Chris Jenkins ‘could cry’ as injury extends inactivity

Chris Jenkins ‘could cry’ as injury extends inactivity

By Dewi Powell: Life changed on 12 March 2020 as the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak was a pandemic. The year since has been Welsh boxing’s most barren period since World War Two. Only 10 Welsh professional boxers have fought since the pandemic began.

Three lockdowns later, Swansea’s Chris Jenkins (22-3-3, 8KO) hoped to be the 11th Welshman to punch for pay. The irony was that exactly a year later – 12 March 2021 – the British Boxing Board of Control’s (BBBoC) circular revealed that Jenkins’ inactivity would persist past the 16-month mark. The reason being was a perforated eardrum, suffered at the tail end of a training camp. If the 32-year-old didn’t have bad luck, he’d have no luck at all.

It happened on Monday during a spar with Wolverhampton prospect Conah Walker (8-0-1, 2KO). The first round had gone to plan. “Keep doing what you’re doing, that’s exactly what you need to do for the fight,” coached Gary Lockett when the bell sounded. Moments later, an innocuous cuffing punch connected with the finger part of the glove. Jenkins’ ear, exposed by the new Winning headguard he wore, instantly felt hot. Being a boxer, Jenkins got on with it and assumed it was just bruising. Lockett nagged at the welterweight to stop leaning to his left during the next eight rounds with the injury unknown to both of them.

Jenkins drove home and struggled to hear the radio. Then his evening run through Cwmtwrch, usually a well-navigated trek of the valley’s twists and turns, became unsteady on corners. Again, Jenkins thought nothing of it and employed a boxer’s natural ability to ignore niggles like this. He traded in pain after all.

It wasn’t until the next morning, following a night of disrupted sleep, that he had an obvious inclination of the problem. After an unbalanced walk down the stairs, he sat down for the morning ritual – a cup of coffee before his three sons woke and brought the house to life. Helen, his wife of eight years, spotted the first external sign and she gasped, “Oh my god!” Blood had pooled in her husband’s ear canal. “She looked at me as if I had two heads,” remembered Jenkins.

Chris JenkinsLockett learned of the injury when Jenkins returned to the gym in Llanrumney, Cardiff and an appointment with Dr Neil Scott, a BBBoC official, was hastily arranged. The doctor, equipped with an otoscope, winced as soon as he saw inside the ear and Jenkins’ worst-case scenario was confirmed 10 minutes after arriving. Frank Warren’s Queensberry Promotions were informed of the news and all parties have been left in limbo until Jenkins is cleared to fight, which could be a matter of weeks or months depending on his rate of recovery.

“[I’m] trying to leave it sink in,” sighed Jenkins. “I’m still processing it. I could cry. There’s boxing on tonight and I can’t even bring myself to watch it.

“I’ve worked my nicky-nacky-noos off for months. From being in cold conditions [swimming] in the sea, working with Gary [in the gym] and to getting the road work in when it’s been pissing down. Eight weeks’ worth of work and for what? For nothing really.”

It was quite a comedown from Jenkins’ position at the start of the week. His weight was where it needed to be and he was on track to defend his British and Commonwealth titles against Nottingham’s Botswana-born Ekow Essuman (14-0, 5KO) on 27 March at the Copper Box Arena in London, live on BT Sport. The change of circumstance was a bitter pill to swallow and not the first dose of misfortune he’s been prescribed. Jenkins’ career has been littered with lacerations around his eyes, they’ve curtailed four of his last six fights, but he persisted and the year before the pandemic was his most successful yet.

For now, Jenkins waits for the thin layer of skin to regenerate over his eardrum. Dr Scott estimated there was a hole in 70-80% of that layer of skin. Jenkins never expect to find skin even thinner than that around his scarred eyes. Tick over training is strictly off the schedule for the next few days in order to keep his blood pressure low and prevent further pounding in his ear.

The “Rock N Rolla,” as nicknamed by his dad years ago, is usually an energetic and engaging character who can’t sit still for more than a few minutes. Rest is rarely on the agenda of the hard worker. Away from boxing, Jenkins is often kept occupied in his own role as a dad to three sons. The impact on everyday family life is the unseen consequence of a boxer’s injuries. The realities of Jenkins’ two worlds are now meeting, and he’d like to limit it.

“When I’m eating food – believe it or not – chewing on something is hurting my ear,” he disclosed. “I’ll have moments when it feels like someone is putting a hot needle in my ear. That’s when I take my painkillers. I don’t really believe in taking pain killers. I’ll ride it out for as long as I can but I’ve never felt anything like it in my life.

