The alarm goes off at 5.30am on a typical Friday morning for one of British boxing’s most popular journeymen. Lewis van Poetsch has a full shift as a lift engineer to look forward to before the weekend fun begins.
Not what most people regard as fun, but with a kit bag packed on Saturday morning, it is time to leave Bristol with his friend/trainer/manager Richard Farnan for the lengthy drive to Liverpool. ‘Poochi’ has received a late call to step in and face unbeaten prospect Ben Burnham (2-0) on a VIP Promotion.
It is a competitive fight – “draw would have been fair, but I won’t argue it was pretty close!” says Van Poetsch of his 164th professional contest. His record now reads 11-149-4, but as is the case of any good road warrior, the stats don’t begin to tell the tale.
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The last win of his 10-year pro career came in early September, stopping Derek Renfrew in the fifth-round at the Tolworth Recreation centre in south-west London. Since then, Poochi has pushed Balraj Singh (then 4-0) to a draw before the Burnham bout.
“I’m having a little bit of a push,” he says with a beaming trademark grin. “I’m not going to try and win every fight because sometimes they won’t be winnable. But the ones that are, then why not, hey? I’m going to show people what I’m all about, put a bit of effort in. If I don’t put a bit of effort into it now, I’ll look back and think, ‘why in the hell?’”
After fighting at the Olympia in Liverpool, it’s a quick turnaround and back to the south-west. Sunday morning holds another challenge – it is the Bristol half-marathon and Poochi is running to raise funds for Parkinson’s UK. He finishes in a very commendable 1 hour 46 minutes.
“I signed up to the half-marathon as motivation to give me a kick up the arse and with that, came motivation for boxing. I felt so much better in myself, physically and mentally.”
Away from the ring, the 32-year-old has always enjoyed a varied and busy existence. A six-year stint in the army included a tour of Afghanistan - “The old saying was that it’s 95% boredom and 5% mayhem. I was there in the winter and the Taliban don’t really fight in the winter because it’s cold! In the daytimes it’s like, comfortably cold, but in the evenings it's unbearably cold. The Taliban tend to lay low in the winter.
“There were a few hairy moments but nothing that’s really left a mark. I didn’t really have any stress after it.”
A not-so-obvious transition followed the army with Poochi leaving the battlefield for the barbershop – “I’ve bobbed and weaved all my life really!” he says with his distinctive high-pitched chuckle. For the last couple of years, he has been working as a lift engineer.
“We could be anywhere in the country fitting lifts – sometimes the goalposts change last minute. When we’re meant to have a solid week somewhere, I find myself somewhere to stay and train, but then last minute, we could be in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes there’s nowhere for me to train.
“But I have a bit more self-motivation these days, a bit more get up and go, rather than finding an excuse not to go to the gym.”
The shift in mentality comes after a turbulent period in the fighter’s life. Following a TKO defeat to Callum Simpson in October of 2021, Poochi found himself suspended by the British Boxing Board of Control. Every fighter needs to sit out at least 28 days following a stoppage, but concerns were being expressed.
“I’m only five foot six, and I’m not a massively-set fella, so when I’m weighing in at nearly 14 stone, they [BBBofC] asked me a few questions,” he explains. “That was part and parcel of the lifestyle I was living, the lack of motivation I had, so looking back, that was where the wheels started to fall off mentally.
“Then I got my licence back, got back in the gym, lost a bit of motivation again, and then I had the routine brain scan in June, and something showed up on the scan that they wanted to check. That put me out again.
“I had a bit of a mental health battle. I’m normally quite a happy go lucky chap, but the wheels fell off. I was really down. I don’t think I had depression as such, but I just couldn’t get motivated for anything. I wasn’t happy. I found that because I wasn’t boxing at weekends, I was going out and getting smashed every weekend and then being knackered all week at work. I wasn’t really enjoying work at the time, so it was a bit of a vicious circle.
“I didn’t have anything to train for all week, I wasn’t going to the gym because I didn’t have any fights coming up because of the scan issue, and then I’d go and get smashed all weekend. It was a repeat process.
“I went on holiday to Ibiza in August to try and reset my mindset, but it just went to pieces and went the other way. When I came back from Ibiza, I had a bit of a breakdown.”
Thankfully, the scan issue was resolved, licence restored, and the smile returned to the man who continues to entertain the crowds with his wacky ring walks and pantomime villain performances once the bell tolls.
“I’ve just had to scale everything back,” he says. “I have a big social calendar, I’m quite outgoing, I get invited to a lot of things and I always try and say ‘yes’. I don’t want to let people down, I like to be involved. I’d get a little bit of FOMO [fear of missing out] if I wasn’t involved. But now I’ve started scaling everything back, saying no to things and the FOMO thing has sort of worn off. I’ve got no urge to go out, I’ve stopped drinking, got myself in the gym and started training. I’ve got a new lease of life to be honest. I’ve got my head straight.
“I am teetotal, but I’m not committing to being teetotal forever. It’s a bit of a circuit breaker really. I’ve spent the last 10-15 years of my life drinking every weekend and the novelty’s just worn off a little bit! My life revolved around doing social things and I wasn’t getting anything else done.
“I’ve become really boring recently, doing errands like admin at the weekends! I love food so I love going out eating at new places. I’ve been living in Bristol for six years and I’ve barely scratched the surface of places and stuff to do. I've started to try and see a bit more of the city I live in.”
It is the new Lewis Van Poetsch 2:0. The mojo is back, and it spells danger for boxing prospects throughout the land. Poochi has decided to retire when his current medical runs out at the end of June next year, but he won’t be leaving quietly.
“I want to fight Perry Howe for that title [WBF cruiserweight] he’s got. I think that belt would look good on my mantelpiece! You’d think the way he’s going on about it, it’s a proper world title? I just want to win it off him and put it on my mantelpiece!”
The very best road warriors share the ring with all the top prospects. Some disappear, others make it to the top. Not surprisingly, after campaigning across weight divisions and taking any fight offered, Poochi has been in with some elite company. The obvious question then, who are the best?
“In no particular order, my top three, in terms of all-rounders, are Lerrone Richards, Zach Parker and Callum Simpson. They gave me the hardest nights. Also, I fought Sam Eggington, and he’s gone on to some lofty heights.
“The first time I boxed him I wasn’t really at the races. I’d got a late notice phone call and Jon Pegg asked if I’d step in last minute and I said, ‘Oh fuck, go on then!’ He put me down in the second round and I got up, but I couldn’t be fucked being there. I just sat on the ropes and let him wail away until Kevin Parker [referee] stopped it. I actually retired after that fight. I’d had enough of boxing at that point, but true to boxing form, they clawed me back in! Never been carried out though! Never KO’d!”
The next nine months promise to be an interesting ride. There is plenty of life left in the old Pooch.
“I’m really enjoying waking up on Sunday mornings and being in a good headspace, feeling healthy,” he says. “I want to get out of boxing as much as I can, but at the same time, I’ve played the game for so long now, I didn’t have the fitness to put it on these lads. I probably had a round or two in me where that would be the case, then I’d just have to get on the back foot. I always played it safe. Now I think, fuck it! It’s my last year, a lot of journeymen go out and no-one really remembers them.”
When his time is up, there is no doubt real fight fans will remember an entertainer with plenty of ability, a man who honed the art of the away fighter. If all goes to plan, Lewis Van Poetsch – “I think the surname is Flemish but I’m not sure to be honest!” - will retire after climbing through the ropes 180 or so times. Only skilled boxers – records are for DJs and all that – can enjoy such longevity.