Return to Ringside | Fuji X Photography
There are many ways in which people may be described as fighters and in the world of boxing there are no shortage of them. Wayne Smith is one of a smaller proportion of those people who could be labelled a fighter for very different reasons. A boxer since his teenage years, Wayne suffered a devastating injury early in his career; an injury which would have debilitated most people. Being a fighter, Wayne, now in his forties, has overcome numerous issues relating to his injuries and returned to boxing to share his experience as a coach at Golden Gloves gym in Dingle.
From the age of 9, Wayne was introduced to boxing when his father took him to watch The Rumble in the Jungle. From that point on, he was hooked.
By his late teens, Wayne had been boxing at amateur schoolboy, junior and senior levels. His ambitions turned towards boxing as a professional and so he began sparring with professional boxers. His coach at the time said he had everything it took to become a professional, but was just lacking his ‘man strength’ and sent him away for a year to develop.
During the following 18 months away from boxing, Wayne turned his focus towards kickboxing and trained with world champion Alfie Lewis. Wayne’s competitive nature eventually steered him into a tournament without any weight categories.
His first fight left him with a black eye. Six fights into the tournament and Wayne was in the final, but by then he could barely see anything. After getting checked over at hospital, he was sent home to recover. Days later, Wayne succumbed to a brain haemorrhage and fell into a coma. His fight was now for his life.
Wayne was declared brain dead after being in a coma for over a fortnight and the only thing left to do was for the doctors to ask his parents about organ donation, but Wayne wasn’t out yet. Like a fighter who had been knocked to the canvas and given the count, Wayne somehow managed to pull himself up on the count of 9 and regained consciousness.
Over the next 3 years, Wayne’s fight became one of getting back to what used to be normality; learning basic everyday skills such as walking and talking all over again. Even with these setbacks, his heart and his mind were still focused on boxing. So much so that whilst he was in hospital, friends and family visiting him would take in boxing videos and magazines despite his brain injury leaving him unable to read.
As time went on and his health improved, Wayne decided it was time he returned to boxing. Little did he know that his return to ringside would bring the reality of his situation home, leaving his world crashing all around him.
Wayne’s passion and enthusiasm turned into bitterness towards everything and everyone around him. As a 20-something who was unable to even sit up unaided, he felt as though he had been robbed of his life. Suddenly, his life was in turmoil and his attitude towards it turned very dark as he struggled to find an answer to the question, “Why did this happen to me?”
Out of hospital, Wayne was attending boxing matches as a spectator. This led to travelling around the world following boxing matches, spending time at gyms such as Gleason’s and Top Rank and mixing with some of the biggest names in boxing history such as the likes of Floyd Mayweather, Arturo Gatti, Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson, Joe Fraser, and George Foreman just to name a few.
Around 2003, Wayne’s life turned a corner. Sitting in the gym with old friend Pat Barrett (former British and European welterweight champion now coaching at Collyhurst gym in Manchester) one day, Wayne was watching some of the lads training and offering his advice. Pat picked up on the fact that Wayne had some real insight and encouraged him to start coaching again.
Since 2009, Wayne has been a boxing coach at Golden Gloves Amateur Boxing Club, based in Dingle. There, he’s found his purpose in life and continues to inspire and motivate boxers from all walks of life, young and old. If you’re ever looking for Wayne, you’ll most likely find him there – the first in and the last out.
Wayne Smith features in Kyle Rotheram‘s upcoming documentary film about Liverpool, “the sociAlly depRived ciTy”, due for release early 2014.