Pro boxer Joe Maphosa has become an Ambassador for the Alliance of Sport and the Levelling the Playing Field project.
The super-flyweight fighter is a passionate believer in the power of sport as a diversion from crime, with boxing having given him discipline, mental and physical health, self-confidence and structure despite his local community offering many potentially more negative distractions.
“I’m delighted to come on board with you guys,” said Joe. “I believe that all kids should be given chances to go down the right path by having something to focus on, instead of drifting into gangs and causing trouble because of a lack of opportunities. If they’ve got clubs and organisations where they can go to, to teach them discipline and make it fun, I’m sure fewer kids will be involved in crime.”
Joe and his two brothers came to England from Zimbabwe in 2002 and settled in the disadvantaged Park End estate in Middlesbrough. Joe enjoyed football and cricket but when a boxercise instructor at the gym spotted his potential and sent him to Middlesbrough Amateur Boxing Club, he discovered his true love and his destiny was set.
Whereas Joe came home from school and headed straight to the gym, his elder brother became involved in gangs and crime on the estate and has been in and out of prison on a regular basis ever since.
Joe explains: “We grew up in a low-income area with a lot of trouble, racism, high crime and kids getting up to no good. My eldest brother was never involved in any sport or physical activity whereas I was massively into anything physical. We just went down two completely separate paths.
“When I started boxing aged 13 that led me away from that scene. It gave me something to really focus on and put all my energy into. When I came home from school, I packed my bags for training and went to the gym. I was totally committed to my sport. It was a completely different lifestyle for me. I believe sport gave me that focus. I didn’t waste energy going out on the estate and messing about, I needed to save it all for the ring.”
It’s these experiences that motivated Joe to support the Alliance of Sport’s work and to find out more about our Levelling the Playing Field project with the Youth Justice Board. The project’s common goals chime with Joe’s outlook and experiences:
- Increase the number of ethnically diverse children taking part in sport and physical activity
- Prevent and divert ethnically diverse children from being involved with the Criminal Justice System
Levelling the Playing Field uses the power of sport to engage and improve health and life outcomes for ethnically diverse children – which makes Joe, now 27, an ideal role model for thousands of children on the project.
“My message to kids is don’t be scared to try out a lot of different sports and clubs. That’s what I did and it led my down the right path,” he states. “I found my love for the sport through simply trying out something positive instead of hanging around on the streets doing nothing and getting up to no good.
“Boxing teaches you really good discipline. You have to listen to your coach, dedicate yourself to the sport and do the right stuff – know when to train, eat the right foods and rest for competitions. Also, you burn a lot of energy and release a lot of that anger and aggression when you’re sparring and hitting the bags. When children start applying themselves, feeling healthy and looking good, it builds their self-confidence, which they can take into other areas of life.
“I’d say to any young person, don’t be scared, have confidence, get your foot in the door, try out as many things as possible and you never know where you might end up.”
Four years into his pro boxing career, “Smokin’ Joe” has shown enough potential to end up at a very high level indeed. He won his first 10 bouts (one by KO) before facing Craig Derbyshire for the English super-flyweight title in September. With his preparation disrupted by Covid-19, the fight didn’t go Joe’s way, but he’s now back in training for a couple more bouts – starting on November 13 in Newcastle – before hopefully getting another title shot within the next 12 months.
Joe is a family man, with a six-year-old and a six-month-old, and enjoys eating out or playing pool in his spare time. He works part-time as a boxing instructor in the gym where he also trains.
“Over the next 12 months my aim is to win a major title, whether that’s British, European or Commonwealth,” he says. “I slipped up on the English title last month but I’m going to work up to that level again. I’ll start climbing that ladder, have two more fights and hopefully get my next title shot next year. That will do me nicely.”
James Mapstone, CEO of Alliance of Sport, said: “We are delighted to welcome Joe as an Ambassador to the Alliance of Sport. His lived experience makes him the perfect advocate for the power of sport to transform lives. He is the perfect role model for ethnically diverse participants on our Levelling the Playing Field project, who are under-represented in sport and physical activity and over-represented in the Youth Justice System.”