Ed White discovers that a glorious historic venue and young fighting talent make the perfect combination

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Boxing is a sport associated with glitz and glamour, bright lights and atmospheric arenas.

But not many venues can claim to be more grand than Harrogate’s Royal Hall, host of Harrogate Amateur Boxing club’s latest show.

More than 700 people crammed into the historic building on Friday evening to roar on a packed card of bouts.

Local fighters were joined by punchers from York, Leeds, Sheffield and even further afield to turn back time, and bring the Royal Hall’s rich boxing history back to the forefront.

“It’s like a palace,” said Harrogate boxing coach John Lewis. “Most of the time we go to working men’s clubs and you have to wipe your feet when you come out. When you come here, the boxers are absolutely amazed.”

Boxing, and more frequently wrestling, used to take place at the Royal Hall in the 1980s. Hundreds would pack in to admire the fighters knocking lumps out of each other and contests were televised across the land.

Two years ago, Lewis approached the Hall to rekindle those shows and allow the best amateurs in training across Yorkshire a fantasy location to flaunt their talent.

The first show happened in October last year, and the successful trial amounted to its second running on Friday.

Lewis said he and his fellow coaches at the club are trying to dispel the myth that “Harrogate isn’t a boxing town.”

“The Royal Hall has given our lads a chance to box in front of massive audiences,” he explained.

“They enjoy it, the other kids enjoy it and there’s a bit of camaraderie. There’s rivalry between different boxing clubs but also afterwards, everyone gets on so well.

“Boxing is a sport where there is no hiding place. If they are playing football, cricket, you are in a team. Out there, you can’t go anywhere.

“Especially here, because it’s a showcase, the kids and the men put more effort in.”

As the crowd slowly milled in, the Harrogate boxers, from 12 years old up to 22, took in the scenery together before lining up for a photoshoot inside the ring.

The youngest of the lot, Ewan May, was set to fight first. But there was no fear from a boy not yet into his teenage years. Asked how the nerves were, “not bad”, was the short response.

He took part in a three-round skills bout, designed for boxers stepping into the ring for the first time.

How did he find it? “Not bad,” he said as he scuttled back to the changing room.

The 12-year-old’s display lent the evening a relaxed start. But the crowd soon became vociferous behind their fighters.

Young Connor Irving Tiki kept his chin held high despite being matched against a taller, powerful hitter before 16-year-old John Patrick Harker was the next home boxer into the ring.

“This is the best place I’ve fought. It’s a lot posher, cleaner.” Harker said prior to action.

Strapped up with a red head guard and gloves, the Knaresborough teenager battled through three rounds and claimed victory on a split decision.

It was his fifth win in five fights and another step to his dream. “I want to go all the way to be world champion, that’s the aim,” said Harker. “I just need to get fitter. I need to work hard and I will do fine in boxing.”

His performance was matched minutes later by Luke Malatesta.

Confident before his bout, the 15-year-old was stung in the first round by his opponent. But he regrouped from that count, and was handed a points win to boost his overall record to six wins from 14 fights.

“It’s such a big crowd. It’s a bit scary when you first look at it, but when you get going then it’s good,” he described.

The Harrogate club’s third win of the night was perhaps the most popular amongst the squad. Jack Batchelor, previously on the receiving end of two defeats, had a case of third time lucky, dominating from the start to win every round of his contest.

“If anyone deserves it, he does.” said the club’s most experienced trooper Will Simpson, 22, who was headlining the evening. “He works so hard in training.”

Unfortunately, the winning run for the hosts ended on the final bout before the interval, 16-year-old Ben Smith edged out in a unanimous judges’ decision.

Smith said: “It was just a great experience getting to perform in front of everyone and in such a nice venue.

“I came down with a chest infection a few days before so I was just thankful I got to fight.

“Sometimes, even when you have been training five or six days a week and putting in the work it just doesn’t come out well on the night.”

With the under-card complete, the second-half saw Harrogate’s power hitters taking the stage.

PJ Stubbs, 18, and Simpson are the club’s only heavyweights, and as they said, they only have each other to “batter” when sparring. It’s nights like Friday when they take training into the ring.

With his long hair, PJ is probably too good looking to be a boxer. And he spoke pre-fight at how he had taken to the sport just to “keep fit”.

But thrown into the ring, he smashed through his bruising encounter and had his arm raised aloft in a unanimous decision.

Simpson has enjoyed a meteoric rise through the amateur ranks over the past year, and after impressive performances in the Amateur Boxing Association championships, he has targeted a Team GB spot before the 2016 Olympics.

“There are a lot of barriers to go through, but you don’t know until you have tried,” he said.

“I had a bit of a growth spurt in terms of results and now I am fighting the best in England. It’s about conquering that part now, it’s difficult but I’m getting there.”

But the former St Aidan’s School pupil found his clash tougher going. The lack of preparation, after two leg injuries, took its toll, and Redditch raider Ottis Treasure took victory on points.

Yet, despite defeat for their main man, Harrogate’s amateur boxing club showed, once again, support for the sport was ripe in the town.

“There’s a massive following,” concluded Lewis.

“People out there travel miles for boxing.

To have it on this stage is unbelievable.”