ASHLEY VANZIE stunned Ireland’s amateur boxing scene as he overcame the country’s Olympic captain to clinch category success at the Celtic Box Cup.
The 25-year-old light-heavyweight talent scored a split-decision triumph over favourite Darren O’Neil and was named boxer of the tournament following his triumph in Dungarvan.
The win moves Vanzie, who fights out of Dewsbury’s KBW Gym, up to third in the 81kg English rankings.
But the Bradford-born star has revealed how he almost decided to sit out the prestigious event due to strict Amateur Boxing Association of England (ABAE) sanctions.
“I heard about the Ireland event but didn’t think I could compete as ABAE rules stated no English fighter could compete abroad,” said Vanzie, the brother of former British and Commonwealth pro champion Bobby.
“I registered, though, and paid the fees. The months went by and then, incredibly, just days before the tournament, the ban was lifted.
“I was only around 70 per cent fit, simply because I had expected to sit it out because of the sanctions.
“I hurried around trying to organise some funding as my club said it was too short notice, but I lost all hope when my trainer informed me he couldn’t attend either.
“Then my partner, Nadine, went and booked my flights, which was fantastic.”
Vanzie flew to Ireland one day before the event and upon arrival was informed he would clash O’Neil almost immediately.
A host of Irish counterparts had pulled out of the event having heard of the world number-eight’s presence.
But not Vanzie. The hard-hitting amateur was relishing the challenge.
“An organiser asked me if I had heard the bad news ‘you are boxing Darren O’Neil’ and I replied ‘it is what I came for!’,” he explained.
Vanzie hammered the home fighter during an explosive opening round but was made to work for his win during the tense, closing third three-minute round.
“When they announced me the winner – all be it by split decision – I jumped for joy,” Vanzie told The Press.
“A man approached me and said ‘you have just made history by beating him here in Ireland’. I was elated.
“To think I very nearly didn’t go, due to lack of funding, is frightening.”
Vanzie, who works as a personal trainer and studies sports, physical activity and health at Leeds Metropolitan University, is now setting his sights on the future.
Despite his Olympic dreams being dashed last month, having missed out on Great Britain selection, he remains focused on Rio 2016.
But first and foremost Vanzie wishes to go one better in the Senior ABA championships next April, after losing out in the final earlier this year.
“My eyes are set firmly on winning the ABA title,” he claimed.
“From there I want to go on and get myself into the GB squad for the Rio Olympics.
His Celtic crown was confirmed 24 hours after edging O’Neil, following a unanimous victory over Dean Laing in the competition’s final.
Vanzie cruised home, winning all three rounds to score a unanimous victory.
The rising star is now seeking sponsorship in order to aid his training regime, while enabling him to compete in similar events.
By Ryan Sparks