Big Interview: Welborn’s world title shot is pure Hollywood
There can be no disputing 2018 has until now been very much Jason Welborn’s year, both inside and outside a boxing ring.
Back in May, he was crowned British middleweight champion courtesy of a shock victory over Tommy Langford. Then in September, he successfully defended the belt against the same opponent.
In the meantime, he got married to his long-time partner, Rachel, and moved into a new home in Tividale together with their two daughters.
Tonight he has the chance to do something genuinely life-changing. Should Welborn beat Jarrett Hurd in Los Angeles and claim the American’s IBF and WBA belts, it would send shockwaves through the sport and catapult a respected domestic fighter into the realms of super stardom.
“Like a real life Rocky” is how Welborn himself has described it. Even that might be understating it. If he wins, Hollywood could do worse than take a look at Welborn’s own story.
“Boxing for a world title in LA, not many people have done that,” he smiles. “Just imagine the shock on people’s faces if I pull it off.” It is safe to say there are not many outside Welborn’s trusted inner circle predicting such an outcome.
Hurd, unbeaten in 22 fights, is a huge favourite with the bookmakers and has made no secret of the fact he views this bout as a warm-up for a potential unification clash with Jermell Charlo early next year.
Yet taking Welborn lightly is dangerous, as many a previous opponent have found to their cost. Upsetting the odds has become second nature to the Rowley Regis-raised fighter, both through his 13-year career in the ring and also in life, right back to the age of eight when a serious hip condition threatened his ability to walk, let alone box.
Hurd should also be warned Welborn, after 32 fights as a professional, is the most confident and content he has ever been.
To understand why, you must first go back to the lowest point of his career, which arrived just two-and-a-half years ago with a defeat to William Warburton, a journeyman with 98 defeats on his record.
A bout which was supposed to keep Welborn “ticking over” while preparing for bigger occasions instead ended in embarrassment.
Yet the defeat had nothing to do with ability and more the scrambled mind of a man still struggling to come to terms with the death of his mother and biggest supporter just a few months previously.
It was Christine Welborn who, concerned her young son was getting in with the wrong crowd, took him to Black Country Combat, beginning a love affair with boxing which still burns bright nearly a quarter of a century later.
It was Christine who was there through the highs and the lows, giving encouragement, praise and the occasional, as Welborn describes: “Kick up the a****.”
He explained: “There were a few things which went on in the week leading up to Warburton. I was still upset about mom.
“On the day of the fight I went to visit her grave, which I never normally do. I got upset and I wasn’t thinking right.
“Then there was the weight. I’d stopped a lad in the second round just three weeks before and I tried to hold the weight. It was a mistake.
“When I came out of the ring, I wasn’t even thinking about the result. I was just zapped.”
There are many fighters, particularly those who – like Welborn at the time - had two failed British title attempts on their record, who might have called it a day.
Not Welborn, who after a period of soul-searching and encouragement from his family came back with renewed purpose and, crucially, the financial backing which allowed him to give up the day job asphalting roads and focus on boxing full-time.
It was his long-time employer, Dean Hiscox, of Dudley’s Daneways Surfacing and Construction Contractors, who agreed to the sponsorship deal, though Welborn believes other forces were also at work.
“It’s funny,” he says. “Since mom has gone, the sponsorship has come, the fights have come, everything is suddenly going my way.
“It does make you wonder. With how I know her, how she thinks, it is like she is putting things in my way.
“She is obviously doing what she can now to help me, I really believe that.
“When you look back on my career, it has been a rollercoaster. There have been times when I have nearly called it a day but something has always happened to push me back into it.
“It’s as though someone is saying ‘you’re not finished yet’. I believe that is mom giving me a kick up the a***.
“I’m a big believer in stuff like that. I will know when my time is over in this sport and it ain’t over yet.”
Another key to Welborn’s resurgence was his return, 12 months ago, to Wednesbury Boxing Club and trainer Errol Johnson.
Together the pair came up with a gameplan to secure a shot at British champion Langford.
Welborn went into that fight at Walsall Town Hall as an underdog but emerged with the belt after a split decision victory.
His win in September’s televised re-match was supposed to set up a defence against Mark Heffron before, out of the blue, came the call from America.
Welborn explains how he returned home from a night out with friends to find several missed calls from Johnson.
“It was about a week after the second Langford fight and I’d planned some time off,” he explains. “I’d had a bit to drink so when Errol was saying ‘world title shot’ down the phone, it took a while to sink in!
“My mind was made up there and then. The next day I was back in the gym training.”
He continues: “There were some good fights for me at British level. The Lonsdale belt is lovely and I would have liked to win it outright.
“But boxing is a business and you have to get what you can out of it. If I win on Saturday, then who knows what is next? It is a short career and financially I could set my kids up.”
In order to stand any chance, Welborn knows he must also come to terms with the culture shock from his first-ever fight outside the UK and only his fourth to have taken place outside the West Midlands.
Both Rachel and youngest daughter Demi-Rose have made the trip to try and ensure the last week has been as close to normal life as possible, some 5,000 miles away from home.
“I have my guard up, knowing I am out of my area. But I am ready for anything,” he says.
“I am just going to enjoy it and soak it all up. I am treating it as though it is my last fight. I have to put everything into this.
“I have the team round me, my family. I want to feel like I am at home. Everything has to be the same as it is here.
“I am treating it like it is Walsall Town Hall. A ring is a ring, anywhere you put it.
“The build-up and the surrounding is different but it is still a fight and when that bell goes, no matter all this publicity and all the doubters, there is just going to be me and him in that ring.
“The belts are on the line and I can change my life by winning this fight. That’s why I have put myself through the last eight weeks.”
Tonight Welborn will walk into the ring with his head clear, knowing he could have done no more to prepare.
If he wins and shocks the world, then his first destination upon returning to the Black Country has already been determined.
“I’ll be taking the belts to my mom,” he said. “I think then she would rest in peace. I don’t think she will rest until I have got everything I can out of boxing, whether that is now or in a few fights time.”
Welborn pauses, mulling it all over one more time.
“I look back on 2018 and I won the British title, defended it, got married, moved home and now boxing for a world title,” he says.
“It’s been 13 years of hard work, going back even further than that to when I was a kid. The ups the downs, the highs and lows of boxing and life.
“I have been knocked down, lost the closest person to me. I have gone through all that. Now I feel as though nothing else can possibly hurt me.”