Dale Evans: Boxer on a mission to honour Mike Towell's memory
For boxer Dale Evans, the memories simply never fade from his fight with Mike Towell on 29 September, 2016.
It was supposed to be a simple eliminator for a shot at the British welterweight title, just another fight for two aspiring boxers making their way in the sport.
But it ended up being a night of tragedy which saw Towell lose consciousness, suffering from brain injuries that would take his life.
Imagine living your life's ambition, but earning the opportunity to do so by enduring unthinkable hurt.
For Evans, no imagination is necessary.
On Saturday, 8 July at London's Copper Box Arena, Evans will challenge British welterweight Bradley Skeete, an opportunity 'earned' by winning that fateful fight with Towell.
It is a bittersweet moment for a fighter who has been dreaming of winning a British title since childhood, especially as Evans feels he is fighting not just for himself, but to honour Towell's memory.
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Motivated to honour Mike's memory
Evans says not a day goes by when he does not think about Towell, who lost his life aged just 25.
"At first it was horrible, every fighter knows the risk when you go into the ring but you never expect it to happen to either of you and you don't want it to happen," said Evans.
"It has been a rough few months, I have had to pick myself up and family and friends have helped me through it. You never stop thinking about it.
"I don't want to sound like a stuck record, but it is not just about doing it (being successful) for myself anymore, it is for Mike and his family as well.
"After it happened, I just locked myself away, eating rubbish, picturing a little boy without his daddy. I was numb. I was constantly questioning whether I wanted to continue boxing. It dawned that it could've been me."
Support from the Towell family
Evans attended Towell's funeral and was embraced by the family and now they are ready to offer their support for the Welsh boxer's British title opportunity.
"The Towell family have been incredible," said Evans. "I've had some of Mike's fans looking to buy tickets to come and support me on 8 July and that is just incredible in itself.
"I have posted tickets up to Dundee and I've done it with a smile on my face because it is touching, it is beautiful.
"It is really, really nice of them to come and support me.
"Some of Mike's friends and family will be there, but I can't see that as something that brings back bad memories. It is touching and should only help as I find it touching.
"My dream is to win and take the belt to Dundee and that is exactly what I said I would do 10 months ago."
Getting back in the ring was tough
For Evans, following the Towell fight, there was no longer such a thing as 'normal' nor could he decide on how to return to the ring, or even if he should.
Evans needed a change of scene and has switched trainers, splitting with Gary Lockett and rejoining Tony Borg's St Joes stable, alongside world champion Lee Selby, his brother Andrew and Olympian Fred Evans.
He has fought only once since the Towell fight, a four-round effort on a small hall show in Swansea where he beat journeyman Kevin McCauley, but Evans thinks that return to the ring might have been the most vital fight of his career.
Because simply getting back into a boxing ring to hit and be hit, was a psychological barrier that needed to be overcome.
"My last fight, a four-rounder, I needed it to test the water, to get back that feeling of hitting someone and being hit. I needed to have that feeling of getting back in the ring again," he said.
"I got through that, I coped on the night and now I know I am ready to get back and do what I set out to do in the first place, which is get that British title.
"I've been asked before about whether what happened with Mike affects me in the ring, in terms of hitting people and getting hit.
"The answer is it can't. When you step through the ropes you have a job to do and I know my opponent is trying to do the same thing to me.
"You need to have that tunnel vision, for however long you are in that ring for.
"You are in the zone and have a job to do at the end of the day. You can't worry about anything."
Overcoming the odds
Evans winning the British title would be the culmination of a lifelong dream, but the Welshman knows he is far from favourite to beat champion Skeete, a heavy odds-on favourite with bookmakers.
"I have been boxing since I was nine years old and I am 25 now. This is what I have boxed all my life for and sacrificed so many birthdays, weddings, holidays, stag-dos, the normal things people do.
"This is a massive opportunity for me and I can't wait to get in the ring now.
"The bookies think I have no chance, but I see it as being much, much closer than that - don't be surprised if I upset the odds.
"He's looking to move on to bigger things, he's already talking world level (fights) and the name Manny Pacquiao has been mentioned.
"His people are talking about the future, but he's not got past me yet.
"If I catch Skeete, if I can get to work on the inside, I think I am going to hurt him and it will be his toughest test."
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