Reece Cattermole

Boxing holds a place in tradition of saving individuals from themselves, from the trappings and dangers of society, of keeping people out of trouble.  For all of the inherent risks, never more pronounced than in the present climate, there is still the value in channeling young men and women into a disciplined environment.
Perhaps never has that value been starker than in recently turned 21 year old Reece Cattermole.  “Boxing for me started as an anger management” he tells me via video call.  It may seem a minor detail that we have called each other face-to-face but the reason for this is simple;  Reece Cattermole is deaf. 
“If I was sat in a class and didn’t hear the teacher I would miss a lot of things.  I’d get bored, or not understand what was going on, I became a handful.  In time, boxing has changed me as a person.  I’ve become calmer, wiser and more confident in myself.  I accept it because it’s who I am, I can’t change it.”
Boxing became an outlet, a coping mechanism for a young man who was struggling to come to terms with the fact that he was different, that functionally, his ears weren’t playing their part.  At first though, it was never with the intention of making a career from the sport.  “I was hitting the bag, just training and then I started taking it more seriously.  That was around 12 years old – I didn’t have my first fight until I was 17.  The trainers wanted me to have fights, but I wanted to feel more comfortable and understand what it was about and feel more confident as a person as well” says Cattermole.
The young man from East Anglia had a handful of amateur bouts, each teaching him a little more of what it meant to step between the ropes and managing his deafness.  What boxing fans may not pick up while watching on TV is the amount that a referee verbally communicates with boxers while the action is ongoing.  “Break!”, “Stop boxing!” are just two of the regular calls from the man in the middle.  Those amateur bouts have been invaluable to Reece in understanding the management of a fight by the person in charge.
“The refs, you can read their body language when they’re going to break fighters.  When you’re in the sport a while you pick these things up.  Because the bell is quite high pitched, I can hear it, but I may not be concentrating on it so I may need the referee at that point.  It’s the referee’s role to make the boxers aware so I don’t think it’s a problem.”
As a professional, Cattermole is being trained by Rob Ottley.  It is his job to make sure that his charge is ready to make his professional debut on May 19th at York Hall.  But he is more than just a pad man, a bag holder.  He has been there with Reece as they tackled the additional tests and met the special requirements that come with the challenge of licensing the UK’s only deaf boxer.  Through all the tribulations though, Ottley is nothing but positive of the experience.
“It’s a progressive move by the British Boxing Board of Control.  It shows that boxing is open to anyone, there’s a lot of positives to Reece.  We’ve managed to get the Deaf Society on board to help as well, he’s a great role model” beams Ottley.  He goes on to explain how difficult it has been to get to the stage where Cattermole is medically cleared to step into a professional ring.
“He had to get loads of different, additional tests done for his audio graphs which were looked over by another panel of medical experts.  We had to consult one of the top surgeons around here to get another piece of medical information, making sure that the boxing wouldn’t affect his hearing any further.”
“It’s taken about nine months in total to get the information together. To be fair to the Board though it is all done to protect Reece.  Boxing has a bad reputation as it is, they’ve done a great job in making sure he has everything he needs to be able to fight.”
Rob also speaks well of the involvement of the Deaf Society, who have been involved in adapting Reece’s house as well as investigating routes of financial support.  Has he had to make any additional changes around the gym to make life easier for Cattermole?  “There are certain things we do for all our boxers.  The focus is still the same, the only difference is that I have to shout a bit louder and I do a lot of waving!” he laughs.  “He fits with everyone else.  We told everyone he is deaf, so you need to tap him or get his attention.  If he doesn’t quite acknowledge the other lads it’s not because he’s ignoring them, he’s just maybe not aware and has his hearing aid out because he’s sparring.  We have lights up around the ring to see when the end of a round is coming up, but again we shout and wave to make him aware.”
There are small nuances that have to be adapted; standing in front of the punch bag to issue instructions, rather than behind.  He explains how instructions are in-depth before he sends Reece into the ring.  Trainers may typically shout instructions during rounds to their fighters, but that isn’t an option with this pairing.  So is the one minute break between rounds of more significance for them?  “I can get in there between rounds like every other Trainer; give instructions and make sure he’s calm.  Reece is a really good student, a fast learner.  He’s able to replicate what we do on the pads in the ring, he’s adaptable.  I can tell him what to do but he’s able to make it work for him.”
There is no sign language; all communication is verbal, although Reece has trained himself to be a very competent lip reader.  When quizzed about how he anticipated referees to handle the challenge of a deaf boxer, Ottley is clear that he has expectations of how this will be dealt with.  “It’s per ref, but in the gym I’ve tried to replicate what it will be like on the night.  We get between the boxers to make them break.  I’ll be asking the referees to be physical when he fights; we don’t want any issues around hitting after the break or the bell.  But he’s very aware that the referee will be more physical than in other fights.”
I ask Reece if he feels any additional pressure, assuming the mantle as the only professional deaf boxer in the UK.  His answer shows the maturity that could serve him well within the sport.
“I’ve always wanted to be someone to inspire people.  I don’t feel the pressure, but knowing I am the only UK registered deaf boxer I feel it is an achievement in itself. I might win some, lose some; but I want to inspire people to overcome their own obstacles.  I want to do it not only as a boxer myself; I want to do it to inspire others too.”
Just as his deafness allows him to concentrate on what is right in front of him and block out the peripherals, his own goals at present are similarly focused.
“I want to get to title fights, but we focus more on the ‘now’.  The future will work itself out, but the focus is really on now.  Coming from where I was, knowing I have a debut in May, everything has changed.  Everything has stepped up, the training, my diet and everything.  It’s a learning process” reflects Cattermole.
That immediate focus is now upon May 19th, where Reece will be debuting at York Hall on a Goodwin Promotions card.  It was his trainer Rob who made the link to Steve Goodwin, whose team came to assess Cattermole in the gym.  No soft touches, no additional allowances because the audition was that of a deaf boxer.  This was a boxer.  Reece would wish to be judged by nothing else.
With the licence in place, a top Management and Promotional team around him and support networks assisting Cattermole outside of the ring, he is in the right place to make a success of his boxing career.  That success may be relative; a limited amateur career compared to some contemporaries, he will no doubt be playing catchup in his professional career.  What he achieves in the ring he achieves as a boxer in his own right, he doesn’t wish to be judged by the disability that lives with him. 
His biggest achievement though may be simply in being an inspiration.  There will no doubt be countless talented sportspeople over the years who have contemplated making the same steps as Reece Cattermole, but didn’t feel able to take that step.  Reece has done it, has channeled all of the frustration of his deafness into a positive and on May 19th, gets the chance to cement a legacy as a role model.  What happens after that date remains to be seen.  For now, the focus is what is in front of him.
Reece wished to thank his sponsors who support his career; his sports therapist, the marketing firm StrategiQ, Sylvia’s Kitchen who handle his diet and Dave Chapman who runs a local motor company.