“I’m whacking my left shoulder into stuff. My balance has taken a bit of a hit. With the kids, my ear is sore and they’re children, so they’re gonna be loud and screaming. I’m having headaches from it but it’s not their fault. I chose to box, it’s hard but I’ve got to be a dad, put it to the back of my mind and do my best for them.”

Despite holding two of the major domestic belts, Jenkins’ boxing career hasn’t escaped the strains the pandemic has placed on the sport. British boxing has restarted, albeit in bubbles, and he’s been left on the shelf like many of his peers. Jenkins doesn’t expect it to affect his eventual comeback performance because he’s kept in ‘reasonable shape’ and Lockett, who ‘wont lick your arse,’ has reassured the champion that he’s retained his sharpness.

However, 16 months and counting is an undeniably long time to go without a payday. The financial repercussions were inevitable. There is still a family to feed and household bills to pay. Jenkins returned to work during the pandemic and often found himself shadow boxing during his days with SPB Motor Centre. His body was present in the family run garage but his spirit was still in the gym.

“It would be nice to step away fully from work and have a [sponsored] weekly wage,” said Jenkins, who can be forgiven for daydreaming about the luxury of being a full-time fighter. “From day one, I haven’t had any handouts. I’ve had to work all the way through. There’s not many fighters out there holding one belt, let alone two belts, who have to still do a bit of work here and there to survive. I just don’t get the sponsorship that I really do deserve.

“COVID come in and I lost sponsors. I lost my own work. It was hard. I wasn’t in Cardiff as much as I wanted to be [to train]. Up to Cardiff and back is a two-hour round trip for me and that’s a lot of fuel, like £100 a week, so I was just keeping active at home.

“I had a lot of local companies come on board when this fight [against Essuman] was announced. These companies took the burden off me worrying about how I was going to pay the bills in the house and they took the stress out of [training] camp fees. Now, I feel as if I’ve ripped them off because I’m injured. That’s the type of person I am but there’s nothing I can do. If I could do anything different, I would’ve.”

Chris JenkinsA temporary return to work beckons. A year ago, Jenkins was set to rematch former British champion Johnny Garton, whose career was confronted by responsibilities to his family and the realities of the pandemic. Garton decided to retire and Jenkins understood exactly why his former foe made the decision.

Then Conor Benn was named as mandatory challenger. The unbeaten Englishman’s promoter, Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn, attempted to make a deal. There was a reported £50,000 offer to Jenkins but his promoter Frank Warren preferred for both parties to put their money where their mouth was. A date for purse bids was set, only for Benn to be withdrawn two days before. Jenkins found out that a career high payday slipped through his fingers on social media. Those sorts of disappointments can easily make a boxer bitter about the business that pollutes the sport. Instead, Jenkins has refused to dwell on the disappointment.

“With the Benn situation, I thought Eddie would’ve stuck by his fighter like Frank stuck by me [and gone to purse bids],” reckoned Jenkins. “I think Eddie just wanted to keep the fight on his shows. We had a promoter in Frank who was backing me all the way regardless.

“I’m not materialistic, me and my wife aren’t. The kids have what they have but it is nice to have the pay days. People think you’re having like hundreds of thousands for fights but it’s far from that. It just makes life easier for a few months.

“I’ve just got to get on with it. I’ve been brought up a way that if you haven’t got it, you can’t spend it and if you haven’t got it, you’ve got to work bloody hard for it. I’ve got to keep working hard.”

Essuman will be next, whenever that is, and Jenkins rates his opponent. A former Team GB amateur and English champion as a professional, Essuman has solid credentials. Jenkins believe he has the experience and technical skills to prevail but there’s one area he concedes to the challenger – trash talk. Attempts have been made to squabble on social media and Jenkins hasn’t been tempted to trade insults. He’s mindful that he has an example to set to his sons and he’d rather they learn from his resilience than any impulsive reactions.

Jenkins said: “He dropped in my DMs [direct messages] a good while back, mouthing and mouthing, saying this and saying that. I ignored him for a while, I thought ‘I’m not getting involved in all this tit for tat. He said something and then his cronies got involved.

“I’ve been in this game for eight years. I’ve seen it all, I’ve heard it all. It’s up to them how they act. I’m not going to lower myself down to their level. I see myself as a role model to fighters coming up.

“Not only that, I’ve got children, so I’m a role model to my boys. If they see me or hear of me acting a stupid way, they’re going to grow up guided by the wrong influence. I want to bring them up as respectful young men with respect for everyone.

“And you know what they say… tough times don’t last but tough people do.”

Images by Huw Fairclough.

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