Paul Ingle isn’t the sort of man to look back and wonder what might have been had he not have suffered life-changing injuries in the ring against Mbulelo Botile that fateful night in Sheffield back in 2000.
Ingle had the world at his feet. He’d just beaten two world class opponents in Manuel Medina and Junior Jones and held the IBO and IBF featherweight titles.
But one night was to change his life, and Ingle admits he should have been more forceful and delayed the fight due to injuries.
Ingle said: “The fight shouldn’t have gone ahead. I was injured and I couldn’t make the weight. The fight should have been put off for a couple of weeks.
“To this day I can honestly say I can’t believe I fought.
“I had a bad ankle and a bad back. I couldn’t spar and couldn’t train. When I did get sparring in I was getting battered and it wasn’t right.
“My fitness and conditioning trainer Neil Featherby, who was first class, even said I wasn’t the same. I wasn’t fit, I was weak and out of shape.”
To this day, almost 12 years on, Ingle still hasn’t watched the tape back of the Botile fight, and he doesn’t think he will be sitting down to do so at any point soon.
He added: “I want to watch the tape but the odd thing that is coming back in my mind and what I’m told from the night, I don’t want to see it. Apparently it just wasn’t me.
“I honestly don’t remember the fight, the press conference or the weigh-in.
“I can giggle about it now but after the fight I came around a few weeks later and I said ‘What am I doing here, I have to fight soon’.”
Ingle admits that he would have fought only once more before retiring.
A second super-fight against Prince Naseem Hamed was already pencilled into the Ingle diary, and it was one that he was confident of winning.
Little did he know that the fight against the voluntary South African, who had moved up in weight to take him on, would bring his retirement plans ever closer.
Ingle said: “I was pencilled in to fight Naz and I would have beaten him and then I would have retired.
“If that fight hadn’t have come off then I would have had one more big night against a big fighter and then called it a day.
“I would have packed in and then gone into training younger fighters and giving something back to the sport.”
Ingle admits that he never wanted to even turn professional in the first place.
A hugely successful amateur boxer, Ingle went to the 1992 Olympic Games, becoming the first to qualify for the Games.
The 2012 London Games currently taking the nation’s attention remind Ingle of his time in Barcelona, and times before the money and fame of professional boxing.
Ingle said: “Barcelona seems like ages ago. It never sunk in. It helped me with the pressure when I turned pro.
“It was unbelievable, life changing experience.
“It was an eye-opening experience going to the Games. It was brilliant. Linford Christie and Sally Gunnell were there when we were there too.
“The opening ceremony was unbelievable. I floated round. The buzz was unbelievable and electric. You didn’t feel like you were walking round, it felt like you were on an escalator.”
The Scarborough man lost out in the second round to eventual gold medallist Choi Chol-Su of North Korea.
But Ingle blames a controversial scoring system for the defeat. He added: “I didn’t do enough in the first half of the fight, but I thought that I’d done enough through the second half to win it.
“The scoring system was odd. They only started using the new system there too. After three rounds of boxing they scored it 13-12.
“I must have hit him nearly 80 or 90 times. I know it was close but I was in control and thought I’d won the fight.”
Ingle cites poor treatment towards fighters like himself and Joe Calzaghe among others, that made him and lots of other fighters spurn the amateur game in favour of the bright lights of professional boxing.
“I loved boxing for England, I loved amateur boxing. I never wanted to turn professional but the way we got treated was the end of it,” added Ingle.
“The GB set-up was all wrong. They said they were going to look after us after the Olympics but they didn’t.
“I got laid off because I was always down in London. I was skint. They said they were going to get us funding and grants to help us train and improve, but we waited about 12 months before they even contacted us for the next training camp at Crystal Palace.
“The lads had all lost their jobs and had had enough. They needed an income.
“I boxed for England two more times after the Olympics and then enough was enough.”
So Ingle reluctantly turned professional, and he wasn’t short of offers.
He added: “A few managers contacted me when I got back from the Olympics. Micky Duff, Frank Warren and Frank Maloney. Maloney was the best man at the time.
“I was really nervous ahead of my first professional fight. It takes a bit of getting used to the pressure.
“There was only one point in my first 21 fights that I had a bit of a shaky moment in and that was against a kid called Neil Swain from Cardiff.”
After coming through his first 21 fights without real trouble, Ingle’s big night arrived in the shape of a world title shot against Prince Naseem Hamed at the MEN Arena, Manchester.
Ingle looks back on the night with mixed emotions.
“That fight was so frustrating. I’ve never fought anyone as awkward,” admits Ingle.
“He was a different breed. It was like he was on springs and bouncing around all over the place.
“He just launched at you. Don’t get me wrong I respect Naz, he’s a good kid, but his style was difficult.
