From a life of crime and addiction to heavyweight master of the ring - Sheffield champion Jerome Blake
He had just been jailed for two years after being caught selling heroin to undercover police in a city-centre ‘sting’ operation.
His mitigation had been that at 19 he was addicted to cannabis and sold the class A drug to fund his addiction.
His conviction could have led to Blake following a life of crime. But the now 27-year-old took the decision that wasn’t the life he wanted to lead.
He took the opportunity prison offered him to get fit and focus on the future. After being released, Blake was determined to go straight.
He joined Brendan Ingle’s Wincobank boxing gym and has now joined the long line of success stories to come out of the gym.
After just two years with Ingle, he has been crowned Yorkshire amateur heavyweight champion and now wants to turn professional.
His story chimes with that of world champion Anthony Joshua who was in trouble for intent to supply cannabis, in 2011.
Blake has ended all criminal connections of his past and is now looking forward to a successful sporting career.
He wants to emulate others in the gym, like Kell Brook, Junior Witter and Kid Galahad.
“In Pitsmoor, I grew up around other people who were into drugs,” said the former Middlewood Rovers footballer, who now lives in Southey Green. “I didn’t use heroin but I did smoke cannabis.
“It doesn’t feel as if that was the same me, as I am now. I am 100 per cent different. I don’t think the same.
“I used to be lazy but now I want to work hard to achieve things. Boxing has got me where I want to be; it is a discipline and very motivating.
“I always feel calm, even when I am boxing. Life experiences have changed me.”
After being incarcerated, Blake ended his relationship with the drug fraternity.
“I had to let go of some of my friends to change everything; prison gave me the kick I needed. I didn’t play the part of a bad boy inside, like some guys do. After all, being in prison is nothing to brag about. I just focused on the future I wanted.
“Prison allowed me to get in shape and develop from a kid into a man. I formed a picture in my mind of what I wanted and followed it through.”
Blake has not been in trouble with the police since and hopes his story will inspire others.
“Some people I used to hang around with in Pitsmoor are still doing what they were doing but one or two of them come to support me and I’d like to turn their thinking around.
“I’d love to inspire people to change; that is what people like Brendan and Dom Ingle, Kell Brook and Kid Galahad have done for me,” says Blake, who served some of his time in Doncaster prison.
The boxer has a partner, Lucy, and two children.
When not training he has a job working as a car-fitter in Rotherham.
“The Ingles have taught me so much, I have Spiderman-like senses now. I know when a punch is coming before the opponent throws it. People think heavyweights are all about power but I have that and stamina, fast feet, a good jab and high work-rate. I always listen to Brendan’s philosophies, too. Like Muhammad Ali he can move people by the way he says things. His knowledge is priceless.
“Later, I want to become professional, but only after defending my Yorkshire belt a few times. I brought it back to Sheffield and nobody is taking it off me.
“In a few years I will have progressed and be going for the likes of Tony Bellew, Andre Ward and Nathan Cleverly, if they are still around.”
Trainer Dom Ingle, who is preparing Brook for a world title unification fight, likens Blake to Joshua, now the nation’s darling.
“Joshua was a bad lad involved with drugs but through boxing he found his goal in life. Jerome has a partner, kids, a job and his life has never been better,” he says.
“He sees people like our own gym’s Amer Khan, who was a Central Area champion and is now a fireman who puts something back into the sport by training kids. He sees people like Kell, Adam Etches and others who came from a similar background and are doing really well. We get kids from all sorts of backgrounds who have no aim in life and society has given up on some of them.
“Brendan is a father-figure and the guidance they get at our gym turns lives around,” said Ingle adding: “Jerome has improved in the ring and if he continues then we’ll see if he has what it takes to cut it in the pro game.”
Many fighters have overcome drugs and crime to forge a ring career. In Sheffield alone, there are several who became embroiled in trouble but evolved as decent, mature men. Former light middleweight Reagan Denton was once hooked on crack and heroin. It got so bad that Naseem Hamed offered to fly him to Yemen to help him go ‘cold turkey’. Denton quit the habit and is now an inspiration on the Manor, where he runs ‘The Hood’ boxing club.
Internationally, Mike Tyson once described himself as a “full-blown cokehead”. Others previously linked with drugs include Sugar Ray Leonard, Julio Cesar Chavez and Joe Calzaghe.
In Sheffielder Blake’s case, he was spared a longer jail sentence, because of “inspirational” community work in Burngreave and attending a drugs awareness course.
Judge Michael Murphy QC told him: “Your case is a tragedy in many ways because you are capable of so much better.”
Now he is beginning to achieve that.