There can’t be many 34-year-olds from Paddington that have experienced the highs and lows that Ashley Theophane has. From spending time in jail to being signed by Floyd Mayweather, Theophane’s story is a fascinating one.
When we meet on a typically grey British summer afternoon, there is no ego or attitude from the light welterweight. His personalised ‘Team Treasure X The Money Team’ tracksuit is the only suggestion that not only he boxes, but is trained and managed by one of the greatest sportsman to ever live. He appreciates his journey and identifies the positive influence he can have on a young generation in an area which he describes as ‘humble’.
After turning professional with virtually no fans and no promoter, Theophane by his own admission accepts that he should have been doing the ‘small hall shows around the country’. He struggled at first to get support and fights, he was always the “underdog fighting on the opponent’s promoter’s card”. Theophane then signed to Ricky Hatton’s stable but the pair were unable to secure a fight in 18 months together. Irony would play it’s part as it would only be when the boxer signed with Floyd Mayweather – the popular Macunian’s one-time rival – that he would start to flourish.
After a very long journey, it would seem ‘Treasure’ is where he has always wanted to be. Living among the glitz and the glamour of Vegas, he agrees it’s a very long way from the concrete jungle of the Mozart Estate and it’s shadow which engulfs Mr Akay’s All Stars Gym.
“Back in the 80’s, I used to watch the big boxing fights with my dad – he’s a huge boxing fan and we would watch the big American classics.Mike Tyson was the big name and I remember after watching his fight with Trevor Berbick that I wanted to be a boxer but my mum didn’t want me to start so it was difficult,” he says.
“She eventually let me come to All Stars Gym in 1988, I was seven at the time. I think she was hoping that I would come down, get punched in the face and not fancy it. But I did, I really loved it. You had friends here and could socialise with other guys your age and it was good. I stayed here for a couple of years before joining another club on the Harrow Road, Stowe Boys. I wanted to fight but Mr Akay who ran All Stars said I was too young. I didn’t get it as a lad I used to spar was fighting and he was my size, I didn’t realise at the time he was a few years older. He (Mr Akay) was right though.
“I went to Stowe Boys for a few years, had three fights and won them all then came back here, that was in ’95 and I have been here ever since. When it’s fight time I go over to New York to do my camps but when I’m here I keep ticking over with Dave Brown.”
Theophane is in line to fight for a world-title and joins George Groves and James DeGale to make up an exciting trio from west London. He has huge admiration for both boxers and admits that although he hasn’t reached the heights they have yet, he is still proud to be representing the area with them.
“Areas around here like Hammersmith and Harlesden, you’ve got humble beginnings. You rarely see in boxing a fighter that comes from a rich background, they get told to use themselves in ways other than fighting. They both came from Dale Youth and I was from All Stars obviously, we were good in the 80’s and had a number of good kids and champions then in the 90’s Dale Youth had there time and were producing good fighters. Kids round here have that grit you need, you know?
“It’s been great for west London in general. George has done great so far, look at his fights with Carl Froch and he’s got a chance to win a world title again. James the same, he did fantastic in the Olympics and won gold, now he’s got a world title too. I haven’t done what they have done yet but I’m still really proud of my career. Coming from round here a lot of the kids see the criminals with the money and the cars. The drug dealers and the criminals that seem to have it all, it can be easy for the kids to think that’s the right way to go, but it’s not. But kids don’t know that, if that’s all the see then they think that’s the right way to go about things.
“That’s why it’s fantastic for the area to see the like of George, James and myself doing well in boxing. We are living proof that if you work hard and put your mind to it you can become whatever you want – it doesn’t matter about where you are from. You can be a doctor, a lawyer or whatever. If you put your mind to it and the work in you can do it.
The 34-year-old talks from experience. It could have been a very different life for him had he not chose to distance himself from certain friends in 2000 after being found not guilty of robbery. Education was not the the highest of priorities for Theophane but after completing a BTEC in Media at college (a course in which he used to only attend part time but still managed the equivalent of a B), teachers proposed the idea of going to university. He never did and it is one of the few regrets he has in his life.
“When I was young I was as bad as they come, I got kicked out of my primary school. I had to sit my GCSEs in a college as I was expelled from my secondary school. I had to quit my travel and tourism course as I had the police after me when I went and to college. I was really bad.
