By Ben Thomsett on October 14, 2018
Despite being a big lump of a man, I never saw him throw his weight about in the pubs.

He was going to make a break for it across those stinking dykes and drains and rivers and find his fame and fortune…

There wasn’t much in the way of boxing around the village where I grew up. It was a lonely pimple on a vast plain of flat nothingness which stretched out into the horizon under low grey sky. Nothing sucked the ambition out of you like standing on that shallow, muddy, hump of land and staring across the fields of sugar beet. Consequently, a lot of my old friends never left. Which included a guy a year older than me: Shane Woollas.

Shane boxed. Don’t ask me where. I didn’t hang around with him at school, but when I started going to local pubs I bumped into Shane from time to time and we’d have a chat about boxing. He’d turned pro by the time he was 22. Heavyweight. I liked the guy. Despite being a big lump of a young man, I never saw him throw his weight about in the pubs. Sometimes he’d try and get me to hit him in the stomach while we stood at the bar drinking cheap beer and shouting over the karaoke in the background. Although I’m pretty sure he would never have used it as an excuse to smash my teeth down my throat, I never took him up on the offer. A joke punch hardly ever remains a joke for long in my experience.

Shane got locally famous. You’d expect it in a place devoid of boxing. Everyone knew him, and after a while he even got a following and the nickname “Whacka.” In his second pro fight he was given billing on a local show in our village Leisure Centre. I didn’t go, but the talk around the quiet streets afterwards was that Whacka had “smashed the other guy up good and proper.”

The local paper showed pictures of Shane from time to time. The odd headline, too. We were all behind him. He was going to make a break for it across those stinking dykes and drains and rivers and find his fame and fortune; one of the Isle made good.

By 1997 we got word Shane was fighting on TV on a Naseem Hamed undercard. That night we packed into the boozer earlier, smoked and drank too much and looked up at the old screen in the corner. In those days, Naseem Hamed fighting on TV would pack a pub anyhow, but we wanted to see Whacka make his name. Some people had mock spars in the smoke. When we saw Shane on TV, red and white striped shorts, blond curtain hair moving as he warmed up, there was a cheer. On that damp pimple in the middle of nowhere, in that old pub, we were there with him. His opponent—Danny Williams—we hadn’t heard much about. “Shit….see the size of him!” said a friend.

I shouted “Come on Shane!” A few people started up the chant “Whacka….Whacka….Whacka.” For us hicks, this was as close to the big time as any of us would ever know. We entered into the spirit of the thing with a fierce, drunken, naïve, pride. Some people stood on chairs and tables. We were all-knowing. Unbeatable. Confident in our isolated kingdom’s best.

He lost. All I remember was seeing Shane gamely taking on a young Williams (who would go on to beat an aged Mike Tyson, and lose against an aggressive Vitali Klitschko) and being hit more than doing the hitting himself. His head rocked back from good jabs way too many times. I was drunk by the time the bout was lost in the second round. I don’t remember seeing the eventual TKO, and I think the Sky TV feed didn’t even bother to show it—they were giving us pictures from the dressing rooms of Hamed and Steve Collins and Robin Reid instead. The pub emptied when the result was announced. Shane hadn’t made it. We should have known. No-one got away from that place no matter how hard they tried.

I didn’t see Shane again in person. His boxing career went on for another six years and I heard he’d fought, and lost, to Butterbean somewhere deep down on the undercard of a local show in the UK featuring no-one of any note. The village newspaper stopped headlining stories about him. But I never forgot the fact he’d become a professional fighter despite the rain and the emptiness and the general lack of ambition of the place and the people he knew. He deserved our respect. He’d done what none of us had the guts or the skill to do: he’d become a boxer.

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Danny Williams Vs. Shane Woolas 1 FULL FIGHT

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  1. Respect 03:38pm, 10/16/2018

    Love these stories. Sad endings usually, but still.

    Watched the fight, the Woolas guy wasn’t so bad : movement and reflexes were pretty good and may have packed some power behind those slow-ass left hooks. I’ve seen worse in the heavyweight division these past years, maybe even in the top 25.

    If he’d held on a bit longer he would’ve found his way on Deontay “Tomato can killer” Wilder’s resumé.

  2. Casanovita de Ahome 08:55am, 10/15/2018

    “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena”....(Teddy Roosevelt)

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