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BOXING: Definitely not your average Joe
STEPPING in to the ring even once was a monumental achievement for Malmesbury boxer Joe Hughes.
The 23-year-old is the veteran over around 80 amateur bouts, became a senior ABA light-welterweight champion in 2010 and tasted victory in the latest of his nine professional fights so far.
But the Wiltshire man has been fighting an uphill battle against a debilitating arm condition since he was born.
Hughes suffers from Erb’s palsy, a condition caused by damage to nerves in the neck during birth, meaning that the Malmesbury puncher has had to overcome constant pain in his right arm, which is two-and-a-half inches shorter than his left.
But ironically, he may not have ever stepped in to a boxing gym, had it not been for his condition.
“A load of nerves in my neck, running all the way down my shoulder, were damaged when I was born and as a result of that, my arm hasn’t grown properly,” said Hughes.
“There are a lot of movements that I can’t even do with my right arm and it’s a lot weaker than my left.
“My dad originally took me down to start boxing as an exercise for it.
“When I was a kid, I’d have to do exercises on my arm every night but they were boring and when you’re eight years old and you’ve got no attention span, you don’t want to be stood there doing stretches.
“That was the main reason I started and it’s funny how it’s turned out.
“I’m the only person with Erb’s palsy ever to win an ABA title or anything like that.
“I’ve searched and searched and I can’t even find anyone that’s boxed that has it.
“There are some other sports people with it – there were some people who were in the Paralympics and there is an American football player (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Adrian Clayborn) – but there aren’t many and it’s a rare condition anyway.
“I’ve been seeing physios on my right arm since I was a week old.
“I still see a sports massage therapist, who used to box for Malmesbury, called Steve Ford, and he helps me out a lot because the muscles in my arm get really tight, even though they’re not very strong.
“I am left-handed and I write with my left hand but the doctors told me that I should naturally be right-handed – I’ve just had to learn to use the left.”
Hughes is philosophical about the burden Erb’s palsy has placed on his boxing career and can take some solace in the fact that his condition has forced him to utilise a unique style in the ring.
“(My right arm) is not only weak; it’s two-and-a-half inches shorter.
“A lot of people land their jab and it sets up their next shot but I can’t even reach and have to step in,” said the fighter, who trains at Paddy John’s Gym in Bristol.
“My footwork and co-ordination is orthodox, meaning it’s the same as what it should be if I was right-handed.
“People try to move away from my left hand and stay away from it for the whole fight but it hasn’t worked for anyone yet.
“It’s funny because people are always shouting ‘throw your right hand, throw your right hand’.
“When I first started boxing I couldn’t hold my hand up my hand to my chin, let alone really do anything with it.
“I had an operation where they split some of the muscles up and took a load of bone out of shoulder.
“My right hand has improved hundreds and hundreds of times over and it makes me laugh when people say that because I just want to say ‘I’m doing the best I can’.
“A lot of people don’t know about (my condition). If I tell people, then they’ll notice it but if I don’t tell them, they don’t notice it, which is good.”
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