The Outlaws Ride On: Josh Wales' Bond With Dad Mick Undiminished After Hanging Up Gloves

The 'Outlaw' recently called time on his 15-year professional career
08:35, 15 Mar 2022

There is a long list of famous boxing families – the baton passed down generations, offspring upholding names and continuing legacies. Conor Benn, Chris Eubank Jr and Campbell Hatton are currently campaigning while their fathers take something of a back seat. It is a different story when dad is also your coach. 

There have been many successful and some acrimonious father-son boxing partnerships. The Mayweathers and Calzaghes reached the highest echelons of the sport, but you would be hard pressed to find a tighter working unit than Mick and Josh Wale.

The ‘Outlaw’ – as in the Clint Eastwood classic ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’ – recently called time on his 15-year professional fighting career, but the bond with his dad is undiminished. 

Mick, as ever, was in the corner for Josh’s final fight against Simon Volosinas at Barnsley Metrodome. It was a routine four-round victory for Josh (32-11-2) against the Lithuanian journeyman and signalled the end of one chapter for the Wales’, but the start of another.

“It was the stuff that dreams are made of! I was promoting, managing, training, and fighting on the same night! It were a unique thing to do,” Josh says in his broad Barnsley accent. “I definitely couldn’t do it again – the stress of that week was unreal! But I packed it out and all my fans came – not many boxers get that. They get forced to retire, suffer a heavy defeat, or fail a medical. It was nice to get that happy ending. It was a special night, walking out with my dad for the last time.”

There was a time though, when such a celebration was unthinkable. Seventeen years ago, Mick was diagnosed with spinal cancer, and the prognosis was not good. 

“I was 16. I still remember the day we were sat in hospital, and he said to me, ‘Josh, you’re going to have to find another coach.’ He had chemotherapy, radiotherapy and was in and out of hospital for a long time – back-to-back operations. 

“I said to him, ‘Dad, you’ll have to sort your sen out pal, because we’re doing it together or I’m not doing it at all!’ And we have. It’s a bit like when Steven Gerrard got offered to go to Chelsea, but he said it wouldn’t have meant nowt to him because it wasn’t his club. It’s the same with me and me dad. If I had won that British title with anyone else, it wouldn’t have meant the same. It was special.

Instagram/joshwale88
Instagram/joshwale88

“He was the best man at my wedding. They always say, there’s no Mick without Josh and no Josh without Mick. He’s run boxing clubs for 30 years and we used to go through the lists of amateur fighters when I was eight-year-old! We’d be matching shows in front room together!”

Josh gets emotional talking about Mick. The pair have shared a long and rocky road in and out of the ring – a career with more than a touch of the Cinderella man about it.  A solid amateur pedigree encompassing national titles and international appearances was the precursor to the highs, crushing defeats, poor decisions and a ‘fight anyone’ attitude that followed in the pro game.

Ultimately, holding the coveted Lonsdale belt aloft after his British bantamweight title win over Jamie Wilson in 2017 was the peak. But there was never anything safety-first or padded about the Brampton man’s record – a CV littered with top fighters including world champions Kid Galahad, Stuey Hall, and Leigh Wood. 

“I’m content. I’m happy how it ended,” Josh explains. “If I hadn’t won the British title, I’d still be doing it [boxing] now. I was a national champion as an amateur, I boxed for England, I went professional and won a central area title at 19 – that was a big achievement. Not many go into ten rounds, straight into championship level at 19. I won six belts at three different weights and obviously the British title was the pinnacle – winning it and defending it.

“I always wanted to go down as Barnsley’s most successful boxer, and that’s what I’ve done. I’m happy. No other Barnsley man has defended the British title, but I did against Don Broadhurst at Manchester Arena as chief support to Hughie Fury v Joseph Parker. That was a lovely knockout in the eleventh round. He’d never been knocked out before. That was a good night.

“I went for a European title and got done in France! I should’ve been European champion, but everything happens for a reason.”

Even a fighter as relentless and determined as Josh questioned his life in boxing after failing to return to Barnsley with the EBU bantamweight belt in 2019. It was a fraught trip and an eye-opener in and out of the ring. While most had Josh a clear winner in his fight with Georges Ory in the obscure eastern town of Vesoul, the judges disagreed.

