Karl Wheeler

Karl Wheeler
Inspiration comes in many forms and for boxers it is no different.  Legacy, titles, money, fame.  Ten years ago each of these may have been on the checklist for Karl Wheeler, the impressively sized cruiserweight from Peterborough.  But today inspiration comes from closer to home, and the same reason that in 2005 Karl hung up the boxing gloves is the same reason that in 2014 he picked them back up and decided to step in the ring.
 
“My motivation is my son” says Karl.  “People say you shouldn't just do it for your son, you should do it for yourself. But you know what? I love him more than me so it makes sense to box for him, win for him - he's my motivation. I can hear his voice and hear him scream in the ring!”
 
Karl’s son, Onri, is a chirpy and polite young man.  He holds himself with confidence and happily engages with those around him on a day that many children may be overawed.  We are in the presence of other boxers who tower over both him and I, but that doesn’t stop the 10 year old from playing about on the pool table and potting some balls, proudly letting his dad know when he has got the better of the baize.  The bond between the two is as obvious as it is stong.
 
It was after Karl’s 13th fight that he initially retired from the sport.  At the time aged only 23 he had amassed a record of seven wins, five losses and a draw.  Between family life and sustaining an injury though Karl walked away from the sport as he tells me.  “I had eight years out, I did my wrist in in my 13th fight and I had my son and I took care of him. I got him when he was two years old and have looked after him since, he's been my priority over boxing. I came back a year or so ago and he gives me more power to fight.”
 
The first phase of Wheeler’s career had its highs and lows, all of which have aided his outlook as a fighter.  “It was good, I had a few wins and a few losses. I went four fights unbeaten, then it got a loss and a win and now I'm 10-5-1 so I've learnt both ways.  I found out the hard way how to box a lot of the times, had a couple of home fights. Now after retiring and coming back I've learnt things the hard way, I've won lost and drawn fights, I've felt everything in boxing there is to feel. Now I've just got one goal and that's to win, get my career off to a good run.”
 
His return came in May 2014, where he made a statement in stopping Paul Morris (5-22-2 at the time) in his hometown of Peterborough at the Bushfield Leisure Centre.  Another fight came in September of that year against ring veteran Victor Moses who Wheeler outpointed.  It was at this point that he made a change in promotional outfit, signing with Leighton Buzzard based Goodwin Promotions, with whom he was close to inking a deal when he first decided to return.  Karl explains to me how the linkup came about and why he feels that this relationship can help push forward his aims:
 
“I spoke with Steve (Goodwin) when I was considering coming back.  He was nice, he drove to me and we have a chat.  I decided at the time to sign with someone else as Steve couldn’t offer me the home fights that I wanted.  But then after a year of my contract I decided to change promoters and that was when I linked up with Goodwin Promotions.  My last fight (at York Hall) was great, and my supporters all travelled over so it wasn’t a problem.” 
 
Since the last outing for Wheeler, Goodwin Promotions have debuted their new setup at the home of English boxing.  Impressive staging, lighting and music accompany not just fighters during their ring walk but also keep the fans entertained between fights.  What does he make of it all?  “It looks great. They’re doing great for British boxing, making good fights and making it look nice. A lot of promoters budget on what they will do to make money but Goodwin puts a lot into its shows, it puts boxing back on the map in the UK and it's great.”
 
That last fight was against tough Croatian Tomislav Rudan (5-5-1) who went the six round distance with Wheeler, losing comprehensively on the score cards.  How satisfied was he with the debut performance under the Goodwin banner?  “I found it nice, I did what I had to do. I was boxing for the first four rounds then I got a bit excited and got into a fight in rounds five and six but I did what I had to do, got the win and I was quite happy. I was pleased with the performance, there's still work to do thought you can have 50 fights and there's still work to do but I'm happy with how that fight went but I'll train now and improve for the next fight.”
 
That next outing comes on Saturday December 5th at the show named ‘A Night of War’ where two Southern Area titles will be contested.  Wheeler has yet to get an opponent named, but doesn’t see it as something that causes him an issue.  “I train as hard as I can, I don't worry about the opponent too much and just do what I have to do.”
One person who will be ringside on the 5th December is, of course, son Onri.  The young Liverpool fan shares with me what it is like to watch his dad step between the ropes.  “I really want him to win and it's really exciting to watch when he throws really good punches at the other person. I lose my voice all the time shouting at him! I do get nervous. At first I was like 'I hope dad wins' and I was worried about what was going to happen but then when he throws some good punches I just know he's going to win. I'm his biggest fan, I enjoy it.”
 
Is it something that he would like to follow his dad into, being a prizefighter?  “Yeah, I do train to be a boxer but I'm more into football. I want to play for Liverpool.”  Dubious football clubs aside, if Onri does decide that fighting is in his future he has an ideal role model of a father to learn from and pick up the trade.
 

At the age of 33 now, Wheeler still has aspirations within the sport.  Although older than some of his counterparts, he also has the advantage of having the eight year break, so will naturally have less miles on the clock than some of the younger fighters.  Within the Goodwin Promotions stables there are plenty of potential options, hosting a number of fighters such as upcoming Jose Lopes, Spiros Demetriou and Luoie Darlin as well as more established names such as Wadi Camacho and current Southern Area champion Lawrence Bennett.  “He's got a lot of good kids in the division. I say kids as I'm getting on a bit now! I'm 33 but I feel like I'm 20, I train harder than all the kids out there I believe. I don't train to make my body look good, I train to win fights. Looking like this comes as part of the pain of training!” says Wheeler, clearly not intimidated by the raft of names and résumés in the setup. 
 
Wheeler states that he has the old school fighters mentality, borne he says out of his first stint as a professional fighter:  “From when I was a pro before you would just get out there and fight, you didn't have questions, worrying about who you were fighting or how many fights they have had. It was just train hard, go and fight.”  He says it is the same attitude that he carries now, not concerned by who is lined up in front of him and instead focussing on his career goals.  He is confident that under the guidance of Steve Goodwin and his setup the opportunity for belts is around the corner.  “After my next fight I should be in line for some titles. I'll take each fight as it comes, I've got the experience to fight for titles so I'm confident about it” he says.
 
It will be an interesting next 12 months for the Peterborough cruiserweight.  He is calm about the future, not looking to rush his return but also confident enough that he can stay fit and ready for challenges.  He is a gym rat, never taking more than a week out of training after each fight.  It helps him stay in the phenomenal shape that he heads to the ring in (“I train to win fights, looking like this is a result of the pain I put myself through!”).  Come December 5th Wheeler will be looking to replicate the large support that carried him through his last bout back in September.  It’s a reasonably long travel from Peterborough to York Hall so the fans have to be dedicated to support their fighter.  There is guaranteed to be one voice heard from ringside though, as Onri will make sure that dad hears his voice over the top of all others.  Last time his voice struggled to last all six rounds, this time Karl Wheeler will be hoping he can make shorter work of it.
 
Karl wanted to thanks the supporters who come to follow him at fights and his sponsors who enable him to maintain his training between fights.  These include Maximum Nutrition, Global Self Drive, Borehole Solutions, Layla’s Lens, Barking Heads, Logic Security and Apex Plant Hire.