Chris Jenkins’ title defence cut short by head clash with Liam Taylor

Chris Jenkins’ title defence cut short by head clash with Liam Taylor

This article first appeared in the Welsh Boxing Annual 2019-2020. Click here to buy on Amazon.

By Dewi Powell: For the fourth time in six fights, Swansea’s injury-prone Chris Jenkins (22-3-3, 8KO) literally had his night cut short.

The welterweight champion was in Birmingham to defend his British and Commonwealth titles against Manchester’s Liam Taylor (21-1-1, 10KO) and he might have been four seconds away from losing his beloved belts. An accidental clash of heads opened a huge cut over Jenkins’ left eye and referee Steve Gray, in consultation with the ringside doctor, deemed it too severe to carry on after two minutes and 56 seconds of the fourth round. It meant the fight was ruled a technical draw but had it gone until the bell, it would’ve gone to the scorecards and Jenkins would’ve likely lost.

“Basically, in two words, pissed off,” mused Jenkins when asked about his mood in the aftermath. “It happens every time when a fight is starting to catch fire. It always seems to be a head clash. I’ve heard people say it’s because I’m making weight wrong, this and that. I’m making weight the best I’ve ever made it. I’m hydrated and it’s nothing to do with that. It’s because the shape of my head.

“I’ve got very prominent eyebrows, like a Neanderthal basically. If they [opponents] are gonna come in with the head and not even attempt to punch, it’s gonna cut me open. I didn’t really notice it in the amateurs but since I’ve joined Gary [Lockett – trainer], the boys in the gym always make fun of it [the shape of his head]. The last four or five years, I’ve really noticed it! The banter in the gym is immense but I’ve got thick skin like that.”

After a nip and tuck opening round that Taylor probably pinched, it all kicked off in a memorable second round that was glorified by promoter Frank Warren. The duo met head on, shooting purposeful jabs before their power punches. Taylor was more assertive and he uncorked overhand rights. Jenkins decided to roll underneath Taylor’s replies and he avoided most of them until he was clipped on the back of the head. The attempts to duck and sway out of the way failed and it sent Jenkins a short distance down to the floor. There were still more than two minutes of the second round left to go and it carried on with the same level of violence.

“The first round, I was seeing what he was made of. It was a very close round. Being the champion, I thought I would’ve nicked it but I’ve never had no favours in this game, so I thought I’d lost it,” recollected Jenkins. “Second round, I was bobbing and weaving way too low. My feet were way too far apart, I lent over and he hit me on the back of my head. The force of the punch pushed me down but the impact was no problem at all. Me being me, I went to my old style and said ‘lets go.’ I was whipping in body shots, uppercuts and all sorts of stuff.”

Jenkins, unwilling to play it safe, waged war when he stood up. He was determined on evening the score and hurled two-fisted volleys to Taylor’s body. The challenger was enthused and took his cue to battle back, looking for another breakthrough. Now it was Jenkins’ turn to take advantage of his opponent leaning over, so he sent crunching uppercuts through the gloves. The Welshman was pushing the pace and showed no lasting effects of the knockdown. It looked like Jenkins had it under control and then the fight swung again. Taylor came right back into it in the final 30 seconds of the second round, shortening his longer leavers to rally in the pocket. Everyone took a deep breath when the bell rang to end a ‘round of the year’ contender. It had been exhausting to watch, never mind take part in, but Jenkins may have been the only person around who was underwhelmed by the entertainment.

He said: “I’ve watched the round because BT Sport put it up [online] under the headline ‘what a round’ but he just tucked up. He’d just dropped me, obviously with an illegal blow [on the back of the head] and I expected him to be swinging but he wasn’t. He let me throw shots at him instead!”

The third round was quieter and Jenkins boxed with more caution, using his hand speed to initiate exchanges. He slowed the pace down with single shots and lots of Taylor’s punches landed on the gloves. Nonetheless, Taylor persevered and his height was effective in parts, though he was on the receiving end in the fourth round. Jenkins finally appeared to be getting on top of him as he switched focus to Taylor’s bigger body and the concentrated shot selection found gaps in the guard.

“I went back to the corner and had a right ticking off from Gary. I am scared of him. The only people I’m scared of is obviously my wife and Gary, I’m proper scared of him. He told me to jab and box his head off. The third round, that was what I was doing, keeping it simple and stuff,” Jenkins said with solid certainty.

“I was quite shocked at how long he was but I knew he was a good fighter. I’ve said before the fight, when it was announced, and I’ll say it now, he deserves his spot.”

The head clash happened at the end of the fourth round. Taylor’s stance squeezed up and he slightly squatted over his front foot. Then Taylor crouched over more crudely and the crown of his head drove into Jenkins’ face. He’s no stranger to the warm sensation of claret leaking from his paper-thin facial skin. It was immediately called as an accidental head clash and led to the official result of a technical draw when the doctor provided his advice to the referee.

