As the dust settles on a frenetic three weeks of heavyweight action, Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder, Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua fulfilled their respective roles. There was high drama, heavy leather thrown, upsets and controversy.
All four combatants have battled hard in and out of the ring, making huge sacrifices to achieve their ambitions in a sport that rewards its highest achievers and creates millionaires.
Through mental health crises, to the lure of street life and trappings of abject poverty, roadblocks on any route to the top are plentiful. The actions of this pugilistic quartet can serve as motivation to a new generation of wayward youth seeking direction.
Now a serving police officer, Lloyd Walton knows as well as anyone just how life-changing and life-saving the noble art can be. Kicked out of mainstream education at the age of 13, Lloyd was given the stark choice of a borstal-style boarding school or boxing. Already holding an on-off relationship with the sport, Lloyd knuckled down and sought to grab his opportunity with both hands.
With his young life rapidly heading down the wrong path, Lloyd openly admits that he was a teenage tearaway in need of direction.
“Proper, yeah I was! That’s why I run the club. To give kids the skills I learned. Boxing basically got me to where I am,” he says.
“I’m a police officer now but without boxing, I wouldn’t have become an engineer and I wouldn’t have become a police officer.”
The club Lloyd refers to is North Warwickshire Boxing and Fitness which is based in The Fitness Station complex in the market town of Atherstone. Running mainly on Mondays, Covid has rearranged the schedule and caused an expansion of workload. Currently studying for a Level 3 Award in Personal Training, Lloyd has taken his efforts out into the community to reach the disaffected youth in any spare time he has.
“I’ve still got to keep my day job going and police the streets as well,” he remarks. “I get more out of the boxing club, intervention-wise, than policing the streets. That’s how big the club is now. I get more results from the club than arresting people.
“I’ve got 45 kids signed up for my Monday club but then I take one-to-ones with at-risk children from all of the major agencies like social services, probation, youth justice and so on.”
It is this constructive intervention that alters young lives and sends positive ripple effects across the local area. The main boxing club is free of charge, and anyone can enrol. The one-on-one cases are referred directly and can be for several reasons, such as: anger management, mental health, or physical disabilities.
“A lot of the kids are in poverty so they wouldn’t get the chance to do a lot of fitness if it wasn’t for us,” adds Lloyd.
The North Warwickshire Club has joined up with a charity called Ediblelinks who receive surplus (though not necessarily end-of-date) items to distribute out to those in the community who need it most.
Hygiene products like shower gel, shampoo and toothpaste are vital necessities to those on the poverty line. Other gifts have also found their way to Lloyd and his team, with Anthony Joshua sending t-shirts to the club.
While the skill, fitness and discipline provided by boxing are of huge benefit to underappreciated and often neglected young members of society, the sport also imbues self-esteem and Lloyd’s reinforcement that they can do better than a life of crime.
“It’s about making them realise that there’s more to life,” he agrees. “A lot of them are involved in drugs and drug running. We had a massive county lines problem in our area. They [the dealers] were using kids that were excluded from school, so what we’re doing is going into school to train them, so they don’t get excluded.
“Providing they stay in school -which they are doing- then the drug dealers that come from Manchester, London, Birmingham, or wherever, have got no one to run the drugs for them. So, there are a lot of different avenues to get into.”
Many of the current struggles are a result of the pandemic. Lloyd and his dedicated colleagues, Molly-Rose Snape and Simeon Hodson have been unable to get all the kids into the gym.
He elaborates: “The actual running of the club is easy. Everyone wants to come, and the coaches want to do it. We’ve got three coaches. There’s me, Molly and Sim. We’re all police officers, working different shift patterns so that can be a pain. We tend to work a lot of the club time in our own time. I’ve got a family and it can take quite a big chunk of time.”
For as long as the club is able to get access to funding and outside assistance, coupled with the relentless dedication of those running it each week, then it will continue to survive and thrive. Other police boxing clubs exist but North Warwickshire Boxing and Fitness is the only free of charge, not-for-profit one in the country.
“I manage North Warwickshire and we have regular meetings. All of the at-risk children coming from probation or social services are referred directly to me because I’m a police officer,” says Lloyd.
“We’ll stop crime in a way. People think ‘how can you stop crime?’ But trust me, we had a 53 per cent reduction in crime as a result of taking the county lines dealers away and that’s directly linked to the club. As soon as the initiative finished, crime went back up.”
Along with Molly-Rose and Simeon, Lloyd Walton has dedicated countless hours, plus his time and energy to creating a better community, fighting crime, and altering the course of young people’s lives. Boxing is the medium for such a transformation and recognition has rightly come their way.
“We’ve got a few awards. We’ve been given the Chief Constable’s Commendation, nominated for a Tilley Award and we’ve also been nominated for a World Policing Award but that won’t be heard until next year.
“You can pretty much save anyone with boxing. It’s giving kids time and a different idea of what life is and what it can offer.”
If things had transpired differently, rather than policing the streets and pounding the pads Lloyd’s own path could’ve been very different.
“A couple of lads who were going to the boarding school with me are now dead,” he says.
“Boxing definitely saved my life.”