Boxing: Swapping the onion bag for a punchbag

Former footballer turns his back on beautiful game to try his hand in the ring and fulfil a dream
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The Independent Online

Football and fighting are not uncommon sparmates, but the 26-year-old Curtis Woodhouse embarks on a whole new brawl game on Friday. The one-time Premiership and England Under-21 midfielder has hung up his boots and will pull on the gloves in his debut as a pro boxer at London's Grosvenor House Hotel, fulfilling a lifelong dream.

His remarkable career switch is, he admits, "one hell of a gamble". He says: "This is something I've wanted to do all my life, but football got in the way." Whether he can keep his chin out of the way of welterweight opponent Dean Marcantonio is something the boxing world awaits with intrigue.

The bright, articulate former £1 million Birmingham and Sheffield United player who helped Grimsby into the League Two play-off final last season would be a welcome addition to the personality-fixated fight game. According to his trainer, the former British featherweight champion Gary de Roux, he was a boxer trapped in a footballer's body. "If I had any doubts about his ability, I wouldn't have contemplated training him," he says.

Woodhouse, born in Driffield, Yorkshire, has invested his life savings from football into making his name as a fighter. "I'm not in this to have a couple of gimmicky fights, make a quick buck and return to football. I didn't just wake up one morning and say, 'I'll be a boxer'. I've been planning this for years.

"Everybody has told me I'm crazy, but you only get one crack at life. I don't want to be sitting at the end of a bar when I'm 50, wishing I'd had a go at boxing. I really do believe I can become a champion."

Training for his first fight - he never boxed as an amateur - has, he says, taken him to levels of fitness he never thought possible. "Everything I've done in the gym has been so much more professional, so much harder than anything I've experienced in football. Football training is kid's stuff by comparison.

"It was while I was watching the World Cup that I knew I'd made the right decision. I didn't miss football one little bit. Even when I'm running at five in the morning I'm excited about what I'm doing. I feel like I'm 16 again.

"There aren't enough hours in the day to learn all I want to know about boxing. Football never gave me that feeling. It depressed me. I just felt dead. I know there are many who won't be able to understand that, because I earned good money and had a great lifestyle, but I wasn't fulfilled. When I first told my partner, Charlotte, about it, she thought I was crackers, but now she realises this is a big passion for me."

He has received numerous good luck messages from people in football, where he built a reputation as a chippy, aggressive player. "Sure, I had a few fights. I seemed to spend every Monday morning in Neil Warnock's office getting read the riot act when I was at Sheffield United. Knowing him, I expect he might want me to win this first fight, but get a few whacks in the face on the way!"

His career change is not unprecedented. The Australian Anthony Mundine gave up a successful rugby league career and became the WBA super-middleweight champion. But he was the son of a boxer. So does boxing run in Woodhouse's family? "No, but fighting does. There are one or two who love to have a fight, and when I was younger I'd scrap at the drop of a hat, and got into a bit of trouble because of it. But my interest in boxing really started when I used to sit up with my dad and listen to the Mike Tyson fights. They gave me a buzz which lasted a week."

Woodhouse is managed by Frank Warren's matchmaker Dean Powell and begins as a four-round novice in a charity show in aid of DebRA (debra.org.uk), who promote research into the genetic skin disorder epidermolysis bullosa. The bill- topper is a fellow Yorkshireman, Mark Hobson, the British and Commonwealth cruiserweight champion, who takes on Czech Pavol Polakovic for the WBU title.

As Hobson's day job is debt collecting for Leeds Council, there should be no problem with punters coughing up liberally for the charity on the night.

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