CRAIG JOHNS BREAKS THE FIRST RULE Light at the end of the tunnel for Darren
AS much as we all love it, at times boxing can be the most lonely and cruellest of sports - particularly for its combatants.
For every charming story of a meteoric rise to the top from nothing, there’s an equal dark story of a warrior being failed by the system. Durham’s Darren Surtees (birth name Darren Richardson) can certainly attest to that.
Just 16 months ago Surtees was one of the brightest prospects in North East boxing, rising alongside the ultimate North East success story Lewis Ritson. In just his seventh fight the 24-year-old East Durham College trained fighter captured the super-lightweight Northern Area title and looked to be on course for big things.
A spot on the George Groves-Chris Eubank Jnr undercard came Surtees’ way, only for a back injury to force his withdrawal, ultimately leading to 13 months out of the ring and sending him on a dark spiral of depression that almost resulted in him quitting the sport he has loved all of his life.
“There was some dark days for me,” Surtees admits.
“I thought I was on this path to achieving something amazing and then all of a sudden it seemed it was all taken away.
“It wasn’t just the boxing. My personal life was messed up too. I split with my partner and was struggling to see my three children. I was the lowest I’ve ever been.
“It made me reassess everything. Was boxing really worth it? People don’t see the sacrifices you have to make. I was working ten-hour shifts before the back injury, then going straight to the gym from work and not spending time with my kids. Come fight night, because I couldn’t sell enough tickets, I wasn’t making any money.
“Then the back injury robbed me of my opportunity to impress on a big stage and perhaps make something of myself in the sport.
“I remember speaking to my dad and also my coach Dave (Binns). I was considering quitting. I asked Dave outright to tell me if he thought I was wasting my time.”
Thankfully for Surtees, his father and his coach were both supportive. They gave him the love and the motivation he Durham boxer Darren Surtees needed to pick himself back up. It’s not luxury by any means, but Surtees now lives in a trailer in his father’s backyard.
With his and Dave’s motivation, he got himself back to the gym. He started seeing his kids more. Suddenly his life was getting better. He was feeling better.
He made his return to the ring in July beating William Warburton on points in what he says was his best performance to date.
“I was back in love with the sport again,” he said. “Because of that the pressure was off and I just felt so relaxed in there.”
It has taken some dark days, but his resilience has paid off. There’s a bright new dawn on the horizon for Surtees now.
That’s because the Durham boxer has signed a deal with the influential Sauerland Promotions – who have played a big part in the hugely popular World Boxing Super Series.
His first bout will be on the middleweight final undercard in Saudi Arabia between George Groves and Callum Smith on September 28. It’s a huge platform for Surtees and one he intends to take with both hands.
“I feel like I’m dreaming,” he admits. “I’m absolutely over the moon. Honest- ly, after everything I’ve been through it’s hard to put into words how I feel.
“This is a huge opportunity for me and one I can’t pass up.
“It’s a great deal for me. I’m not on a ticket deal so I don’t have to sell tickets to get paid.
“It means I can focus more on just the training and I’m feeling better than ever as a result.
“I’m looking to make a big statement on September 28 and go from there.
“I don’t want to look past the fight but the Sauerlands know what they’re doing and can get me into the positions I want to be in.
“I want to be busy and I want big fights. I’d love to get on that October 13 arena show in Newcastle.”
This is without doubt a huge break for Surtees.
All the tools are now there for him to achieve as much as he wants. In Binns he has a fantastic coach.
In Sauerland Promotions he has a team who can take him to the very top.
But does he have the talent to match? Perhaps his sparring is an indicator.
“I’ve been sparring Lewis Ritson recently. He’s an absolute beast, even in sparring.
“But what’s encouraging is that I more than held my own. There was some tasty sessions between us.
“He’s a great lad and I’m delighted to see how well he’s doing. Considering how good he is, for me to compete with him like I do in sparring just reassures me that I am good enough.
“I spar Glenn (Foot – also training with Binns at East Durham College) a lot too. You have to be on your game every time you spar with Glenn because he’ll hurt you bad if you’re not.
“Again, Glenn is a top boxer and we spar so much. If I’m fighting these kind of people on the gym regularly, there’s no reason I can’t be doing that when it really matters too. I want to fight the best.”
It’s true, boxing can be cruel and lonely sometimes. But when the right opportunity comes, if you take it with both hands the possibilities are endless. Surtees has his opportunity. Now it’s his time to grasp it and become boxing’s latest ‘rags to riches’ story.