Johnny Garton vs. Chris Jenkins on March 8
JOHNNY GARTON INSISTS that putting on the gloves for the first time had nothing to do with improving his prospects in the pecking order of Peckham, where he grew up and remains a man about town to this day.
The Pexican, as he is fondly known, did not venture into the local gym as a sporting route to escape a life of potential crime. His story is far more mundane – and familiar to many – in that he simply needed to shed some inches from his waistline.
However, Garton does admit to being something of a street urchin in his younger days and his fists weren’t exactly unemployed, in a town where they breed them tough, before he took up punching for a living.
“It is known as a pretty tough town but, to be honest, I’ve lived there all my life so I don’t know any different,” explained the now 31-year-old, who defends his recently won British welterweight title for the first time against Chris Jenkins at the Royal Albert Hall on March 8. “To me it is just normal.
“I grew up on the Clifton Estate – which is just off the Queen’s Road – and I loved it because there was loads of kids about and everybody knew each other. We were always playing up, getting into trouble and, obviously, having a tear-up every now and then.
“At the end of the day we all got along and it was only when we turned into teens that it got a bit hairy. We got into more trouble and started to get into fights with other estates.”
In what could be described as an echo of the grown up Garton, the younger version would also always give a good account of himself when drawn into a scrap, although he admits he wasn’t leader of the pack.
“Not really, I wasn’t one of the hierarchy, but I think I had everyone’s respect because they knew if they did pick a fight, they would get a fight. Not many started on me so I didn’t have to be fighting all the time.”
The turning point for Garton – and his waistline – came when he was inspired to swap pints for punching and followed a friend into the local boxing gym. On starting work he wasn’t just earning pounds, but also putting them on.
“It was just to lose weight,” admitted the 23-1-1 British champ. “I started work when I was 15 on Saturdays as a mechanic and they put me on an apprenticeship when I finished school. So as soon as I finished work I was just going down the pub, eating a lot, drinking a lot…
“Then one of my mates said he was going to the gym to lose some weight and I went with him.
“I went a few times and some of the kids asked me to do some sparring and bashed the crap out of me, with me just being a kid off the street thinking I could fight everyone. Boxing is a totally different game and I kept going back trying to get the better of them.
“Slowly, after time, I noticed that people didn’t want to spar me as much and it went from there.”
Peckham is perhaps most famous for being the south east London setting of the comedy Only Fools and Horses, where the exploits of Del Boy and Rodders charmed the nation for over 20 years.
Garton reports that the suits and swagger, along with the vocabulary, that characterised Del Boy didn’t catch on in a big way on the real life streets and pubs of Peckham when he was growing up.
“Not really, it was more kids being as we call them, roadmen, people walking around with their hoods up or a hat on trying to keep their faces covered up or trying to be a tough man.
“There was a bit of the talk used, but not too much because Del Boy was just a bit before my era, so it was as the kids talk now and a bit more street.”
BRITISH WELTERWEIGHT CHAMPION Johnny Garton reflected that his professional career did not get off to the most auspicious beginnings, partly because his own trainer wasn’t hugely enthused over the prospect of working with him.
Garton did indeed end up learning the pro ropes at the iBox Gym in Bromley under the tutelage of Alan Smith, who is known in the business as a specialist in harnessing the talents of more defensively-minded, stylish counter punchers.
The now 31-year-old Garton wasn’t the ideal horse for the course at Smith’s stable of thoroughbreds because, by his own admission, his amateur skillset was limited at best.
“I believe I had 30-35 fights and lost about ten, maybe a few more,” revealed the fighter known as The Pexican, dubbed as such due to his all-action style and hailing from Peckham.
“I wasn’t the greatest and I was even worse as an amateur – even more of a slugger!
“I used to just have a tear-up for three rounds and knew on turning pro that I needed to change.
“I remember speaking to Al and he wasn’t overly keen because he knew I got hit too much. But I knew Al was the right coach, so I kept chipping away and kept coming back and annoying him.
“Here we are now,” pointed out Garton, who makes a first defence of his title at the Royal Albert Hall on March 8 against Chris Jenkins.
“I broke the mold at this gym! But I am bringing titles back and that is the main thing,” he added, before conceding that he never imagined making a living from boxing when his primary aim was selling enough tickets to even step into the ring.
“Never, no. Most of my career, up to about two years ago, was all ticket deals where if you don’t sell tickets you don’t fight and earning little money.
“I haven’t really earned much money from the sport and that is why I am chasing the purses now.
“It was massively disheartening back then but I love the sport of boxing and I always had my job to fall back on. At times when you saw people doing well with big pay days it was a bit of a kick in the teeth.”
A turning point for Garton came in December 2017 when he added the IBF European title to the Southern Area and English belts he had previously won after a bruising encounter with Mihail Orlov at the Copper Box.
“I’d just got signed by Frank (Warren) then and it was such a good fight that they showed it back on BoxNation. From there I think people started taking an interest in me.”
Now the Garton story moves on to probably the grandest venue of all in South Kensington on Friday March 8, live on BT Sport.
“It is a breath-taking venue and, to me, it doesn’t seem like a boxing venue because it is too nice. I can’t wait to get out there and for my supporters to see it.”
Also at the Royal Albert Hall, Nicola Adams OBE will look to make history and be the first female crowned World Champion at the venue as she challenges for the WBO World Flyweight Title against Arely Mucino on International Women’s Day.
Liam Williams makes a first defence of his British middleweight title against Joe Mullender, while Johnny Garton will defend his British Welterweight title against Chris Jenkins. Lucien Reid will fight Indi Sangha in what will be his toughest test to date, with GB Flyweight Harvey Horn, cruiserweight talent James Branch and middleweight banger Denzel Bentley also featuring.
Tickets are priced from £40 and are available to buy via RoyalAlbertHall.com
TICKETS START FROM £40
GRAND TIER: £100
SECOND TIER: £75