MAKING that decision to retire is the toughest call for any professional sportsman – but even at 29, Blackburn fighter Dezzi Higginson concedes he is all ‘boxed out’.
“The signs have been there in my last couple of fights,” he admits. “I feel I’ve lost all my zap and turned old overnight. It’s the right time to bow out.”
In a sport that sees too many talk up their over-blown talents – and drag out careers way beyond their sell-by date – it is a refreshingly honest assessment.
But that is Dezzi all over. The likeable East Lancastrian is as frank as they come, and that candidness has been one of the main reasons for his popularity - not just among boxing fans but promoters too.
Represented by boxing great Ricky Hatton for the past two years, Higginson could have fought on, but that would not be doing justice to the supporters who have followed him for the past decade.
It all came to a head during last month’s third round stoppage to unbeaten Tommy Coyle in Hull for the vacant central area lightweight title.
That was a second disappointing performance in succession, following November’s retirement against Paul Truscott at Oldham’s Sports Centre.
“Reflecting back, I did not feel right against Truscott,” said Higginson. “I just wasn’t myself in there. To be honest, I took a real pasting off him.
“He perforated my ear drum and that knocked my balance. There was no way I could carry on, but I wasn’t very sharp anyway. The signs were starting to show that I wasn’t competing at my best any more.
“That could have been the end for me there. But I got a crack at the central area lightweight title.
“All respect to Tommy Coyle, he stopped me with a good body shot. There was nothing there from me. I had completely broken down.”
At that moment, Higginson, whose real first name is Graeme, decided enough was enough.
“I know this is the right decision, 100 per cent,” said Dezzi, who trains at Fit2XL Gym in Lower Darwen. “There will be no comeback or any of that malarky you might get with some other boxers.
“Even if I was offered a fight at King George’s Hall, I wouldn’t take it.”
By his own admission, Higginson would never claim to have been part of boxing’s elite, though he’s no journeyman either.
He first competed in martial arts for 12 years, becoming English champion and winning gold medals for the World Martial Arts Council.
It was at 19 that he switched to boxing and through sheer hard graft and dedication, the former Pleckgate High School student fashioned a more than respectable CV in the lightweight division with many big-fight nights.
His most high-profile bout came last April, when he fought bravely against highly rated, and then-unbeaten, Irishman Andy Murray at England’s mecca of boxing, Manchester’s MEN Arena, which was on the undercard of Amir Khan’s WBA world lightweight title victory over Paul McCloskey.
A year earlier, Higginson challenged Martin Gethin for the vacant English lightweight title in Altrincham, though he was also ousted on points.
In December 2007, Higginson did hold claim to a belt, the respected British Masters light welterweight title after stopping Telford’s Tristan Davies in his hometown.
He twice defended the belt, and admits his most impressive career display came at the Doncaster Dome with a narrow points success over Stefy Bull.
“Being British Masters champion is something that no-one can take away from me,” he said. “I can’t grumble with what I’ve done. My career has been one big highlight.
“I’ve boxed four times on television and been on some fantastic bills at some fantastic venues.”
He added: “Being promoted by the Hattons and getting to know Ricky on a personal level, along with his family, was fantastic.
“I could not have been more fortunate to be involved with those guys. It was great exposure for me, fighting on the Amir Khan undercard at the MEN Arena. It doesn’t get much bigger than that.”
Higginson readily admits the biggest driving force behind his career has been his coach and father ‘Baz’ along with his loyal supporters, who in huge numbers have followed him through thick and thin.
“It’s been great to always have the backing of so many people,” admits Higginson. “The fans more than anything have been the biggest motivation for me.
“I’ve very grateful that thay have put their hands in their pockets to support me wherever I’ve been. I can’t thank them enough.”
Higginson also wanted to thank gym owner David Willan along with his sponsors Leofixings, e-den lettings, Darwen Estates and Trojan Strength and Conditioning.