DONCASTER boxer Jason Cunningham has turned his back on the chance of Olympic glory to punch for pay.
When Cunningham became the first Doncaster boxer since John Irwin 20 years ago to win an ABA title in May after lifting the Under-51kg crown at the Charter Hall, he set his sights on boxing for Great Britain in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
He was one of a number of 2016 Olympic hopefuls shown around the London facilities in the summer.
But with the 2016 Games five years away, and a young family to support, 22 year-old Cunningham decided to cash in on his talents and sign a professional contract with the Sheffield-based Ingle stable.
“They’ve got a long-established reputation and they’ve got such as Kell Brook,” he told The Star.
“It was a tough decision to make and it took me up to a month to make it. I was looking forward to boxing for England in the Home Nations but no date had been set and we didn’t even know whether they were going to take place this year.
“They had also picked the Olympic squad for next year and although I would probably have got my chance if either of the two boxers at my weight had pulled out had I won the Home Nations, there was no guarantee and five years is a long time to wait until 2016. Even then there is no guarantee that I would have been in the squad.
“Another consideration was that at 27 would I have been too old to turn professional - not in terms of age - but what I could achieve.
“Having made my decision, it’s a new start and something new to look forward to and I can’t wait to make my professional debut at Hull City Hall next month.
“I realise that there is a difference between amateur and professional boxing but I don’t think that there will be a problem for me adapting.
“I think my style will be suited to the professional ranks. I like to come forward; I can box and my power and strength is coming on all the time.”
Like Doncaster’s British, Commonwealth and European champion Jamie McDonnell, Cunningham is tall (5’ 8”) for a bantamweight - something he hopes to take advantage off.
“Obviously it gives you an advantage in reach,” said the Woodlands-based prospect who claims he may even be able to get down to super-flyweight at Championship level.
Although he joined the paid ranks four years later than McDonnell, Cunningham has already shown the dedication which Jamie lacked earlier in his career.
He showed that earlier this year when he decided to leave Doncaster Plant Works and join the Hull-based St Paul’s club - even though four trips a week to Humberside for training were both costly in terms of finance and travelling.
It is a move which he credits for his title success: “Going there took me to another level and I won the ABA title within four months of joining the club,” he says. They (coaches Paul Kershaw and Mick Bromby) looked at what I was doing from a completely new angle and I’m still learning.”
He added: “As well as boxing in Hull, I want to build up a good fan base in Doncaster. The boxing scene in town is vibrant at the minute. My aim is not only to win fights but also be a crowd-pleaser and I think that I’ve got that in me.”
Cunningham, who also trains one day a week at Ian Alcock’s Universal Pro-Am gym in Armthorpe, is delighted that he’s still able to use the St Paul’s facility and coaching staff in his professional career as result of the club becoming a pro-am set-up.
Said Kershaw: “Jason has got all the attributes and the class to go on and fight for titles in the future without question, but we are just taking it one step at a time.
“He reached the pinnacle in the amateur ranks in England by winning an elite ABA title so there was nowhere else for him to go (except the Commonwealth Games) apart from the Olympics.
“The Olympic squad for 2012 had already been picked so it would have meant him hanging around for five years so it just seemed a natural progression to turn professional.
“You can see in the progression that he’s made in his training that he’s going to make a great pro. Once he’s got his first few fights out of the way I think he’ll make a statement from the word go. You can see the class he’s got.
“He’s the full package. He works great to the body; he switches attack well and he’s great at working the angles. He also showed in his amateur career that taking punches isn’t an issue; he’s not a chinny kid.
“The St Paul’s Club have had links with the Ingle camp for over 20 years. There are people there we can trust and by going with them we’ve not tied ourselves to one promoter. We can go on the Hennesy, Warren and Hearn shows as well as our own.”