Nick Owens talks exclusively to former World champion Steve Robinson
One day Steve Robinson was stacking shelves in Debenhams. Then, 48 hours later, he was a boxing World Champion.
Now, almost three decades on, the retired “Cinderella Man” fighter wants to use the sport to help turnaround the lives of other people in the same way it transformed his own.
The 52-year-old is embarking on a major fundraising drive to open a new community gym in his beloved home-city, Cardiff.
His dream is to give young people in gangs, or who may be involved in violent street crime, the chance to walk a different path.
Steve also wants his gym to fill a void that has been created by the widespread closure of youth-centres and sports clubs which are unable to afford to keep going due to Covid-19.
The father-of-three says opening a gym has become the most important fight of his life.
“I want to provide somewhere safe for people to be able to come and keep-fit, train and learn the sport of boxing,” he says.
“I look at the kids on the streets near where I live and it is little wonder so many end up in gangs. Many have nowhere to go or nowhere where they can feel part of a community or a family.
“Growing up on the streets, many young kids want to learn how to fight as a way to survive. Craving leadership and direction, they often fall into the wrong hands and end up on a path of destruction strewn with broken dreams.
“I want to offer kids experiencing hardships a new path by taking them off those streets and giving them formal training in the sport of boxing, teaching them self-discipline and good sportsmanship while contributing to their holistic health.
“I want to help them get off drugs, away from knives and ensure they make the most of their talent. It is about mindset and using boxing and the gym as a positive force. I want my gym to be the driver for that.”
His focus is on opening a gym before the end of the year and he now has a team around him helping to make it happen.
Those working with the retired champion include Dane Marks, the director of the Community Law Project based in the Welsh-capital and Cardiff-based businessman and property developer Bernard Carleton.
Suzanne Lewis, from Cardiff City Council, is supporting the scheme and helping Steve in the process of securing a suitable property and accessing necessary grants and funding.
Steve’s aims are to serve the community with health and fitness while also trying to unearth amateur, professional and championship boxers.
He has trained his son Jake to a professional standard, who will be a part of his father’s gym when it opens, and has also helped train amateur boxers suffering from mental health conditions. They include one woman who suffers from PTSD but is now able to live medication-free.
The former European featherweight champion also wants to help people get to higher levels of fitness and motivate members to use the philosophy of boxing to have strong and more focused mental health.
Steve is now aiming to raise £25,000 via a GoFundMe page and is also seeking individual investor and corporate sponsors
For Steve this mission is a highly personal one, he admits, “Boxing saved my life in many ways. Growing up, as a kid, I was very hyperactive. I loved sport but it wasn’t until I started boxing I found out what I loved to do.
“Boxing didn’t just give me discipline, it helped me deal with bullies at secondary school.
“And then, when I left school, it gave me something to focus on. As a teenager I was starting to dabble in a bit of marijuana, I was hanging around with the wrong crowd. But boxing ensured I didn’t end up going down a criminal path.”
Nearly 30 years have now passed since 5'8" fighter reached the summit of his career on one incredible night in April, 1993, where he went from a £52 per week Debenhams storeman to Wales' first boxing champion for 25 years!
It is a tale of bouncing back from hard knocks, accepting an opportunity in life and making the most of your talent.
Steve stepped out after an SOS call went out to find an opponent to meet England's John Davison for the vacant WBO Featherweight title.
His name was some way down the list.
But one by one the names were scratched off and Robinson was offered £12,000 to take the fight.
The problem was that it was only 48 hours from the first bell and the retail store worker was busy tucking into a rather unhealthy meal when his trainer Ronnie Rush rang to deliver the news.
"I was at my mother-in-law's house and I'd just finished pie and chips when I got the call," recalls Robinson.
"When I was told it was a world title fight I said I wouldn't be ready, but Ronnie said I could go for 12 rounds.
"I was always naturally fit, so I thought why not? And I thought if I lost it would be to a world champion.
"I'd seen Davison a few times and he was the kind of guy I was looking for in my next fight anyway.
"I had to lose about six or seven pounds - the pie and chips had done me no favours - and I had to dry out, but I was a natural featherweight.
“"I did a couple of runs, some shadow boxing and the weight dropped. I felt a bit drained, but I was OK."
Robinson flew to Newcastle for the fight, but it was still on a wing and a prayer.
Davison had lost only three times in his career and had the backing of the entire 'Geordie Nation' behind him.
He was also in peak condition.
"He was the hometown fighter - I'd lost a few hometown decisions in my career - and the entire crowd was against me,” Steve reflects.
"But I just blocked the crowd out and went for it, in the end it was just me and him in the ring.
"It was a tough fight but I won the first six rounds clear. I was boxing well and he couldn't get near me.
"It got hard in rounds seven, eight and nine but then I wasn't really training for a 12-round fight at the time.
"I don't know how I got through it but I dug in deep and had a good last round.
"I knocked his gum shield out and almost knocked him out, but I was so tired I couldn't finish him.
"I've watched the fight back a few times, I think I won it by three or four rounds but they gave it to me by one round.
"My life changed. Until then I had been 'Steve Robinson, boxer.' Now I was 'Steve Robinson, world champion.' "The reaction was amazing. I was constantly being invited to functions and stopped in the street by people wishing me well."
In many ways what came next was even more impressive.
Robinson's reign as champion was expected to be brief. But the National Ice Rink in Cardiff soon became his fortress on nights charged with emotion and pride.
The champion would go on to make seven successful title defences from July 1993 to July 1995.
"Everyone thought me winning the title was a fluke but I proved them all wrong and I just kept saying 'who is my next victim?'
"I beat ex-world champions like Colin McMillan and Duke McKenzie and I was a big underdog in those fights."
Robinson's run ended when he came up against 'Prince' Naseem Hamed at Cardiff Arms Park in September 1995.
Hamed was the new up-and-coming superstar of British boxing, yet Robinson still felt he had the tools to beat him.
"I rushed into that fight and should have got a bit more notice," he says.
"I was pushed into it because I was on honeymoon, I was saying all the time I wouldn't be ready.
"But they were keeping the pressure on me to fight and told me I would be stripped of the title if I didn't.
"Looking back I wish I'd pulled out and they'd stripped me of the title. I recently spoke to Naz and we had a little chat about it all. But I am not interested in the past.
“I am only looking forward now. I want to open this gym and help others use boxing to transform their lives in the way it has helped mine. I want to make this gym as big a part of my legacy as what happened to me on that night in 1995.”
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