Sam Eggington: Accidental champion

John A. MacDonald
03/10/2015 11:19am

Young fighters might dream of capturing world titles, but lack the talent to match their aspirations. This was not the case for Sam Eggington, whose ability far surpassed his goals.

At just 18, Eggington found himself unemployed and with a young family to support. Having had 31 amateur bouts as a junior, he sought to earn some money in the ring. Boxing was not a career he had ever considered – amateur boxing was just a way to set himself apart from his friends. He wasn’t looking to be a champion, not even a contender.

Eggington approached Midlands-based trainer/manager Jon Pegg about becoming an ‘away corner’ fighter. Pegg had a look at Eggington sparring and took him on.

“I was a forklift driver and the only reason I turned professional was I got made redundant and I had a son,” Eggington told Boxing Monthly over the phone from his Stourbridge home. “If I didn’t have a son, I probably wouldn’t have boxed because I would just have tried to find another job in the meantime.

“It’s a mad story. People don’t believe me when I tell them, but for me to get in to boxing was – literally – a fluke. People think I’m trying to tell them a Rocky story, but it’s the truth.

“I went to Jon’s gym and said: ‘Any chance of putting me on the road as a journeyman so I can earn a bit of money?’ Jon said: ‘Get in the ring, do some sparring.’ I sparred with Cello Renda, Max Maxwell and Terry Carruthers. Then we went away for the first fight and fought a kid who was 4-0 [Leon Findlay who was actually 2-0-1 at the time] and I beat him so the journeyman thing went tits-up straight away.”

Eggington (16-2, 9 KOs) displayed his potential as a three-fight novice with a valiant – but ultimately unsuccessful - effort against Dale Evans in the quarter-finals of Prizefighter The Welterweights III. He built on that performance by capturing the Midlands Area welterweight title against Steven Pearce (TKO 7) and Dave Ryan (W10) in an English title eliminator – a contest he still describes as his toughest.

These experiences left him better prepared when he entered Prizefighter a second time, 15 months on from his initial appearance. After an eye-catching quarter-final performance, Eggington found himself on the wrong side of a controversial decision against eventual winner Johnny Coyle.

Despite his stock being higher than ever, he almost walked away from the sport shortly afterwards. He found the rigours of training difficult to balance with raising two young sons whilst working in a factory.

“I was ready to quit,” he said. “I was boxing for the Midlands [Area] title and I was getting £1,200 and I was coming out looking like a panda. I thought: ‘You know what, you just don’t get enough money and obviously it’s not going anywhere,’ Then Matchroom offered me a fight with Denton Vassell so I thought: ‘If anything is going to give me a push it’s going to be this. I’ll put it all in to this and if nothing comes after I’ll pack it in.’”

For Eggington, the Vassell fight was the pivotal moment for his boxing career. To give himself every opportunity he quit his job to focus on his preparation. This sacrifice paid off, as the youngster started brightly then went on to weather an onslaught from his more experienced opponent in the middle rounds before rallying, obliging Richie Davies to halt the contest in the eighth round.

Eggington displayed a confidence and maturity beyond his years, which is even more staggering as he reveals he found himself on the canvas in sparring against Vassell in the past.

“I’m fine when I’m boxing someone who should beat me,” he confessed. “I’ve got no nerves then, they should beat me. If they win, they were meant to. If I win then it’s all to my gain. It’s when I fight people I should beat that I get nervous.

“I knew Denton was strong. I’d sparred him before the fight and he dropped me twice in sparring. I’d only had two fights, I was 18 and he dropped me twice with body shots but I still knew if it turns in to a tear-up nine out of 10 times I will always come out on top.”

On the back of the performance, Eggington was signed to the Matchroom Sport promotional outfit. Uniquely, it was not Eddie Hearn but his father Barry who initially spotted his potential. The veteran promoter, who last year was inducted in to the International Boxing Hall of Fame, took interest in Eggington after his second Prizefighter appearance and has played a big part in his career ever since.

The 21-year-old realises he is in a very unique and privileged position, even if he finds the praise lavished on him somewhat surreal.

“It’s amazing. Barry has told me a few times: ‘Every boxer in England wants to be in your position.’ They’ve got loads of Matchroom fighters but no one is Barry Hearn’s project, but he said: ‘That’s you. Put the work in and we’ll have a good go.’ I’m lucky. I didn’t expect to win a Midlands [Area] title, never mind being here.

“When we are in the office and we are talking and he’s saying these things, I don’t really take it in. It’s not until we are on the motorway on the way home and I realise he’s actually said these things. It takes a while but when it sinks in it makes me do a bit more in the gym and push that bit harder.”

After beating Vassell, the next major challenge for Eggington was a fight against then unbeaten Shayne Singleton. In stark contrast to Vassell’s bullish aggression and brutish strength, Singleton looks to jab and move, and the stylistic conundrum worried Eggington who is in his element in a toe-to-toe war.

“I was nervous before that because I’d watched him take a good beating off Curtis Woodhouse and still run for 10 rounds,” he told BM. “I knew he could run for 10 rounds and stay in there and not collapse on his legs from being knackered. I’d seen him run for 10 rounds – literally run! He can pop out the jab and, if you don’t like what I’m throwing, it can go the other way so I was eager to get him out of there.”

Eggington’s concerns were misplaced as he dispatched Singleton the fifth round, having dropped him twice, once in the second and twice in the fifth.

Having captured the vacant Commonwealth welterweight title against – the over-matched – Joseph Lamptey in May, Eggington looked to add the British title to his ever-increasing trophy cabinet against Glenn Foot at Manchester Arena in July.

The contest was expected to be a brutal one, but Eggington showed he is capable of finesse as well as ferocity as he outboxed the former England amateur captain. An accidental clash of heads forced the fight to be stopped at the end of the eight round with Eggington coming out a clear and comfortable winner on points (80-71, 79-72, 80-72).

The manner in which he won came as a shock even to Eggington himself who felt the bout would – eventually - develop into the brawl which had been anticipated.

“I didn’t expect it to be that easy,” he said. “I expected to win, don’t get me wrong. I always expect to win but I didn’t expect it to be that easy. I though I was going to have a tough, gruelling fight but it is what it is. To be fair, I did think I’d stop him late on though but I thought it would be harder to do that but it was plain sailing as the fight went on.

“I was gutted [that the fight was stopped]. Obviously, at the time the fight was called off, I was buzzing because I knew I’d won. Afterwards it sunk in, I could have got a good stoppage and, if not, I could have got my first 12-round clear victory. I was a bit gutted to be fair but I suppose all that matters is the win.”

Now British and Commonwealth champion at the age of 21, Eggington still struggles to comprehend what he has accomplished but his new-found success hasn’t changed his mind-set – his primary goal remains to provide for his family.

“It was unreal [winning the British title]. I never expected it at all. Not one bit. Winning the Midlands [Area] title was massive so to get to where I am now is mad. It’s not even like a dream come true because I never thought about turning professional. I just lost my job and turned pro.

“I’m always saying, if I come out of boxing and I’ve got my own house then how could I have failed? That’s what I’m going for. As soon as I have my own house, I’ve accomplished what I’ve needed to. Anything after that is a bonus.”

Eggington faces his biggest test yet when he defends his British and Commonwealth crowns against former world amateur champion and IBF title challenger Frankie Gavin at the Barclaycard Arena, Birmingham, on 17 October