John Wayne Hibbert: 'The Duke' of Essex
“It’s been a long time coming for me, I’ve been going about my business quietly, but I am happy it’s happened and am excited about it all,” stated “John” Wayne Hibbert, 15-2 (9 KOs), when speaking to Boxing Monthly about a recent ring revival that has seen him go from small hall slots to three successive undercard assignments at London's O2 Arena (W TKO 8 and W KO 5 over Tyler Goodjohn and Leonardo Esteban Gonzalez respectively with a bout against Dave Ryan for the light-welterweight Commonwealth belt at the same venue on Saturday night).
“There’s a lot more to come, I can get involved in even bigger fights.”
The 30-year-old from Horndon-on-the-Hill, Essex underlined his fine recent form by defeating Goodjohn on promoter Eddie Hearn’s bumper January show at London’s O2 Arena, his first defence of the WBC International light-welterweight belt.
Since teaming up with former fighter turned manager and promoter Carl Greaves, Hibbert has not looked back - his sole defeat under Greaves came against Ryan (L10) in 2013 [see video], a decision he disputes; his only other loss came against Kevin McIntyre in 2011's Prizefighter: The Welterweights tournament, which he readily admits he wasn't ready for after only seven pro fights, all wins. Hibbert is satisfied with the win over Tyler Goodjohn, especially as the pre-fight verbals between the two grew heated as the fight loomed.
“Tyler said quite a bit,” he admitted. “In some ways it could have been seen as quite disrespectful, but that’s probably his way of getting himself motivated - that’s what people do. And you do have to put a bit of stick out there to sell a fight. I’m just glad I got the stoppage, which I predicted.
“Tyler’s got a lot of heart, he wanted it so much, and, deep down, it was heart-breaking for him. He said: ‘Fair play,’ to me afterwards and hopefully he can bounce back. Good luck to him in the future. This fight was a very big fight for us both. Domestically, there was a lot riding on it, I know it meant a lot to him and equally it meant as much to me.”
Shortly after winning the biggest fight of his career thus far, Hibbert went back to his day job of laying floors. Sponsorship deals and fight purses means that he can train full-time, however he prefers to go out and put in a hard day’s graft.
“I’ve been out working today,” he said. “I’ve started camp, but it keeps me motivated. On days when I’m not training too much, I’ll fit a little bit of work in to earn a little bit more money and keep me level-headed.”
Mark Bates, his trainer, works alongside him. That must make it hard when it wants to snaffle the odd bacon sandwich during his lunch break. “He’s my trainer, not my strength and conditioner - he’ll stick a bacon buttie right in my face,” he said with a laugh.
“Nah, he’s good. To be honest, the diet is the hardest thing in boxing, so when you’re doing some work you’ll have to take your own food in - a little pot of rice and tuna for one meal, and a little pot of rice and chicken for another.
“I’m not going to lie, I don’t do the weight easily. Apart from the likes of Carl Froch, weight is a massive issue for most fighters. Unless you’re in that fortunate position where you can be strong at your walking around weight, which I’m not - it isn’t an easy task.
“It’s a very lonely sport, if you think about it, because you’re on your own losing that weight. Unless you’ve boxed, you can’t understand. We’re getting ourselves right for the fight, getting our head right, and for the best part of eighteen hours a day you’re thinking about what you’ve got to do in the ring. You’re doing the weight and the slightest little thing can tick you off.”
Hibbert’s recent success rests on his ability to shift tickets, a key aspect of boxing. “I did 630 odd for my last fight,” he revealed. “I think it will go up even more for the next fight. It’s a promoter’s dream. My dad helps me out a hell of a lot - he did about 100 last time. You’ve got to look at your character as well; people won’t watch you if you haven’t got a bit about yourself and you’re not an exciting fighter.”
Indeed, selling a lot of tickets didn’t do a certain Ricky Hatton, a boxer Hibbert grew up watching, any harm. “Ricky is a credit to the sport, he’s had his ups and down, but he is a genuine man who is down-to-earth and would give anyone the time of day - that’s a brilliant way to be,” he said.
January’s success led to a meeting with Eddie Hearn, who was pleased with his promotional charge, offering Hibbert another decent opportunity and a chance to avenge one of his defeats when he meets Ryan live on Sky Sports Box Office; he is happy with his career trajectory since he started earning with Hearn.
It would be remiss of me to close this out without a single John Wayne pun; as long as Hibbert continues to duke it out with the best opponents he can meet, shows true grit and keeps the ticket sales going strong he’ll be in constant demand win, lose or draw.
Boxing tends to be a male-driven and dominated sport - although that is changing and it could prove to be a change for the better over time. Our passion for the game is passed down the paternal bloodline - from grandfather to father to son - like a family heirloom or a curse, depending on how much political nonsense is floating around the sport at any given time.
My grandfather was a long-time boxing fan, still keeping in touch with the sport despite the chicanery, the horrible fragmentation of titles and the ludicrous decisions of the various governing bodies. The heavyweights were his chief fascination, whenever a young pretender was derailed, he’d sagely nod his head and declare: “He’s no Joe Louis”, using the ‘Louie’ pronunciation that he had grown up with.
Wayne Hibbert’s grandfather, John, also followed the sport right until his death, playing a vital posthumous role in his grandson’s rise through the ranks and inspiring Wayne to adopt the “John” Wayne ring moniker.
Furthermore, John was the one who arrested the young former amateur’s descent into drinking and partying with a few choice words, advice that Hibbert took to heart and which he credits as the starting point of his ring revival.
“When I was boxing as an amateur, I gave it all up at 17 and went and did what lads do,” Hibbert told BM.
“Just before he died, getting back into boxing was the one thing my granddad wanted me to do, so I promised him that I’d go and win a British title for him - I’ve got every intention of doing that. I’d go out and beat anyone for my granddad. You’ve seen it in the last few fights, I look into the air and think: ‘I’m one step closer for you’, and I will get there. I will win it for him.”
“He passed just as I was getting back into it,” he added. “I’m not religious, but I’d like to think that he’s up there looking down at me with pride. I know he was very proud when I won the Schoolboys title and boxed for England (as an amateur), so I hope I’m still making him proud now. Along with my other granddad, who is still alive and comes to watch me fight. It means the world to me to make him and my whole family, friends and supports proud.”
By his own admission, Hibbert was a tearaway during his late-teenage years, drifting away from the sport and towards the pubs. The words of advice from his grandfather halted this spiral, but John didn’t live long enough to see his grandson turn things around. Hibbert, though, believes that his grandfather would have been appreciated the way he changed his life trajectory.
He said: “I’m the only person to have boxed in my family. My grandfather didn’t box - he was a pianist - but I was a bit of a toerag as a youngster, as I imagine most boxers were, so my dad sent me to the gym to get a little discipline.”
It wasn’t just the advice that helped, either, as Hibbert soon realised that the life he was leading could have led him into prison if he didn’t find something to focus on.
“I’m glad I got out of that way of life and dedicated myself to what I’m doing,” he declared. “If I didn’t change, I could have gone down the road of being in and out of prison, I’m glad I didn’t live that life and have a lovely little family who will grow up being proud of me.”