LEWIS Benson knows that he could have been counted out a long time ago. Instead the Edinburgh boxer is eyeing up the chance of Commonwealth Games success.
“To be honest, I believe that boxing has saved me. When I started, I went to the boxing gym with a boy from school and we were both always in trouble. I stuck at the boxing but since he turned 16 he has been in and out of jail and I look at him and think that could have been me because until boxing I was mucking about and doing the things he was doing. So boxing has saved me.”
It has been eight years since the 22-year-old chose a path that would keep him out of a prison cell and, he hopes, take him onto the podium at this summer’s Games.
“I couldn’t do any other sports and I was always getting into a bit of trouble and when I said to my mum that I wanted to box she said that I could but only if I stopped getting in trouble so I tried and then she said ‘OK, you can go to boxing’ and as soon as I went I was addicted to it and couldn’t stop training and here I am years later, a Scottish and British champion, training hard and hoping to win my third Scottish title and, hopefully, go to the Commonwealth Games.”
Fully-focused and driven, his energies have been channelled constructively. Without a job, it’s for the right reasons. He has not given up hard graft, it’s just that his current endeavours offer him no financial remuneration. For him, at this stage in his life, there are different rewards.
“The Commonwealth Games is the biggest thing. That’s the reason I have left my job. I’ve proved I am ready to work hard for it. I have worked hard every day for the last year and a bit and to make the team would be brilliant.
“To be honest, I left my job because I just couldn’t balance them both. I was doing both of them half-hearted and I decided I had to put my full effort into one and my employers have been brilliant with me.
“I’m an electrician and they have left my job open for me so I have a job when I’m ready to go back.
“They were the contractors on the Hydro, in Glasgow, so that’s another big incentive to get to the Commonwealth Games because that’s where the boxing will be held.”
Selection will require a good showing at the Scottish Championships, where the two-times champion at 64kg will be hoping to add a third title at the heavier weight of 69kg. Boxing out of Lochend Club in Edinburgh, he was finding it tight to make the old division and having assessed his chances of selection ahead of club-mate and Olympian Josh Taylor, he opted to tackle the heavier category. It has been a tough transition, with last year’s World Championships giving him a rude awakening. “It was only my second fight at this weight and I boxed a boy who has just come down from middleweight! That was the hardest fight. He was bigger and stronger than me but I gave a good account of myself and I kept it close and I’m very confident now.
“There is still a lot of pressure on me because I’m a two-time champion and the British champion as well. I’ve just moved up to this division and it is a challenge because I had boxed everybody at 64kg but at 69kg I’ve not really boxed anyone yet but I’m not here to make up the numbers. I want to make it three in a row.”
The preliminary rounds are under way, with the finals to be held on 28 March, in front of a record 5,000-strong crowd at the Emirates Arena, just down the road from the Athletes Village. In accordance with international rule changes, it will be contested without headguards and will be subject to a new scoring system, with the bout being scored round by round rather than punch by punch.
“I want to be a professional boxer one day and this is perfect preparation, fighting without headguards, with this style of scoring, against the best boys in the country.
“To be honest, I’m a good point-scorer but I have adapted and the headguards coming off has made me more alert and aware of where the punches are coming from and I’m not standing too long.
“Boxing has taught me a lot about discipline and respect and there are boys in my weight I would be stupid not to respect. They are cracking boys and very good boxers but I hope on the day that I’m better than them. We all know that if we turn up and don’t do our best, there will be someone there who can take away your dreams of winning and competing at the Commonwealth Games and I don’t want anyone to take that away from me.”
Not when he is hoping to hang out with the elite from all the other sports.
“People like Usain Bolt will hopefully be there. He’s a hero. The athletes village will be amazing. If I get to the Games, I’m going to be starstruck seeing all these people that I respect and admire and to think you could bump into people like Bolt, the best sprinter ever, is crazy.
“I am right into athletics and I like the swimming as well because a lot of the people I train with at the strength and conditioning are swimmers and they are all my friends and I will be watching them in the Commonwealth Games.”