When Junior ‘The Hitter’ Witter fell out of the ring in his forgettable Prizefighter final against Yassine El Maachi in June last year, the common consensus was; that the former two time world champion who went on to lose possibly the worst final in the Prizefighter tournament’s history, was now at the end of his career and that this was his final swan song as a championship level fighter.
But on Saturday night the Bradford boxer rolled back the years to win the British welterweight title with a unanimous points decision over Colin Lynes at the Hillsborough Leisure Centre in Sheffield.
Witter, now at the ripe old age of 38, and adorning purple dyed hair, that suggested designs younger than his elder years suggested, wasn’t vintage, but he is back as British champion and after all these years, ups and downs, a world title and fights against some of the worlds best fighters over the last 14 years, Junior is on the world title trail again!
Witter entered the ring against Lynes in this make or break fight for him, looking in top shape and determined to prove all his doubters wrong. And prove them wrong he did! Winning a British title for a second time in two weight divisions.
It was a case of Lonsdale belt lighting striking twice for Witter against Lynes. Junior had defeated the Londoner on points in 2005, to win the British light-welterweight title the first time. That night 7 years ago the European and Commonwealth titles were also on the line and in his next fight, Junior went on to win the WBC light-welterweight title against DeMarcus Corley.
The boy from Bradford, turned professional in January 1997, aged 18. After an amateur career that saw him fight everyone he could in his weight class up and down the country, building up a win some lose some record. One amateur opponent who beat Junior was future gym mate and friend Ryan Rhodes. Junior had watched Rhodes beat a couple of his gym mates earlier and remembered him as a ‘stiff, stocky kid’ good but not a lot of movement.
The next time he saw Ryan was when the pair met and produced what is remembered as an amateur classic in Yorkshire.
After the loss to Rhodes, Junior was so impressed with him and the job that Brendan Ingle and his son Dominic had done, turning Rhodes into a slick boxer with good skills and style, from the stiff stocky kid he remembered. Junior believed that if they could do that with Rhodes then they could do it with him and after the blessing and advice from his amateur coach Alec Allen, Junior joined the Ingle gym in Sheffield.
He had his first fight at the Green Bank Leisure Centre in Derbyshire, against local based Canadian Cameron Raeside, it ended in a disappointing draw for the new pro, but never a setback in the mind of Junior.
He scored his first win as a professional in his next fight in the March, travelling to Yarm to beat John Green over six rounds. Five more wins that year ending 1997 with a record of 6-0-1. Witters started 1998 in the same way he had his debut year as a pro; a draw against Birmingham’s Mark Ramsey over six rounds.
Junior didn’t let the glitch get him down and was back in the ring three and half weeks later to outpoint Brian Coleman, before going in a month later in the April, on a late call up against the very capable former world champion Jan Piet Bergman from South Africa. Junior baffled Bergam over six rounds taking the decision. That win over Bergman really shown the capabilities of this Ingle gym fighter, who wore all the signs and switch hitting bravado of the Winkobank Sheffield boys, under the guidance of Sheffield based Irish coach and father figure, Brendan Ingle, one of the Godfathers of British Boxing.
Bergman had only lost once in 35 fights, it was only Juniors 10th outing, 8 wins and 2 draws, proof that early career setbacks and tough tests, will stand a fighter in good stead in the future, when the hard fights and tough grounding really matters. It was meant to be a routine night for Bergam, Junior breezed it.
A tough domestic scrap followed the Bergam win, and in the September of his second year as a professional he went in against Belfast’s Mark Winters
(14-1), who had just lost his British title to Jason Rowland
on points. Witter outpointed Winters over 8 rounds to show his class and potential and it now look like only a matter of time before he stepped up to title level.
Another routine points win over Karl Taylor ended a successful 1998 and his first fight in 1999 brought with it his first taste of championship action against Birmingham’s Midlands area champion Malcolm Melvin and the vacant WBF light welterweight belt was on the line. Junior produced a calculated display and stopped Melvin in round 2, to land his first title of many and also break his first fight of the year draw sequence.
Routine wins over Isaac Cruz, Harry Butler, Arv Mitto and in between a first round blow out of Romanian Mihai Iorgu in Spain had ended 1999 and started the millennium in good fashion. With a record at that point of 17-0-2, Junior was offered a late-notice fight for a genuine world title against the fantastic unbeaten IBF light welterweight champion Zab Judah on the undercard of Mike Tyson v Lou Savarese in Glasgow. Witter got the late call after British champion Jason Rowland pulled out.
