By Oliver McManus @OliverGMcManus
Photos Sacha Weiner @SashShots
Amid the thunderous drama of Liam Williams’ emphatic knockout over Joe Mullender, there was still a faint scent of jubilation, mixed with disbelief, lingering in Chris Jenkins’ changing room. Williams’ countryman had kicked off the televised broadcast by defeating Johnny Garton with a punch-perfect display. A victory against the odds to claim the British welterweight title and one that Jenkins tells me he can’t remember all that much about,
“It was the first time I’ve ever listened 100% to Gary in a fight, I listened to what he had to say and I felt strong in there but other than that it’s all a bit of a blur. I had to fight in Newport, a few weeks before, so the Board were happy I could make the weight and people looked at my past couple of fights, I was getting cuts and taking them last minute, I hadn’t had momentum so people perhaps overlooked me. The number one rule from Gary was just not to go in with the head.
The night before we were in Wagamama’s having some food and I could see Gary was confident (I wouldn’t cut); to be honest I weren’t really too confident but as soons as the rounds went on, my confidence was building. I’ve shown everyone I’m not done in the sport.”
I just want to fight
The 30 year old has moved up to welterweight at the start of 2019 and was required to have a six rounder (against Edvinas Puplauskas) before he was permitted to take the bout against Garton. After seven years campaigning at 140lbs, in which he fought for five titles, Jenkins explained he had no regrets about waiting to step up.
“The opportunities that I got offered, especially over the last year, were at light welterweight. I fought for the youth title (against Akeem Ennis-Brown) and a couple other belts so I had to take those opportunities. I just want to fight and I’m always going to take the fights that open doors. You can always look back and say “well, maybe if I’d gone a little bit earlier” but there’s no changing what’s happened.”
A product of Cwmgors Amatuer Boxing Club, Jenkins has always been used to travelling – visiting Baku as an amateur – and has been no stranger to fighting on the road as a professional. Debuting on a four fight card in Swansea, he has subsequently been fought across the United Kingdom, from Gloucester to Glasgow. Two cracks at securing the British title, both against Tyrone Nurse, in Manchester, were unsuccessful. A draw in the first contest, a tight decision loss in the rematch. This third attempt was the all-or-nothing shot for Rok’n’Rolla.
I put all my trust in him
“It was always in my mind what would happen if I lost. I had sleepless nights just thinking about it. I’m a self employed commercial cleaner (for No.1 Home Improvements) and I thought ‘woah, I’m going to have to do that all the time’. That’s why, I think, I upped my game on the night because I knew it would be my last chance to keep going.”
A driving force behind the renewed belief of the gritty Garnant fighter is the figure of Gary Lockett. The former WBU champion, now retired for eleven years, has developed a stable of talented Welsh fighters and is starting to see his hard work pay off.
“He doesn’t just help as a coach, with the boxing, he’s genuinely a very good friend. He’s not doing it for financial game, he wants us to do well. He knows how the sport is and even outside of boxing, I’ve had issues, he’s always been there. I could phone him now and he’d answer straightaway. I put all my trust in him, he’s going to be a friend for life. I’m his fourth British champion but I think because we’re down in Wales he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves – he’s not doing to bad for a small stable out in Wales. He does smile, occasionally, as well.”
Jenkins finds himself in illustrious company of fellow countrymen to have claimed the pinnacle jewel of the British boxing crown. Johnny Basham, Eddie Thomas, Cliff Curvis, Brian Curvis, Pat Thomas and Colin Jones are the only other Welsh boxers to have won the national welterweight title since it was first fought for in 1912. The proud family man planned on celebrating with a new car.
“I need one that’s got good space, it’s got to be reliable. I kind of break cars a lot – I say that, I’ve gone through about 13. There’s always something wrong with them or I end up taking them to the end of their life.”
The next foe for Jenkins will be, his mandatory challenger, Liam Taylor with a tentative date set for May. A slight hand niggle could see the fight pushed back into June but Jenkins insists his immediate goal is to win the Lord Lonsdale belt outright to cement his place in history.
“Boxing the way I am I have got a minimum of two, three years. I might be thirty but I’m one of the fittest in the ring, I’ve been looking after my body since I was 12 years old. I want to win this British belt for good. I’ve got three children – Jacob, Jackson and Jenson – and I want them to have the belt and keep it in the family.
“It’s something to show them and everyone out there that you may have a few knockdowns in life but keep grafting, keep grafting and you can do it – not just in boxing. My two twin boys are seven in May, the only thing they’re interested in at the moment is dinosaurs! I’ve been together with my wife for 10 years, married since 2013, it means a lot to us all.”
There was an air of relaxation to the Welshman throughout our conversation but he really did light up when talking about his children. Obvious as it sounds you could tell how much family meant to him. More than that you could tell how much he wanted to achieve success, not for him but for those around him.
“I’m not making mega money but obviously we want to be able to have a stable life. I know for a fact I’m not world level, let’s just be honest, and I’ve done great by winning the belt but getting it outright would be a whole different thing. When I first turned pro I just wanted to fight, I’d had enough of the politics, and I thought ‘I’m going to win a Welsh title’. That didn’t happen for various reasons and then decided to just keep going and see how well I could do. In my opinion the British belt is the best out there, the history behind it, you just cannot beat it.”