“Boxing for the European title in France showed what kind of character I am. We had some really bad stuff going on. They got me up at six in the morning, took four blood samples, made me do a fitness test because I’ve got a bad knee. It were a bad do. How I performed under those circumstances…. 

“I walked out into the arena, and they were all booing and throwing stuff at me, but on the way out they all stood and clapped me. That typified what I was about. I should’ve been European champion that night – no criticism of the lad I boxed – but everyone could see what I did to him. They stopped the live feed back to England at round eight because they could see what was happening!”

It was the lowest point of Josh’s professional career, and while he could be forgiven for sulking, he dusted himself down, went back in the gym with Mick and plotted another bid for titles. Next up was a tilt at the vacant British super bantamweight title against Brad Foster. It wasn’t to be, with Foster taking a unanimous decision. 

Five more fights, five more wins followed before the world was turned on its head with COVID 19. That put paid to any more title campaigns.

“If the pandemic hadn’t have happened, I’d more than likely still be boxing,” Josh says with a smile. “It happened and it gave me a recap on things. I got my coach’s licence when I was 27, and I’ve always worked and helped my dad. I always wanted to go down that way. I then put in for my manager’s licence and things just fell into place. I also have a business where I train people for fitness – personal training.  I got really busy.”

It's a hectic lifestyle. When he’s not at home with his wife and three young sons, he’s in the gym or on the road with his fighters, passing on all his experience from the corner. Boxing is an obsession that hasn’t faded. It never will.

Josh Wale takes on Leigh Wood
Josh Wale takes on Leigh Wood

“You look at people like Carl Greaves and Stefy Bull and one week they might be in Scotland with a journeyman and the next week they might be in a world title fight. That’s what I want.  I’m only 33 but I’ve dealt with a lot. I’m an experienced boxing man. I’m fanatical about it.

“I’ve got a good relationship with everyone in boxing. Whoever I’ve worked with, we’ve left on good terms. I work with everybody – managers and promoters. You know what boxing’s like – ice cream wars! 

“I’ve got four shows coming up at the Barnsley Metrodome – my favourite venue. It’s all looking good. We’ve got some good kids coming through and my younger brother Dempsey is a pro now (5-0-0). Me and me dad tried to talk him out of boxing, he’s well educated, been to university, he could’ve got a good job – a lot easier than boxing. But he’s doing what he wants to do and he’s putting the work in.”

With so many tales of athletes struggling to adapt to life after the bright lights have dimmed and the attention wanes, the Josh Wale tale is inspiring and unwaveringly upbeat. 

“I had sixteen title fights. It’s been a cracking 15 years. I used to speak to a lot of old pros, and they were always doom and gloom about boxing. I never wanted to end like that. All in all, we all love it, you take highs with lows and do your own thing!

“Boxing’s given me a great life. How many kids get to do what they love every day? I was a window cleaner when I first started boxing and I absolutely hated it! I used to get £30 a day in cold weather and wind and all that. When times got hard in boxing, I remembered that I didn’t want to go back window cleaning! And I’ve done it all with my dad, my coach from day one, amateur and professional. We’ve won all those titles together.”

Wherever you find Josh, Mick won’t be far away. Father and son will continue working together, nurturing the talent coming through Micky’s Athletic Boxing Gym in their home patch of Brampton. 

Dissenting voices can be found throughout the boxing world. Failings and controversies can shatter dreams, and while Josh Wale has suffered his fair share of injustice, his is a glass half-full. And that has much to do with his best pal.

“Me dad’s a warrior. In the ring, I was battle hardened. I got cut every fight, I got put on me arse and I carried on. That’s all built in me from my dad. That’s what he did. He got a grim diagnosis and was told he’d be lucky to be here when he was 50. He’s coming up to 60 in June. He’s had nine operations, he’s got a morphine pump fitted under his rib cage, he gets up, he has a shave, puts his Brylcreem on and always makes himself look presentable. 

“Even though he’s going through extreme pain, he'll go through some really bad times, but he never moans or complains. His love for boxing and his family has kept him going. He has said to me that I don’t realise what I’ve done for him! My mum has told me that I’ve kept him going. There’re so many bad stories going on, and years ago it was looking grim, but we got a happy ending.”

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