This Saturday at the famous York Hall in London’s Bethnal Green, one man will attempt to achieve what is seemingly an impossible dream and prove not just his many doubters and disbelievers wrong – but lifelong adversity itself – by winning what will be his 53rd professional boxing match when he squares off over 4 rounds against Latvia’s Dennis Kornilovs (1-2, 0ko).
Of those 52 prior professional contests, “Rockin” Robin Deakin has chalked just the one victory – in his very first paid outing in Oct 2006 – and after a running series of mishaps, defeats and humiliations that would have broken lesser men, the Crawley born fighter is now intent on restarting his boxing career once again, by fighting for, and gaining, that elusive redeeming win.
It’s not just a matter of personal pride and a never-say-die attitude that is motivating Deakin for Saturday’s fight however. Having hooked up for the comeback with former fighter-turned-trainer Michael Jennings, Robin has been making the 200 mile trip up to Jennings’ Chorley gym and living with his young family Monday-Friday, training hard in the wider hope of having the right to earn a living under the auspices of the British Board of Control restored to him.
It was following his 49th straight career loss to Andrei Pudosov in June of 2012, on a Tommy Gilmour show in Glasgow, that Deakin had his licence to fight revoked by the BBBofC, ostensibly amid fears for his health, and since that time – including Saturday’s fight in London – he has been forced to box infrequently under the auspices of foreign licensing commissions.
It was while preparing for one of these bouts – his March 2014 fight with Damien Lawniczak (then 0-11), that tabloid columnist Rod Liddle of the Sun newspaper cruelly branded Deakin the “Worst Boxer in Britain” after picking up on a similar headline from Robin’s local rag, “The Brentford Gazette,” who were covering his comeback fight in a piece they also similarly twisted for “comedic effect.”
They misquoted Robin as calling himself “the human punch bag,” when he says he was in actual fact using the term in reference to how he believes some of the more “shady” elements of the boxing game have treated him behind the scenes over the years.
“He floats like a fridge and stings like a bowl of butterscotch angel delight, ” Liddle wrote in a scathing diatribe written purely for the purposes of ridicule, alongside referring to Shaun Walton, the man Deakin beat on his debut, as “surely entirely limbless and blind?”
Deakin has since admirably attempted to use the tag of “Britain’s Worst Boxer” for his own ends, (‘they offered me to go on Big Brother’) as usual seeking to draw the positives from a negative situation, feeding off the publicity and going as far as to openly challenge pop-brat and wannabe boxer Justin Bieber to a fight earlier this year! (It’s a long story!)
However, despite such incidents, what Liddle and many of the regular 1.8 million in-print readers of his column were unaware of, was the sheer hardship and almost daily battles Deakin has already been forced to endure and overcome in his personal life to even get to this point in the first place.
Born dangerously premature with the crippling condition Talipes in 1986, life started as an uphill struggle for Deakin, whose parents were told by doctors the affliction was so serious that even being able to walk was not a foregone conclusion for their tiny son.
‘As a kid I was born disabled, it’s called Talipes,’ Robin told me over the phone.
“Basically it meant my legs were backwards and my parents were told that I’d probably not be able to walk.”
After eventually enduring over 40 painful operations as a child to correct the defect, initially being wheelchair bound and spending long periods in hospital, the young Deakin battled through and beat the odds to take up the “noble art,” initially in a bid to combat childhood bullies who mocked his condition, ultimately embarking on an unlikely, yet wholly respectable amateur career.
“I was bullied as a kid until the age of eleven, twelve, and I started fighting back basically and making a bit of a reputation. I’d started boxing for a bit of confidence and to build up my legs, and in the end I had 76 amateur fights and I won 46 of them.
“I started at Horsham Boxing Club and my Dad trained me until I was 14, then I went back and boxed for Crawley. I even went out to Cypress too for an international tournament and got beat in the quarter -finals by a decent Scottish international, a good fighter – a guy called Michael Blackburn.”
The decision was eventually made in 2006 to turn over, and Deakin did so with veteran promoter Frank Warren – although by his own admission Deakin says “I was getting a bit bored of boxing at the time,” and had seemingly already consigned himself to reality.
