FAR from the glamour of live televised title fights, the struggle goes on for those operating at the other end of the boxing pyramid.  

Those who make their living from performing in leisure centres and hotel suites remain in limbo, waiting to hear just when they might be able to step back into the ring in front of a small but enthusiastic crowd.

For regulars on the circuit like Gary McGuire, it has been particularly tough. The East Kilbride super-welterweight unashamedly describes himself as a journeyman, a pivotal but often misunderstood figure in small-hall boxing.

The defeat-heavy record (McGuire has one win from 17 fights) masks the significance of the role he fulfils. In normal, pre-Covid times, the 26 year-old would travel across the country every weekend - often at short notice - to provide hardy but not overpowering opposition to up-and-coming prospects.

McGuire works in drainage and groundwork in his day job – “digging holes” – but, with a young family to support, boxing usually provides a very welcome supplementary income.

Last year he fought 11 times and the hope was that he would do the same, if not more, in 2020. Instead, he has stepped into the ring just three times, the suspension of boxing costing him thousands of pounds in lost revenue.

“Not being able to box much this year has made a massive difference to me money-wise and fitness-wise,” admitted the Kynoch Boxing fighter.

“Last year at one point I had three fights in three weeks. Boxing is like a second job for me so it’s been a big hit financially. It’s probably cost me thousands of pounds as I had five fights scheduled between March and May. And there would have been more on top of that. I can easily fight twice a month if not more so it’s been a big loss.

“Hopefully there will be shows back by September and if so I’ll look to get out at least five times before Christmas to try to make up for it.”

Like most journeymen, McGuire went into boxing with starry-eyed aspirations of making it all the way. He lost his first professional fight, however, and didn’t box again for three years.

By the time he returned his attitude had hardened. Now it was solely about pragmatism, not idealism. Instead of dreaming about winning titles and fighting on televised cards his sole focus was getting in the ring as often as he could, not getting hurt and continuing to provide for his family.

“When I turned pro I wanted to go to the top,” revealed McGuire. “I fought a good guy on my debut and lost. After that my missus became pregnant so I gave it up for a while.
“When I came back I knew I couldn’t commit to the training needed to get to the levels I would have liked. So I decided to go down this path instead. It’s not an insult if someone said I was a journeyman. We all know what journeymen are about.

“There are some who have had more than 200 fights. So you watch and learn from them about how to go about it. In my first few fights back I tried to box too much. Then I realised I have to be smarter about it.

“It’s not like you want to get beat. But sometimes you just need to make it a boring fight to protect yourself.”

There is a slight nod and a wink about the whole business. Journeymen aren’t explicitly told not to win but the mounting losses speak for themselves.

The financial success of small-hall boxing tends to revolve around fighters selling tickets so promoters will often pair those prospects with journeymen, fighters who have been around the block a bit, will give their man a tough work-out but not look to knock them out.

The talent, in response, will usually not go too heavy on an opponent who needs to stay healthy to fight the following weekend. It is a complex but mutually beneficial arrangement.

“If every journeyman packed it in, boxing would die,” added McGuire candidly. “They need guys like myself to keep the sport going.

“When I fight down in England I tend to get booed as I’m from Scotland and have the flag on my shorts. But I started playing to the crowd, giving them a wave and a dance. And at the end of the fight I raise my hand even if I know I’ve lost just to wind them up a little bit.

“It’s all good fun. There are times when you think you could probably knock them out. But if I go down to England and beat one of their prospects then you might not get asked back again. So winning as a journeyman might actually lose you work.

“Some boxers say they would happily die in the ring. That’s not me. As long as I get out safely and home to my kids then I’m happy.”