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Matt Maher: Sam Eggington's taxing journey can lead to the top of the world

You could never accuse Sam Eggington of taking the easy route.

HENNESSY SPORTS CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING.SKYDOME-COVENTRY   .PIC LAWRENCE LUSTIG.SILVER MIDDLEWEIGHT.SAM EGGINGTON V CARLOS MOLINA.
HENNESSY SPORTS CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING.SKYDOME-COVENTRY .PIC LAWRENCE LUSTIG.SILVER MIDDLEWEIGHT.SAM EGGINGTON V CARLOS MOLINA.

A professional boxing career which began nearly a decade ago in a Swansea nightclub would hit new heights tomorrow should he beat Poland’s Przemyslaw Zsyk at Coventry Skydome and become a world champion in his 39th fight.

“If you had told me at the start I would have got here this way, I would probably have given up a long time before now,” he smiles.

“But having done it and lived it, as dangerous as this sport is, it has been fun. I could have flown up to the top and hit every title along the way.

“Instead it has been hard and mentally tough more than anything else. It has been a long road. But I am here now.”

Winning the IBO super middleweight title would see Eggington become the first Black Country boxer to win a world title since Rob Norton, his fellow Stourbridge resident, lifted the WBU cruiserweight belt in 1999. This really is rarefied air.

Yet the enormity of the achievement would largely be wasted on Eggington, for whom a lack of romanticism has proven a strength since he decided to turn pro aged just 18 following the birth of his son, Layton. From the start, boxing was about providing the best possible life for his family and though talent has taken him further than he dreamed and brought titles at both British and European level, the outlook has never changed.

“That’s still the case,” he says. “Titles are great, don’t get me wrong. But they don’t pay the bills.

“Someone asked me the other day if I had the choice of fighting for a world title or having a non-title fight which could set my family up financially forever, which would I choose? For me, it is easy. The main goal is still to earn as much as I can and if titles come with that, then great.”

Layton, who celebrates his 11th birthday today, has since been joined by younger brother Kai and sister Laila. Have the kids seen him fight?

“They have but it doesn’t bother them that much,” he says. “They don’t know anything else. They would be more shocked if I went and got a job driving a delivery van.

“The kids know I am out running at stupid o’clock in the morning, training every day. They see that as normal.”

Whatever happens from now, boxing has already paid for the family home in Amblecote and Eggington admits: “It has worked out better than I could have predicted. I wanted to be a journeyman, who could maybe fight for titles. I’ve done more than I expected.

“Boxing has done me really well. But is also a very dangerous and selfish sport.

“It’s a hard life. There’s a lot people don’t see. A lot think you get in the ring, get paid and live a dream. After my last fight I couldn’t take the kids to school for days because my eyes had to clear. There are a lot of tough moments.”

Turning professional at such a young age and without any kind of established fanbase meant Eggington, who boxed as an amateur for Warley ABC, faced the toughest road to the top.

Victory on debut in south Wales, against previously unbeaten hometown prospect Leon Findlay, was a minor shock in itself.

“Nobody gave Sam a chance that night,” recalls Jon Pegg, his trainer at Birmingham’s Eastside gym who has been with him from the start.

From there, Eggington made headway through a willingness to keep busy and take chances. The first two of his seven defeats came on Prizefighter shows, where his all-action style caught the eye of promoter Barry Hearn and ensured there would be further opportunities in the pipeline. More often than not, Eggington has taken them.

A reputation as arguably Britain’s most entertaining fighter is deserved. Eggington has, after all, been involved in the last two fights of the year, including last September’s brutal bout with Bilel Jkitou, during which he threw 1,317 punches on his way to ending the Frenchman’s unbeaten record.

Yet there is also a sense the label has, at times, distracted from the ability which has seen him win titles and continually rebound from setbacks.

The biggest of those came in August, 2020, with a points defeat to Ted Cheeseman in their battle for the IBF international title.

Eggington explains: “After the Cheeseman fight I was thinking: ‘Am I wasting my time here?’

“There have been a few times when I have thought, what now? After every loss I had to sit and think: ‘Can I actually do something here, or am I just getting punched for no reason?’

“I’ve been lucky to have good people around me who have given me good advice. Together we’ve made the right decisions.”

It was Pegg who, after the loss to Cheeseman, convinced Eggington to keep going, insisting there was still a path available to him. Three successful fights later, he is braced for the biggest moment of his career to date, with the potential for even bigger to come should he leave Coventry a world champion.

“Anyone who has watched my career knows I don’t plan. I just take the next opportunity,” he says.

“I could not even guess at what might happen next. All I can do is make sure I win on Saturday, so the opportunity is still there. Hopefully, this is the big one.”

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