”I knew I was never going to be a world champion and get to that level, I just wanted to make an impression on myself” he said thoughtfully. The desire to see how far he could go was there, and the intention to become a journeyman – which many young fighters turn over with to supplement the day job – definitely was NOT there for Robin.
“I wanted to be a character, get on TV and just get recognised for what I do and what I’ve overcome.”
After his auspicious pro debut against Shaun Walton, Deakin was given the opportunity to box on a massive card featuring the now famous Graham Earl/Michael Katsidis barnstormer at Wembley Arena, a bill that was headlined by Olympic gold medalist Audley Harrison and featured an early appearance from a young Amir Khan.
“My 2nd fight was on the Graham Earl/Michael Katsidis fight at Wembley and I didn’t get a lot of notice for that fight, and I was working full time on site as well.
“(Frank Warren’s late matchmaker) Dean Powell phoned me up and asked if I wanted the fight. I wasn’t gonna turn that down at Wembley, but 5 weeks out I was overweight and unfit. Still, I said I’d take it and lost by a point.”
Robin claims the referee Bob Williams played a negative part that night, denying him the victory for “personal reasons,” although now just 1-1 as a pro it wasn’t the end of the world, especially given the magnitude of the occasion.
“Sometimes I made an impression on people (back then) where they didn’t like me, I was a bit hyper. It still happens today to be fair but I sold a lot of tickets back then for that fight.
“It was worse though because they stuck me on first and to cut a long story short, I was boxing to a near empty venue so a lot of my fans missed the fight.”
The experience was bitter for Robin who parted company with Frank Warren by mutual agreement immediately afterward, signing management terms with his friend and fellow fighter Graham Earl, whom he had boxed beneath on the Wembley card. It was to be a crossroads point in the career of Deakin, a real ‘what if?’ moment.
“Graham sent me out to America and I was training with a guy called Gus Curran, a good trainer. I was due to sign with (legendary US trainer/manager) Lou Duva, but he wanted me to stay out there in America and to be fair, I regret saying no now.
“I was young, I’d fallen in love with a girl and I just said f*** it, I’m going back home,” which proved to be instrumental in the path he was then to embark on as a fighter.
8 months out from the Wembley show, Robin boxed again against Eddie Hyland, and a month after that was stopped in the 2nd by unbeaten 6-0 prospect, Ricky Owen up in Scotland.
“Graham asked if I wanted to fight him (Owen). I looked at his record and looked at his picture and thought ‘yeah, I’ll knock that little c*** out! Of course I want the fight!’ But his picture was deceiving, he could fu***** hit, he didn’t knock me out cold though – nobody ever has – but I was stopped on my feet.
“He (Owen) turned out to be a nice kid as it goes, a good fighter.”
So started what may seem to some a depressing narrative of fighting short notice, not training seriously and turning up as the opponent in the opposite corner to get beat. It was a pattern Robin quickly resigned himself too.
“It was after my 4th fight (a Jan ’08 PTS loss to Vinny Mitchell whom he later boxed again) that I started thinking ‘something’s against me here, someone up there hates me, so f*** it, I’ll just go on the road. From then really, I hadn’t been performing and I didn’t care.”
After leaving Earl the same year, Robin then signed a 3 year deal with London based manager and promoter Mickey Helliet, an experience he says he would like to forget, although it would be unfair for me to include the exact minutiae of his grievances without giving Helliet his right to reply.
In short, as is often the case, Deakin believes money to be the driving factor behind their falling out, as well as a 2010 fight with then undefeated Phil Gill, who Helliet also looked after. Whether true or not, Robin felt Helliet had the interests of Gill prioritized above his own, which further soured their relationship.
Claiming he was also pressured into fighting whilst unwell, Robin was beaten on points, leaving him with a 1-24 slate at the time, although by this time he concedes he was past caring about the numbers.
“It’s like Joe Gallagher’s saying, ‘I’m not a DJ, records mean f*** all to me really! People I’ve boxed have gone on to fight for world titles (Anthony Crolla) so it’s all experience I’ve been in with, I’ve boxed all these sorts of kids.”
