Reece Macmillan

Dan Woodgate

Politics in boxing. It's enough to put some fans off, but it's not just those that pay to watch that get frustrated by it. Those that are paid to participate can find themselves on the short end of boxing politics too, and for 32 year old cruiserweight Dan Woodgate (13-2-0) it's no different. He's been a pro now for six years but as he tells me, it's not always been easy to get the fights he's wanted. 
"I just want to fight" he tells me, "It comes down to politics, being able to sell enough tickets and when I was a light heavyweight, everytime I fought I'd be ill for two weeks after the fight. It was to the point that when I went to the gym two weeks after a fight, it wasn't like your average fighter doing the same, it was like starting from scratch every single time. I was picking up injuries, struggling with chest infections and getting really, really ill. I was in the gym the day before the weigh in for each of my title fights at 13 stone 7, weighing in the next day at 12 stone 7. You can imaging what that does to your body. I'm a good ticket seller, but not consistently. I could sell 200 tickets one week and then 100 six weeks later. My first two fights I had a gap of eight or nine months and that was down to my trainer who was also my manager at the time who was messing about with shows. He didn't want to put me on other people's shows, so I ended up leaving him for Mickey Helliett. I think I've averaged two or three fights a year, I've had a couple of slower years recently but that's because I've killed myself making the weight, so I had to make the step up to cruiserweight."
So how much has the higher weight class helped out the man from Kent? "You have to deal with the fact you're fighting taller guys, which is obviously something that comes with its own set of problems, but I think I adapt to it well. You're fighting guys who walk around naturally at 16 stones, whereas I'm out of shape at 15 and a half stone! On the positive side I can be intelligent with fights, approach each as it comes and make sure I'm at my best."
The shift in weight category happened in April 2014. After losing a points decision to Leon Senior at the back end of 2013, Woodgate realised that the weight cutting problem was too much. It has paid dividends; three fights later and three wins he finds himself in a position to fight for the Southern Area title against Wadi Camacho (14-5-0). Camacho himself has fought for English titles and in British title eliminators, as well as being a former Prizefighter champion. It is the biggest test to date for Woodgate, but also a huge opportunity. He has fought before for a Southern Area title, when he bowed out of the light heavyweight division with the loss to Senior. Given that this will only be his fourth fight at cruiserweight, does he feel being relatively new to the weight division makes him dark horse going into the bout?
"Personally, I think they're taking me a little bit too lightly as well. I think they reckon I'm just some light heavyweight who's coming to the cruiserweight division for a last hurrah. I've been a cruiserweight all my life, I was walking around at 15 stone when I was a light heavyweight. I was getting down to 13 and a half stone and only six percent body fat, doing no weights and running eight miles every day and was still having to take a stone off overnight. I know I'm not the tallest, but I'm not small for this weight. If you see me stood next to the average cruiserweight, you'll see my legs are three times the size of theirs!"
There is a feeling from Woodgate that he is being overlooked in this bout. Not just that, but in the buildup to it there has been questioning online as to whether or not Camacho will take the bout at all. Woodgate has tried to engage Camacho in social media conversation, as well as Camacho's promoter Steve Goodwin. Neither however has seemingly taken the bait, leading outsiders to question whether their fight on February 27th will go ahead. So what does Woodgate make to all of it?
"I've got no doubts they will be there, I've been told by numerous people" he tells me, refusing to name his sources. "It was a worry at first but I've been told by quite a few people it will happen. I don't know what they're playing at to be honest, but I know they're up to something. He did the same with Lawrence Bennett. The thing with this one, Steve Goodwin gave it the big one about backing his fighters and Mickey Helliett has beaten him in the purse bids so Goodwin is trying to sabotage the ticket sales. I'm fine with that, if he doesn't want to help sell tickets that's cool, but I always thought Goodwin was a pal of mine. He's stuffing my ticket sales up and he knows that's how we earn our money but he's making it worse for his fighters too. I want Wadi to turn up with his A game! The business with Steve Goodwin I'm a bit disappointed with, he knows how we make our money and it's bad form from him. I remember those kinds of things, people always need a favour in the end!"