Speaking with more than a hint of suspicion, Jenkins had his own opinion on the final moments of the fight: “The fourth round, I caught him with little check hooks around the sides, I was getting into my groove. People are saying I’d have lost if the head clash went over to the next round. Listen, I’m not a four-round fighter, I’m a 12 round fighter. I honestly think down the line, I’d have stopped him late.

“I knew I was having a good round and his corner goes, ‘get there now!’ I threw a jab and all I felt was impact. It was like someone threw a brick at my head. I swore and all I could see was blood trickling through my eye. After the fight, I went into his changing room and they explained what they meant. They meant to get in, close the gap and work inside but… I’ve seen the footage and only they will know if that was the intention, if y’know what I mean. There was no feint to come, no punch, none of that.”

There was another equally disappointing side note. For the second time in seven days, a Welshman in an evenly matched British level fight was given the low priority 6:00pm slot on the running order. The fight opened BT Sport’s broadcast and was deserving of a far more prominent place on the televised segment of the show. Different network, very similar treatment.

Jenkins has long been lauded as the unluckiest man in Welsh boxing. A series of cuts and other unfortunate incidents, like fainting in front of BBBoC officials or repeated cuts, have jinxed him for years. The turnaround in fortunes came when he received a voluntary shot at London’s British champion Johnny Garton in March. Jenkins fulfilled his career goal with a 5/1 upset at the Royal Albert Hall and he added the Commonwealth title by beating Paddy Gallagher, another hometowner, on the road in Belfast. Those two wins, after years in the wilderness where short notice fights were his only option, have helped to ease the latest episode of bad luck.

“It wasn’t the way I wanted the fight to end. I wanted to end the year on a bang. I probably had the best year of my career but there’s a few things in camp that didn’t help us,” he rationalized, alluding to unseen injuries. “At the end of the day, I’m still the British and Commonwealth champion. I’m a bit annoyed at the way this has happened but it is what it is. Rest up, heal and move on.”

Serious flesh wounds were Jenkins’ area of expertise and had become an unavoidable occupational hazard. Stitches and scars almost tempted Jenkins to walk away from the sport before his British title win. Now, at 31-years-old, Jenkins is being given the best possible chance to prolong his career and minimise the long-term lasting effects of deep crimson cuts. That’s thanks to Dr Neil Scott, a BBBoC official and plastic surgeon, who has gone out of his way to help Jenkins recover.

“I’ve had 24 stitches from Dr Neil Scott. He’s saved my career,” said Jenkins. “He text me before the fight, ‘if you get cut, I will sort you out tomorrow on my day off.’ Surprise, surprise, I get cut and I get a text that night to call in on my way home. I was there on Sunday morning and he sorted me out.”

The disappointment was easily put into perspective and Jenkins refused to dwell on it. That mental fortitude was forged when he came through two personal tragedies that far outweigh the rollercoaster ride of boxing. The suicides of both of Jenkins’ best friends, Darren Gates and Shaun Lewis, in August 2017 and April 2019, almost ended his enthusiasm for the sport. Suicide is the biggest killer of young men and wife Helen, who has put her career as a carer on hold, was credited with helping her husband to come to terms with the tragedies. In response, Jenkins decided to use the memories of his friends as his motivation going forward.

“I’d lost my friend around the time I fought Darragh Foley [a technical draw due to cuts]. My best friend Gatesy took his own life and I was struggling outside of boxing. No-one knew about it,” remembered Jenkins in a sobering tone, removed of the humour he usually exudes.

“Then, I got back in the gym and Gary said ‘keep going, come on!’ and the Garton fight come off. Then I’m champion and not so long after, my other close friend, Shaun, took his own life. Gary was concerned I was going to be stupid and fall out of love with the game. It’s given me more drive. Them boys are up there, looking down and they keep me going.”

Mental health has always been wrongly stigmatised in macho environments, especially in boxing, a place where its importance should actually be magnified. The highs of fight nights are often met with lonely comedowns and Jenkins was well aware of the emotional trampoline. He broke the mold just by talking about the vulnerabilities fighters face and showed a maturity not associated with the high-energy prankster that often appears on the surface.

“I’ve been really down at times. When you win a fight, there are so many people texting you, everyone is your friend. Lose a fight and no-one wants to know you,” he said, clearly speaking from experience. “They are hard times, they are. I’ve got the support of my wife, she keeps me mentally focused and I’ve got three kids to keep my mind busy. It’s a number of things that all combine together and looking at where I am now, it’s a dream come true.

“The next thing now is to win the British title outright [by winning three defences]. I’m a British level fighter, I’ll take that all the way through but if I get a chance to box for something bigger, I’d be a fool not to go for it.”

This article first appeared in the Welsh Boxing Annual 2019-2020. Click here to buy on Amazon.

Image by Huw Fairclough.

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