Ahmet Patterson experienced a twist of fate as cruel as any suffered by a boxer in their athletic prime, writes Elliot Worsell
FIVE years ago, Ahmet Patterson allowed me to watch one of the last sparring sessions of his training camp, not knowing that it would also be one of the last times he would ever set foot inside a ring. Shortly after that, he delighted in telling me his upcoming British super-welterweight title fight against Liam Williams would be the launchpad to great success, not knowing it was both a fight destined to never happen and a title he would never win. As blissfully ignorant as any 17-0 prospect, Patterson was 28 at the time of our last Boxing News interview and seemed to have time on his side. He had been a Southern Area champion, as well as an English champion, and most who watched him day-to-day at the Peacock Gym considered the idea of him winning other titles an inevitability.
Because of this, the first of Patterson’s twists of fate, a common one, appeared relatively inconsequential: an original fight date of October 22, 2016 was postponed when Liam Williams picked up an injury in training. Weeks later, however, the East Londoner would experience a twist of fate as cruel as any suffered by a boxer in their athletic prime; a twist so cruel it cut short a promising career before it had even got going.
The date was Thursday, November 17 and Patterson was now preparing for the rescheduled fight with Williams on November 26. Earlier in the week he had met the British champion at a press conference in Cardiff and that Thursday, further motivated by what he had seen and heard, decided to go running after dark in Bromley, as per his usual routine.
Hitting the roads, doing something countless other boxers were no doubt also doing that day, Patterson encountered an unexpected obstacle in the form of three young men waiting for him to approach. His headphones were in his ears at the time, so he couldn’t make out what they were saying, but Patterson could tell from the expressions on their faces that he wouldn’t be permitted to pass without first engaging with them. This was a suspicion then confirmed when one of the men put their hand on his chest and demanded he stop. “I took my headphones off to ask him what he wanted and he grabbed me,” Patterson recalled. “Then I knew they were trying something, basically. I pushed that one off and another one approached me from the left side, so I kicked him in his chest. I was thinking, I don’t want to be punching anyone because I’m fighting next week. I didn’t want to f**k my hands up.
“But then another one came at me from the side and hit me with the brick. I didn’t fall to the ground; it was more of a shock thing. I was thinking, What the f**k was that? I only knew it was a brick because he dropped it on the floor and ran off. I then looked in the window of a car and saw that my face was coming out.”
Accustomed to getting whacked in the head, albeit by hands in gloves, Patterson was able to not only rationalise what had happened but quickly avoid panicking. He used the brick on the ground to identify the weapon and he used his reflection in a car window to determine the extent of the damage. “I didn’t go to the hospital straight away because I knew what happened and knew what it was,” he said. “I just iced the swelling.
“But when the swelling went down that’s when I started getting double vision and that’s when I told Martin [Bowers, trainer]. I said, ‘I’m not going to lie, I’m seeing s**t.’ I then went to Moorfields [eye] hospital and they did all the tests and told me I had nerve damage. They said I would need to have six to eight months out of the ring.”
Just like that, Patterson’s dream of challenging Liam Williams for the British title, delayed once already, was canceled for a second time and, worse, it was now more than likely he would also be out of action for most of 2017. In the space of one innocent jog, he had gone from being an undefeated fighter in the best shape of his career, days away from what he believed was a life-changing fight, to a civilian whose life had been changed for good by the cowardly actions of strangers .
Now, as a result, all of Patterson’s immediate fights would be either internal or involve officials, doctors and rulebooks. “For about a year I was trying to get my license again but I failed the eye test, so thought, if I keep failing the eye test, what’s the point?” he said. “I came back to the gym shortly after that whole madness happened but I never actually sparred. I don’t think Martin wanted to put me in the ring because of my eyes.
“I drifted off after that. I thought, if I can’t get my license, what am I training for? It was tough. I always try to look on the bright side, though. I could have been stabbed with a knife. I could have been killed.
“I moved into personal training around that time. I met and helped a lot of people and it started feeling good, just training people and changing people’s lives. I helped them lose weight, get fit, and all that. I was working at a gym in Mayfair but lately I’ve started moving into online coaching.