There was a chance for Woodgate to speak to the rival fighters promoter recently, as Camacho took on a tune up fight at the O2 on the undercard of the David Haye comeback. Woodgate made a personal appearance to view his future opponent and took the opportunity to question Camacho's promoter on the situation. "I spoke to Steve the other day and told him all this online stuff is nothing personal, I'm just building the fight. I said to him that nothing is being said because of Wadi's fight at the O2 so he's obviously selling tickets for that and he said 'yeah yeah yeah'. I was expecting afterwards to get some sort of interaction. All I want to do is get people to come and watch me beat Wadi Camacho up! I know Wadi is on a ticket deal too, so they're messing themselves up. They're talking about big fights in the summer but if he comes to me, doesn't sell any tickets, takes home however much he earns and gets beat then he's not getting any big fights this summer. They're taking a big chance."
For Woodgate this opportunity comes six years into his professional career. He was a late starter to boxing, only taking to the gym to distract himself from a lifestyle that he looks back on without huge fondness. "I turned pro at 26 but I didn't even start as an amateur until I was 22. I only went in to lose weight; I was 18 stone, big and fat. I was drinking three or four nights a week, smoking and doing all the things you shouldn't be doing. I was getting involved in fights on the street. I had a mate who was going boxing, I'd done a bit as a kid like most have that come from a rough estate. I just went and joined in and the trainer asked me who I had boxed for before. I said I never have, he said 'Really? You look pretty good, do you fancy having a bout?'. I hadn't really considered it but thought I'll have a go. I trained with him for three months, had my first bout and lost it on points. I got hooked by hearing the crowd cheers and chanting my name. It's the few seconds of glory when you win I suppose!"
Winning has been something that he is accustomed to now. With good momentum, he can put the two earlier career losses behind himself. So when I ask him if this is a crossroads fight, Camacho himself having a handful of losses and at 30 years old approaching his peak physical years, Woodgate is resolute in his view of where this fight could leave him.
"I love boxing. Absolutely love it. If I lose this fight I will walk away from boxing, 100%. Unless there's some sort of massive miscarriage of justice and I feel I smashed him to bits and didn't get the decision, then I'll walk away from boxing. If I can't beat Wadi Camacho, as good as I think he is, then where am I going to go with it? I'm only ever going to be borderline Southern area. That's not what I'm in boxing for. I'm in boxing as everyone is, to be a world champion. Do I think I can genuinely be a world champion? Probably not. Would I get the opportunity? Probably not. But I can be a British champion and maybe beyond. I look at the cruiserweight division throughout the world and think there's only a few differences technically and physical differences that are stopping me from being there and they're all things I can work on."
With such a big statement hanging over himself, it creates pressure not just in a sense of an area level belt being on the line but also potentially his boxing career and legacy. With that in mind, is there a different approach being taken to this fight over any others? "In terms of approaching it differently, this fight has got me scared. I'm scared of losing, scared of not performing, scared of not getting the win. That's what drives me on. When you step in those changing rooms before you get in the ring you have a certain amount of fear, a certain amount of excitement. Every time I get in the gym, or when I was on the running track this morning and things get hard and I have no trainer there telling me what to do, I see a vision of Wadi's face, and him punching me! It drives me on. If you go through my record, the majority bar one or two were all just journeymen picking up a payday. I understand people getting frustrated with that, but what they don't understand is it frustrates me as much as anyone. What I would like is a boxing world where you can turn up and fight anyone, win lose or draw and not get shot down the ladder again. You would get judged on your ability and not what your record says. I class myself as one of the best in the division, but at the same time I can't take a fight at three weeks notice like what Steve Goodwin asked me to do against Lawrence Bennett in a ten round fight and expect me to be at my best. I need ten or eight weeks notice so I can turn up with a gameplan ready to beat him. That side of it is frustrating." 
The Lawrence Bennett fight was one that didn't fit the schedule of Woodgate. Bennett at the time held the Southern Area belt that will be up for grabs February 27th and has subsequently gone on to challenge Matty Askin for the English title. The fight ended in farce when the two tumbled out of the ring in October 2014, leaving Askin unable to continue the fight in the very first round. They rematch, also in February, but Bennett is someone that Woodgate has some history with as he tells me. 
