After seven years abroad, Theophane returns tonight at the same venue where his career began, the York Hall!
Ashley Theophane’s life in boxing would probably make a decent book one day. The affable Londoner began his career in his hometown, and quickly amassed a professional record made unique by his willingness to travel. His first 10 fights saw him compete in 4 different cities and 7 different venues. By the time he became a British champion, his record was 28-4-1. He had competed in 4 different countries, and his list of opponents included future world champion Danny Garcia, future world title challenger Delvin Rodriguez and former-champion-turned-gatekeeper DeMarcus Corley.
An extended stay in America as part of Floyd Mayweather’s team brought him a spate of victories, culminating in his own world title shot (a 9th round stoppage defeat to Adrien Broner in 2016). As the momentum driving his career stalled following the loss, Theophane set out on a world tour of sorts, and has fought in seven countries since December 2017, most recently in Dubai, the 10th international territory in which he has boxed.
Now, having spent more than seven years abroad, Theophane plans to return to the UK, to the same venue where his career began, no less; York Hall in London. “Next for me is June 22nd at York Hall, Bethnal Green on a Mickey Helliet show. I’m going for my 50th win after that (Theophane currently has 46) and I’d love Terry Flanagan or Ricky Burns to mark the occasion.”
At 38 years old and with a few miles on the clock, such contests will surely be the height of his ambition. He is not the fighter he once was, and given the opponents he has faced recently, it is hard to gauge how much he has declined. Janos Vass (16-19-2 at the time) earned most of his wins in his native Hungary, while most of his losses came abroad as he was dragged around Europe to fight as the ‘away’ boxer on someone else’s show (the loss to Theophane was an exception). Elsewhere, after a decent start to his career, Ricardo Sarmiento was KO’ed in 3 rounds by fellow Mexican Edgar Ruiz, starting a pattern that most other fighters have followed. He has lost a total of 47 times, and has been stopped in 43 of them. Theophane stopped him in 3, later ruled a no contest after it emerged Sarmiento had fought without a licence.
On one hand, Theophane would say that he needs to be beating such men to prove he is above them, and this is somewhat fair. Since facing Broner in 2016 – certainly his last meaningful fight – he has amassed 6 of his 16 career KO victories, including in his last 5 consecutive fights. If he is unable to mix with those at the level above him, he is at least proving that he is well beyond those beneath him. Were he at the start of his career, there would be a huge demand to see him compete at a higher level.
But – the critics respond – he isn’t at the beginning of his career. Who is the best opponent he has beaten since Broner? Is it Bakhtiyar Isgandarzada, who hasn’t won in over 3 years? Or Frank Dodzi, a powerful-yet-vulnerable Ghanaian who won 13 of his 19 victories either against professional debutants or winless opponents (and has been beaten by a couple of them too)? Theophane may yet have one or two good performances left in him, but he won’t produce them against this kind of opposition.
It is unlikely that the cumulative value of these international victories holds much weight in the UK, and won’t be enough to earn him a fight against either Burns or Flanagan, both of whom have moved back down to lightweight recently anyway. At super-welter (Theophane’s current weight class), the likes of Kell Brook and Liam Smith are pipe dreams, fighters who many of the others at the top of the division would prefer facing rather than feature in a Theophane swansong.
Instead, fans must make do with Faheem Khan, a 14-10-2 southpaw who, as his record suggests, has enjoyed mixed fortunes on the domestic scene. A close win over Area-title challenger Nathan Weise is his standout victory, yet is over-shadowed by losses to anyone else of a similar ability, the most recent of which was to Midlands Area welterweight champion Rob Hunt. Since then he has gone 7-1, all against journeymen in contests that were mostly scheduled for 4 rounds. Going 8 rounds against Theophane is a big ask, especially as he has never been in a bout scheduled for longer than that.
What does this mean for the Brit? On a positive note, it (probably) means another win, perhaps another KO. Its a homecoming as a headliner (albeit on a small hall show), one which he hopes will re-establish him as a decent domestic operator, and people will probably pay to see him fight. But there is a downside; the iron isn’t getting any hotter, and time isn’t on his side. If he is to mix with top level British fighters, he needs to fight them now. More bouts like this will only put more miles on an already well-run clock; he needs to save those miles for the big fights, because he will likely need every yard he can give himself against the young guns.