'Good job it’s working out this time': Chris Jenkins interview
Photo: James Chance/Getty Images
Welshman Chris Jenkins talks to Oliver McManus ahead of his defence of his British Welterweight title this weekend in Birmingham...
British welterweight champion Chris Jenkins defends his title this coming Saturday against Liam Taylor. The Welshman faces his mandatory challenger on a stacked bill in Birmingham and Boxing Monthly caught up with him ahead of fight night.
Having suffered a nasty cut against Paddy Gallagher in August, Jenkins began by putting to bed any fears that his recuperation was rushed.
“I’ve been getting some good sparring with Robbie Davies Jr and Kaisee Benjamin who is the Midlands champion. I’ve been in with Mardeudd Thomas [a 9-0 stablemate of Jenkins] as well so I’m feeling as though I’ve had a strong camp. Obviously I went on holiday after the last fight and I needed that, I’ll be honest, but I’m feeling fresh and I’ll have been in the gym for ten weeks come fight night."
As he speaks and looks to expand on the nature of his camp, the babbling of Jenkins' youngest son grows louder. The father of three needs no prompting to explain his continued motivation: “That’s why I do it: the kids. It takes the financial burden off and eases the pressure around Christmas, really. I would love to be able to have something physical, as well, to hand down to them; hopefully I’ll defend the British outright in February or March for them.”
The Swansea man has often spoken at length about his family, and when he talks about them to BM his voice starts to quaver slightly. His emotion is rooted in the not too distant past when he nearly had to walk away from boxing in order to work full time to pay the bills.
“My boys are only young - the twins are seven and the little one is eighteen months - and I want to be there as they grow up," he said. "If I can give another 12-18 months to this sport and get as much as I can from it then I’ll be happy. I’m 31 now and I’ve always said I was a British level fighter and I just want to win this outright. It’s crazy how much I want that belt. I don’t like to think about it too much because when I do, even speaking to you about it, I get goosebumps.”
It’s been a whirlwind 12 months since suffering back-to-back technical decisions, against Darragh Foley and Akeem Ennis-Bown. Feeling flat and picking up cuts, Jenkins questioned his role in the sport - was there anything left for him to get out of it? After two unsuccessful British title challenges at super lightweight the decision was made to have one final crack at welterweight. Even for the most wildly of optimistic men the rewards throughout 2019 have been a little hard to grasp, Jenkins told me.
“I could never have felt this happening, to be honest. Gary [Lockett] has always told me 'the older you get the better you’ll box' and it’s true. After the Darragh Foley fight [in August 2018] I was in a terrible place and I was going to give the sport up. I’ve been given opportunities in 2019 and I’ve taken them: I’m British and Commonwealth champion. I phoned Gary one day after I’d signed with Frank [Warren] just to say 'oh Gary, I’m on Frank’s website' - that was a dream come true, as well.”
His change in fortunes within the ring owe a lot to Lockett. The talented coach is developing a real stable of talent that are all bobbing out from under the radar. His gym in Cardiff is churning out champions, and future champions, at a rate of knots.
His 31-year-old welterweight charge is in no doubt that Lockett has found the formula for success.
“I’m a big believer that success breeds success and Gary has got himself a really good group of fighters. We’ve got Nathan Thorley, a cruiserweight, and we learn off each other when we’re sparring; Maredudd is 9-0 and getting better; Fred Evans who was at the Olympics and he’s so good technically; then you’ve got Rhys Edwards and Jay Harris. The gym is thriving and everyone is sort of knocking on the door for a title so, yeah, it’s so much easier being a part of that environment.”
Last time out Rok’n’Rolla added the Commonwealth title to his collection by beating Paddy Gallagher. The third belt of his career and already allocated to his youngest son. Against Gallagher he suffered a cut - that’s nothing new in Jenkins’ career - and a body shot dropped him in the sixth. The cut saw the fight stopped in the ninth and sent to the scorecards - 86-85 going his way was the verdict across the board.
There was a storm of controversy in the aftermath; with some vociferous in their belief that Gallagher deserved the victory. The contest itself was a gripping one but Jenkins returned to Wales content with his performance.
“It went according to plan, mostly. He was tough in the first few rounds but I boxed well off the backfoot for the rest of the rounds, I felt. Yes I was on the backfoot but I was jabbing left, right and centre. We hit heads in round four and I got cut, cut in the eight as well, and he dropped me in the sixth.
"I felt I won every round but the sixth and the fourth, to be honest. At the end of the day there were three judges scoring the fight and they all had me winning - all by the same margin and it’s not often you see them all score the same.”
That first defence of his British title, won in sensational fashion against Johnny Garton, took place in Belfast. Part of the anticipated homecoming for Michael Conlan held in Falls Park. The grandeur of the occasion didn’t really sink in until slightly too late.
“It was just another day in the office but when they said I was boxing outside I thought ‘hang on, I’ll be boxing in a bloody field!’. I got there and we were getting changed in a portacabin with three or four different fighters so there weren’t much room. When I was walking through all the people I was getting booed but you get in the ring, look out, and think 'woah, this is a big event.'
"I switched myself on after that and had a few beers when I got out. I’ve kind of become the travelling fighter nowadays - a road warrior. It’s been a while since I’ve fought in Wales [2017 against Arvydas Trizno].”
Now Jenkins finds himself on the road again, something he’s become used to, fighting in Birmingham on 30 November. It has been known for a few months that he and Taylor would cross paths but Jenkins is determined not to put stock into previous performances.
“I don’t really watch too much [of opponents] but I know he’s a tall fighter - a little bit taller than me - and likes to just stick to the boxing. He’s beat Tyrone Nurse but Nurse is on the slide and I know a number of people think Nurse should have won the fight. The world is full of opinions though so you can’t pay too much attention to what people say; I’ll be at my best come 30 November and I believe I’ll look good in doing so. Plus I get to stay in a hotel overnight and get some peace and quiet afterwards!”
To round off 2019 with a win would see the resurgent Welshman one fight away from keeping the Lord Lonsdale belt. His turn in form has been the stuff of literal dreams but, in equal fashion, the just rewards to a lifelong dedication to the sport.
“I’ve had the ability for a while but I’m showcasing it now. This year has been incredible for me but no-one seems to be talking about me. I’m not even getting in the local paper where I live but I think I’m a half decent boxer. It’s been a rollercoaster few years and my wife has stuck with me through all the bad years; and there has been a lot of bad years.
"She used to work in a care home but she’s put her job on hold to help me make my dreams a reality and I don’t think she’ll ever know how grateful I am.”
The likeable family man has rolled the dice dozens of times throughout his career; since winning Prizefighter in 2013 he has slogged hard to become British and Commonwealth champion.
On more than one occasion the easier option has been to hang up the gloves but Jenkins has always said ‘next time will be different’'.
As we conclude our conversation it feels as though the gravity of his turnaround has begun to sink in. One almighty sigh follows, as he concludes: “good job it’s working out this time!”