HE emerged bloodied and bruised like Sylvester Stallone’s eponymous character Rocky Balboa, but Shayne Singleton was proudly clutching the English light welterweight belt.
Nursing a broken nose and a damaged hand sustained during the fight, the 23-year-old showed tremendous heart, courage and belief to share 10 rounds with Curtis Woodhouse and take the title from the champion via a split decision.
Priced as the 1/6 favourite before the contest, many fans and pundits alike had backed the former Blade to ease through the challenge, predicting a knockout victory. But Singleton had other ideas, relishing his first role as the underdog, as he stood tall in battle while boxing intelligently on the back foot.
Show promoter Dave Coldwell and co-commentator Ryan Rhodes, both with strong allegiances with Woodhouse, claimed the one-time £1 million footballer had troubled the Colne fighter throughout, citing facial injuries to Singleton as a reason for the challenger’s definite demise.
But cuts, bruising and swelling were always going to be accentuated in a bout where fighters were equipped with Cleto Reyes boxing gloves, known as the fighters’ glove due to minimal padding. In fairness Woodhouse was unrelenting, athletic and fierce but the pressure fighter isn’t always the better fighter.
Singleton showed a different side to his game. Used to dictating his contests and breezing through the rounds, his stamina and guile were severely tested at Manchester’s Bowlers Exhibition Centre. He showed he had the grit to dig deep when needed, the work rate and conditioning to prevail and proved he has the chin to take a punch.
Knowing what was to come, Singleton was methodical from the first bell and strictly adhered to coach Karl Ince’s gameplan. Woodhouse was in his face immediately and landed a trademark left hook early in the round, but as soon as Singleton’s back grazed the ropes he responded and rocked his foe with a left before spinning away.
The International Masters victor grew in confidence as the round progressed, working off his jab and using the perimeter well. His lateral movement and swift style frustrated Woodhouse, who became uneconomical with his blows, and sensing an upset he unloaded a flurry of shots in the corner, catching the Driffield Destroyer with a couple of stiff rights to knock him off balance. And as the opening stanza closed, Woodhouse walked on to Singleton’s uppercut as he shifted inside.
The Yorkshireman, close friends with the formidable Kell Brook, continued to look bemused by Singleton’s pop and move tactics in the second, but he connected with several combinations to the body. The 32-year-old stalked Singleton mercilessly, imprisoning him, but was often caught with straight back hands on his way in.
The third round was a tighter affair as Woodhouse adapted to the opposition. His jab became more potent, his stance more aggressive, and his pace and presence intensified. Woodhouse’s close proximity almost suffocated Singleton on occasions but the undefeated boxer was smart, countering with his jab, before executing another pinpoint uppercut.
The middle rounds of the contest, from four to eight, were controlled by the belt-holder as he found his rhythm. Woodhouse began to find apertures in Singleton’s defence and caused a cut to form underneath his right eye and even after his other eye split in the fifth, Ince’s prized protégé retained his disciplined approach.
The former Premier League midfielder asserted himself further as a piercing left bust the nose of Singleton, while a stinging right hook on the follow-up, in the same location, forced a steady flow of blood. Singleton, to his credit, refused to sit back and flicked out his jab constantly while staying on his toes, though he was caught more often as his guard dropped.
However, the home fighter found reserve in his tank in the ninth and again in the final round to battle back. In the penultimate stanza, Woodhouse was fortunate to avoid a points deduction for catching Singleton on the break, but he was punished for a similar infringement with just minutes remaining, striking Singleton with an illegal blow to the body that ultimately cost him his title.
Judge Phil Edwards scored the “War of the Roses” showdown 96-94 in Singleton’s favour, Dave Parris opted for the reverse when backing Woodhouse while Steve Gray’s deciding card read 96-95 to Singleton.
Cue wild celebrations from Singleton’s vociferous Colne contingent as he stole the crown, extending his record to 14-0 (3) in the process. The overwhelming emotion saw Singleton floored as he dropped to the canvas - something Woodhouse had failed to do - while the result cost gambling conglomerates William Hill, who had suspended betting on Singleton prior to the fight.
“It feels amazing,” beamed Singleton. “I was happy winning my first international title but this is on another level. It’s all been worthwhile. It’s incredible. Nobody fancied me to win the fight but I’ve gone in and done it which is great.
“I can’t describe the feeling. It didn’t sink in until they’d actually put the belt around me. I dropped down and got a bit emotional because it’s a massive thing - not just to win the English title but to go in and beat Curtis Woodhouse after everyone had written me off. It was out of this world. I’ve always known deep down that I can take a punch. I proved that against a fighter like Curtis. I’ve proven that to myself and everybody else now. I showed that I could take shots, get roughed up, cut, broken nose, broken hand, but I stuck it out regardless of the circumstances.”
And Singleton finished by thanking his sponsors and fans: “My sponsor Intershape Gym has been great for providing me with treatments and supplements. My fans were absolutely quality. I knew they’d be there supporting me in full force. I was sat in the changing rooms listening to them all before the fight with the air horns, drums and chanting my name. It went to show that I have the best support.”