PROFESSIONAL boxer Rafal Benka is eager to kickstart his career after the coronavirus pandemic has delayed his debut in the paid ranks.

The 25-year-old is the latest York fighter to the a growing stable of professionals in Henry’s Gym in Acomb, linking up alongside gym-mates George Davey, Mitchell Barton and Hughie Wilson.

Benka had been hopeful of getting in the ring this summer, something he’s been unable to do due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We were hoping to get my first fight in before June,” said the Polish-born boxer, who lives in York and studies at York St Johns University.

“I’m trying not to let this situation affect my training too much. I’m trying to stick to my routine as much as I can and I’m still going out on my runs every two days.

“I’m still trying to do around eight sessions a week. I’m trying to do my runs in the morning and a strength session in the evening still.

“You’ve just got to try and do the best you can with the equipment I’ve got at home. I’m looking forward to my debut too and I’m hoping to get as many fights in as I can at the start of my career.”

When Benka was aged eight, his parents made the decision to move from Poland to England, initially relocating to Durham.

And though he had previous experience of boxing in Poland, it wasn’t until the age of 17 that Benka fully invested in the sport under the guidance of trainer and three-time world title challenger Henry Wharton.

“When I first moved to England, I started playing football and then I played rugby,” he explained.

“I broke my left arm playing rugby and in order to recover from that, I started boxing, when I was 17-years-old.

“It was difficult at first and there were people who said to me that it was late for me to take up the sport.

“But, I’d always loved boxing, ever since I first entered the gym back in Poland. I did a bit of boxing for a year back in Poland and did a little bit of boxing in Durham too.

“After moving to York, I went to Henry’s Gym because it was recommended to me by a friend.

“Straight away, being at Henry’s Gym was a different type of training for me from what I had experienced before.

“Now, in terms of my technique and the sparring that I’ve had, I’m really glad that I was determined to stick with my training and train harder and harder every day.

“I would say that I wouldn’t be here, where I am now, without Henry. He has changed me completely as a fighter.

“He improved my technique a lot and really gave me a lot of confidence. There are still a few things for me to work on, of course, but I see a bright future for myself alongside Henry and the other lads in our stable.”

Benka has travelled around the continent under Wharton in international tournaments as well as competing domestically in the Haringey Box Cup and the ABA Championships.

“I’ve boxed in Holland, Denmark, Sweden and won a few medals, some bronze and some silver,” he said.

“The experience of fighting abroad is amazing. It’s a fantastic experience that you get to be fighting against all the different clubs.

“Plus, when you go abroad, you meet national teams and you compete against national boxers.

“When I boxed in Sweden in 2018, I boxed with the Swedish national champion and I beat him in the semi-final (of the King of the Ring).

“Then I boxed against a Scottish lad, who was the Commonwealth youth bronze medallist and lost on a 3-2 spilt decision and it was a really close fight that could have gone either way.

“In Holland, two years ago, I boxed a really strong kid from Mongolia and I got a bronze medal in that tournament.

“In Denmark, I boxed the Swedish (national) champion and the Danish champion. To come up against many quality opponents has been a really good experience for me.

“I had a good experience last year too when I was Poland, which was meant to be a holiday, but I ended up still doing training.

“When I was there, I ended up going to the same gym as the national team of Poland and helping them with their sparring to prepare before the European Championships. Again that was a really good experience.”

And though his experiences in the amateurs were enjoyable, his decision to the professionals was motivated by the poor decisions he felt he was given.

“I’d trained over my limits to be in the best shape for my fights and then I’d lose by, what I thought was a wrong decision,” said Benka. “It’s even worse than getting punched in the face!”, he laughed.

“Earlier this year, I spoke with Henry and he said that ‘I must turn pro as I can achieve a lot in the pro game’.

“It wasn’t a simple decision because the start of a pro career is difficult and you do need financial support.

“I’m just thinking about it as a temporary period and that when I begin to raise my game and progress, the easier it will become.”