Emulating the success of Edinburgh’s world champion Ken Buchanan was, at the time, all ten-year-old Alex Arthur could visualise.
Now, almost 25 years later as he prepares to celebrate his own glittering career when presented with an MBE for services to boxing at Buckingham Palace tomorrow, the kid from Southside can feel content that he has accomplished what he always set out to do.
“Boxing was my education,” Arthur recalls in exclusive interview with the Evening News. “I didn’t listen at school and knew I wanted to be a boxing champion from the age of ten. I missed my teenage years with my friends when they were going out and doing all sorts while I was flying across the world, but this is the life I chose and the sacrifices I made and look where it has taken me.”
A boxing enthusiast from his early days, Arthur’s rise as an amateur of the sport culminated in securing gold in the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, a triumph the 34-year-old still regards as his finest moment in the ring despite laterally enhancing his credentials as a British, Commonwealth, European and World super-featherweight champion after turning to the professional game in 2000.
“When I look back on it now, everything is a bit of a blur, but that moment in Kuala Lumpur changed my life. I remember coming through the airport afterwards and the cameras were flashing. Then walking down the street where people started to recognise me. It was the platform that propelled me onto a great professional career.
“I still maintain to this day that the highest point of both my professional and amateur careers was winning the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games. It is my greatest achievement. I won it for my country, my family and myself and that euphoric feeling of winning that medal was beyond anything I have ever experienced. Of course, it was a fantastic feeling to win the titles I did as a pro, but winning gold was just so special.”
The joys of attaining gold as a 20-year-old were expected to be replicated two years later at the Sydney Olympics, a real probability by his own admission. Ranked as the No. 1 amateur boxer in Britain at the time, the former Leith Victoria boxer was convinced he had done enough to lead the charge Down Under. Instead, he watched the action unfold from his armchair.
“The biggest blow for me was not making the Olympic boxing team, for sure. I was a definite to go to Sydney and was under the impression that, after winning the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games, I had automatically qualified for the Olympics.
“I was told to take a good break and went on holiday, only to be informed when I came back that I had just over three weeks to prepare for an Olympic qualifier in Germany and that the system had been changed. The final fight I had over there was the biggest robbery I have ever been involved in, so I was gutted at not making it. It was simply heartbreaking. They (Scottish Amateur Boxing Association) did offer me another opportunity to qualify, but I rejected the chance, which was maybe a bit silly looking back on it now.”
Despite this setback, Arthur’s move into a professional capacity saw him win 16 consecutive bouts in the space of just three years. With his reputation escalating, Arthur found it difficult to counteract a cockiness that he admits had crept into his demeanour as he prepared to face Manchester’s Michael Gomez at a sold-out Meadowbank in 2003, the biggest fight Edinburgh had hosted in almost 20 years.
“Everything became a bit serious and I lost myself in it all, to be honest. It (defeat to Gomez) was the biggest wake-up call of my career and was hugely needed. I was running around like a silly wee boy thinking I’d made it and he had prepared much better than I had for the fight. He even had Ricky Hatton as his sparring partner where I was messing about at Meadowbank boxing club with amateurs and was more interested in going to the nightclub after I’d beaten him. How naive could I have been?”
Nonetheless, Arthur acknowledges the positivity the defeat to Gomez had on his immediate future in the sport, and he was able to overturn his lapsed approach and refocus his energy into moulding himself into a world champion – a moment of glory he finally delivered in the summer of 2007.
A family man with three sons, Arthur is now preparing to exit boxing with a record of 30 wins (20 by knockout) and three losses, and embark on life’s new challenges.
While future plans will involved promoting more fights through his company AAA Promotions, Arthur added: “I have always been so driven to achieve my goals in whatever I do. My wife Debbie and I started a family really young and I also had the ambition that I wanted to provide a big future for them. I feel I have achieved that, but I still feel I could have got a lot more than I have in boxing. I just wished I had moved up a weight class earlier and maybe if I had better people around guiding me then that would have been the case.
“But I have got to be happy with what the sport has given me and be thankful I have been blessed with a career I always wanted to do.
“I’ve never been the most emotional person over the years and I think professional boxing has made me that way, but I think it may sink in tomorrow when I am celebrating the MBE with my family afterwards in what is a great way and huge honour to end my career this year.”