Life of a journeyman boxer - Sheffield's Lee Connelly on why he battles on despite losing 68 fights

“If they knew my record they would think I was the worst boxer in the world. It's hard for people who aren't in boxing to understand it.”

Tuesday, 18th January 2022, 5:01 pm

At best, Lee Connelly’s career as a professional boxer, on paper at least, could be described as modest.

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But with 68 losses to seven wins and a further six draws over nine years – and half a decade since he last won – that might be stretching it.

Sheffield-based journeyman Lee Connelly, who has just seven wins to 68 losses.

The Westfield-based 34-year-old is what’s known in the trade as a journeyman.

Far from being a punchbag for hire, journeymen are generally tasked with providing a good test – but not too good – for fashionable up-and-coming prospects in the home corner looking to build their records and gain experience.

“It didn't happen from one day to the next,” Connelly says of his transition into the unofficial role.

“I didn't start out wanting to be a journeyman, I wanted to be a prospect. But the home fighters in general have to sell tickets. It wasn't long before I realised I can't really sell tickets so it becomes the choice of whether you want to not do it, or do it on the road.

Lee Connelly touches gloves with fellow Sheffield-based boxer Levi Kinsiona before their fight at Ponds Forge in August. Photo: Andrew Saunders.

"I was boxing on the road but always with the intention to win. Gradually, over time, once you get a number of losses on your record and get referred to as a journeyman you grow into the role because you realise the business side of boxing.”

The politics of boxing

The business side of boxing Connelly refers to can be murky and ruthless, with journeymen an accepted part of the process.

Yet without these ‘crucial cast members’, who are often show-savers, many fight nights would not go ahead.

Lee Connelly once shared a ring with London 2012 gold medallist Luke Campbell. Photo: Andrew Saunders.

"I got into it thinking it was going to be different but I would rather do it this way than not do it at all,” adds Connelly, who once shared a ring with London 2012 gold medallist Luke Campbell.

It’s no coincidence the phone stopped ringing following the best spell of his career – a three-fight streak in 2016 which consisted of two wins either side of a draw.

He did not fight for three months. The same thing happened two years prior after a win followed by a technical draw.

“Fights I already had booked have been cancelled and the same thing has happened when I have fought a very good prospect and been too competitive,” Connelly adds.

"At this stage it doesn't make me feel anything, it's what I understand and know what it's like.

"I have learnt it's a business before it's a sport in many senses.”

What keeps him going, then? Money?

"It's not something that pays well,” reveals Connelly, who also works as a labourer. "It keeps me afloat with having a family and everything.

"I have put my professional career on the back-burner in order to be able to take last-minute fights and have had jobs where people understand I might need to take time off.

"I'm definitely not in it for the money.”

And what about his colleagues, do they think they could do a better job?

“I could work with some people where if they knew my record they would think I was the worst boxer in the world.

"It's hard for people who aren't in boxing to understand it.”

The lifestyle of a journeymen often means taking fights at short notice regularly - sometimes even on the day – which can be tough when you have an eight-year-old son, Gabriel, and partner of 14 years, Rosa, wanting to make plans.

There’s also the need to stay fighting fit at all times, something Connelly’s vegan diet helps with.

"I have had a few serious conversations with my partner who doesn't always necessarily like the lifestyle or the dangerous side of boxing.

"We did agree that this would be my last year and that finishes me as a pro after 10 years.

"My partner worries about the injury side, things like brain injuries.”

Scott Westgarth death

Westgarth had just 10 professional fights, while Connelly has had 81 and counting, with 14 in 2021 alone.

He admits to worrying about the potential long-term damage he could be incurring.

"We used to box on the same unlicensed shows, we were friends,” Connelly says of his relationship with 31-year-old Westgarth, who lived in Penistone.

"I think he turned pro around the same time I did, we came up in a similar way.

"Someone you know personally, it happening to them makes it all the more real. You have to shut it out if it's something you want to carry on doing.”

Nerves still creep in on fight night, too.

"I do get nervous still but not like I used to,” he adds.

"I get more nervous if I know they are very, very good and if they are coming off a few knockouts. There's concerns that you don't get hurt and that it's going to be a hard night.”

And does that record of his cause him any distress?

"I look at it from time to time but obviously it's not something I'm proud of.

"The big people I have boxed and competitive fights I have given is something I'm more proud of. Looking at it on paper, it looks worse than it is.

“It's not something I've kept track of. There's been so many where there's been hardly anything in it but when it comes to the scorecards they get every round.

“I would say in the majority of those I have at least had rounds robbed from me. On those six draws, everybody in boxing knows any away draw is generally considered a win.”

Boxing on Sky Sports

Given his supporting role, it is unsurprising that even Connelly’s finest hour in boxing ended in defeat.

It also set the tone for what was to follow, as he explains.

“In my first year as a pro the first big fight I really had was against Paul Appleby (in 2013).

"Glenn McCrory (former world champion and Sky Sports pundit) was watching and thought I won but they gave the decision to him. It was in Scotland where he was from.

"It was bittersweet. It was a really good night and I enjoyed being on a big show. It was my introduction to being an away fighter.”

All things considered, how has this left him feeling about the sport, or business, of boxing?

"I love the sport of boxing,” he concludes.

"My opinion on it has changed and the reality of it overall but the actual act of fighting and boxing and everything, I still love it.

"My hopes and dreams of what I could achieve have been brighter but I have come to the reality of what my career is at this stage and I'm happy with it and I'm just glad I can keep offering competitive fights against good prospects."