Eventually you have to stop fighting. Some get to leave boxing on their own terms. For others the end comes when they cannot help it, when they did not expect it and they do not want it. For Deion Jumah it was the latter.
He woke up and he could not see.
He was a couple of weeks out from what was going to be the fight his career needed. Jumah was due to box London rival Mikael Lawal for the British cruiserweight title, a key bout on a big Sky Sports bill in November.
Training, and sparring in particular, had been going well. He had not noticed a particularly big punch land or anything that he thought might have caused an injury. But he found after training he could not see properly out of his left eye.
He wanted to believe he was just tired. Jumah rested in the afternoon, went for a run later and continued to hope. Late that night he woke up and could not see a thing. Then he went straight to hospital. Eight hours later he was in theatre for surgery on a detached retina. And like that boxing was done.
Jumah had been down this road before. He had previously detached a retina, had it operated on and undergone a long campaign to get his boxing licence restored and make a return to the sport.
“We jumped over and beyond to get my licence the first time. I think it was something that was quite a rarity in getting it, after a torn retina. I had a lot of help,” Jumah told Sky Sports.
“It took a long time. Even at the time while this process was going on, I wouldn’t say we got lucky but it was just effort. Our sheer effort and determination.
“I wasn’t willing to do that again. I was done.”
“The first time it happened I wasn’t as afraid of going blind as I was of missing my opportunity,” he explained. “I’d rather have fought and gone blind. The second time it happened I was like I don’t want to go to blind.”
It was all the more frustrating as Jumah was just on the cusp of his breakthrough fight. Win the British title and suddenly there would be even more exciting to contests to come, Isaac Chamberlain for instance, potentially Chris Billam-Smith, a rematch with Richard Riakporhe or even a world title challenge against Lawrence Okolie.
“I was at the point where I was thinking you know what, boxing’s taken so much from me, I’m not going to let it take my eye as well,” Jumah said.
He had spent years handling injury and misfortune. Before the eye issues, early on in his professional career Jumah also had to deal with pericarditis, which causes swelling of the heart.
“That took me a long time to get over. That was a big thing in my career. I think that was my first big hit,” Jumah said. “It’s pretty serious if your heart’s swollen. This is a high intensity sport. I’ve had the health scares. All have seemed to come through training or overtraining, or fights.
“I think my heart issue came from my mentality in training… It was insane the hours I used to put in.
“All that hard work you put in, all that sacrifice you make. You’re your biggest self-critic at all times, it’s just a non-stop cycle of never being good enough, for me personally.
“That’s how it’s been for years and it’s just drove me on and it spurred me on and it made me fairly good. But I think now it’s time to, I don’t know, not be so hard on myself all the time.
“I think boxing, being a fighter, definitely suited my personality of being harsh on myself and being my own biggest critic, being over analytical about every single thing I do.
“Boxing I had a hell of a lot of confidence. I was a confident fighter,” he added. “But I think in other areas there was a bit of self-loathing there.
“Now I’m kind of glad I can let that go. I don’t have to drag myself out in the cold doing runs at four in the morning or hitting the bag so hard or performing a certain way in a spar just to rate myself.”
The disappointments of his pro career should not obscure that Jumah really could have been a contender. He asked questions of Riakporhe, who is now well on course for a world title fight, when they fought last year. He won the English cruiserweight title.
As an amateur Jumah won the ABA title twice. After only seven bouts he reached his first ABA final. That came in 2010 in the set of finals when future Olympic gold medallist and unified world Anthony Joshua first won it, when future Olympic medallist Anthony Ogogo won another national title, when Army boxing legend Martin Stead won, when Martin Ward dazzled, when Luke Campbell, a future Olympic gold medallist, and Thomas Stalker, another top international amateur, did not reach the finals.
“That was one of the best ABA finals in terms of the calibre of fighters and what they went on to do,” he said. “Sometimes I forget what I’ve done and the fighters I’ve been around because I’ve been struggling.
“Even before that Riakporhe fight I was back to fighting on a pub show in Essex. My first English title win was in York Hall against Wadi (Camacho), but then the even better fight against Sam Hyde, criminal that it wasn’t televised, that was in a leisure centre in Wythenshawe.
“I’m sorry but there’s a lot of fighters that are less quality than me that are fighting on big shows.
“That’s always been a bit disappointing. Still glad I did it. If I could go back in time, I’d have done it again, 100 per cent. Sometimes it’s not even about the victories. It’s about the lessons and everything, I’ve enjoyed it and that’s been so important to me.
“I do love boxing. It’s the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to do.”
For Jumah it just was not to be, even when it looked like it was about to happen. But boxing, even though you cannot choose when, always has to end.
“It seems like the British title, which I’ve had my eye on for so long and it was a genuine dream of mine, whenever the British title came up, my eye went. I was just like why? Why can’t I have what I want?” Jumah said.
But he added: “It’s never enough. I know from my personality type, it would never be enough. I just know what I’m like. I’d always want what’s next, I’d want what’s more. Every time I watch myself fight, I’m like that wasn’t good enough, even if I won brilliantly… It’s like trying to reach this level of perfection that just isn’t real.
“My performance is never good enough, there’s always so much more and yes, I’m looking forward to leaving that behind because it drives me nuts. It’s not healthy.”
Jumah did not anticipate having to retire when he was 33. He has been fighting one way or another since he was eight years old. First it was martial arts and kickboxing, then it was amateur and ultimately professional boxing. Now he has to get used to not being a fighter anymore.
“I did go through a bit of that identity crisis. Like, who am I without boxing?” Jumah said. “My whole life has been about, okay, got a fight soon, got a fight soon… So who am I without Deion the fighter? I’ve just got to see it as: I’m willing to find out.
“It was time, if I’m being sensible, and there is life after boxing. And I’m healthy and I’m strong and I can see. And I’ve still go so much of my life ahead of me and I’ve still got so much to explore… All the opportunities that you’re shutting down because you want this big dream, I’m not so old that I can’t get something else.
“It’s just I’m hanging on to this identity. But boxing’s just what I did. It’s not who I am.
“I just need to understand that and I’m trying to drill that into my own brain.
“Some days are harder than others.”
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