Who are journeyman boxers, and why do they lose for a living?

BY Mark Turley

19th Oct 2022 Sport

Who are journeyman boxers, and why do they lose for a living?

Journeyman boxers play an essential role in the world of boxing, but what exactly do they do? Mark Turley explains

Boxing has boomed in the UK over the last decade. Pay-per-view events featuring the likes of former world heavyweight champion, Anthony Joshua or current title holder, Tyson Fury are watched by millions. Yet below the highest levels of the sport, where fortunes are made, few people have any idea how boxing actually works. 

The small hall circuit 

Upwards of 1,000 boxers currently hold professional licenses in Britain. Most will never fight at a stadium or on a pay-per-view promotion. For the vast majority, their careers are spent in what are known as “small halls”. The most famous of these is the York Hall, in Bethnal Green, East London, an iconic venue which holds around 1,250 people. Nationwide, small hall boxing shows may be held in leisure centres, ice rinks or conference suites. 

York Hall, Bethnal Green

York Hall, Bethnal Green, London

A typical small hall show features local, early career boxers who are building reputations, hoping one day to become stars. These fighters usually have records comprising a handful of wins, with no defeats. Known as “prospects”, they must personally sell tickets to friends and family, to earn their place on the show.

A young boxer will generally be expected to shift at least 55 tickets with a face value of around £40 each. If they can do that, they raise around £2,000, which contributes to the cost of the promotion. Tellingly, about half of this money is used to pay for their opponent.

"Most boxers will never fight at a stadium or on a pay-per-view promotion"

So, who are these opponents? These competitors who are happy to pad the prospects’ records, who do not need to sell tickets and receive a wage just for turning up? 

Who are journeyman boxers? 

The boxers in the other corner are known as “journeymen”. They box frequently, maybe two or three times a month, and commonly rack up huge numbers of contests during their careers. Current journeyman, Lewis “poochi” van Poetsch, from Lydney in Gloucestershire, has fought 166 times since making his debut in 2012, losing on 150 occasions.

Kristian Laight, from Nuneaton, retired in 2018, having reached the milestone of 300 professional fights, a British record. Of those, he won 12 and drew nine. The other 279 were all defeats. 

Journeyman boxers are paid to lose

Journeyman boxers are paid to lose

These types of statistics often lead to incredulous reactions. The assumption is that boxers with so many losses must be terrible at what they do. That they are going into the ring being battered from pillar to post. Laight, for example, was described as “the world’s worst boxer” by an Australian newspaper in 2015. But this is something of a misconception. 

Believe it or not, there is an art to losing.

A career choice 

Earning £1k to £1.5k a time, keeping busy and avoiding injury are the keys. Ex-journeyman, Johnny Greaves, who retired in 2013 with 96 defeats from 100 fights, explains it like this. 

“For me, being a paid opponent was the obvious choice to make. I knew I was never going to be a world champion, so going down the journeyman route gave me a way to make a living. The thing is, I didn’t go in there to lose, not exactly, but if you upset the ticket sellers then the promoters won’t use you. They’ll see you as a risk. So, if you want to get rebooked, you have to do enough to make the fight interesting without causing a problem. That’s how it is in the away corner.” 

"Successful journeymen operate with three rules. Entertain. Don’t get hurt. Don’t win"

This lop-sided system necessitates a defensive approach. If a journeyman wants to box regularly and keep the money coming, he doesn’t want to upset the applecart by winning. He also doesn’t want to get injured. A cut eye, for example, which requires stitches, results in a 28-day suspension by the British Boxing Board of Control. That means no income for a month. 

Essentially, successful journeymen operate with three rules. Entertain. Don’t get hurt. Don’t win. 

Jon Pegg, a boxing manager and matchmaker from Birmingham, clarifies. “The role of the journeyman is to be always ready to fight and always fit. Their job is to go in there to test the prospects and further their education, but if you want to fight again next week, you’re not going to take too many risks, are you?” 

What is the impact on a journeyman’s self-esteem? 

In this way, for those who are good it, being a journeyman can create a worthwhile career, or at least a lucrative side line. Yet of course, there are psychological challenges too. Most people begin a sport for love, so what is it like to participate with such a pragmatic approach?

"If I’m honest, I regret not giving it a proper go from the start"

“The mental side can be hard,” says Daniel Thorpe, who racked up 113 defeats in ten years. “The money’s great, but I don’t care what anyone says, we all like to win. If I’m honest, I regret not giving it a proper go from the start. Maybe I could have gone all the way.” 

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