish on a high. I would love to but I don’t want it enough. I think a comeback is ruled out.”

Singleton finished: “I’ll miss the gym, walking out to the ring and the buzz of winning. What I do every day, training with the lads, seeing Karl, being in that environment, that’s what I’ll miss.

“I actually love that place. That’s what I love about boxing - that gym, Karl and the lads. I’ve had a brilliant life because I’ve been a professional athlete but now it’s time to let my hair down a little bit and enjoy myself. To win six titles and to fight on TV is great.”

Shayne would like to thank all his family, friends and sponsors for their generous support throughout his career.