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The 13th Round: Top Marks for the Upton Brothers

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It’s very hard not to like the Upton Brothers.

In a sometimes infuriating boxing World full of over-protected fighters, questionable routes to titles, and hometown decisions, the Uptons offer a genuine joyous throwback.

Yesterday the youngest of the trio, Anto, won the English light welterweight title on away turf in Wallsall with a ninth round stoppage of Luke Paddock. As the referee waved off the bout, 24 year old Upton fell to the canvas overcome with emotion as his brothers stormed the ring.

anto upton


Just over seven months ago Upton had hit the canvas twice in very different circumstances en-route to a points loss against Joe Hughes for the same title. Defeated on the night, Upton refused to take the conventional route back to the top. One quick comeback fight and then it was straight back into title fights for the 24 year old. A very risky move, and a loss yesterday would have seriously damaged his career, but Upton demanded the chance to make amends.

That’s the sort of characters you’re dealing with. Men who wear their hearts on their sleeves, for whom passion, pride, and a love of their sport and their family is the main motivator. For example, in what is a touching tribute, the tragically-departed Eamonn Magee Jr will forever have a place on the shorts of long-time friend Anto.

Emotion can be a double-edged sword in boxing, both an inspiration and a vision-impairing mist. The Uptons have struck the perfect balance

Following the loss to Hughes, Anto redoubled his efforts and spent much time away from his young family, determined to make amends. The celebrations yesterday from Upton weren’t just because he won the English title, he had won a more personal battle, he had proved himself and banished the Hughes heartbreak.

Indeed Hughes is mandated to face Upton next – however, even if he wasn’t, one suspects that Anto would have been calling for that fight anyway. Looking to right the wrong yet again.

Of course it’s not blind, put ’em under pressure, passion either. All three are immensely technically skilled fighters, but it is this sprinkling of grit that can help them get to the top. Take Pauly for instance, in his Irish light middleweight title fight with Terry Maughan last April he severely injured his ankle in the early rounds, but fought through the searing pain to score a sixth round stoppage. The eldest Upton is not as big a puncher as his brothers, but he would have ran through walls that night, no one was stopping him winning the belt.

pauly upton

In pure boxing terms they have been matched tough, but are stronger because of it. Middle brother Sonny lost two of his first five fights but is thought of by some as the most naturally talented of the trio. Now in-line for an English light middleweight title fight against the highly-rated Ben Hall, Sonny also fought yesterday in a keep-busy bout – Except it wasn’t your typical keep-busy bout. Upton took on Willie Warburton, possibly the most talented journeyman around in a dangerous, title shot-risking, eight-round fight. Warburton was on the back of a two-fight win streak and came in with victory on his mind, giving Upton a good fight, winning one round and sharing two others in a tough fight. All of this is experience in the bank for slick Sonny ahead his fight with Hall in the Autumn where he will look to cap a brilliant year for the family.

Outside the ring the Uptons are in something of a unique situation. Without a traditional ‘hometown,’ the brothers have strong links to London, Belfast, Dublin, Manchester, and of course Glasgow, the home of their beloved Celtic FC. The already-famous road-tripping army of Upton Clan followers has massive scope to grow among the Irish diaspora in Britain, and the brothers have the potential to become a phenomenon on these isles.

upton clan

While most boxing fans understandably love the glitz and the glamour of Vegas, your Mayweathers, Pacquaios, and Canelos, it is instead the grit, the grind, and the passion of people like the Upton Brothers that keep me enthralled. Every few years detractors look at the top level and declare boxing a dying sport, but genuine fighters like the Uptons, men who live and breathe the sport, will ensure that true boxing will never be dead.

Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: joneill6@tcd.ie