"Looking at Lawrence Bennett, he's not a particularly good boxer. Physically he's quite a specimen, he's tall, he's strong and he's fit. But he's had easy fights, quite lucky fights and got himself into a position where he's fighting for an English title. He could beat Matty Askin. Askin is a good fighter but they're all beatable. I don't look at Lawrence Bennett as any sort of role model to me, I don't really like him to be honest, I think he's a bit of an idiot! Hats off to him though, he's done really well and he'll continue to do well. He's got the right attitude and goes about his training how you should do, but I just don't think he's a very nice person and that's a big thing for me. He rung me up once. We had a bit of back and forth online and it got to the point he rang me up one night when I was in bed next to my wife and he rang me up threatening me! He was saying 'take the fight, I wanna knock you out'. I was like 'shut up you dick, what are you doing ringing me up?!'. He deleted me off all social media so I don't see what he's doing any more but good luck to him and I wish him all the best. Any boxer that gets in that ring gets my respect, regardless of how I feel about them outside the ring. But I don't think me and Lawrence are ever going to be best mates! I'd like to settle it in the ring!"
Going back to the fighter that stands in front of him next, I question Woodgate on how much he has seen of Camacho of late since he has signed with Steve Goodwin and put together a winning streak, enjoying a renaissance in the ring. "I went to see him the other day at the O2 and I didn't see anything massively different. He's got a good trainer in Barry Smith, but he's been under good trainers before and been beat. It doesn't matter who is training him; he could be trained by King Kong for all I care! I think I'm going to beat him, that's how I'm going about it. I think I'm better than him. On paper I know he's the favourite, I'm not stupid. I've got people coming up to me saying 'I genuinely think you can do this' and I think when someone says that, they genuinely don't! Or they're not giving you as much chance as they're making out. But I don't care to be honest, I'm not worrying who is the favourite. I promise you now, on the 27th of February he's going to have an absolute nightmare in that ring. Win lose or draw, it's not coming easy either way."
One advantage that seems to be on the side of Woodgate for February 27th is that the fight takes place on the show of his own promoter, Mickey Helliett. Helliett won the purse bids to stage the fight at London's York Hall, which will give his fighter the 'home' privileges for the night. Is that something that is important to Woodgate when the bell rings? "Mickey was more bothered than I was. I wasn't that worried, I just said to Mickey to take the fight. From the second someone told me I was fighting Wadi Camacho, I thought 'I'm going to beat him'. I know I'm going to beat him. I could go out to 1,000 people booing me and cheering his name, it wouldn't bother me at all. It's nice that I'm headlining the York Hall, the best boxing venue in the world, on a show where I'll have the majority of the support. It's nice Mickey put his faith in me and in that sense, it's nice that Mickey puts his faith in me which is good. But I know what I can and can't do, I'm in the gym all the time."
We talk about the hypotheticals, the potential of fights after the February date. Is Woodgate a man who likes to lay out future plans? "I'm fighting Wadi Camacho on February 27th and that's all I care about right now" he says, clearly remain focussed on the task in hand. I'm not bothered about defending the Southern Area title. It's a title I've always wanted to win, but it's not where I want to end up. At cruiserweight every fight is risky, especially when you're not a massive cruiserweight like me. If you get clocked on the chin by someone who punches like Wadi camacho does there's a chance you're going to sleep, so it's stupid to take any sort of risks. I'm aiming for british, European and maybe one day a world title. It's not any disrespect to the Southern Area title; if I walk away from boxing winning that belt I would be more than happy, it's a great achievement. It's an achievement for me just to be able to share the ring with people like Wadi Camacho, someone who has won Prizefighter. It's a pleasure to share the ring with people like Sammy Couzens and Jody Meikle, all that lot, proper characters that are good hard fighters." 
He may sound humbled to be getting in the ring with the names that he's mentioned, but Woodgate has earned the right. As he acknowledges, not all of his opponents have been of the highest order and there have been stumbling blocks on the way, but for the man who only took up boxing to lose some weight and stay out of trouble he has come a long way. There are aspirations of making an impact on the European and world level, yet conversely talk of retirement if things don't go right for him at York Hall. But either way, there is focus. Dan Woodgate is a man who is looking to go place. This could be the stepping stone and name on his record that he needs to elevate himself to those levels.
Dan wished to thank his new sponsors Mark Christmas Diamond Setters who have helped him in his preparation for February 27th.