BBN writer Jack Bradley talked to the 30-year-old Brummie boxer about his time behind bars, his drug addictions, his conversion to boxing and how he came to be on the cusp of English championship honours:
In the heart of Birmingham's rave district, Ben Fields (8-7-2) is training away against a backdrop of the sort of life he once would have lived.
It is at Smoking Joe's Boxing Gym in Digbeth that the welterweight puts in the hard miles; though it may be fair to say that having overcome a crack cocaine addiction that began in his formative teenage years, the work that Fields puts in here under the tutelage of trainer Shaun Cogan does not represent the biggest challenge of his life.
For Fields, boxing has proven to be a lifesaver – he willingly admits that his previous lifestyle would have seen him likely spending much of his life behind bars if it didn't end up killing him first. Now just over a year into his professional career, Fields is on the cusp of an English title shot owing to a tremendous recent run of results in the ring.
Yorkshire fighter Lee Appleyard (15-5-1) is the man Fields must defeat to put himself firmly in the frame for a title fight. The two meet in an eliminator for the English super lightweight title on 23rd November at the Metrodome in Barnsley, with Fields taking a 'keep busy' fight at Villa Park in Birmingham at the end of October to keep himself ticking over: "We'll get the fight at Villa [Park] out the way and then it’s a good four weeks of preparation," explains Fields.
"I'm stepping up to 10 rounds for the first time in my career and my style is more of a pressure fighter, so it'll be about making sure I'm ready for the 10 rounds. We'll change up our routine, get some strength and conditioning in, and I'll be ready."
Discussing the Appleyard fight, Fields – who now has a professional record of 8-7-2 – talks like a prospect who has been drip fed a series of journeymen on the traditional road to titles that so many boxers travel. The reality is that his journey to this point has been anything but traditional. Before he was getting named in the latest English title circular from the British Boxing Board of Control, Fields was making a name for himself on the road as the opponent, not the prospect.
Two home fights in 2018 kicked off his paid career correctly, then an away fight against debutant Jamie Collins in Liverpool at just a month's notice saw him get the first of many wins on the road. However, the following eight fights from the away corner didn't result in any victories for the busy Brummie, who clocked up 15 fights in his debut years as a pro, once fighting three times in the same month!
A close 58-56 points loss to Kane Gardner – then 8-0 – in May 2019 took Fields' professional record to 4-7-1. Such a record suggested that Fields had a low ceiling in his role in the sport, albeit an honourable one that so many have taken on before him as journeymen. Just a few weeks later, a very much last minute drop-out from Gardner's next scheduled opponent gave Fields the chance to get his revenge and promptly set himself off on an unbeaten run that has brought him to where he is today.
"I had four hours' notice for the second fight. I was actually in the supermarket at the time just doing my shopping, and I got the phone call to say that his opponent has dropped out," recalls the Birmingham fighter.
"I said yes straight away. I think there was a couple of pounds in difference in the weight but I took it, went straight up there and then got the win this time which was a bonus. That was a really memorable occasion for myself."
That win over a 9-0 Gardner, during which Fields dropped the Manchester fighter in the first round of their bout at the Victoria Warehouse, proved to be the catalyst for a tremendous run of form. Since handing Gardner his first defeat as a pro, Fields drew with Denis Denikajev (3-0) in a close fight at the iconic York Hall before proceeding to hand out further defeats to three previously unbeaten prospects – two of which came very much as the away fighter still. Such a run is not down to Fields' self-belief as much as it is being more comfortable in a sport that he had a very limited amount of involvement in prior to turning pro.
"You always have belief but once you get in there and start winning, it starts to turn into a bit more than just that" says Fields as he takes a moment to consider the words that best describe his turnaround.
"You're then starting to prove it to yourself, to others, and you start to feel more comfortable at the level. It's been a great run.
"I sort of fell into boxing. Before I turned pro, I had about 11 unlicensed fights and there was no real plan. There was no 'I'm going to be a boxer', but as I got around the right people it was like everything snowballed.
