Ham ready to eat up the pressure
The night before travelling to India for the Commonwealth Games in September 2010 Joe Ham (7-0, 5 KOs) was inside Glasgow's Kelvin Hall.
The Kelvin Hall is a venue steeped in Scottish boxing folklore. One that staged Jim Watt’s victory over Alfredo Pitalua to win the vacant WBC World lightweight title in 1979.
It is a cauldron of noise that helped Ricky Burns to his first world title, a bout that will live long in the memory after Burns’ overcame what looked like the impossible, to take down the big punching Puerto Rican Roman Martinez after a horrendous first round.
As Burns became WBO World super featherweight champion, the 19-year-old Ham probably wasn’t expecting to be appearing on the same bill as him six years later.
“It’s unbelievable,” said the super bantamweight at the thought of appearing at The Hydro in Glasgow tomorrow night.
“The big shows haven’t been up in Scotland for a couple of years. It’s brilliant to be on the first one coming back after two years, so I'm buzzing to get on it and showcase what I can do.
“I was there when Ricky was up against Beltran, Crawford and Gonzalez and he didn’t seem to shine but since he’s been away he seems to have changed his attitude a bit.
“For years if the whole pressure of a nation is on you, you feel the effects. He’s been away down south and with a good group of boys down there. Hopefully everything he’s been working on comes up perfect and he shines on this show because he deserves it, and why not bow out on your career with a high of being a three-weight world champion and defending it a couple of times?”
As Burns enters the ring tomorrow night to take on Michele Di Rocco hoping to become Scotland’s first ever three-weight world champion, Ham will once again be on the edge of his seat ready to cheer on his compatriot after, hopefully, recording his eighth professional win.
It’s a far cry from the boy who started boxing just to lose some weight as he explains.
“I was fat!” was how the Glaswegian bluntly described himself.
“I was the same weight for my first fight as what I box at now. I was 12-years-old. I had my first fight at just over 54kgs and I now box at super bantam which is 55kgs. I had no expectations of my boxing. I hadn’t thought about it.
Ham would lose his first couple of fights, two experiences he hated but it would all change at the Scottish Amateur Championships in 2004.
“I won them and haven’t looked back,” said Ham.
“I didn’t turn to boxing and think I was going to be world champion, it was nothing like that. I had to work hard at it and then I got to 17/18 and started competing at international tournaments and I thought I can do well at this and I’ve never looked back.”
After having over 150 amateur fights, travelling the world and winning ten Scottish championships back-to-back, among other feats, Ham signed a deal to turn professional with Scottish boxing stalwart Alex Morrison.
Ham isn’t interested in the cautious attitude of the big tests coming “too soon” for him. He believes his amateur pedigree is more than enough to make up for the fact he has only had seven fights.
And witnessing the pressure that Ricky Burns has, at times, thrived under over the years, Ham wants handfuls more after experiencing a taste of it at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in his home city.
“I’ve had the experience of a whole nation in Glasgow on my shoulders,” said Ham. "I definitely want more of that."
Ham would lose out at the quarter-final stage to the talented Qais Ashfaq (0-3) in the bantamweight category, a moment that Ham describes as his biggest low as an amateur. Ham could have dwelled on it but he decided to move on in what he hopes will be the best possible way.
“I can try and win a Commonwealth title as a pro and that would kind of make up for it,” said Ham.
“I saw the world with so many great boys but it came to a point after Glasgow 2014 that nothing would ever beat that high of boxing in front of your home crowd as an amateur.
“Unfortunately I had to make the change to try for bigger things. It’s just worked out perfectly for me. Seven fights in just over a year so I can’t complain about that and it’s just perfect that the Hydro show has fell into place. I hope Ricky wins it, I think he will and hopefully it’ll create some more opportunities for us in the future.
“Hopefully the rollercoaster can continue.”