Winning hand: Maxi Hughes wants to be more than a Jack of all trades

THE biggest fight of Maxi Hughes career was not at the forefront of his mind when Boxing News spoke to him weeks before he jetted off to Oklahoma.

“I’m back and forth in garden just now. Grass needs sorted.”

His Yorkshire brogue placed extra emphasis on the importance of everyday tasks about the house still needing ticked off.

The 33-year-old is a family man first and foremost, becoming a full-time boxer has allowed them to move into a better home, own a better car and holiday abroad with little worry.

Hughes, a former painter, likes to be useful and the world lightweight contender is content with DIY duties and green fingers. On Saturday night in Oklahoma Hughes puts his hands to their best use, into boxing gloves and in the direction of the division’s former number one George Kambosos Jr.

His path to greater fights needed a touch of do it yourself after he and Matchroom went in different directions putting him in the free agent bracket.

Offers to face Eddie Hearn’s Irish lightweight Gary Cully, before his shock defeat to Jose Felix in May, were rejected by Hughes. The former British title challenger had paid his dues on the domestic circuit before snapping up the opportunity to fight and beat Jono Carroll in 2020. A then career best victory kicked off a six-fight run which elevated Hughes into conversations involving fights against Ryan Garcia and Kambosos.

Defeating Kid Galahad was a reminder to the boxing fraternity that Hughes isn’t going away, and he wants the biggest fights possible, not a drop down in class.

“Eddie had been saying ‘Maxi’s done so well I want to get him that life changing fight,” Hughes said looking back on his time with Matchroom.

“We had them negotiations with Ryan Garcia, but it never ended up coming to anything. I were just disappointed.”

There was a possibility of Maxi securing a fight against unbeaten American Giovanni Cabrera. Both were keen. However, a breakdown in communication snuffed out hope of it taking place.

“I spoke to Eddie face to face when Josh [Warrington] last fought on December 10,” he explains.

“[He said] we’ll have a meeting to discuss future. Get Stefy (Maxi’s manager) to contact me next week and we’ll get that sorted. I were buzzing.

“It kept going quiet and then when Matchroom finally did get in touch they were like can’t do Cabrera fight, can’t do this, can’t do that. Only fight we can do at this time is Gary Cully.”

“Well, that’s a kick in teeth,” he reflected. “I sat on it a bit, thought about it and were like it’s just not where my career’s heading. I couldn’t swallow it with Cully because he hasn’t beaten anybody. What has he done? I want to challenge myself to see how good I can be.”

Turning down Cully became a blessing in disguise. Various online media outlets soon began reporting that Kambosos against Hughes was happening. The Australian himself hasn’t been shy of a few words ahead of his first fight in nine months hoping to bring back the spartan attitude he had before Devin Haney got a hold of him.

“I’d heard George were staying at 135, I heard he were gonna carry on,” Hughes said.

“A lot of people thought he might pack in. He’s a former champion and I want to challenge myself and he was also highly ranked with the IBF so that’s the reason. Try and get an eliminator. If I had to vacate IBO, then fine because I want to go down world title routes. That were reason I thought he’s the guy and I think I can beat him; I know I can.”

Handing Kambosos a third consecutive loss and then fighting for one of the four main belts would put Hughes’ story on a parallel with that of John Ryder’s. The Londoner had been written off in some quarters after losing to Rocky Fielding but fast forward several years and in May he walked out in front of 50,000 people to throw down with Canelo Alvarez. Hughes may be one win away from achieving a similar dream that never looked likely when he lost to Sam Bowen and Liam Walsh in 2018 and 2019.

The transformation in Hughes career has allowed he and his family to move into their “forever house”, as he described it. An upgrade on their last property due to the success Maxi has had in recent years. No longer is he a familiar face on the domestic circuit working as a painter in his spare time. Upsetting the odds time after time has given new life to a career that could skyrocket after Saturday.

Whatever the ending retirement has been on Hughes’ mind and he has a rough idea of how long he wants to keep on fighting.

“I don’t want to fully commit but I’ve said to the missus if I do another two years which is another four or five fights that’ll round me up to 20 years fighting. It’s a nice round number to round it off.”

His first professional steps were taken on September 17, 2010, against circuit stalwart Johnny Greaves. The highs and lows have made their presence known but Hughes has never let any of the setbacks ruin him. He’s always accepted the hand he’s been dealt. The Rossington southpaw is an example of persistence and staying fit and healthy and because of that greater opportunities have eventually come around and he’s capitalised.

“When I got my opportunity against Straffon he were coming off an absolutely devastating win over [James] Tennyson. I don’t get a lot of credit, but I know that’s the card I’m dealt.

“People acknowledge me and respect me and I’m good at boxing, but some people don’t see it that way. They say he’s good at this and that, but they’ll say, ‘Oh well done I’m happy for you’ like [I’m] an old lady. That’s just how I feel. I’m not begrudging that, that’s the cards I’m dealt I suppose. I’m just from a small mining village in Doncaster. I keep trying and I don’t give in. I’m still here. Now I’m highly ranked and I’m number one in UK and Ireland.”

Not so long-ago Hughes was dreaming of buying himself a snazzy Ford Transit for his old day job and using it to rock up at a press conference for a big fight of his own. His wife used to be the breadwinner when he was balancing two careers back then, but times have changed. She still has a better car though.

“My wife’s got a nice car; she’s got a nice Mercedes. Up until last few years she was the big cheese in the house. Obviously, I’ve overtook her at the moment, so I bought myself a pickup, still a commercial vehicle. There’s plenty of jobs to do so I thought if I get a pickup, it’ll help me with stuff like materials and bits and bobs. It has come in very handy.”

Hughes used a break from the gym to take his family on holiday to Tenerife a few months ago. During the drive home from Manchester Airport something clicked for Hughes. Nothing to do with training, nothing to do with Kambosos and nothing to do with odd jobs around the house. Instead, his mind briefly wandered into retirement and a place of peace and quiet.

“It were quarter to nine and the road were still busy, and I thought what are people doing,” he explained. “Why aren’t people at home? I said do you know what I’m going to do when I retire from boxing? I’m going to get up early, get in car, go out on road with absolutely nowhere to be. That’s what I plan on doing.”

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