“The good thing leading upto the fight was that I had a lot of experience as an amateur, more than he did.
“Everything he was saying to the press I’d just laugh off and he didn’t like it.
“I started to get more respect from him the closer the fight came. His trainer Brendan Ingle phoned me to tell me Naz wasn’t his usual self and looked scared.
“I told Naz in the build-up to the fight that I wouldn’t be hanging around in the ring for him. Naz used to leave you waiting in the ring all night waiting for him.
“I said if it takes me five minutes to get the ring, if he doesn’t take the same amount of time then I’d be off back to the changing rooms and be waiting for him when he’s ready.
“The atmosphere was unbelievable. I couldn’t hear my music, all I could hear was Scarborough people and I was well up for it.
“The hair on my toes was even up on end. So I got to the ring and told my trainer Steve Pollard to start the watch. Everyone was saying don’t do that Paul, Sky won’t like it.
“He was taking ages so I went back to the changing room and he was in the ring fuming that I wasn’t there.
“He got to the ring and I was walking in to his music and he was in the ring shaking his head. It rattled him.”
Ingle was floored by a superb body shot by Naz, a punch that still sends shivers down Ingle’s spine to this day.
He added: “I’d been boxing 13 years and nobody had ever hit me the way he hit me. I thought he’d stabbed me.
“I had to take a count and after five seconds I didn’t think I was getting up. I thought it was over.
“I had to drag myself up and luckily there was about 20 seconds left in the round so I managed to make it to the end of the round.
“That got me going and I broke his nose in the next round. He came walking out trying to hit me in the body again and I landed a flush, straight right .
“I heard before the fight that he didn’t like anyone touching his nose, he admired it. I enjoyed the fight despite how tough it was. I proved a lot of people wrong.
“If he didn’t catch me in the last round then I would have won the fight.”
Ingle followed the Naz fight with a win over Mexican Manuel Medina, a man who surprised Ingle.
He said: “Medina was a legend. He’d beaten Barrera. Watching videos I thought I could beat him but I couldn’t believe I was fighting him.
“I was so surprised by his work rate, I couldn’t believe he was still going in the seventh.
“He was still matching me for punch power and hand speed. I was stunned. Definitely an athlete and I have massive respect for him.”
Ingle says his best performance came against pound for pound legend Junior Jones at Madison Square Gardens on the Lennox Lewis - Michael Grant undercard. Ingle said: “It was unbelievable, just to turn up to Madison Square Gardens was huge. But I thought that it couldn’t be Madison Square Gardens as there were loads of people from Scarborough outside.
“It felt just like I was going into the Scarborough Spa. It really relaxed me.
“That was the fight of my career. Best fight I ever fought. To perform and win the title at Madison Square Gardens was unbelievable.”
Ingle has massive respect for Jones, who he says was a tougher opponent than Naz.
“Jones was harder to fight than Naz,” Ingle added. “So experienced and he was taller. He punched harder than Naz too.
“He was so experienced he could tie your boots up and down without you even knowing about it.
“He’s the only person to beat Barrera twice and that shows just how good he was.
“I was really nervous before that one.I had to go to his back garden and fight the man who had just beaten Barrera twice.
“But I was fully confident of winning the fight and I wanted the fight. Maloney didn’t want me to fight Jones for some reason.
“He was saying ‘Are you sure Paul? I can get you an easier fight in England.’ I wanted the fight.
“I was at Lennox Lewis’ training camp and they were asking me more questions than they wanted to ask Lewis.
“I don’t think Maloney liked that too much either. But the build up was massive.”
A name that Ingle mentioned a lot was that of Marco Antonio Barrera, the conqueror of Naz.
A man who Ingle would have loved to have met in the ring.
He added: “I’d have loved to have fought Barrera. He was a legend and a superb performer.
“I think I’d have beaten him but what a legend.”
Ingle is now looking forward to future challenges, but has nothing but praise for the people of Scarborough, who have supported him through thick and thin.
Ingle said: “I’m trying to get a bit of weight off and get active again. I’d like to start training again, not fighting but running and getting active.
“I’m on a diet though and I’m giving that 100 per cent so we’ll have to see how that goes.
“I wish I could still fight now. That would give me such a buzz.
“If they said I could fight again tomorrow but there would be a risk of me dying I would. I love performing and fighting.
“The people of Scarborough were amazing before and after my injury and they are first class people. I’m proud to come from here and I would never leave the town.”
The man known as The Yorkshire Hunter during his fighting career, also says he’d love to get back into boxing and says Sky have been in touch with a view to some possible work.
He added: “Sky said they want me to get involved and maybe do some shows. That would be great. I was always talking about boxing and being back involved so hopefully that can happen.”