Sheffield boxer Rhodes remembers Ingle’s fateful night well

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Twelve years have elapsed since they last met, and their lives have taken very different paths since.

Scarborough featherweight Paul Ingle was on top of the world, champion of it in fact. In contrast, Sheffield light-middleweight Ryan Rhodes was rebuilding after his own unsuccessful tilt at a world title a year earlier. Both were scheduled to fight on the Joe Calzaghe v Richie Woodhall bill at the Sheffield Arena.

042288b. Folder 28. 28/05/04. Pic Kevin Allen.'Paul Ingle.

042288b. Folder 28. 28/05/04. Pic Kevin Allen.'Paul Ingle.

Scarborough fight fans will be familiar with what happened next on that December evening in 2000, as Ingle suffered a life-threatening injury in the ring at the hands of South African challenger Mbulelo Botile.

Moments beforehand, Rhodes had outpointed journeyman Howard Clarke in that very ring.

“I was still in the dressing room talking to people after my fight when news came through that Paul had been knocked out and was still unconscious, and having to be taken to hospital,” said Rhodes, now 35.

“Obviously you hear about these things in boxing, but for it to happen on the night was a massive shock”

When word began to spread that Ingle’s condition was serious, Rhodes was understandably upset and vividly recalls how the news shook the boxing fraternity.

He added: “It was so sad because Paul was such a nice guy. He put his life and soul into boxing. He was one of those fighters that was always in your face, he was never in a dull fight and always gave 110 per cent.

“Everybody in the boxing world was absolutely gutted about what happened to Paul Ingle.”

The Sheffield fighter knew more than most about Ingle’s boxing credentials, having been a friend and stable-mate of Naseem Hamed, a high-profile opponent of Ingle’s and the man who inflicted professional defeat on the Scarborough fighter for the first time.

“Paul was down-to-earth fighter, a good fighter who was beating everybody at the time. Then he stepped up to fight my good friend Naz for the world title.

“He gave a Naz a really, really good fight which Naz won, but Paul gave a great account of himself which meant he was able to fight for a world title again in his next fight.”

The world title was duly won against Manuel Medina, before Ingle put on what he himself has described as a career-best performance against New-Yorker Junior Jones in Madison Square Garden, the fabled home of boxing.

Much has been said and written about the build-up to Ingle’s final contest, and Rhodes shed some light on what may have gone wrong for Paul.

He said: “The weigh-in that day was at Shire Green Working Men’s Club (in Sheffield), and if I remember rightly Paul was late getting there.

“It was common knowledge at the time that Paul did sometimes struggle to make featherweight, so whether he was off in a sauna somewhere or on a run I don’t know.”

Ingle’s enduring legacy on the sport is that his misfortune contributed to stricter safety regulations, with fighters now having to weigh-in twenty-four hours prior to contests. While Ingle had to quit the sport, Rhodes went on fighting and captured a European crown in 2009, before again failing in a world title attempt against Mexican prodigy Saul Alvarez last year.

But the thought of what happened to Ingle is never far from his mind.

Rhodes added: “I went into the sport knowing what could happen and pray to God that it doesn’t happen, but we always know the risks in boxing – you’re fighting a losing battle almost if you go into the ring thinking the worst so you try not to think about it. It’s boxing and it could happen to anybody.”