Ryan Woolridge has come a long way since taking up boxing as a teenager.
The next step comes when pro boxing returns to the Stadium Suite at Walsall FC’s the Banks’s Stadium on the Sunday afternoon of September 12, for the first time in 19 months.
The 20-year-old grew up on the Lower Farm Estate in Bloxwich and was a keen young golfer, before a radical switch in his sporting aspirations.
He was, by his own admission, a chubby teenager when he rocked up at Great Wyrley Boxing Club, which he has been a part of ever since.
Woolridge now becomes the first fighter in the gym’s 22-year history to come through their ranks from amateur to pro, while retaining the tutelage of coach Peter Hickenbottom.
He posted a record of 12 wins from 20 bouts, at the culmination of his amateur career, and joins the pro ranks in the super lightweight division.
Taking the weight of expectation on his shoulders comes with the territory, as he’s now a man the young people at the club look up to.
Training remains at the Great Wyrley base, on Walsall Road, and it’s been a lengthy camp, made longer while the world gets back to normality after the Coronavirus crisis.
Woolridge believes he will never be more ready to step through the ropes than now, which he hopes should show in the ring on fight night.
He said: “I’m the first one from the gym to turn over, having come through their ranks as an amateur, which is special for Pete, as well as me, so there’s a bit of pressure.
“I was 13 when I first walked in, a mate of mine (Connor Edwards) took me down there and there I was, a little fat kid watching these huge men whack the punch bags.
“I played a lot of golf, at the time, and had put on some weight, so I was always the last one picked at football, but the first at rugby, because I was the biggest!
“At my largest, I was nearly 16st, which is not healthy as a young lad, but that all changed when I got the boxing bug. I packed the golf in, although I still do a bit occasionally.
“I’ve never looked back, I grew up with the boxing club and lost a lot of weight. I didn’t tell anyone, at first, but people started to notice at school.
“I had my first bout at 16, I went down to Kettering School of Boxing and won on points (unanimously), which was such a confidence boost for me.
“That was the first part of the journey, where I truly became a boxer. I’ve had 20 fights now and never been stopped, against some pretty good opponents.
“I like to think that I’m technically switched on and I can adapt to different styles. I’m strong enough coming forward, but I can also sit back and box.
“I can’t look past my debut, but I feel relaxed. I’ve been training and living the life and the pandemic has actually helped me, in that respect.
“I probably couldn’t have bought the 12 months of proper preparation that I’ve had, talking from a personal standpoint, and I’m more than ready.
“I’ve just kept on ticking over. I was a middleweight, as an amateur, but I’m getting down to super welter for this one and we will see where we go from there.
“I’m quite young and I’ve got nothing but time on my side. I’m just looking to learn and keep building. That starts with my debut.”
There are a host of local boxers among the other four of the five who will appear in the home corner at the Stadium Suite that day.
Bradley Thompson’s amateur exploits precede him, as a three-time national titleist who boxed for England, winning a silver medal at the 2017 Junior Three Nations tournament.
He claimed England Junior titles in two consecutive years and added England Youth honours, finishing on 81 amateur contests with 66 victories for Donnington Boxing Club.
Andy Owen is equally up and running after his pro introduction at light heavyweight in June, getting Richie Carter’s Pro Boxing Stable going with his performance.
Wolverhampton’s Owen, who lives in Perton, had Carter leading him into battle for a stoppage of his own, with opponent Ryan Hibbert retiring after the second round.
Ethan Collins is another boxer on a maiden voyage into the pro code, entering at welter, and will be making the short trip to the Stadium Suite from Dudley.
Collins has a good grounding, having been trained by former professional boxing champion Darren McDermott as an amateur.
Tom Brennan, from Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire, has three pro bouts of experience as a super welter and is looking to get back to winning ways.
Brennan, 29, made his paid now in 2019 with a points win over Mac Pemhiwa, but suffered over-the-distance losses to Paul Kean and Michael Hennessy Jr during 2020.
Both of his defeats came after a step up to six rounds, with just a point between him and Hennessy at the final bell when they clashed on a Channel 5 televised card last August.
Tickets for the Stadium Suite bill are on sale, priced at £40 standard or £75 VIP ringside with buffet, and can be purchased by calling the boxers.