Eastside Boxing Club. It is about a mile from Belfast city centre; a short journey that passes over the river Lagan and into East Belfast, where you will find tucked between a couple of rows of houses, a recently renovated, and thriving boxing gym.
Like so many of the Belfast gyms, it is literally planted right in the middle of a housing estate - embedded in the heart of the community - offering an accessible outlet for kids.
It is an important reminder that boxing gyms are so much more than factories for boxing contenders, for most they are, by default or design, invaluable ‘community centres’ for kids to teach them discipline, fitness and to enhance their social wellbeing.
The Eastside Boxing Club is brimming with 30-40 kids (boys and girls) every evening - all making full use of the extra capacity that was generated thanks to the recent renovation works. Perhaps, some will of the next generation boxers will in time graduate to become contenders, but I am here to meet the current leading light of the Eastside gym, Luke ‘Winky’ Wilton (13-2), ahead of his fight with Kevin Satchell for the British and Commonwealth flyweight titles later this month.
Inside the Eastside gym, reveals a fully kitted professional boxing gym, complete with a good-sized ring, two changing rooms with shower facilities and new paintwork that pays homage to ex-fighter and Luke Wilton’s old amateur coach, the late Herbie Young. Luke’s father, Alan Wilton has also coached Luke throughout his amateur and professional career and in 1999 he co-founded the Eastside Boxing Club with Jimmy Young. Wilton got the offer of a British and Commonwealth Flyweight Title shot two weeks before Christmas and says he “jumped at the chance” to face the tough challenge of Kevin Satchell on the Liverpool man’s home patch.
“It's a British and Commonwealth Title shot, I’ve been crying out for it, you can’t turn it down and you have to the beat the Champion in his own backyard, I’ve no qualms about going over there and fighting him.”
Wilton will go into the Satchell fight as a clear under dog against the unbeaten champion, who announced his arrival on the domestic flyweight scene by securing the Commonwealth and British Titles, with stoppage wins over Paul Edwards and Chris Edwards, respectively. Wilton accepts it will be a tough fight, but in his naturally quiet and unassuming tone, the East Belfast man is just as comfortable declaring his plans for Satchell come fight night, as he is with talking about his training plans or the exodus of 400 Belfast fans who will travel to support Wilton inside the Echo Arena.
“He is a big strong flyweight, he stopped Chris Edwards – the road warrior – who fought them all and beat most of them” Wilton pauses and then adds a caveat, “but I feel Chris Edwards was over the hill, that his last fight and was going to be his last fight. You can’t take it away from him, he went in and performed, it is going to be a hard fight for me, but it is a fight I think I can win.”
“He is tall, he likes to work on the outside, but I see stuff that I can exploit.
I will concentrate on my strengths and doing everything right and do not see why I can’t beat him – no problem to me. I want to win this British Title and I want to win it outright.”
Liverpool, like Belfast, is a renowned ‘fight city’ and the Echo Arena will be filled with a partisan crowd roaring on their local champion. Wilton will also bring his fair share of fans from Belfast too:
“I’m going into the lions den, but there is a load going from the gym here, we ordered 400 tickets – so we will be taking a good crowd over. Also, a lot of my family are from England so they will all be coming up as well.”
Although Christmas Day was counted as a ‘day off training’ the East Belfast man still scheduled in a long hilly run on a cold Christmas morning. Wilton, will have taken in over 100 rounds of sparring before he faces Satchell under the expert eye of celebrated trainer Bernard Checa who, conveniently, lives a short walk from the Eastside gym.
The Belfast-based Panamanian trainer, Bernard Checa, has attracted arguably the strongest stable of boxers in Belfast, which includes Paul McCloskey, Brian Magee, Eamonn O’Kane, Martin Rogan as well as Luke Wilton. Wilton normally takes in his training sessions with Checa in the afternoon and it has been a rewarding experience for the Belfast flyweight:
“I have been over training with Brian [Magee], Rogie, Paul [McCloskey] and Rogie has trained here [at Eastside Boxing Club] a couple of times as well. I know all the boys - it is a good atmosphere when you are training amongst them all. Bernard is a very good coach, very good technically – you can see why they have all decided to go to him.”
Wilton explains further his collaboration with Checa:
“It has got me to where I am now, I have won my last nine fights with six or seven with stoppage. With my style I used to take a lot of punches, whereas now I don't. I have settled down, defensively with my head movement, technically I am a lot better than I was and I am starting to mature into a proper flyweight now.”
“He focuses a lot on instead of throwing single shots, to throw three and four shots. With the Panamanian-style – you are always moving; he calls it ‘salsa’s’ – you are moving, moving and moving. That South American style is to throw bundles of punches and good footwork. It is good - I enjoy it.”
Wilton’s final words predicted an explosive clash:
“It will be a good toe-to-toe fight because he doesn't take backwards steps and I don't take backward steps and the two of us are going to come head on in the middle of the ring”