By Andy Watts: In May 2013 an upset occurred on an undercard in Liverpool when the relatively unknown Darren Hamilton beat the globe-trotting world ranked contender and British Champion Ashely ‘Treasure’ Theophane. With his first defense on 23rd February, this reporter wanted to find out the story behind this unlikely Champion. The feeling going in for most was that Theophane possessed too much experience, earned in the ring and in the gyms around the world for the far less experienced Hamilton. But sometimes a hungry fighter just needs his chance, and Hamilton had been on a personal and professional growth curve for a long time, as I was about to found out.
I’d first met Darren in 2009 at the Real Fight Club that was nestled between The City and trendy Shoreditch in London. I watched him work the heavy bag and do pad sessions with Harry Andrews, his coach and remember being impressed by the intensity and repetition of their work.
It had been several months since the biggest win of his career, when we sat down to talk over breakfast in a café on Old Street in London back in October, but the gravitas of it was still palpable. Darren recalled how as the verdict was announced “And the New…” he ran out of the ring in shock, disbelief and maybe a kind of ‘I told you so’ mini tantrum. Its was strange behavior but I began to understand why, as I found his story to be even more inspiring than the victory itself.
Four years ago Hamilton had left Bristol for London hoping to make a living as a personal trainer and achieve something or in realty anything as a professional boxer. It was a desperate time for him. Boxing since the age of 12 and winning Western and Northern area ABA’s he knew he had talent but wasn’t realising it. He’d tried his luck in London before and it hadn’t been very successful, he was run over by a taxi and the small amount of compensation that followed was quickly squandered and before long he was back to the gang life in Bristol and then even worse, he ended up in prison. It was a low point, with little direction and a bleak future.
This time though in 2008 it had to be different, it had to work out. “I was sleeping at the gym in a towel cupboard,” said Darren. “I’d worked in restaurants doing dishes and making burgers at McDonalds the first time I came to London and now wasn’t much better. It sounds like a cliché but its how it was.”
Darren was training here and there, but more through the feeling of guilt, you know that ‘I have to train because I haven’t done so for days or weeks thing’… Almost everyone who signs up to a swanky new gym or diet can relate to this feeling, but as a professional boxer, this does not cut it.
He met Spencer Fearon, who was in start-up mode at the time as a promoter and things began to change. It was an opportunity to work with the city slickers who were paying money to get fit at the Real Fight Club that also doubled up as Spencer’s office. It was also where he could start getting the consistency of training that had been about as absent as his bank account. This new link up got Darren working with aspiring coach Harry Andrews. His fitness was so bad back then he struggled to spar three rounds. But at least now he was training and equally as important he was building a client base to pay the bills.
Their first fight as team Hamilton, Fearon and Andrews ended badly, a stoppage loss in the fourth round at the hands of Daryl Setterfield. As we talked I began to think that perhaps the defeat was as important as the pairing with this new team. It was a harsh reminder that not everything could be fixed over night, that more hard work and commitment would be needed if they were to succeed down the arduous path that is British boxing. In his days in Bristol, Hamilton was shot at by a rival gang while running along a cycle path at night, he’d had numerous gang related altercations and the aforementioned short prison term. Yet somehow he managed to drag himself out of it, go to college to get an NVQ, move cities and sleep in a towel cupboard to get this far. It placed a harsh perspective on the defeat in the ring.
Not the end or even close, it was more like being unexpectedly thrown in a freezing sacred river that shocks the life out of you while simultaneously cleansing your body and soul. There would be more trauma, more heartache, more anger. But actually the new beginning he craved was right there in front of him. Harry was pushing Darren harder on his fitness and skills. At first it was five rounds at full pace on the heavy bag, then it was 10 and today it’s over 30, often after sparring. They worked meticulously on Darren’s Jab, defenses and footwork, exaggerating everything in training to Harry’s mantra of ‘That will never do’. Hamilton trains alongside Larry Eckundayo the recent Prizefighter winner, they have sparred hundreds of rounds and although a novice as a pro, the talented Eckundayo has helped bring Darren on. “If you can land a clean shot on Larry you can hit most other guys five times” he tells me.
After a number of wins on Fearon’s boxing shows, confidence was restored and the potential Spencer had seen was becoming tangible.
The first upset victory was a stoppage of Peter McDonough. A fight Darren dominated in a way no one expected. McDonough is still a good fighter on the British scene and the win was perhaps a sign of things to come. The next notable result was for all the wrong reasons, when Hamilton was disqualified for head-butting Dave Ryan in a moment of madness. Fortunately there was a rematch and he came back to win over 10 rounds a few months later.
