Paul Ingle: Remembering the Yorkshire Hunter
By Jim Cawkwell (August 10, 2004) 
Paul Ingle
With its vast beach and abundance of amusement arcades, the seaside town of Scarborough was a wondrous place to be as a child. Being but an hours drive from my home, I spent many of the carefree summer days of my childhood in the northeast of England there. Even now as an adult, its appeal is not lost thanks to the many fish'n'chip shops, ice cream parlors and souvenir stores that decorate the beachfront. However, as a boxing enthusiast, it is irresistibly recognizable to me as the home of one of England’s finest boxers, Paul Ingle, the 'Yorkshire Hunter'.

Paul’s boxing style mirrored his lifestyle, uncomplicated, honest and hard working. Always preferring to evade the superficialities that the celebrity of a successful fighter might indulge, his life was in his hometown, poaching and tending to his ferrets and pigeons that I would imagine have equal value to him as prized possessions alongside his championship belts. Despite retiring prematurely due to severe injuries he suffered during his final fight almost four years ago, Paul’s is an ongoing story of great courage and determination in and beyond the prize ring.

Before he was a fighter of international renown, Paul was a dominant figure in the British featherweight boxing scene, impressively disposing of the majority of its most notable figures and acquiring the British, Commonwealth and European championship honors. His signature camouflage ring attire was the first visual indication of how he would fight. Though he was never a concussive puncher, Paul’s tireless work rate allowed him to fire off seemingly endless bursts of punches, the accumulative effect of which was the ruin of many. Eventually, his consistent successes brought him to the summit of the financial featherweight mountain in a Yorkshire derby with Naseem Hamed. The 'Prince', Sheffield’s superstar was the overwhelming favorite in the Hamed-Ingle fight, but what transpired between the two men makes for a vital chapter in British boxing history.

When Hamed’s pre-fight pyrotechnics subsided, he settled down to the business of dealing with Ingle; both fighters were unbeaten and both were intent to leave the arena as the WBO featherweight champion. The image of then HBO executive Lou DiBella jumping in the air at the sight of Hamed committing Ingle to the floor with a left hook to the body and then the head is firmly etched in my mind as the epitome of Ingle as a mere obstacle to the Hamed-HBO partnership that would yield millions to all concerned. However, showing true grit, Ingle weathered the worst of Hamed’s torrent of speed and power to launch a counter-offensive in the late rounds.

Ingle’s determination and durability were the catalysts of an unprecedented sight in world boxing to that point. Suddenly, Hamed was flailing exhaustedly around the ring; the accuracy of Ingle’s punches bloodied his nose and sent him swaying this way and that. Finally, Hamed threw himself blindly into a punch that Ingle easily evaded. And there, at the hands of the supposedly modest threat of his opponent was Naseem Hamed, an HBO boxing superstar flat on his back, embarrassed and soon on his way to the waiting arms of crisis counselor Emanuel Steward. Neither the millions of dollars backing the finely tuned Hamed machine, nor the decades of experience in his corner could so easily account for Ingle’s true grit and desire, a truly wonderful irony. Unfortunately, Ingle eventually succumbed to Hamed’s power in the form of a deadly short left hand, but by the time he did so he had made his point; he was a real player in the featherweight division and a name that was not going to disappear.

That was 1999, the same year that Ingle would receive another chance at a world title. He would fight Manuel 'Mantecas' Medina for the IBF featherweight title in my hometown of Hull in England. Medina wowed the local boxing clubs with demonstrations of his skills, many young amateurs were thrilled to learn from the seasoned Mexican campaigner and both fighters did their part to stoke the buzzing anticipation of the fight in the city with their public appearances. Ingle and trainer Steve Pollard conducted some of their training sessions in the very same gym in which I had trained for over a year. It was there that I observed Ingle in a small corner of the gym, feverishly working in front of a mirror, doubtlessly envisioning the way he would become a world champion. A Hamed poster on the gym wall read: 'Born to be King,' I could not help but notice Ingle’s graffiti contribution to it, 'Almost beat by a poacher.'

Ingle emerged from his epic battle with Medina as the new IBF featherweight champion of the world, but little did he know that it was one of only three fights he had left to embellish his legacy. Paul made his American debut in style at Madison Square Garden by stealing the show away from newly crowned undisputed heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis with a thrilling technical knockout over 'Poison' Junior Jones. However, the elation of victory on such a stage could not hide Ingle’s previous discontent with the New York State Athletic Commission’s rule of having the fighters weigh in one the day of the fight, a stipulation that barely allowed the fighters any respite from the weight making process.

Ingle obviously conformed, but in hindsight, his argument over this issue highlighted a concern about his discomfort in achieving the featherweight poundage limit. Allegedly, Ingle’s concerns about his struggle to make the weight for his second defense against Mbulelo Botile were hushed by his manager Frank Maloney; perhaps this and his own self-induced pressure not to forfeit his championship and continue despite the warning of his own instincts, meant that he fought ill-prepared to a devastating end.

I never saw the Ingle-Botile fight, and frankly, knowing its tragic consequences I have no desire to see it. Botile took the title, but there were no winners that night. Indeed, the South African went on to lose the title and two consecutive fights, perhaps forever haunted by the events of the Ingle fight. Paul spent Christmas of 2000 and the beginning of the New Year of 2001 in the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield where he underwent two surgeries: one to remove a blood clot on his brain and a tracheotomy to ease his breathing and alleviate chest pressure. A barrage of questions overwhelmed the British boxing establishment in the aftermath of the fight: Should Ingle have been allowed to contest the final round? Should boxing be banned? What would the British Boxing Board of Control do to address the matter of its weight making protocol?

However, of the greatest concern to everyone was the question of Paul Ingle’s survival. Thankfully, that question was one that he himself answered, slowly but surely throughout his rehabilitation. Slight movements were the first indications of his wellbeing, but it wasn’t long before Paul was swearing, a sure sign of his return to form and an integral part of the vocabulary of us Northerners at times. In truly inspiring fashion, Paul fought a speech impediment, inability to walk and short-term memory loss with the same determination as he did every opponent that shared a ring with him throughout his career.

Typically, Paul retreated to his private life in Scarborough; his days as a fighter are over but his second chance at life is one that I expect he will live as fully as possible. His business interests and family life might have to give way sometime in the future thanks to his acquisition of a trainers license and the possibility of his involvement in boxing management, indeed, he has already been involved in an advisory role with Scarborough’s featherweight prospect Chris Hooper. I hope that we will see Paul Ingle’s return to boxing on a more permanent and prominent basis, but regardless of his future ventures, his story is already one of courage against adversity that should not be forgotten.
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