"I'd love to be able to say I have planned it all out and I'm hitting my goals but it isn't like that. I'm just taking it all as it comes, and I think that's good as it takes a bit of the pressure off.
"The lads that I've been beating, a lot of them finish up with the amateurs and a lot of them think 'right, this is where I want to get to' and it can be a bit of a hiccup in their plans coming up against someone like me. Then you're thinking 'I've lost' and it could become something you have to overcome mentally, but because I've come in without those goals, everything is a bonus for me."
Fields is now on five-fight unbeaten streak, which doesn't perhaps sound overly impressive for an English title prospect, but that quintet of opponents were 34-0 combined and his record of sharing the ring with 14 unbeaten opponents in 17 bouts certainly evokes admiration and respect.
It’s clear to see that Fields, who has studied so he can work with young people struggling in life, sees everything boxing gives him as a huge bonus. There's no front with Fields: he simply has a deep appreciation for the position he is now in, even though he's just a few minutes removed from another gruelling training session. Once upon a time, Fields' life looked very different to that of a man on the verge of fighting for a domestic title.
Recreational drug use as young as 15 quickly became a drug habit, bleeding into full-fledged addiction before long. Fields' struggle with narcotics put him onto a path of petty crime – shoplifting and fighting mostly. Fields was no master criminal, but had simply fallen into a lifestyle that he had never intended to lead when drugs became the norm – unfortunately, it's a problem many youngsters will face in life for one reason or another.
Fields first became acquainted with boxing in his early 20's and it soon became apparent that the sport and the discipline it instils was exactly what he needed. As the saying goes however, old habits die hard and his lifestyle caught up with him before boxing could really take a foothold. Fields ended up in prison, doing a three and a half year stint that put the brakes on his fledgling career.
Fields cites his 'addictive personality' as something that probably saved him at this stage, as much as it had caused him grief with his previous habits. Boxing remained a constant whilst in prison: "That little bit of an introduction to boxing before I went away, it stuck with me and gave me that hunger.
"I've got an addictive personality and as mad as it sounds, there's some transferable skills from my lifestyle before. If you're out there getting involved in the things I was getting involved in, you're often focused on doing just that. Those qualities transferred over to boxing and kept me focused on this.
"I remember being inside and watching some of the boxing that would be on Channel 5 and it kept it there in my mind.
"That introduction to boxing before had planted a seed in my mind for me to think 'you know what, when I get out, I'm going to have to start all over again in some senses, but my first port call is to join the gym'.
"When I came out, I got back in the gym. I came out on tag, so I used to tuck it into my sock to hide it from others in the gym – I didn’t want them thinking that I was a thug.
"I had the right people around me when I came out. When you've got somebody like Shaun on your side, it's great. You need that direction, you need the right people around you and that's why I'm blessed to have that in Shaun and Jon."
Fields' rise from addiction is an enthralling tale though it's something that he's keen to suggest doesn’t define him. His boxing, his desire to work helping young people and repaying the faith shown in him by others are the legacy he is trying to forge.
Expressing how thankful he is to his family, friends, trainer Shaun Cogan and manager Job Pegg amongst several others, Fields takes a moment to reflect and offer advice to the next generation: "Anything that you enjoy doing, just stay focused.
"Don't get caught up in the clubbing and raving too much. If you enjoy something, stick at it.
"I used to play football at a good level as a kid. I've got a lot of childhood memories of that. My Grandad used to take me; even as an old man when it was raining, snowing or whatever. He would take me to football. It's why I wear his name on the front of my shorts.
"Stick to doing things like that. You have one life so stick to what you enjoy and don't slip into the bad habits."
Ben Fields is long removed from the shackles of narcotics. His new habit of boxing is all-consuming, and it's seen him go from being a novice pro to a burgeoning domestic fighter on the brink of adding titles to his repertoire.
The sport empowered Fields to change his life. Given his backstory and inspiring turnaround, it’s hard to bet against him taking this miracle career even further.