After a gallant effort against the Brooklyn fighter who was being groomed has the next superstar of American boxing, Junior suffered his first taste of defeat as a professional, losing on a unanimous points decision, 112-116, 111-118, 110-118 on the judges cards.
But this was a vision for the future, Junior had not been fazed by the big occasion and big time world title fight spotlight and gave Judah a frustrating night and plenty of problems with his unorthodox style, something he had never experienced before. But in the end Judah did show his class to come through the series of puzzles Witter posed him. ‘The American commentators labelled Junior flashy, awkward, interesting and quite simply weird and at one point they compared him to Fred Astaire during there analysis of the fight. Such was Juniors constant switch hitting tactics and movement
Anybody who saw the fight, were not going to forget Junior Witter, and he was going to make damn sure they didn’t do. The confidence gained from testing the unbeaten top class world champion, would pay dividends later on in his career. – Years later when he himself did finally win a World title, he reflected on that night in Glasgow saying “It was a shot in the dark. During my first few years as a pro, I was struggling like mad financially, so when the shot came about it meant a really big payday. I thought: if I don’t take it, I’ve got nothing – all my savings were gone and all my loans were on top of me. As far as the fight went, I didn’t have enough experience. I wasn’t even British champion and I had nine days to prepare for a shot at Judah, one of the best fighters in the world. I lost on points, but I learned so much. It taught me that I deserved to be at that level.”
Junior finished the year 2000 with two more KO wins over Steve Conway and Christopher Henry before showing that his power was developing by adding another three knockout wins to his repertoire in 2001, including a televised 5th round KO of Durham’s Alan Temple in July 2001. On the ring apron after the fight when speaking to SkySports, Junior boasted that he was the best light-welterweight in the world and demanded another world title shot. One such world title holder that Junior was referring to was the current WBU belt holder at the time Ricky Hatton, who had won his belt in March against Tony Pep and had defended it two weeks earlier with a 4th round KO over Jason Rowland and was at the ringside listening to the interview.
“Do you think you can beat me?” Junior shouted over to Hatton. “I know I can beat you.!” was Hatton’s response. The pair then continued to argue with Junior exclaiming ‘I’ll destroy you!’ – The light-welterweight battle of the Roses never happened and British boxing was denied, what would have been an intriguing fight, but now we’ll never know, who would have won? – It is believed Hatton vowed never to give Witter a fight and a shot at his titles, after he felt he had disrespected him on more than one occasion.
In the October of 2001, Junior got a crack at the WBU International light-middleweight title against South African Colin Mayisela. The new power punching Junior was evident again, he knocked-out Mayisela in round 2. That win didn’t get him the fight with Hatton he thought it would, but it did earn him a shot at the prestigious vacant British light welterweight title in March 2002 against Alan Bosworth. It was to start a relationship with Junior and the famous Lonsdale belt, one that was destined to last for the next ten years.
In his next fight he added the vacant Commonwealth title to his ever belt collection with a 2 round KO win over Ghanain Laatekwei Hammond. Two more fights in 2002 saw him beat Lucky Sambo, in a non-title fight and Italian Giuseppe Lauri in an eliminator for the WBO light welterweight title. After only two fights in 2003, and now a double domestic champion and with two international gongs, he added to that belt collection again when in April of 2003 he stopped Belgian Jurgen Haeck in round two and won the European Union title.
A first defence of his Commonwealth title took place in September at the MEN Arena in Manchester with a 2nd round victory over Kenyan Fred Kinuthia. Witter finally challenged for the full European title in June 2004 beating Italian Salvatore Battaglia at the Ice Arena in Nottingham to claim the full domestic belt set. The year ended for Witter with a first defence of his European crown at the Conference Center in Wembley stopping Poland’s Krzyztof Bienias with ease.
February 2005 and Witter was offered a great opportunity and a route back to his dream of a second world title fight. He travelled to Los Angeles for a WBC Light Welterweight eliminator against Australian-based Lovemore N’dou. The fight which also doubled as a further defence of his Commonwealth title ended with a 12 round points decision win for the fast improving Junior and he was now really seasoning into a talent of world class potential, who had really been learning his trade the right way.
In July of the same year Witter returned to the Ice Arena in Nottingham to score a unanimous points win over future world champion Andriy Kotelnik. The Ukrainian shown that night, what he was to go on to do in his career. But in a close fought fight which was also a defence of his European title, Witter prevailed.