“I was involved in the wrong crowd and we were always getting up to trouble. We were really into robbery, I went to prison for six months remand and when I came out I thought enough was enough. I stopped hanging around with the guys that were trouble. That was tough as some were my friends and some were even my family. I just locked everyone off. I had friends that didn’t do crime and became better acquaintances with them. I can’t talk to my old friends anymore as we have nothing in common. They are still doing crime and I’m travelling the world doing what I love. When I was in that world it would be nothing to see a guy go away for 10 or 20 years, that could have been me.”
After robberies of a different nature in the ring, Theophane made the brave decision to move to America in order to fulfill his career. For a boxer who had very little support in the UK, the decision was an easy one.
“I personally feel that all the losses on my career from England were the opposite – but it happens in sport. There isn’t anyone that doesn’t lose at some point but it’s how you come back. After losing my fight and title to Darren Hamilton I said to Sky I would be moving to America and they basically laughed at me.
“I had told my advisor that I thought there was a chance if I moved to Vegas and committed to it I could get signed by Mayweather. When I had been out there previously he was in camp and I was just walking through the gym and he stopped me and asked who I was. I explained I was British champion and my record, he said he wanted to do a few rounds. I knew I had impressed so it felt right to go back.
“As soon as I walked in there, this was a year later, he called out ‘it’s the London fighter again’. So I knew he recognised me. You’ve got to remember this is a guy that meets and trains with loads of people each day but he had specifically remembered me. So I knew I had a chance of getting signed and I worked harder than ever before to impress. When I trained over here either at TKO or All Stars, people would tell me I trained to hard, but watching Floyd do what he does; it exhausts me just watching him.
I knew that was the level to get to. So when the big names would come in the gym I would spar them and once everyone had watched us other guys would then ask me to spar but I wasn’t interested in that, I wanted the names and to impress. After Floyd’s fight with Guerrero he was doing an interview on TV and called me over, he introduced me as his fighter from the UK. I knew then I had done it, I was signed.”
With unrivalled access to one of the most talked about athletes of his generation, Theophane is in a great position to see the ‘real’ Floyd Mayweather and he’s predictably full of praise for his boss and mentor.
“He’s a very good person, I won’t have a bad word said about him. If you’re one of his family, friends or team then he will look after you and make sure you have got everything you need. He’s a very cool guy like that. He sparred me, he’s watched me train and he’s watched me fight and is one of the few people in boxing to recognise my talent. He’s shown me the most love in the sport.
“When you spar against him though it’s tough though, for the first few rounds he won’t throw anything, just does little feints. Then he reads you, reads all your ticks and movements and before you know it he has wrapped you up and you can’t do anything. Whatever people say boxers have been doing this for years, you do the same things when you get in there whether you want to or not. Floyd is extremely clever.”
The future is looking brighter than ever for the Las Vegas-based Londoner who is on course to fight for a world-title in the very near future. After losing to Pablo Cesar Cano back in 2013, Theophane has won the previous five bouts and is on the verge of confirming the biggest fight of his career.
“I want to get to 50 wins, that’s always been the aim. So in terms of what I want to do in my career, I’d get to 50 wins and a world title. I’ve got about five more years left in me I would say, I don’t want to be boxing into my 40’s! We’re just waiting for confirmation so you never know until it’s completely done but it looks like I’m going to fight for the title – I should be back fighting on Floyd’s undercard in September. The other fighters in The Money Team have got their shots at the titles, put the work in and won. Hopefully I can be next.”
We conclude the afternoon of talking by discussing the fortunes of Tottenham Hotspur and Harry Kane. An afternoon that has seen us talk about the obvious. The boxing, the football, Floyd Mayweather and The Money Team. We’ve also discussed different aspects of west London, crime, the youth of today and more.
Theophane wants to be a motivational speaker after boxing and if our couple of hours together are anything to go by he would be fantastic at it. He understands the youth, has experienced crime and worked hard for success.
Thanks to hard-work, dedication and commitment he could be finishing his career with a world title. Despite all the doubters, Ashley ‘Treasure’ Theophane would then become another jewel in west London’s crown.
Huge thanks to Junior Roberts for the photo his website can be found here.