By Richard Hubbard
“I am a natural animal, I just am, there is something inside me that just loves a scrap”
Leicester is now the proud home of the Premier League trophy, not the mention the world snooker championship potted by local lad Mark Selby. Give it a year or two and the city could be celebrating a second boxing world champion if ‘King’ Lyon Woodstock lives up to his burgeoning reputation.
Woodstock won his seventh professional contest at York Hall on Friday night, with a shutout points defeat of the durable Spaniard Reynaldo Mora. There was even a Champions League undercurrent, with the brash and fearless Leicester lad outsmarting a native of Barcelona. Whether Vardy and co can follow suit next season should the Catalans come calling remains to be seen.
Many are tipping the Foxes to be hunted down when they join Arsenal, Spurs and Manchester City in the chase for Europe’s prestige pot, but Woodstock took inspiration from his local team overcoming incredible odds to land the top domestic honour, although he did have a confession to make regarding his own devotion to the cause.
“It was wicked, we had a parade and it was packed with so many people there, it was a nice experience to see everyone come together, for once!” said the proud 22-year-old. “We’ve got a snooker champion as well.
“People are starting to recognise that there is talent in Leicester, it is just a little city, but we have got talented people and there is more to come, trust me.
“I have always been an Arsenal fan, I have supported Leicester, but Arsenal is my team,” he explained with a sheepish grin. “I have solidly supported them (Leicester) and when I saw they were doing good I was like ‘wow’. What they have done is an inspiration because everything was against them with odds of 5,000-1 – what sort of odds are they!
“For them to pull it out of the bag was amazing and that is what I am about too.”
So where do the lightweight’s loyalties lie when it comes to the first transfer saga of the close-season – top scorer Vardy to Arsenal?
“I heard about that and it made me smile – it is a win-win situation for me! I’d like him to stay at Leicester personally, that is where he became the Vardy we know, so why spoil it.”
Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester – and the aforementioned Vardy – thrive with a counter-attacking style the big hitters simply couldn’t get to grips with. Woodstock is anything but a counter-puncher – ‘nah, I’m an initiator’ – words that also neatly sum up his route to the ring.
Natural aggression was in need of harnessing during his upbringing in the heart of the East Midlands city, youthful indiscretions were aplenty before a life-changing encounter at a youth club led to the taming of a fiery teenager.
Boxing, however, was already firmly implanted in his psyche, thanks to a grandfather indoctrinating him with footage of the incomparable Sugar Ray Robinson.
“I wasn’t a bad boy, I just had to do what I had to do,” he explained. “I think we are a product of our environment, so the way I act depends on my surroundings and the situations I’m in. Who I am talking to will depend on how I speak – I wouldn’t talk to someone back home the way I am talking to you. You’ve got to conduct yourself in the right way.
“You have to be like that, you have got to have that streak in you or you just get walked all over,” he added, revealing that youthful notoriety worked in his favour and kept him out of serious bother in a tough district.
“For me, no, because everyone knows who I am and what I am about. They know what’s what, don’t mess around, it is that simple. I would imagine for someone without a reputation it could be quite horrible as it is not a nice place to be.
“I’m not going to be staying there and will hopefully be able to move out. It is just one of those things, it depends on who you are and who you know.”
Knowing what was what and who was who in Beaumont Leys didn’t prevent Woodstock engaging in bareknuckle preparation for his future profession, street combat that in many ways provided the catalyst towards carving out a career practicing the noble art.
“I was always fighting, all the time, I would try and find any reason to fight through provoking people. I wasn’t a bully, but if it came to me I would provoke it and want it. I’m not a person to shy away from a fight, I was always ready for it.
“My grandad was a boxer as well and so was his dad. My grandad was always showing me fights from a very young age, always Sugar Ray Robinson, the first fight I ever saw was Robinson and I loved it. I was captivated watching the screen, seeing how he moved so fluently yet hit so hard.
“I was proper inspired by him, I love Ray Robinson so much, he was the perfect boxer-puncher. He could box, he could move but, if he wanted to knock you out and plant his feet, he could. From that moment of watching him I was like ‘that is what I want to do’.
Then came the chance meeting with Ajmal ‘Hudge’ Butt, his now trainer and mentor, who captured the imagination of an impressionable teenager with his mission statement.
“What happened was I started training at a youth club and this is exactly how I remember it. It wasn’t anything serious, but I just knew I wanted to box, so I started down there at the Barley Croft Youth Centre and this bald man with a beard came down saying he was starting up a gym and how he was going to start working with the local kids in the community.
“He said there is a world champion in Beaumont Leys and he just had to find him. I went up to him as I was the most enthusiastic person at the youth club for boxing and I’ll always remember what he said to me.
“He said: ‘If there is a warrior inside of you I’ll stroke that warrior and ignite that fire’. I remember looking at him and saying ‘I swear I’m that person’.
