Guernsey Press

Commonwealth countdown: Le Poullain eager to show his 'capability' on Birmingham homecoming

Four years on and Billy Le Poullain is stronger than ever.

Billy Le Poullain is competing at his second Commonwealth Games, having made his debut in Australia at Gold Coast 2018.

It has not been a straightforward journey for Guernsey’s only Commonwealth Games boxer – far from it, as he battled thoughts of quitting during the peak pandemic days – but he enters Birmingham 2022 fighting fit and determined to show his full capabilities.

Born in Birmingham and raised in Alderney, his prior Commonwealths experience comes from being outpointed in his opening contest of the 69kg competition at Gold Coast 2018.

But to quote a popular saying in boxing, there is no losing – only winning and learning.

‘In hindsight, I was really naive heading out there,’ he said.

‘I was really young – I was 22 years of age – and extremely confident because I had such good training in the build-up to it.

‘But I was inexperienced at that level. Although I had already been training my socks off for six months, I got to the athletes’ village and I spent the 10-11 days I was there training a bit too hard.’

The Guernsey Amalgamated Boxing Club star believes that, consequently, he underperformed in losing a 3-2 split decision to Pakistan’s Gul Zaib.

‘If I had been a little bit sharper and a bit better rested, I probably would have had enough to sway the judges my way. The BBC commentary was pro-me and they thought I’d have done enough to win all three rounds.

‘But it was a good experience, one I learnt a lot from.’

Watch: Billy Le Poullain looks ahead to Birmingham 2022

Le Poullain performed strongly following Gold Coast, including making the semi-finals at the Midlands Box Cup, where he lost to a teenage Ramtin Musah.

Holding his own against the current GB fighter built his confidence that middleweight (75kg) was the right fit for him.

On home turf in autumn 2019, he defeated Haringey Box Cup winner Andre Dascalu and dented his scary stoppage record, before beating Welsh champion Levi Griffiths.

But injury and illness, followed by the shutdown of amateur boxing over lockdown, left him out of the ring for nearly two years.

It could have been longer, he admitted solemnly. He is now rather open about how he turned to drink during the Covid-enforced competition absence.

‘Through lockdown, I knew I was not boxing again anytime soon, because I know how strict England Boxing are.

‘In my head, I just kind of relaxed and thought maybe I’m not going to box again and I can live a normal life now.

‘I was drinking all the time and it was like I was partying with no real reason to celebrate and was on a bit of a downward spiral.

‘That carried on into 2021 and with the second lockdown, it was another blow. I was like “That’s definitely the end of the road for me”.’

It came to a head when clubmate Marcus Magloire pulled him aside on a night out and asked, in effect, ‘What are you doing with yourself?’

Le Poullain is thankful he did. The well-intended rebuke questioned his ways of boozing and then bickering with friends while under the influence of alcohol.

‘It got to my head and I decided I’d sort myself out. I knocked the booze on the head and got some therapy, went to see a professional, got my act together and got back into boxing.

‘That was it. From June 2021 to now, I’ve just been breathing boxing really.’

Picture by Sophie Rabey. 10-06-22. Sugar Ray Leonard, American former professional boxing legend, is over in Guernsey for an evening at Duke of Richmond Hotel. Pictured with Alderney boxer Billy Le Poullain. Meet and greet at BoxFit.. (30917124)

Now 27, Le Poullain has ridden many more highs than lows over the last year.

The first bell on his road to Birmingham came late last October.

Despite being the most nervous he had been about a fight since he was 12, he won the split decision against the RAF’s Arran Devine in his bill-topping ring return.

Things ‘snowballed’ from there, in his words.

His pick of an excellent eight months was the contest that officially qualified him for his second Commonwealths.

In front of the television cameras, he stopped Repton’s Jimmy Sains in the first round of their National Amateur Championships quarter-final.

Not a bad result for a boxer who entered with little expectation.

‘I didn’t put any pressure on myself and just wanted to go in there and enjoy boxing.

‘Repton’s probably the highest regarded club in the UK and I didn’t know anything about my opponent at the time, but he’s a multiple national champion – won everything from junior, youth, through to senior.’

Encouraged by GABC head coach Ben Duff, he landed an impeccably-timed beauty of a shot to buckle Sains’ legs – prompting a standing count. Then?

‘I go to the neutral corner and look back at Ben and he screams for me to throw the kitchen sink at it.

‘I was methodical about my attack on the way in. I kind of set it up with twitchy movements, then threw a fast combination and the referee waved it off.

‘It wasn’t [only] the excitement of actually winning that fight and qualifying further in the competition – it was qualifying for the Commonwealth Games.

‘I posted on my Instagram with the reaction when they announced it – I was bouncing and I was grabbing Ben, giving him a massive hug. I was just over the moon.’

Making the elite semis secured his Birmingham berth, though he went on to become the Bailiwick’s first finalist before losing to Musah.

He also became the Bailiwick’s first England representative, marking his debut by stopping Scotland’s Luke McFadyen, before last month securing 75kg gold at the Haringey Box Cup.

After so nearly hanging up the gloves last year, Le Poullain appears to be in the form of his life.

But he is keeping his cards close to his chest when it comes to precisely what he aims to achieve at the National Exhibition Centre.

‘I am feeling good but I have not put any pressure on myself and no expectations of what’s to come,’ he said.

‘I am just looking forward to getting in there and just performing to my capability, showing everybody what I am able to do.

‘I feel like these four years since the last Games I have matured not just physically but emotionally, so I will be more in control of how I am from a mental standpoint going in. I will be more relaxed, more at ease.’

It just so happens that, for the first nine years of his life, he lived in Birmingham.

So the choice of venue has gone down as a hit with him.

‘I guess you could call it a homecoming, really.

‘It will just be nice to put on a good show and for everyone that has never seen me box before, my friends and family that have not been able to properly watch, to show them what I am capable of.’

Le Poullain is the Bailiwick’s flagship boxer, so it is just as well that coach Duff thinks he is a ‘brilliant’ ambassador for the sport.

‘He has shown where hard work, commitment and dedication added with talent gets you,’ the devoted coach said.

‘There’s no coincidences or flukes ­– he’s got there through hard work.

‘I am hoping other lads can take that as inspiration.’

Which raises the question: who will be Guernsey’s next Commonwealth Games boxer?

Many local supporters will root for impressive flyweight Tommy Teers, who as a relative newcomer recently beat a national elite finalist at Haringey.

Le Poullain rated Teers’ chances of making Victoria 2026 at 100%, prompting a light laugh from Duff, who did not disagree – no pressure.

‘He has pretty much shown he’s already there – and in the next three years I can just see him getting better.

‘I see what Billy’s saying, 100%, and I kind of agree with him.’