By its very nature, boxing is a sport which has difficulty separating Rocky from reality, yet sometimes there are tales which defy even the most imaginative of Hollywood scriptwriters. Such is that of Jason Booth, surely the most remarkable boxer in Britain. As Carl Froch, the former world super-middleweight champion, says of his fellow Nottingham resident: "His story is one you couldn't make up."
Booth, 32, is a recovering alcoholic and one-time drug-user whose boxing career was brutally interrupted when he spent two booze and drug-fuelled years on the streets, drinking dregs from discarded beer cans, stealing food from dustbins and being briefly imprisoned "for being a menace to society". Now the one-time down-and-out is on the up again after, he says, finding God and "a brilliant girlfriend" and has a decent chance of completing his rehabilitation by winning the world super-bantamweight title. He challenges the Canadian holder of the IBF version, Steve Molitor, at Houghton-le-Spring in Durham on Saturday night.
Booth's drinking habits were sparked off 10 years ago by the suicide of his sister Deana, who was in care at the time. "I was devastated," he says. "It was too much for me. It haunts me to this day. I used to drink just to numb the grief, even when I was in training. I still carry part of her into the ring with me."
It was four years later when Booth seriously started hitting the bottle instead of opponents. Hewas at rock bottom after dropping his British title to Damaen Kelly in December 2004 and the next two years were spent "throwing my life down the toilet".
"I was knocking around with crackheads and once all my boxing money had gone on booze and hangers-on, I'd go out scrounging for pennies to get a take-out," Booth says.
"I didn't rob, steal or hurt anyone but it was self-destructive," he admits. "I also dabbled in drugs, though thankfully they never got a grip of me like the drink did. I would drink cider from a plastic bottle in the morning to stop the shakes and drink myself normal. I would wander around the local doss-houses, anywhere to get a drink because I couldn't afford the pubs. I'd pick up cans from the gutter and drink the dregs.
"I was on my arse and there were demons in my head. I had sandpaper skin and looked an old man. Doctors told me if I carried on, I had two months to live but I thought death was the way out."
Among his drinking companions was his younger brother Nicky, also a boxer, who is still fighting a battle with the bottle and drugs. "We both fell from grace and Nicky fell a lot faster than me," says Booth. "He's still falling and went completely haywire. He is not in a good way and I am the lucky one. I blame nobody but myself for what happened to me." Nicky was imprisoned in May 2004 for robbery and burglaries that fed his cocaine habit. "Nick and me were a bad influence on each other," adds Booth. "People tried to give me good advice, but I'd just tell them to fuck off. I had my head up my arse."
Salvation came when he met his current partner, Sarita, who with the help of a local GP persuaded him to go cold turkey. "I put Sarita through hell. I had the DTs for a week and was hallucinating, being sick and pissing blood. But after two months I found I could live without a drink."
Booth has a three-year-old son and an 18-month-old daughter with Sarita and two stepchildren, all of whom he is taking to Disneyland at Christmas on the proceeds of the upcoming fight. He says that boxing and religion have become his detox and he is a born-again Christian. "I've always believed in God and stuff, and now I think he is looking over me. He gave me the strength to rebuild and try again. It is still hard. Yes, I've thought about relapsing but I don't need it. I have done all the messing about. Now I've got my kids, they're my focus. But if I hadn't had boxing I'd be dead."
Says his promoter, Frank Maloney: "If Jason pulls this off after the car-crash life he has had, it will give me more pleasure than when I took Lennox Lewis to the world heavyweight championship. It's boxing's real Cinderella story."
Booth has a family score to settle because Molitor took the Commonwealth bantamweight title from his brother Nicky in September 2002. He has won the last eight bouts of his 24-fight career to earn his chance against the slick southpaw Molitor, a second-time-around champion who has lost only once.
"Steve is a class act," says Booth. "But whether I win or not, with all the problems I've had, to think I am fighting for a world title is just fantastic."
And there's another tragic twist to this fistic tale of the unexpected. Molitor's own drug-addict brother Jeremy, a Commonwealth Games gold medallist, was sentenced to life in prison in May 2005 after being convicted of the murder of a former girlfriend, stabbing her 58 times. Which prompts Molitor to say: "I'm glad Jason's turned his life around but if you look at every boxer, myself included, there's always a skeleton in the closet."
Jason Booth v Steve Molitor is exclusively live and in high definition on Sky Sports HD1 on Saturday 11 September. To upgrade to HD call 08442 410 564Reuse content