“He just inspired me such much, I remember him telling me why he wanted to open the gym and I was like ‘wow, this is what I’m about’, I could see the passion in him and I didn’t even know him then. I could see the fire in his his eyes and was totally inspired by it.
“I was very eager and was the first person through the doors of his gym when it opened and was there like ‘show me’. I went through the amateurs with him and I was saying this to him only today. If he was to leave me at this point for any reason, saying he couldn’t train me no more, I think I would stop.
“He is one of the main reasons why I’m fighting, he gives me the reason to fight, with how much faith he has in me when other people haven’t. Mine and Hudge’s relationship is always up and down, but he has never stopped loving me, he was always had solid love for me and me the same for him.
“I see him like my own dad and he treats me like I’m his son. My dad weren’t around and I 100 per cent needed him. I was getting into trouble and doing things I shouldn’t be doing, really bad things. I wasn’t doing things madly illegal and wasn’t some ex-drug dealer, but I’ve always been able to bang and people notice that, so they see that as something they could use.”
Woodstock’s vested interest lasted until he was handed down a dodgy verdict in a national final and opted to go topless in the pros after taking his time to learn the ropes.
Perhaps surprisingly, given the all out assault he launches on opponents, just three stoppages have been recorded so far on his pro card. The selection of granite-chinned opposition might just be a clever ploy by his team to slow him down, to make him box and pick his shots, because just telling him to clearly won’t be enough.
“It was fun as hell in the amateurs, loved every moment of it and it was so good. I was mixing it with the top people, I went from like zero to 100 in no time and in my first season I knocked everyone out. I had ten fights to the national novice finals and it was KO all the way to the final, where I dropped the guy three times and I lost on a split decision!
“I was like ‘what! How can I lose when I haven’t sat on the floor?’. That is when I really stopped liking the amateur game.
“Hudge said it will all take time and to learn my craft, to get rounds and good experience against good fighters as a professional. I always remember him telling me this – and I met another one here in Mora – he told me about Dr Iron Jaw. For some reason I keep meeting these guys, like Ibrah Riyaz (defeated on points in March), I hit him with so many shots he well should have gone down.
“These tough guys that just keep taking shots, I hit that guy clean and there were so many upper cuts. Uppercut, left hook – I was getting bored of throwing them! I was like ‘go to sleep man, why are you still here, I’m getting bored of throwing this same combination!’
“I think I caught him more flush than Tommy Coyle did and on a lot more occasions,” he added on Mora’s previous opponent.
“I know what I need to do to go to the next level. For one, I really need to start boxing a lot more because I can box really, really well, to the point that I don’t need to fight at all. My fire inside me doesn’t allow me to do that sometimes because I just love fighting. I love getting in there, feeling their head on my shoulders, hear his breathing. I love it and can’t get enough of it, I just want to fight, fight, fight, fight, fight and when I get stuck in there, that is when Hudge pulls me back and says I’ve got to get on my boxing. I know what I need to do in my head, but my heart doesn’t let me do it.
“I need to start boxing more, 100 per cent, instead of brawling. I am a natural animal, I just am, there is something inside me that just loves a scrap.”
For the next few weeks or so, Woodstock will be able to scrap to his heart’s content with a world champion at his own weight. He has been summoned for sparring service with Terry Flanagan before the WBO king’s defence on July 9 on the Fury-Klitschko card in Manchester.
Woodstock would be more than happy to absorb a few tough lessons from the 30-0 Turbo, who he suspects would edge Anthony Crolla were the two to finally get it on, and is prepared to park his ego outside the Finest Gym, training base of Flanagan.
“I am going down to spar him for a few weeks, so that will be interesting. I’ve only had seven fights so to be called down there is massive.
“I like him, I like his style, he has got that confidence in himself and I love that. He is very tough and I think I will pick up quite a few things from him. I love learning, that is one thing I love more than a brawl, I love to learn. Anything that can take me to the next level, I more than happy to take on. You can’t be walking around with an ego 24-7, I know that well enough, I can rip things up and start all over again if I have to.”
Over the next 12 months, Woodstock aims to begin emulating Flanagan and starting off a belt collection of his own in the lightweight division. He knows it is a tall order to just climb the domestic ladder, but he is banking on being able to enjoy home advantage in the near future with a local venue attempting to bounce him into performing there.
“There is a lot of good opposition at my weight and I am looking forward to having some big fights against, on paper, big people. I would say in three more fights, I want to start with the English, Midlands – any kind of belt I want to fight for.
“Yeah 100 per cent I want to fight at home, we’ve been talking to the Leicester Riders and they’ve just built a whole new basketball stadium. They are looking for me to start headlining fights there, so that is interesting for me as I am a massive basketball fan.”
That could well be a homecoming to jump through hoops for.
Lyon has asked that his appreciation is conveyed to the fans who travelled from Leicester to support him at York Hall on Friday. Also to his manager Jason McCrory who, although recently unwell, was in his corner on the night and to sponsor Thomas Cassius Roofing and the local market for the supply of fruit and meat.