AMID York’s deepest fall of snow so far this winter, there was a positive spring in the step of the city’s greatest professional boxer, Henry Wharton.
More than a year of colossal graft and toil, several setbacks and even a late out of the blue delay, Wharton’s new venture – Henry’s Gym, the biggest boxing gym now housed in the city – at last opened last night.
For Wharton it was the realisation of a cherished but long-held dream.
Over the past year, the former undefeated European, British and Commonwealth super-middleweight champion, together with his immediate family of wife Amanda and their children, aided by several close friends and associates, have brick by brick, floorboard by floorboard and joist by joist, converted the wreck of the first floor of the old Regent Cinema in Acomb’s York Road into a purpose-built gymnasium boasting a battery of bags, two rings, weight and training machines, showers and dressing rooms.
The 10,000 sq ft project, which also includes reception and a café and chill-out area, is a remarkable transformation.
Now Wharton wants to help to foster the next generation of top-class boxers out of the city which so eagerly embraced his distinguished amateur and professional career spanning almost 25 years.
The gym and the presence of the man, whose only professional defeats were in three glorious shots at the world super-middleweight crown, certainly proved a thumbs-up for those who attended the gym’s first night of “strictly business”.
The inaugural junior session drew around a dozen youngsters aged from seven to 12, with a considerable number already registered arguably put off by the wintry freeze.
The following senior and adults session was well subscribed to give Wharton a positive glow.
“What a relief,” declared Wharton. “Here we are at last – the gym’s open and it’s got youngsters in here wanting to train, wanting to learn.
“Now I want this gym to become their sporting home, their sporting family and to pass on as much knowledge as I have built over the years I’ve been involved in boxing.”
One such youngster was 12-year-old Scott Moore, who had been brought through to the gym by his parents from their home in Tollerton.
Said Mrs Moore: “Scott has a punch-bag at home and some weights, but we thought him coming to the gym and learning from someone of Henry’s experience would give him even more confidence.
“To have someone like Henry Wharton in charge of a gym is great.”
As he surveyed his new working domain, Wharton added: “I want to produce the York fighters of the future, but not just for me but for the youngsters themselves. I will give them as much encouragement as I can.
“Being in a good gym is like being part of a family. It gives a great sense of community.
“You are learning things alongside youngsters and people from all walks of life and the friends you make you never forget them. I want this gym to be a family.
TEAM Wharton – the coaching staff assembled at the new Henry’s Gym – has a welter-weight of experience.
Besides his own training nous and ring-craft, Wharton has also got on board Ron Hopley, the “Ripon Rocket”, who used to fight on the early cards of Wharton’s professional career, and Tony Murray, who, as an amateur, appeared with York’s most successful ring warrior on many a show.
They have been supplemented by Reece Morrill, the nephew of Dave Morrill, one of Wharton’s former sparring partners. Morrill junior, who has been part of the building team over the 12-month transformation of the Acomb premises, is hoping to land his ring debut later this year.
Said Wharton: “I always wanted trainers who want to do everything right and pass on as much of what they know to all our youngsters and would-be boxers.
“I know I’ve got people around me who know so much about the sport and who are so enthusiastic about boxing.”
The gym’s sessions are between 5.30pm to 6.30pm for juniors, aged between seven and 12, and seniors from 7pm to 8.15pm.