Witter finished the year of 2005 with a win over Colin Lynes in a fight that saw his British, Commonwealth and European light-welterweight titles all on the line. The fight, at the York Hall in London, ended in a unanimous points victory over 12 rounds for Witter. It was a rivalry that would again surface a decade later in another significant fight.
That defence against Lynes opened up the world title dream for Junior again and in September of 2006 he finally got the chance to get his hands on the world title he craved for a second time. He was matched with another American in his prime southpaw, Demarcus Corley for the vacant WBC light welterweight belt at the Alexandra Palace in London.
|The dream comes true for Junior – New WBC world light-welterweight champion
Eighteen fights and eighteen wins since losing to Zab Judah in 2000 Witter had finally achieved the pinnacle of his career so far a via a points decision, judges scores read 119-111, 118-112 and 117-113 unanimously in favour of Witter. During the fight he had frustrated, taunted and confounded Corley to defeat. From the first round Witter had switched stances constantly and Corley just couldn’t suss Junior out.
After claiming the world title, Junior praised his team for what they had done for him, but his special thanks went to his amateur coach and the man who had got him on his way and off the streets of his tough Bradford estate, Alec Allen. Junior dedicated the win and his world title to the former teacher and unsung hero to many in Bradford.
Two defences of the title followed in 2007 a win over Mexican Arturo Morua, TKO 9 was followed by a great 7th round stoppage of the very talented and former WBA world champion Vivian Harris. – Junior dominated Harris throughout before stopping him and after the fight Harris cried fowl play and accusing Junior of taking drugs, afterwards saying; “I don’t know if they injected him with stuff, but he’s never beaten anyone of my calibre, something was wrong.” John Ingle, Witter’s manager, said: “Junior is tested after every fight and that was the case last week.” – Witter was furious and instructed his lawyers to consider action against Harris about the slanderous allegations.
After eight months out of the ring Junior made the third defence of his world title against unbeaten Timothy Bradley at the Nottingham Arena in May 2008. It was to be a bad night for Witter, tasting the canvas in round 6 and went onto lose his title via a split decision 112-115, 115-113 and 114-113 – It was his second defeat as a professional.
He just never got going in the fight and instead of this time frustrating his opponent, he frustrated himself with a sketchy performance. He failed to impose himself on Bradley, as he had done on Harris in his previous defence. Afterwards Junior admitted to being sloppy on the night, but was still convinced he had done enough to win, when he said; “I’m gutted, I can’t believe it,” he said. “I thought I’d done enough. I know I had the knock-down but I thought I worked hard enough in the rest of the fight to win comfortably. I don’t think you saw the best of me tonight. Timothy Bradley came out and fought and took some good shots. He caught me with a hell of a shot. (in the 6th) But I was just a bit sloppy. It was a perfect shot. He’d been trying it all night, I knew he was going for it. But I won rounds before it. I won rounds after that.
“I’m still going to carry on, no way am I retiring after that, I’m going to fight until I’m forty. There’s a lot more in the tank. There are better nights for me to come and Junior Witter will be back as a world champion.” added Junior.
Following the Bradley defeat Witter returned to the ring on 8 November 2008 and scored a third round knockout of Argentinian Victor Hugo Castro. He knocked his opponent down in the second but was unable to finish it due to the bell instead finishing the fight early in the following round.
Witter was then given the chance to fight for his old WBC title when in May 2009, Bradley was stripped of the belt for choosing not to fight his mandatory challenger Devon Alexander. This handed Witter an opportunity to fight Alexander for the now vacant belt.
The contest took place in California on 1 August 2009 with Alexander proving an hard nights work for Witter, Alexander boxed great that night and Junior never got into the fight and retired on his stool at the end of the 8th round after sustaining an elbow injury in the 4th, that he claims he couldn’t shake.
“My elbow went in round four. Junior said afterwards. “I battled through for a few rounds but I couldn’t keep doing it. I wasn’t able to box the way I wanted to and I decided it was time to let it go. It was a mutual agreement with my corner. As much as I wanted to do it, I just wasn’t able to. It wasn’t that I wanted to quit, because I knew I could win. I just wasn’t there on the night. I don’t think it’s my last fight but I’ve got to decide where I go now. I need to get away for a bit and let my injuries heal.”
