Boxer Nathan Heaney overcame personal tragedy in 2019 to be crowned Midlands Area middleweight champion at the King’s Hall in Stoke.
The packed venue erupted and Heaney wept tears of joy after his hand was raised following a thrilling fight with Tom Stokes.
Referee Kevin Parker scored the contest 96-94, a fair reading of a hard 10-round fight, with Heaney pulling away in the closing rounds after having several shaky moments early on.
Heaney shipped a right hand in the opening round that made his knees drop and after putting that behind him to take control, he ran into more trouble late in the fourth. Heaney was wobbled by a two-fisted attack.
He said that fourth round was the fight’s turning point.
“At the end of the round I got a rollicking (from coach Steve Woodvine) and I started to get behind my jab, fire off combinations and he didn’t catch me as much,” said Heaney, who’s now won all seven fights.
Heaney still took the occasional heavy punch, but every time he took one, he answered with three or four and that won him the rounds.
There was late drama. Heaney put together a big attack in the last minute – and then walked into a right hand. Heaney was dazed, but got through the crisis.
The 30-year-old dedicated the victory to his late father, Joseph, who passed away two months before the fight, aged 57.
“I was looking up at the sky shouting: ‘You should have been here,’” said the new champion, “and it’s such a shame he wasn’t.
“Dad made me who I am today. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be a boxer.”
It was Heaney’s proudest moment and continued his rise in the boxing world.
The former pupil of St Thomas More Catholic Academy in Longton, once dreamed of being a professional footballer for his beloved Stoke, but realised his talents were far better suited to a boxing ring.
As an amateur, he had 90 fights, winning 58. But despite defeating a number of internationals, he decided to hang up his gloves.
Instead, he qualified as a teacher and began working full-time at Stafford College, teaching sport.
But at the age of 27 he returned to boxing – signing with Black Country Boxing Promotions and turning professional.
Heaney, who lives in Trentham, has now chalked up nine successive wins, including two by knockout.
He followed up his Midlands title win with an impressive display in front of the BT Sport cameras at Bimingham Arena.
Heaney stopped Nelson Altamirano in the fifth round – and he put on a show.
He’s dumped the Spaniard on the canvas in the opening round and Heaney then unleashed a barrage of punches to ensure the fight was soon called off.
Heaney was followed to Birmingham by hundreds of fans who are regulars at his bouts.
The Stoke City fan walks out to “Delilah” and sings along as he makes his way to the ring.
And there is one key pointer to his dedication to be the best he can.
Despite turning professional, Heaney has to fit training around a busy family life with his partner Louise Martin and their three-year-old daughter Ava – as well as the demands of his teaching job at Stafford College.
“I train five days a week, twice a day,” said Nathan. “At the weekends I don’t do anything, because that’s the only time we get to do anything as a family.”
Heaney has now been nominated in the Senior Individual of the Year category at the Sentinel/City of Stoke-on-Trent Sports Personality of the Year Awards by a host of fans.
He’s proved to be a knockout in the ring… and he could yet land another title to his collection.