The Pugilist

Curtis Woodhouse: Britain’s unlikely sporting hero

When Curtis Woodhouse was a professional footballer, he did not lift a major trophy.

When Curtis Woodhouse became a professional boxer, he did not win a world championship.

To some narrow-minded observers, that means the 33-year-old wasn't much of a success story.

But when you take a good look at all he has accomplished at a high level in two of Britain’s most popular sports, you notice he has enjoyed a dual career that most of us ‘Average Joe’ types would have bragged about to no end.

Prior to his British title challenge of Darren Hamilton in his old footballing stomping ground of Hull at the weekend, it was very easy to play down his contribution to domestic sport.

On the pitch, he represented a total of 12 clubs but did not lift a major trophy. In fact, when he came remotely close to the feat as part of a Birmingham City squad which reached the 2001 League Cup final, he was cup-tied for their losing penalty shoot-out against Liverpool.

Then, many scoffed when he chose to pursue his other passion of boxing in 2006. His record grew to 22-6, with 13 knockouts – far from world-beating. He was never once considered a legitimate world championship contender, either.

And yet, when Woodhouse sat on the ring apron and confirmed after the Hamilton bout that he was finally done, both as an active boxer and an active footballer, he came across as one of Britain’s biggest sporting winners.

Part of this came from his all-but-confirmation of a pretty lucrative rumour swirling around the pugilistic grapevine.

Woodhouse reportedly placed a £5,000 wager earlier in his boxing career, with odds of 50/1, that he would become British champion.

And that he did, in a show-stealing roller-coaster of a 12-round battle with Hamilton via an equally-dramatic split decision.

[REPORT: WOODHOUSE WINS BRITISH TITLE, IMMEDIATELY RETIRES]

Woodhouse said afterward: "That seems to be the rumour going around and like I've told you and I'll be telling everybody else, I won't be confirming or denying the rumour – but I will say the drinks are on me tonight!”

That his respectable showings as a footballer and as a fighter culminated in winning the most prestigious domestic boxing accolade in an early frontrunner for British fight of 2014 would be enough for most.

That his respectable showings as a footballer and as a fighter culminated in winning the most prestigious domestic boxing accolade in an early frontrunner for British fight of 2014 would be enough for most.

There’s far more to Woodhouse’s voyage in the unforgiving boxing business, however – even when you put this possible £250,000 windfall to one side.

Shortly after Curtis made the switch between sports, he was unsurprisingly held in a similar regard to the likes of Freddie Flintoff and Sonny Bill Williams by fight fans protective of ‘their’ realm.

This was more than just a wild experiment for the Beverley-born bruiser, though. He had harboured dreams of professional boxing since he was a kid.

And, five years ago, with his father on his deathbed, the junior Woodhouse made a bold vow to senior.

“I sat with my dad for about an hour and a half when he was dying. I thanked him for everything he done for me in my football and boxing.

“I promised him I would win the British title for him. Every promise my dad made to me he kept and I didn’t want to let him down so I needed to win this.”

And win it he did.

Woodhouse during his footballing days for Sheffield United, and looking rather Huddlestone-esque for Hull (PA)

“I can’t believe it. When I said I was going to be a professional boxer, everyone laughed at me,” he added.

“I had the audacity to say I’d be British champion. I’d like to dedicate this to my late dad.”

As anyone who has followed the fight game for more than five minutes will attest, its saddest story is a recurring one, when fighters fail to acknowledge when it’s the right time to call it a day and risk further abuse by fighting on.

Woodhouse, however, always told himself he’d quit when he reached his goal. And he did. Right there and then, after the bout.

"It's not about offers or financial things that people can do for me to make me carry on fighting," he said.

"I fight because I love to fight. It's nothing to do with money. I do it because it's my passion. It's all about the love of the game and it's about the glory all the time and the belts. It's not about the money."

So, Curtis Woodhouse, world champion? No.

Does that prevent him being one of Britain’s big early success stories of the year, alongside Lizzy Yarnold, Jenny Jones and GB’s Davis Cup team? Absolutely no.

So when now-retired two-sport so-called nobody Curtis Woodhouse took the Lord Lonsdale belt to his father’s grave the day after his tremendous victory, he did so having followed his dreams on two fronts.

He did so having provided entertainment in droves for boxing fans who at one point viewed him as a sideshow attraction, having delivered on an emotional final promise to his old man, and it would seem, having collected a cool quarter million return on an investment in self-belief.

Not to mention that time he scared the living daylights out of a troll on Twitter, and forced him into a grovelling apology on national television.

That’s more than most of us critics could possibly accomplish.

If you haven’t watched the title fight yet, track it down. Even if you have, but weren’t quite aware of the entire Woodhouse backstory, go back with his journey fresh in your mind and enjoy all 12 rounds again.

If you do, you’ll find yourself leaping out of your sofa at the exact moment trainer Adam Booth does.

Enjoy retirement, Curtis - and your bookies-sponsored pension, if those rumours are true. You've earned it.

Liam Happe | Follow on Twitter @liamhappe