Professional boxing comes to the Highlands

By Keir MurrayBBC Scotland
Alastair Chisholm in action
Chisholm will face Mark Bett at Inverness's Drumossie Hotel

Fireman Alastair Chisholm is used to entering danger zones.

On Friday evening the 28-year-old will put himself in harm's way once more when he climbs into the ring to take on Mark Bett in the first professional boxing show in Inverness.

Highland history is characterised by its battles and three modern-day tussles will be added to the area's folklore when Chisholm and Inverness Boxing Club contemporaries Gary Cornish and Andrew Young engage in sporting warfare at the city's Drumossie Hotel.

The trio are trained by 63-year-old Liverpudlian Laurie Redfern, who moved north to work at Sullom Voe in 1979.

The former pro set up a club, had his first Scottish champion in 1981 and has been imparting his boxing wisdom in the north of Scotland ever since.

He has contemplated calling it a day in the past but every newcomer re-ignites his passion for the sport. His current crop are his best yet in 15 years of running the Inverness club.

"Everybody wants to see a Scottish heavyweight. Gary Cornish won the Scottish title in only his eighth fight," Redfern told BBC Scotland.

"He is rated 25th in the British rankings after only two fights. I think he'll go all the way.

"I've had Andrew Young - a cruiserweight - since he was 14. He has been a bit injury-prone in his pro career. If he is given a good run, Andrew could compete with the best of them. He has definitely got the ability.

"And Alastair can do well too if he has some luck."

Promoter Chris Gilmour is excited about staging the event in Inverness.

He said: "Scottish boxing is in its healthiest state for years and the Highlands is a real hotbed for stars of the future, so it will be good for these up-and-comers to showcase themselves on their own doorsteps."

One such newcomer is Chisholm - or 'Jasper' to his pals.

He won 20 of his 28-fight amateur career, winning several North District titles.

After 11 years, the welterweight turned pro at 27 and had his first fight in the paid ranks at the St Andrews Sporting Club in Glasgow a few months back, beating Lee Jevons comfortably.

"Alastair got a standing ovation after his first fight. He was outstanding," said his trainer.

Chisholm felt the time was right to leave the amateur ranks.

He said: "I was starting to struggle to get fights unless I was willing to travel down to England. It was getting harder and harder to match me.

"When Tommy Gilmour offered me a contract I snapped it up. It's a great opportunity."

For Chisholm, turning pro meant progression, the chance to test himself and a better arena in which to showcase his skills. He makes no mention of money.

"The pro game suits my style much more. Instead of three rounds, it's six rounds and that suits me because I feel stronger in the later rounds," he said.

"I can suss out my opponent more. With amateur boxing it's very quick, in and out - before you know it the fight is over.

"I am more of an aggressive boxer, standing toe-to-toe, whereas for amateurs it is more at long range."

Chisholm's opponent on Friday is 29-year-old Bett from Larkhall, who has fought 23 pro bouts.

But the Inverness boxer and pals Cornish and Young are feeling in great shape ahead of their fights, thanks to the fitness regime administered by conditioning fanatic Paul Geddes.

The 18-stone ex-boxer works with the trio five days a week - three morning runs at 7am and two evenings doing weights and special exercises.

"That is the difference with being an amateur," adds Chisholm, who gets in an extra hour's training on the heavy bag at the fire station if things are quiet.

"If I had that sort of training at amateur level I would possibly have gone a lot further. It's definitely a big plus getting Paul on our side."

Heavyweight prospect Cornish, at 6ft 7in, is a formidable-looking boxer. He packed in a promising football career to focus on making a living with his fists rather than his feet and he has Chris Gilmour dreaming of glory.

The promoter said: "He's at the very early stages of his professional career, but he has already impressed everyone who has seen him in action as he looks to have all the tools to finally end Scotland's long wait for a champion in the heavyweight division."

Asked how he arranges sparring for Cornish, Redfern revealed that he uses two fighters to go alternate rounds with him.

"Andrew can give him a good session," said Redfern. "He is very clever but I have to ask Gary to pull his punches.

"And I have another 17-stone fighter to box every other round - he gives him different kinds of problems, like leaning on his arms."

Chisholm's ambition is to challenge for a Scottish or British title in the next two years if he can rack up some wins in that time.

"I'd love to reach that level where I could challenge for those," he added. "We'll see where I am in a few years' time and take it from there.

"One day, when I do finish up, hopefully I can become a coach and take over from Laurie. I will still be in the sport for the rest of my days in one way or another."

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