Junior didn’t fight again until the 19 February 2011, a year and a half since the loss to Alexander and it wasn’t certain if we were to see the Hitter ever hitting again. The fight, this time in Ontario, against Canadian based Romanian Victor Lupo. It turned into one of the real low points of Juniors career that night in Canada and had most experts closing the book on Witter. In what should have been a routine win on paper for a former world champion, Junior just never settled into any rhythm. Lupo stalked, pushed pulled and punched his way to the surprise upset win over ten rounds, in an absolute stinker of a fight.
Witter, fighting at welterweight for the first time, after being out of the ring since August 2009, used all his usual slips and tricks to keep the Canadian based Romanian off balance. But the fight turned into a messy affair with holding from both. With heads bumping together and both fighters were warned on several occasions to tidy up the action, it was Lupo who was the more willing to set the pace and take the fight to a disappointing Witter, who looked a shadow of his former slick self.
In June 2011 Junior entered the welterweight version of the Prizefighter tournament at the York Hall, Bethnall Green in London and defeated Nathan Graham and Kevin McIntyre on the way to the final. In the final, Junior lost a majority points decision to Yassine El Maachi in what could well be considered the worst Prizefighter final of the lot. Junior missed out on the winners trophy and a tidy top prize of £32,000.
‘This was surely the final swansong for Junior’ the headlines read on the internet websites and industry publications after the tournament. But Junior still had other ideas and it seems and determined that he would really fight on until he was indeed 40. – But would Junior now be reduced to fighting second tier fighters? Would he be just content making a living from a few meaningless fights and just eventually fade away from the game? This was highlighted further when he took a six rounder in Belfast against Lithuanian, win some lose some, Arvydas Trizno
. Junior won comfortably on points.
Well if you have got to this part of the story and your still reading! Then you will have realised by now that there is something indeed special inside Junior Witter. A never say die attitude and an overwhelming desire to prove people wrong and be the best. It still burns within him as strong as it did from day one and he had his eye on another domestic title shot, this time at the higher division of welterweight and the British title, currently held by old adversary Colin Lynes. It was juniors chance to become a two weight British champion and prove himself right and his critics wrong.
When we talk about a clash of styles, Junior’s style seems to clash with every body’s and it did again like the first time clash with Lynes’ – The fight was again like there first meeting in 2005 far from a classic. Junior started the fight the quicker although both failed to land any punches of note, it was Witters that were landing the cleanest and more regular. Lynes just never seamed to get going and Junior was the sharper of the two throughout.
Most of the rounds followed a similar pattern with Junior proving his usual awkward self, throwing punches from all angles with a good variety. The right hand of Junior was giving Lynes trouble throughout to head and body. his booming right hooks to the head, and rights to Lynes’ body. Lynes failed to really get going and was fairly easy to hit throughout the fight.
After 12 rounds of boxing the judges scorecards came back 117-112, 115-114 and 116-114 all in favour of; The new British welterweight champion Junior ‘The Hitter’ Witter. and at 38 the oldest welterweight Lonsdale belt holder. What an amazing career Junior Witter has had.
Like Marmite, it seems some fans like Junior Witter and some don’t! But whatever your views are on him, there is no denying his dedication to the sport, his inner strength and will to come back from the dejection and pain of defeat, to prevail against all the odds and all the knockers and roll back the years at 38 to become a champion once again.
But if you think Junior has any intentions of going out just yet you’d be mistaken. Junior is on the path of another world title shot and is currently (16th May 2012) chasing a fight with the new WBA welterweight champion Paulie Malignaggi.
Having won the Lonsdale belt at two weights, Witter now wants to do the same at world level and win another world tile, suggesting he now plans to ditch the 40 year old retirement plan and carry on until he is 50!
The final words before we wrap up are left to Junior Witter, until the next time, that is if we ever do see the end of Junior Witter? “I want to go onwards and upwards. The European and Commonwealth titles are realistic, anything like that before the end of the year. And then I’m looking to go for the world next year. The fight I definitely want right now is Malignaggi. said Junior after the win. That would be perfect for me. He’s good and tricky and a counter-puncher as well but I’d be too strong. A lot of people out there have written me off in the last couple of years.
“I went over to box in Canada, got ripped off, and that was it, I was finished. But I knew they were talking rubbish. I remember people telling me that I’d never win a British title when I first started pro. I won the British, Commonwealth, European, WBF and WBC world. They say I’m too old but I’m the youngest 38-year-old you’ll ever find. Someone asked me recently how long I’d carry on and I said until 40. But 50’s the new 40 and that’s another 12 years!
“If I’m not getting hurt and I’m carrying on beating people at that level, then I’m comfortable and I’m carrying on.”
The Story continues…. watch this space
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