Redemption song: Charlie Duffield interview

Oliver McManus
17/07/2019 6:20pm

Photo: Leigh Dawney/Getty Images

Light heavyweight Charlie Duffield tells Oliver McManus that overcoming adversity has only made him stronger ahead of his showdown with Dan Azeez this weekend...

Three years since an out-of-sorts Charlie Duffield stepped into the York Hall ring for a seemingly innocuous bout with Vladimir Idranyi, a perennial loser in the light-heavyweight division, the 31-year-old finds himself staring down the barrel of redemption.

That night saw Duffield, battling his own internal demons, suffer a shock defeat but it was a required wake-up call that prompted him to open up; 1,136 days later, not that he’s counting, on Saturday July 20 he fights for his first professional title.

Talking from a hotel room in Loughborough, Duffield began by telling Boxing Monthly how he’d revamped his training camp for his upcoming Southern Area contest against Dan Azeez.

“I’ve come up here, essentially, at Dillian [Whyte’s] invitation - he’s like my big brother - and he’d invited me beforehand but at the time I had just had my little girl so it was just too soon; now I’m here it is a whole different level. It’s all different every day and they’re all pretty brutal, as we get closer to the fight we’re upping the game but just being around Dillian and the team is phenomenal.

"I’ve got more fire in my belly, definitely. I want to succeed in life and I just had a new-born baby, I’ve been away from her training, and I’ve got a little girl who’s two-and-a-half. It’s very hard, I miss them to bits, and my wife, but this is what you’ve got to do to be a champion and it’s giving me that passion to put in the hard work so it doesn’t go to waste and they can be proud of me. July 20 you’re going to see a different animal in the ring.”

Mark Tibbs, manager and trainer, came on board following that dramatic loss, with Duffield formerly trained by Jamie Williams out of Dagenham’s Legend’s Gym. Leaving Williams was a tough decision for the loyal Duffield but "having his eyes opened" from the loss and words from his father, a long time advocate for Tibbs’ methods, prompted the change and its subsequent impact is undeniable.

“He’s changed me massively as a fighter and a man; he’s an inspiration to succeed in life and he’s that person that’s always happy, even when he’s not happy, he’s happy, if you know what I mean. He’s got that way about him. He knows all the best tactics and you just listen to him, he knows everything about boxing and he speaks from his heart. It’s not just like he’s our coach, he’s also like a second dad with the way he carries himself and keeps an eye out for us, I’ve got to thank him for what he’s done for me.

“A part of me does wish that I would have started [my career] with him because maybe I would have already been Southern Area champion and I’d be fighting for something bigger by this point. My career might be in a different place, but saying that, some things happen for a reason and I think that the loss and me not being right in the head mentally made me switch and go with him”

Indeed the partnership with Tibbs has prompted opportunities on the big stage for Duffield, Tibbs also trains Dillian Whyte, and it’s that friendship with Whyte that has seen the Canning Town light-heavyweight rewarded with a slot on the undercard to Whyte vs Rivas.

“When it first got made it was meant to be at the end of June on one of the MTK cards on iFL and I was over the moon at that but being on the bigger show has made it that extra bit special. It’s nice, as well, knowing that it’s the fight Dillian wanted because he does his own undercards and that belief in me means the world. It’s sort of like the start of a dream so now I’ve just got to go accomplish my dream and win that belt.

“Obviously [it’s a chance to impress] because if I put in a good performance then there’s every chance Dillian will want me back but Eddie might have a little look and then suddenly all the doors start to open. It’s a real good opportunity, as well, I’ve not had enough time [in his previous fights] to show my best because in the four and six rounders I’m only just starting to get going.”

Of his previous eight contests Duffield has only ever gone past four rounds once and since the turn of 2018 he’s notched up ten rounds - against Callum Ide, Reinis Porozovs and Josip Perkovic. That lack of ‘championship action’ doesn’t faze the Canning Town light-heavy, who was scheduled to fight in February. Furthermore, as he pointed out, his opponent Azeez has only ever gone past four rounds twice himself.

Moreover Duffield insisted he was “fighting with a weight off [his] shoulders” without an unbeaten record to protect and that nights like 20 July still get him pinching himself “like a big kid in a sweet shop”.

“It’s a great night, especially for the Mark Tibbs team, you’ve got Whyte vs Rivas, Richard [Riakporhe] against [Chris] Billam Smith and myself against Dan Azeez so it might be hard to make headlines but I’ll give it my best. Just being a part of it is enough to get me going, if I’m honest, and as we get closer to fight night I’m getting more and more excited.

“Sometimes you like that little bit of a scrap when you’re involved in a big fight like this because people talk about it more but sometimes you just want no hassle and everything to go your own way. Obviously you want to get in the ring and take as [little] punishment as possible but sometimes you’ve got to take a punch in order to find success and everyone loves a war, I love a war. I prefer it when I’m watching them but as a fighter you don’t get many of these moments so you just want to give it your all and go for it.”

The death of his brother Dean, who took his own life, and Charlie’s own personal gambling addiction prompted a real dark spell for the lifelong West Ham fan. His wife, who Charlie frequently referred to as ‘his rock’, served as the encouragement behind the family man opening up publicly about his struggles.

Since then Duffield has become an advocate for mental health awareness, determined to educate others about the dangers of keeping quiet, and a win this weekend would mean more for him than just the Southern Area title - it’s an opportunity to "prove Dean right, [who] always said I’d be a champion".

“If I win it would [also] be the biggest thank you to my beautiful wife for not letting me give up," Duffield added. "But, also, it would show myself how far I’ve come mentally over the last couple years. It would show me and my family that anything is possible even when you’ve been down and out. You suffer from your hard times and you come back.

"There was a time in my life where I just hid everything and I didn’t know, in my head, if it would be better for me to just go away - I went to bed and cried myself to sleep each night but it’s made me a stronger man. All of that has made me a stronger man so for me to look up and say to my brother ‘Dean, we did it, that’s for you bro’ would mean more than the belt itself.”