By Andrew Wake:
On 20 January 2007, Dan Woodgate was amongst the 1000s of Brits crammed into the main hall at the Paris Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
That night Ricky “Hitman” Hatton overcome big punching Colombian Juan Urango to take the IBF light-welterweight strap for the second time, but it was also an evening that looks set to alter the trajectory of Woodgate’s own boxing career.
For it was on that winter Saturday that Woodgate, now 27, met former WBO light-middleweight challenger Steve “The Viking” Foster and it set about a series of events that is now set to see him move his training from near his home in Margate, Kent to the rainy city of Manchester.
“It was the turning point my life,” stated Woodgate, who is set to train under the stewardship of Maurice Core at the Phil Martin Centre in Moss Side. “A friend introduced us and told Steve I wanted to be a boxer. Steve said to me ‘lift your shirt up son.’ So I did and he said ‘No you’re too fat, you’ll go nowhere’.
“I was a bit taken back but I respected his honesty and I spent the rest of the weekend with him. He gave me the low down on calorie counting and I went home and lost two stone in a month. We’ve been friends ever since and now he’s my manager.”
Woodgate’s love of boxing started during the era of the great British super-middleweights in the 1990s and it was his love of watching the eccentric antics of Chris Eubank that led to him wanting to try on the gloves himself.
“Eubank was my idol, I wouldn’t box if it wasn’t for him,” recalled the light-heavyweight prospect. “I loved his style and the way he got in there and put on a show. I wouldn’t say I was extravagant but I like my ring music and I think people should see a show when they come to boxing shows. That’s what they pay good money for.
“My love of Eubank used to drive my mum mad though because she was a massive Nigel Benn fan and every time I started going on about how good Eubank was, she’d say ‘Don’t mention that name in my house, I hate him’.”
Despite Woodgate’s new found love of the noble art, he admits that when he first took up boxing it was something that he played at and his training was sporadic throughout his teenage years.
“Every kid I know has done the odd month of boxing training here and there and I was the same,” he admitted. “I used to go for a couple months and be told I was quite good but then I’d give up for a while before going back again and giving it another go for a couple of months.
“It was until I was 17 or 18 that I got my amateur card. I’d done about six months of boxing but I got a bit of trouble of my trainer. I’m one of those guys who likes to have a laugh when I get in the gym, I mean I’m massively serious about my training, but I like to have a laugh and I think sometimes I overstepped the barrier and some trainers don’t like it so I ended up giving up again.”
After breaking his foot playing football when he was 21, Woodgate decided the best way to get fit again was to return to boxing. But he had more than just ring rust to shift in those early sessions, he also had a sizable amount of weight to lose.
“I ballooned up to about 17 stone and my friend, who started out with at Canterbury boxing club with but had carried on boxing, said I should give it another go and obviously I knew how good the fitness was. I started in the November of 2005 and in the January I had my first amateur bout. My trainer said I definitely had something so I sound get carded as soon as possible and get in the ring. I got down to 15 stone again but I was boxing as a super-heavyweight so I lost my first amateur bout.”
After winning a couple of bouts, another change was in order. However, a move to a gym in London didn’t work out because of the travelling distance from his home to the Big Smoke. Thankfully the Isle of Thanet Amateur Boxing Club opened in 2007 and the now slimline Woodgate found a place where he could hone his skills and prove his worth in the unpaid ranks.
“I won the Southern Counties cruiserweight title, which was my hardest fight, I beat an absolute animal 15 – 4,” remembered Dan. “Then I boxed a guy from the Combined Services who was ranked number eight in the country so I was bit nervous but I ended up knocking him out in the first round.
“I got through to the quarter-finals of the ABAs and I lost to Robert Evans on points and he went on and won it. I honestly believe if I’d have met him in the finals I would have won the ABAs because I would have that bit more experience by then.”
Due to his age, Woodgate resisted the temptation to have another crack at the country’s most prestigious amateur honour and decided the time was right to test the waters in the pro side of the sport.
“By the time the championships was already 25 so I thought if I wait another year and don’t get anywhere I’ve wasted another year I could be a pro,” he said. “I enjoyed the amateurs but I wanted to move on prove myself.
“I got in touch with Michael Alldis on Facebook and what he said was perfect for me. He said ‘If you want to push on for titles come with me. If you just want to earn money then go with someone else’. Money is a bonus to me. I box because I want to win championships.”
Woodgate made his debut on Alldis’ seven fight card at Crawley’s K2 Leisure Centre in February and dominated every round in pitching a four round shutout (40 – 36) over tough Welshman Adam Wilcox.
Now he’s hoping his second fight will come on a Hatton Promotions show in early October.
“I went to the Matthew Hatton fight [against Yuriy Nuznenko] and I spoke to Richard Poxon and Gareth Williams and they said they can put me on one fight and then they can see what they think of me and I can see what I think of them.
“I know if I’m boxing up in Manchester, where I’m going to be training with Maurice Core, I won’t sell masses of tickets but I can guarantee them that if they put me on a bill in the south I’ll do at least 200 tickets.”
At this stage Woodgate understands he shouldn’t get ahead of himself and that development is more important than big ideas, but like all young fighters he rightly has ambitions and feels a career in boxing wouldn’t be worthwhile if it does not garner titles.
“I like to think I know where I’ll be in two years time and if I’m not there I’ll give up to be honest,” he stated. “I don’t box for money so if there’s no glory in it for me I’ll give up and become a trainer, because I love the sport and I’d want to stay in it.
“By the time I’m 29 or 30 I like to think I’ll pushing for a title. I want to win a British title and I think I’ve got the ability to win one. There’s some brilliant fighters out there at the moment but I don’t see them as being that far ahead of me.”