AS LEEDS’ latest boxing hero prepares to go into battle, memories have been revived of the glory days of one of the city’s previous generation of champions.
Josh Warrington, who takes on Davide Diele for the vacant European featherweight crown at Leeds’ First Direct Arena tomorrow, was not even born when Henry Wharton made his preofessional debut, 25 years ago.
Wharton, who, like Warrington, was born in Leeds, had 31 fights in the paid ranks and was beaten only three times, each in a challenge for the world super-middleweight title.
Hugely popular among local fans for his hard-hitting style, Wharton had his final bout in 1998, but his life and career have now been recorded in an official biography, Henry’s Dream, by Scottish boxing writer Jim Kirkwood.
Wharton now lives near Tadcaster and has his own boxing gym in Acomb, York.
He described the reception the book has received as “absolutely fantastic”.
Said the ex-fighter: “I can’t believe how well it is going.
“I don’t want to sound big-headed, because I am not that way, but I had forgotten how popular I was in the sport. That was the reason we could fill 20,000-seaters (venues) because there was a demand for that.
“Now the book has been published I can’t believe how many people have come forward saying they followed me.
“It is fantastic, because it is heartfelt. A lot of them are saying they were great followers and they liked my style of fighting.”
Wharton said he is flattered to be remembered so long after he last laced on a glove.
“It seems like another lifetime,” admitted the 46-year-old, who lost on points to Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank in 1994 and Robin Reid three years later.
“It seems that long ago it’s hard to remember, but if I get involved in thinking about a particular bout I can vividly remember every detail. That’s a bit scary, but it’s true.
“When the author was asking me about particular bouts, it was a bit like when people are hypnotised and they are told to think back to when they are a child.
“You think you can’t do that, but you can. I can remember things I haven’t thought about since and a lot of those details are in the book.”
Wharton’s boxing story doesn’t have the happy ending he had hoped for, as his dream of achieving a world title never came true – but he feels the adversity he had to deal with can inspire others.
“I think young sportspeople – in cricket, golf, football or whatever they do – can be heartened that they don’t have to be at their best now,” he said.
“They can rise to the level they want to be at – they can think ‘even though I have lost today, it will make me better so I can win tomorrow’.”
Running his own gym has kept Wharton involved in boxing and he added: “That really keeps me busy – I have to match-make and get ready for bouts.
“I am up and down the country with the guys who are taking part in contests and it is all good. I am more at peace now than I have ever been, because it’s not about me now, it’s about the lads I look after.
“If you can get somebody good at something, it is your achievement too and I get great reward from it. I don’t want any pats on the back, I just want to help the lads and if I can show them where I went wrong, that’s a bonus.”
Henry’s Dream is published by Dalcumly Press, priced at £14.99.