Colourful Southampton light-middle Joe Pigford is causing quite a stink down on England’s south coast, writes Glynn Evans.
The undefeated 21 year old, who debuts for Queensberry Promotions at Wembley this Saturday, has amassed a fast growing and increasingly raucous band of swine who illuminate arenas every time he fights.
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“My dad and older brother were both known as ‘Piggie’ and quite a few of my mob turn up to my fights wearing pig costumes, pig masks and snouts,’ explains Joe who meets Nottingham’s Simone Lucas over six rounds.
“Before I fight they all chant: ‘Release the pig!’ It draws attention to me so I don’t mind. Something different.
“There’ll be about 150 coming to Wembley and it’ll be quite lively by the time I fight!”
Unquestionably the gimmick has helped court welcome interest in the gifted former national junior finalist but, in boxing, nothing draws recognition more than a genuine knockout punch.
Since joining the profession 30 months ago, the young piglet has placed seven big bad wolves in the pot to boil. Of those, only 57 fight Atherton veteran Willie Warburton huffed and puffed his way across the finish line.
“Obviously you can teach technique to improve power but true punchers are born punchers,’ insists Smokin’ Joe who has dispatched three victims in the first round, two in the second and one in round three.
“I could always bang a bit. I stopped my first four opponents and probably half of my amateur wins were stoppages. I’ve always had a really strong jab and hook.
“Once, when I was about 15, I remember finishing a kid with a body shot. They took my head guard and wraps off, called me to ring centre to raise my hand and, minutes later, the poor kid was still writhing on the floor being attended to by the doctor!’
“People who just see my record probably expect a short, squat guy who’ll storm out like a steam train but I’m actually a 6ft 1in light-middle who prefers to stand off, work the jab and pick my punches. I just happen to be able to whack with both hands.”
His initial fascination with the noble art was sparked at the family parties held for fight nights featuring domestic legends such as Naseem Hamed and, Joe’s personal favourite, Nigel Benn.
At the age of 12, he decided to assume a more active role.
“No one else in the family ever boxed but I started having a go at the Millbank ABC run by Wayne Batten, now my pro trainer. To be truthful, I weren’t great at school, always in trouble. They’d send me home for break times because I was a bit too rough with the other kids!”
After just three bouts, Pigford switched to the Golden Ring club where his club mates included European amateur finalist Iain Weaver and ex Commonwealth middleweight challenger Tony Hill.
“All told, I suppose I had about 35 amateur fights and lost maybe eight,’ recalls Joe.
“Twice I got to the NACYP final but the scoring in amateur boxing was shocking for a puncher like me. I’d knock a kid down and still lose the round.
“I once beat Scotland’s Charlie Flynn who won the Commonwealth Games last year but I never went in the Senior ABAs or boxed for England. I just enjoyed training and fighting. It was always my plan to box professional from as soon as I started.”
To that end, he sought the guidance of Mr Wayne Batten, the coach who inducted him into the sport as a schoolboy at Millbank and who is currently overlord at Batten’s Boxing, a pro stable at the Pound for Pound training ground in Southampton. It has served as Pigford’s sty for the past 30 months.
“I see more of Wayne than anyone else in my life. We train together twice a day. He’s an ex amateur who’s the best pad man I’ve ever seen. He always gives good advice and I trust him,” says Joe.
“My dream is to win titles: British, Commonwealth, then maybe European and world. I intend to keep in the gym, stay as fit as I can and fight as often as I’m able. That way, I’ll soon be challenging for titles. I’m always 100 confident that I can beat whoever is placed in front of me.”
Thus far, there are few names of real substance on the apprentice’s perfect 7-0 slate. However, he has quietly been developing his craft, away from the spotlight, as a spar hand to several of the leading players in the 154-160lb divisions.
“I’ve done a lot of sparring with (WBA interim middleweight champ) Chris Eubank Jr,” disclosed Pigford.
“It’s been great experience and I’ve learned a lot. He’s heavier than me and very strong physically but he’s also very sharp. You can never afford to switch off. (Ex WBO International light-middle czar) King Davidson also taught me a lot and I’ve had spars with (British and Commonwealth middleweight challenger) Nick Blackwell and (Commonwealth light-middle boss) Liam Williams. Very good boys.”
A huge fan of Southampton FC, the Saint goes marching into battle again this weekend with the added incentive of impressing new promoter Frank Warren and a live BoxNation audience.
He concludes: “I’ll be looking to make a statement. I’ll set out looking to box, box; dominate the fight without taking any punishment. I won’t go looking for a kayo and it’d be good to get a few rounds under my belt. We’ll just have to see if my opponent can take my punches.”