By Richard Hubbard
“If I can get half a name who has the ambition to come out and beat me, it puts my A-game up”
DOING IT TOUGH via the school of hard knocks is the preserve of old pros when it comes to learning the ropes in readiness for combat in the toughest sport of all.
The modern breed of boxer can actually study the sweet science at college.
Unbeaten prospect Archie Sharp is a graduate of the Priory School where he undertook a year-long Advanced Apprenticeship in Sporting Excellence at the campus also known as the Frank Bruno Boxing Academy in Orpington, Kent.
There he was able to combine his passion for punching with vocational education linked to sport to provide a grounding for if a career in boxing didn’t come to fruition or when the bell rings for the final time.
“I was living in Welling at the time so it was only down the road and it was a good little college,” reflected the 20-year-old lightweight with three straight victories on his card. “It was called the Frank Bruno Boxing Academy and basically you were learning in the daytime with your English, Personal Training and things like that, so it was good.
“It was basically like going to college, but it was good because it was going to college doing something you enjoy. If you are a boxer it is good to go because you can do your lessons and then go to the gym. It gives you the opportunity to learn more.
“It was more amateur based and about trying to get you ready for the Olympic GB set-up, but for me that didn’t work out. It was a good stepping-stone though. If you leave school and get an apprenticeship then you go and do work, but with that you can work on something you like.”
Other recent graduates from the Priory School include Olympic hopeful Harvey Horn, as well as young pros Ted Cheeseman and Isaac Chamberlain.
“There were some good fighters coming out of there and it was a good set-up with a good, strong team.”
A particular highlight of Sharp’s stint at fight school was his selection as a ‘Young Games Maker’ for the London 2012, which presented the opportunity for him to mingle with the lords of the Olympic rings at the ExCel Arena.
Leading out Lomachenko proved a thrill for the then 16-year-old, with the Ukrainian clinching a second consecutive Olympic gold at the Docklands venue.
“I was yeah!” recalled Sharp on an fortnight he will never forget. “What an experience that was as well. It was carrying the flags out to the ring with the boxers behind you. You are basically in the ring with them before and after.
“I walked out Vasyl Lomechenko, Fred Evans and the Cuban lightweight Yasniel Toledo. I was there from the beginning to the end, but you did have shifts because there were so many fights on. I watched the majority of it all and was up on the stand when Luke Campbell won his gold.”
The initiative was bestowed on aspiring amateurs to inspire them to one day make the same walk to the ring for their own Olympic odyssey. For Sharp, however, the dream was denied as he grew weary of amateur politics and a restrictive schedule.
“It did inspire me and Rio was my goal at the time, but there is only so much you can do when you keep getting knocked back,” he reasoned. “The ABAs is once a year so, if you have a bad day or get a bad decision, you’ve got to wait a year, while GB didn’t happen for me.
“I started off well in the amateurs and got to 25-0, three schoolboy national championships back-to-back, three gold medals for GB in the Three-Nations, a gold in the England v Ireland, a junior ABA national title, two CYP national title, a European silver and a two-time junior ABA finalist.
“I know people talk about robberies, I’ve lost in the past and lost five bouts out of 56 or 57 fights and with a couple of them I didn’t turn up on the day and got beaten by the better fighter, but there has been cases where I believe I have won the fight and it has been taken away from me. In the senior ABAs I got to the national quarter finals and personally believe that I got the fight. It didn’t go my way and I thought I would have to wait a year for another ABA.
“I like to be active, so fighting one major championship a year is no good for me because you get stale,” he added, before wondering out loud why a full-time spot in Sheffield was never made an option to him.
“I believe I had 20 international fights and lost only one in the European finals in Russia. I had a lot of experience up in Sheffield in training camps but never had the opportunity to go full-time. I was doing what I was doing and, even if I was beating the best, they still weren’t picking me. Whether they didn’t like my style, I don’t know, but it obviously never suited me.
“When I knew it wasn’t going to happen it was time to turn pro and take the next step.”
The next step was the first rung of the professional ladder and a few tear-ups with Mitchell Smith with trainer Jason Rowland watching on convinced Sharp he could more than hold his own in the world of punch-for-pay.
“I was going to spar Mitchell and was having good spars with him. I spoke to Jason and said I wanted to turn pro and how to go about it. From there he helped me and guided me the right way.”
The second phase of his boxing journey took off last July with a one-round stoppage of Laszio Fekete at the York Hall. The Hungarian was the owner of a winning record and was duly dispatched by the new boy, before the challenge of more durable journeymen was assigned to Sharp.
Dan Carr and Qasim Hussain, both with heavy loss deficits, were subsequently outpointed with Hussain, having covered up for nine minutes, electing to implement a few dance moves in the final round.
“He tucked up and made it hard work,” conceded Sharp. “It was alright, it was more frustrating because I had such a big crowd there and when you can’t get your shots off… You could, but you end up hitting elbows because he is a survivor and a good all-round journeyman who fights every other week. He knows his stuff, the tricks of the trade so he knew what he was doing.
“Waving his hands about and that! I let him get on with it, just a bit of showmanship. It just encouraged me, no problem, it is boxing and it gave the crowd something different.”
Sharp believes it is no coincidence that the opponent with the winning record drew his most clinical performance and hopes he can quickly shed the L-plates and again test himself against adversaries with ambition, hinting also that a drop in weight category might be ring-tested for his next outing at the York Hall on March 25.
“The better the opponent the better I will perform. With Danny Carr I gave over a stone away in weight but, when I was in there, I didn’t find him any stronger or feel any difference. When they are just there to survive you have just got to pick your shots.
“The first fella come out with ambition and had a winning record. The other two were there to tie me up. For my next opponent it will be nice if I can have a little bit of a say, going to super-featherweight is no problem, if I can have half a good name. I know everyone will probably say it is running before you can walk but I have boxed around the world and fought world class fighters. I am have also sparred good boys like Carl Frampton, Mitchell Smith and the Walsh brothers so I have been in the ring with class.
“Like I say, if I can get half a name who has the ambition to come out and beat me, it puts my A-game up. It is the only way you’re going to learn as well, I’ve done the first few and felt comfortable and fit. I want to do a six-rounder next because I am in the gym all the time and can do the rounds. 100 per cent, it would be lovely to do that.”
Sharp hopes 2016 will see accelerated progress for himself, although he is not talking titles just yet, more a step up in class and a busy timetable.
“I’d like to finish the year at 8-0 or 9-0 against live opponents as I don’t want to take any shortcuts. I’m not saying I’ve got a granite chin, but I won’t be going over easy. I’ve been in the ring with Frampton and Smith, who are big punchers. I know it was sparring but there was no holding back and I learned a lot.”
This student of the game believes he is ready to succeed with honours.