Less than two years ago, Paul Hillman freely admits he was “in a dark place”. Devoured by depression and contemplating suicide after a couple of mini-strokes had brought his career as a professional Thai boxer to an end.
But now he is on the crest of a wave and being hailed as an inspirational coach after setting up his own boxing academy in Ollerton and crowning his first champion in 21-year-old former footballer Callam Atkinson.
It’s a remarkable transformation for the 39-year-old Hillman, who came up with the idea of launching boxing classes after visiting his mum on Christmas Day 2015 and being taken aback by the town’s lack of training facilities.
His classes proved so popular that they grew into the Elite Fight Academy, based at a unit on the Boughton Industrial Estate. And Atkinson, one of his 40 registered members aged from 13 upwards, has landed the Golden Gloves Boxing League’s light-heavyweight title less than 12 months after taking up the sport.
The highly respected league travels the country, and Atkinson beat Mark ‘Carnage’ Collins on his home turf of Southend in Essex. He will now defend his belt in Mansfield in October.
“In 12 months, we have gone to hitting a few pads to opening a full-time gym and competing for titles and belts,” said the 39-year-old Hillman. “It is brilliant.
“I have really high hopes for Callam. He is calm and relaxed and so easy to coach with a good attitude. He has the potential to go pro.”
Atkinson’s next fight will be at a special show at the John Fretwell centre on Saturday, April 8 to celebrate the academy’s first birthday.