The man who never gave up: Philip Bowes interview

Ezio Prapotnich
20/11/2019 11:00pm

Photo: Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Philip Bowes tells Ezio Prapotnich why he never gave up on his dreams, as he aims to add a British title to his Commonwealth strap against Akeem Ennis-Brown...

“I got into this to make a name for myself and my friends and family proud. I’m doing it for the veterans and anyone else who never gave up on his dreams, like I did. This is a way for me to be able to give something back to my community”. - Philip Bowes

When the going gets tough, the tough ones get going. And it was tough from the very start for Commonwealth super lightweight champion Philip Bowes (20-3, 3 KOs). He started his professional career at 28 years of age with very little expectations in terms of profit.

It takes a deeper type of drive than money to motivate a man to venture in the toughest game of them all at such a later stage of their life and against all advice. You just got to believe it.

Bowes kept believing, even after three defeats in as many title challenges. Now 35, he is finally a champion and has a chance to add the vacant 140lbs Lonsdale belt to his record if he defeats c0-challenger Akeem Ennis-Brown (13-0, 1 KO) when they meet at York Hall on a 29 November Mickey Helliett card.

BM: What is your background and how did you get into boxing?
PB: I come from a working-class family of Jamaican heritage. I got interested in boxing when I was four years old, at the time when Mike Tyson came around. My mum was not too keen on it, she feared I could get brain damage from fighting. My dad stood up for me and explained her accidents could happen anywhere and anytime, not just in boxing. Still, I did not actually join a gym until I was seventeen, although I did martial arts competitively before. I started at Broad Street ABC in Shadwell, then I took four years out and returned at Repton, where I won National Titles. I also represented Jamaica in the Commonwealth Games losing in a quarter-final.

BM: Is that when you decided to turn pro?
PB: No, it was my goal from beginning. After losing at the Commonwealth Games, I took two years off just to have fun with my friends. I was disheartened for not achieving my amateur goals but felt I had unfinished business with boxing so I decided to have a go at the pro game and see what would happen. All the pros I knew advised me against it. They said that without an Olympic medal and a promoter, I would be just stuck trying to sell tickets. They did not understand that it wasn’t about the money for me. I accepted anything that came with the territory, went with it and here I am today.

BM: How did you feel after losing three title challenges and what kept you going?
PB: I accepted I lost and, once I understood exactly the reasons why, all three experiences became assets in rebuilding my career. When I fought Joe Hughes for the Southern Area belt, I had never lost before and felt invincible, also underestimating him because he had one defeat. He was a seasoned operator and taught me there are levels in this game. It really opened my eyes but I was still fired up and went straight into another Southern Area title shot against Johnny Coyle instead of going back to the drawing board and having a warm-up fight. Put that down to inexperience too. It would have not happened had my current manager Mickey Helliet been already on board. Both him and Leon McKenzie were great additions to my team in terms of the wealth of experience they bring. Two years later I fought Glen Foot for the English belt and I honestly believe I won that fight but the referee preferred his aggression and brute force. That was a different type of lesson: I learned that there is more to boxing than skills. Again, I accepted it, integrated and moved on.

BM: Coincidentally, Glen Foot lost the English title in the very next fight against your current co-challenger Ennis-Brown. Is there anything we can read into this that might be relevant when the two of you meet?
PB: First of all, I don’t think I lost that fight. Second, Foot’s style has no similarities with mine. He is a brawler and a slugger. Style makes fights and Akeem’s style and mine match our physical appearance: his is awkward and ugly, mine is beautiful.

BM: Is there a personal element to this fight?
PB: We used to be friends but he disrespected me when he chose to call me out on social media instead of just speaking to me directly. He is talked himself into it now let’s see how he fights his way out.

BM: He stated that this is the last chance saloon for you. How do you feel about that?
PB: Every fight is make or break. I learned that in my career. Boxing is full of surprises. I am not looking past him and neither should he.

BM: Experience aside, what other factors are in your advantage?
PB: I am faster than him. People say he is slick but he is not: he is awkward. They’re two different things. Also, he still fights like an amateur, running away from shots.

BM: Are you keeping an eye on the Golden Contract super lightweight tournament this Friday? Would you consider fighting the winner?
PB: No, I am just thinking of Ennis-Brown. Also, I pick Ohara Davies to win it and I would not want a fight with him. He is a friend of mine. We could have fought before but neither of us wanted it and we’ll keep it that way.

BM: Realistically, what are your short and long term career objectives at 35 years of age?
PB: Short term is to win the British title, then the European or an International title might be of interest. We’ll see what happens.

BM: Any objectives outside of the ring?
PB: I am planning to open a Boxing Academy in Leytonstone, where I was born, in order to help the community in the fight against knife crime and to support people suffering from mental health issues.

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