“My main focus now is helping others to achieve their goals. Mentally, I’ve been through a lot, so I know what I’m talking about. The whole script, in terms of my future, just one day flipped on me.”
The script may have flipped on Patterson, making his role in it redundant, but all the other parts are of course still being played. The parts Patterson imagined himself one day playing have been taken and, sadly, even the part he himself once played, circa 2016, runs the risk of being forgotten by some. “That what-if? question is always there,” he admitted. “Even now, I’ll watch certain British champions, or people who are moving on, and I’ll think, man, I used to spar that person and, no disrespect, I know how I used to handle them. But now they are this or that and I’m not even boxing. It’s not an envy thing, it’s just frustration because you know how you handled them in the ring. You start thinking, damn, that should have been me, man. I could have been even further on in my career than they are right now.”
Case in point, Liam Williams, since the cancellation of his date with Patterson, won seven mostly meaningful fights in five years. In that time, he had also claimed the British middleweight title and challenged Demetrius Andrade for an alphabet belt in America. “He’s done well,” Patterson said of Williams. “He’s been British champion and he fought for a [WBO] title. Hats off to him. It’s weird watching him but it was even weirder a few weeks ago when I saw Ted Cheeseman, unexpectedly. I was walking down the road when I heard my name being called out – ‘Ahmet!’ – and I turned around and saw that it was Cheeseman. He was outside the pub and we got chatting for a little while. He said, ‘I always remember the spars we used to have. They were probably the best spars I’ve ever had.’
“In my mind, I’m thinking, yeah, I know you remember those spars because you know what happened. But, at the same time, do your thing, man. I’m so happy for him. He’s got a nice set of pearly whites on him and he just needs to keep going and keep making noise. He’s doing really well.”
Had Patterson, at the time of The Incident, been a former world champion in the twilight of his career, the post-attack transition from pro boxer to civilian might have been somewhat smoother, and easier to stomach. But being cut down in his prime meant the what-if? question would be as relevant today, with Patterson now 33, as it was five years ago.
Still in shape, and still spending most of his time in gyms, Patterson may no longer be an active boxer but that doesn’t mean he has stopped thinking like one. Nor does it mean he has stopped fighting other opponents – chiefly, temptation. He: “I still get messages from people saying, ‘When are you going to get back in the ring? Don’t waste your talent.’ I want to say to them, ‘Do you think I don’t want to get back in the ring?’ That’s all I want.
“I’ll be honest, those messages don’t help. They get me thinking about giving it another go. I feel like I’m fine now and there have been times when I’ve been looking at different trainers and thinking about just turning up at their gym with gloves and saying, ‘I just want to spar someone.’ I’ll get a little fit, turn up, and see how it goes. I did that when I went to Repton [as an amateur]. I just turned up, sparred someone, did well, and then I was part of the A-team straight away.”
The risk when contacting any retired boxer, particularly one who retired prematurely and is still of fighting age, is that you are unwittingly reminding them of the very thing they have perhaps been trying to ignore. This, I discovered, was never truer than in Patterson’s case, a man content with his new life, still eager to make a success of it, but still susceptible to nostalgia and dissatisfied with his ending. “When I was fighting, I always said I’d fight until the wheels came off,” he said. “I used to look at Floyd [Mayweather] and want to fight until I was 40.
“I still feel fit and I actually feel a lot stronger now. I don’t know what it will be like in the ring but I hit the pads a few months ago and although I gassed out after two rounds I felt a lot stronger than I did when I was boxing. I still train but it’s more strength and conditioning and weight training these days. I’ve got more heavy muscle. I’m still in shape, though. Give me six weeks.” He laughed. “You’ve probably put the idea in my head [by calling] but it is what it is. I know the itch will always be there.”
Alas, in what is probably the cruellest twist of all, there is now every chance the itch to fight will end up lasting longer than Ahmet Patterson’s entire professional fighting career. Until it is scratched, he will resign himself to spending many more years wondering what could have been, while, in an effort to stay balanced, also reminding himself that it could have been worse. Much worse.