Ofori loves his ‘third job’ as Islington Boxing Club senior captain
- Credit: Archant
Jeff Ofori already has two jobs – but he is more than happy to be filling a third, unpaid role for Islington BC as well.
Light-welterweight Ofori, a contractor who deals with track maintenance for London Underground, has also recently taken on a part-time delivery job to make ends meet.
But somehow the 25-year-old still finds time to train at the Hazellville Road gym – and also to fulfil his duties as the club’s senior captain, the second successive year he has held the position.
Captaincy might not appear to be as significant a function in boxing as in other sports, yet Ofori’s own experience during his early days at Islington have shown him otherwise.
“When I started we had Aarron Morgan as captain and after him Jermaine Kelly,” he told the Gazette. “Those guys had had loads of fights and I was new. They’d watch me in the ring and give me any advice that I needed.
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“When I lost my first two fights, I started to think maybe this wasn’t for me. But they helped me, kept my confidence and my spirits up and told me to keep going.
“After that I had 10 wins in a row, which shows it can make a very big difference. The coaches help you, but you need somebody who’s done what you’re doing, to give you a clearer idea of how things are.
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“I’ve boxed for three years now and I’ve had 34 fights, so I’m one of the more experienced guys here. The new guys coming in ask you so many questions, it reminds me of how it felt when I was in their shoes.
“People speak to you about personal issues or issues they’re having in the gym and you have to understand where they’re coming from and try to give them advice and solutions.”
Another aspect of the captaincy is to lead by example in the ring as well as outside it – and Ofori has certainly done that since he joined the club in 2012.
Although he was more interested in football than boxing as a youngster, Ofori chanced upon the Islington gym, bumped into club chairman Lenny Hagland and has never looked back.
He won a gold medal at the Haringey Box Cup in 2013 and then endured two near misses in the senior development championships, reaching the national quarter-finals and the last four a year later.
“I’d been to university, found it wasn’t for me and came back after a year and started working,” Ofori recalled. “I was at that point in my life where you don’t know where to go or what to do.
“But then one day I was passing by this gym and thought I’d go and get fit again for the new year and get my life focused. So I signed up and as soon as I walked in, I met Lenny.
“He’s just such a straightforward guy – there are no ifs, buts or maybes. I didn’t even know how to skip and he showed me a simple, basic routine.
“The first time I got in the ring, the blood was pouring from my nose and they were all making jokes about how I was making a mess of the ring. It just took my mind off being punched in the face!
“There are a lot of different personalities here but no ‘yes men’ – they’ll tell you straight if you’ve done badly. That’s one of the things I like about the club – they’re all like a family.
“The training was intense and I loved it. Then the first time I went to one of the club’s dinner shows at Arsenal, I thought ‘I want to try this’ and I just kept going.”
Having a good engine is one of Ofori’s strengths – maybe an essential one, given his work commitments – and that is something he has tried to develop by learning from his idol, Roberto Duran.
The Panamanian legend, whose career spanned more than three decades, won world titles at four different weights and is generally viewed as one of the greatest boxers in history.
“I’ve watched all his fights,” said Ofori. “He just kept going – even when it got to the 15th round, he was non-stop, so tenacious. I watch him and I try to emulate what he did.
“I’m trying to focus more on work-rate and working people down. That’s what I think I’m good at – just beating them down with pressure – and by round three they don’t want any more.”
For now, Ofori has no immediate thoughts of attempting to launch a professional career of his own – his current priority is the England Elite (ABA) Championships, which get under way in March.
The Islington boxer is keen to make amends for those disappointments at national level – first the controversial defeat to Weston-super-Mare BC’s Lewis Hunt, who had taken three standing eight counts, in 2013.
The club unsuccessfully appealed that decision and, the following year, a majority verdict for Andrew Adenas (Heart of Portsmouth) ended Ofori’s dreams in the semi-final.
“I’m just concentrating on what I’m doing now and the ABAs are my main priority,” added Ofori. “I’m concentrating really hard on it because Islington haven’t had an ABA champion for a few years now.
“I’d be very happy if I could break that record. Once the ABAs are done, then I might look into the pro side of things, but I’d need to know more about it first.”