That statement is true enough. Throughout his long career, solid domestic names like Crolla, Stephen Smith and Ryan Walsh immediately stand out. Deakin even boxed the son of heavyweight legend Tim Witherspoon on the rocky road toward his eventual license removal, which, as was mentioned previously, occurred after that 2012 loss to Andrei Pudosov in Scotland – his final fight with Helliet as manager.
“I retired in that fight, injured. I boxed well off the jab in the 1st and won the round, but as the bell went I caught him with a shot and my thumb went. I went all tingly down my arm and back and I knew straight away I’d broken it.
“I ended up retiring on my stool, something I’ve never done, and a week later the board called me in for a meeting and took my licence away.”
Pressed for the exact reasons why, Deakin was refreshingly honest, yet feels he was also a victim of circumstance given his poor financial situation at that time.
“They said that they didn’t like the way I fought and that I was taking too much punishment, that I wasn’t taking things seriously. Even though I think others have taken just as much punishment as me, it’s because I lost it looked bad on me I reckon. People forget, I haven’t failed a medical, had a dodgy brain scan, nothing.
“Obviously I was gutted. They told me I could appeal and they gave me 14 days to do it, which I did, but I was late ’cause (initially) I didn’t have the money for it (£250).
“I told them I wanted to appeal but that I couldn’t afford it at the minute because I had rent to pay. I put the appeal in as they said they’d keep it open for me but when I rang to see how things were going a week later I was told I was being refused as my appeal was late.
“Two 1/2 years down the line here we are, and they still won’t give my license back to me. And they still have my £250 to this day too.”
It is a testament to Robin’s character in the intermittent time he hasn’t simply given up, though such is his spirit and determination, that simply isn’t an option.
“I’m a fighter and I always have been. Being born disabled didn’t stop me from doing things what normal people do. Fighting’s what I wanna do and it’s what I do and I love it. I will always be a fighter,” he says – and the fight to get his license back is proving to be the toughest yet.
“I do feel hard done by though as I’ve done nothing wrong. I haven’t cheated like some others who get their license back. I haven’t brawled at a press conference like Dereck Chisora did, and he gets his license back.
“I think that because of what I earn per fight, I don’t pay much board tax. Guys like that and others who earn grands and grands per fight are worth more to them (BBBofC) than I am.”
Robin knows that the strongest argument he can muster in convincing the licensing officials is to win this fight on Saturday, which is why he hooked up with former British welterweight champion and former world title challenger Michael Jennings – a man he considers a close friend. Sadly though, as the fight is under the auspices of the Maltese Board, Jennings won’t be able to corner him, though will of course be traveling down for the fight.
“I can’t keep mugging myself off and losing. I need to win and that’s why I went to Michael. I’ve known him 9, 10 years now. The first time I met him he actually knew my name! I remember ringing my Dad and saying ‘guess who knew my name?,’ cause it was around the time he was British champion.”
“Michael was – and is – a legend, obviously he boxed for the world title too (in 2009). In boxing for me then to be known by someone like Michael was amazing, and listen, him and (brother) Dave, they’re good, good trainers, the best I’ve been with.
“Not many people in his position would let you go to their house, have the run of his house and basically live there, but he has, and he’s been getting me seriously ready for this fight.
“I told him I wanted this fight to turn my career around and he basically said ‘you can only come up here if you train properly and train hard. The friendship has gone out the window for this camp, it’s purely business – I listen to him or f*** off.”
“Believe me, they have worked on everything with me for this fight. Defense, throwing more punches and getting out of journeyman mode. I need to win this fight and I will. Then the turnaround is complete for me and I can work on getting my licence back.
“I just want the board to listen to me and I know a win’s gonna help that, but whatever happens I’m not gonna quit. I’m a fighter and that’s what I do.”
“I want to dedicate this fight to a close friend who died recently of a heart attack. He was only 23, so I’m gonna win this fight not just for me, my trainers and all the people who have supported me, but I wanna win it for him too as I know that he’s gonna be looking down on me on fight night.”
Robin fights this Saturday, August 29th at the York Hall, Bethnal Green. You can follow him on twitter @rockinrobinbox6.
NB: The BBBofC were unavailable for comment regarding any potential return of Robin’s licence due to the close season.
Author’s twitter @Undilutedpoison