JOHNNY GARTON INSISTS that putting on the gloves for the first time had nothing to do with improving his prospects in the pecking order of Peckham, where he grew up and remains a man about town to this day.
The Pexican, as he is fondly known, did not venture into the local gym as a sporting route to escape a life of potential crime. His story is far more mundane – and familiar to many – in that he simply needed to shed some inches from his waistline.
However, Garton does admit to being something of a street urchin in his younger days and his fists weren’t exactly unemployed, in a town where they breed them tough, before he took up punching for a living.
“It is known as a pretty tough town but, to be honest, I’ve lived there all my life so I don’t know any different,” explained the now 31-year-old, who defends his recently won British welterweight title for the first time against Chris Jenkins at the Royal Albert Hall on March 8. “To me it is just normal.
“I grew up on the Clifton Estate – which is just off the Queen’s Road – and I loved it because there was loads of kids about and everybody knew each other. We were always playing up, getting into trouble and, obviously, having a tear-up every now and then.
“At the end of the day we all got along and it was only when we turned into teens that it got a bit hairy. We got into more trouble and started to get into fights with other estates.”
In what could be described as an echo of the grown up Garton, the younger version would also always give a good account of himself when drawn into a scrap, although he admits he wasn’t leader of the pack.
“Not really, I wasn’t one of the hierarchy, but I think I had everyone’s respect because they knew if they did pick a fight, they would get a fight. Not many started on me so I didn’t have to be fighting all the time.”
The turning point for Garton – and his waistline – came when he was inspired to swap pints for punching and followed a friend into the local boxing gym. On starting work he wasn’t just earning pounds, but also putting them on.
“It was just to lose weight,” admitted the 23-1-1 British champ. “I started work when I was 15 on Saturdays as a mechanic and they put me on an apprenticeship when I finished school. So as soon as I finished work I was just going down the pub, eating a lot, drinking a lot…
“Then one of my mates said he was going to the gym to lose some weight and I went with him.
“I went a few times and some of the kids asked me to do some sparring and bashed the crap out of me, with me just being a kid off the street thinking I could fight everyone. Boxing is a totally different game and I kept going back trying to get the better of them.
“Slowly, after time, I noticed that people didn’t want to spar me as much and it went from there.”
Peckham is perhaps most famous for being the south east London setting of the comedy Only Fools and Horses, where the exploits of Del Boy and Rodders charmed the nation for over 20 years.
Garton reports that the suits and swagger, along with the vocabulary, that characterised Del Boy didn’t catch on in a big way on the real life streets and pubs of Peckham when he was growing up.
“Not really, it was more kids being as we call them, roadmen, people walking around with their hoods up or a hat on trying to keep their faces covered up or trying to be a tough man.
“There was a bit of the talk used, but not too much because Del Boy was just a bit before my era, so it was as the kids talk now and a bit more street.”
JOHNNY GARTON WILL make a first defence of his British welterweight title against Chris Jenkins at the Royal Albert Hall.
The Pexican collected the treasured Lonsdale belt following a thrilling encounter with Gary Corcoran in October – stopping the Wembley man in the 11th round – and he now faces the tough Welshman on March 8 when boxing makes its return to the historic South Kensington venue.
Jenkins, 30, has twice before challenged for the British title at super lightweight. As a then unbeaten fighter in July 2015, he took on Tyrone Nurse for the vacant title and an exciting fight was declared a majority draw by the judges.
The pair rematched four months later and Nurse prevailed in another closely contested bout.
The 20-3-2 Jenkins has subsequently added a further four wins to his record, but has also suffered the misfortune of severe cuts curtailing two of his fights against Akeem Ennis-Brown and Darragh Foley.
“There were rumours that I would be fighting Chris and now it is confirmed,” reacted the champion to news of his defence being booked in. “I think it is a good tough fight and I am looking forward to it.
“We both cut easily so I would put my money on a bit of blood being spilt on the canvas!”
“Chris is a very tough man and he has been down here at our gym sparring before when Liam Williams also came down. It was a very good spar between us, very hard, and I expect the same on the night.
“He is very energetic and a bit of a crazy fella – it is going to be good,” added the Alan Smith-trained Garton, who claims he will employ some technical boxing to add to his typical marauding style.
“We are always working on technique because I can’t keep plodding forward like I have done in my last couple of fights. I need to work on things and I think you might see something different from me in this fight.”
Elsewhere on the show at the Royal Albert Hall, Nicola Adams OBE will look to make history and be the first female crowned World Champion at the venue as she challenges for the WBO World Flyweight Title against Arely Mucino on International Women’s Day. Daniel Dubois follows in the footsteps of British heavyweight greats to fight at the Hall and takes on Razvan Cojanu in his tenth fight. Liam Williams puts his newly won British Middleweight Title on the line against Brentwood bruiser Joe Mullender. Lucien Reid will fight Indi Sangha in what will be his toughest test to date, while GB Flyweight Harvey Horn and Cruiserweight talent James Branch feature.
Tickets are priced from £40 and are available to buy via RoyalAlbertHall.com
TICKETS START FROM £40
GRAND TIER: £100
SECOND TIER: £75