Its a different story these days, gone are the three jobs, the towel cupboard and lazy training. “We train very hard all the time, so if the phone rings, I’m fit enough to make it count,” said Hamilton.
Indeed the phone did ring in March last year, to face John Watson in Liverpool at a little over a weeks notice. An 8/1 underdog, Hamilton out boxed Watson over eight rounds. As we discuss it Darren stepped out of his calm demeanor and animatedly tells me “I’d love to know what my opponents see in me, coz I think they all think they can just outbox me easily, they under estimate me, Watson especially I could see the shock in his eyes as he realized he wasn’t hitting me but my jab kept hitting him. He changed styles at one point, but I saw the punches coming and out boxed him”
Fast forward a few months and the phone rang again, this time opposing him would be Ashley Theophane, who was meant to be fighting Steve Williams, But Williams had pulled out injured and thus Hamilton got his chance. Hamilton came in at just over a week’s notice to outscore Ashley over 12 rounds and take his British Championship. Hamilton recalls “I was so sick with flu I stayed at Spencer’s mum’s house and basically drank hot lemon, ginger and Beachams to sweat it out. The day before the fight I felt dead, I put on a front, but was really worried and prayed I’d wake up the next day feeling ok. On the train to Liverpool I couldn’t think about the fight, just whether I’d be well enough to fight and how I’d get through it. I was 2lbs over and had to sweat it out in a sauna. It was horrible. Spencer kept telling me I’d be ok to keep me positive and amazingly the next morning, I woke up and it was gone, it was unbelievable”
I was curious to know if he felt Theophane under estimated him and how it was fighting such an experienced fighter? “I don’t think he underestimated me, I believe I’m just a lot better then people think,” said Hamilton. “I was able to read his shots and catch them, then come back with my own to out land him. I count shots that are thrown at me and count those I throw back, so I know what I need to do to stay ahead in the fight”
Its clear that winning the British Championship has given Hamilton and the team a boost as it confirmed what they always believed, that given the chance they could really mix it at a higher level. But seldom has changed, Hamilton still trains a few City businessmen to make a crust and still walks and talks like a challenger which is important given the impending threat of Steve Williams in his up coming first title defense. But did he always believe could become a British Championship? “To be honest I used to tell people I’d become a British Champion, because I thought it was what I was supposed to say, you know to show how you’re confident and believe you can go far. But honestly I didn’t think it would ever happen, I thought a Southern Area title would be a dream. But then things started to happen and I got the shot. I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to prove myself and I really do believe in myself now” Can you go further? “Definitely, I didn’t expect to get here, but now I am, with the right opportunities I could go further insisted Hamilton. “I mean, I’ve always had good skills but didn’t always train well or give myself a chance, when I was younger being involved in gangs or not being disciplined enough, but now I know my fitness is incredibly high for the domestic level and the quality sparring I get. my skills have developed to a level where I don’t know how I would fair in the ring with a world champion level fighter. With more experience I believe I can do it. Ashely was world ranked and did very well against Danny Garcia, but I beat him. I was only really about 60% for the Theophane fight, after the flu and the short notice”
Their journey this Saturday(23rd February) when they finally take on Steve Williams, the tough and aggressive first challenger to his new title It has been delayed twice, most recently due to injury.
“Its been a blessing,” said Hamilton. “It’s given me more time to work on my fitness and strength, so for the first time I’m going to be 100% fit and strong. I’m not used to that, I’m used to it being last minute” he exclaims before laughing at the situation. Asked how the fight will go? Hamilton puts his blackberry down, which has been going off all morning, and says he see’s himself out boxing Williams to a point where it might be stopped. “Harry is adamant Williams is gonna push me super hard all the way, and that anything less than 110% will not do, I know he’s right but I feel I can outbox him and outfight him so I can’t wait to be honest, its going to a really good fight”
Before we wrap up the interview I ask him to tell me something we don’t know? And I have to admit after hearing stories of Darren wearing a Wig and Police Uniform to host an awards ceremony in Swindon, I was expecting something a little off the wall. Instead he surprised me again… “I’m a big fan of Ashley Theophane, I like what he’s done and the way he carries himself. He lives like a real Champion, travelling the world to train and spar, getting sponsorships etc. Just read his twitter and its always positive things, he’s off to Yoga or getting a manicure after a hard days training. He knows how to work it, and I admire that”
February 22, 2013