“That’s all I’ve ever known,” said Londoner Chris Evangelou, reflecting on a lifetime of fighting.
The 34-year-old continues to fight to this day, but not in the ring anymore, or on national TV in front of capacity crowds… his personal wellbeing is now the daily fight for the retired boxer from Enfield.
“It’s like handing in your badge,” he explained. “When you retire from boxing, there’s a lot that gets taken away with that. I know it sounds extreme, but it’s a bit like being Superman and giving up your powers.”
The talented amateur and professional boxing champion was given the news no boxer ever wants to hear when he was told his recurring hand injury wasn’t healing and was advised to take time out from the sport known as the pain game.
“When people know you’re a boxer, they automatically appreciate that you are headstrong, determined, hardworking; they know you’re tough, strong, dedicated; so, you’re removing yourself from an elite category,” he elucidated. “It’s not an easy decision.”
The Greek-Cypriot, known during his career as ‘The Flash’, won 35 from 40 fights in the amateurs and collected six International gold medals, with one silver medal, and was crowned ABA national champion in 2006.
As he prepared to turn professional, the standout sportsman was sought after by a number of high-profile names in the industry, such as Manny Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach from the Wildcard Gym in Los Angeles. After just one sparring session, Roach offered Evangelou a pro contract, but he declined, opting to remain in the UK.
Two-weight world champion and British boxing legend Ricky Hatton also tried to gain Chris’s signature, as well as Joe Calzaghe, another two-weight world champ. Instead, Evangelou chose to sign with Matchroom Boxing, which is arguably the biggest boxing promotions group in the world right now.
He met all the high expectations weightily placed upon his shoulders and went unbeaten until his 10th contest when he was shocked by unheralded challenger Danny Connor in a Southern Area super-lightweight title fight, which he unexpectedly lost on points. The decision was questioned by many, believing it was a clear win for Evangelou that night.
The controversial defeat affected him greatly and he subsequently lost his following two fights also. After a belated move up in weight, he returned to winning ways, reeling off four straight wins and collecting an International Masters title in the process, but the persistent hand troubles soon forced the wounded pugilist to step away from the ring on medical advice.
It was a dramatic and difficult change for the athlete to accept at first, “I’ve been doing it since my late teens and every decision I made was always about what’s best for my boxing career – when to go on holiday around fights, when you can go out, what to eat – every single thing you do is all about that boxing career.
“I always fought through my injuries, it’s what I was taught to do, and you tell yourself that you’re alright. You could be bedbound for a year and you’ll tell yourself that you’ll be back one day. You just don’t want it to end.
“Boxing is not a normal job, it’s a way of life, so you can feel lost when it’s gone because you need something to sail towards, if it’s not a fight date then it’s got be something else.
“When I wasn’t training, it felt just like a broken necklace where all the pearls fall off and split up in different directions and you can’t begin to gather them up again. You feel out of control, you need a goal to aim for.”
The suddenly inactive individual found that goal in acting. “I didn’t want to just sit around and go stale, so I asked myself, ‘what else do I love doing?’ The answer was acting, it was always my first love.
“I was acting since the age of seven and I did a lot of community theatre, I actually wanted to be an actor when I was growing up. When I was a teenager, I went to college to study acting.
“I started boxing aged 17 and I remember once I had a sparring day to get ready for, but I had a small acting job the day before and they kept me there for 12 hours. The next day I didn’t do too well in sparring and I was forced to make a choice. Boxing is not a sport you can give part of yourself to, it’s either everything or nothing, and it’s a young man’s sport, so I chose to pursue boxing at that time.”
After turning back to acting, Chris has given the same dedication and diligence that he once gave wholeheartedly to his boxing career.
“I literally went out that very same day of making the decision and got head shots done, signed with an agent and started booking auditions!” He enthused.
After a series of various parts with big-name brand commercials, such as Heineken and Samsung, Chris was soon cast as the lead role in the film, ‘Card Dead’, alongside fellow retired boxer Andy Gatenby.
The go-getter then turned his hand towards writing as he co-wrote and co-directed the feature film, ‘Shadow Boxer’, based loosely on real life events.
“I wrote the initial story and presented it to Ross McGowan. He’s part of Deadline Films and he brought in Craig MacDonald-Kelly who adapted the story to a screenplay, and then there was David Hepburn, who came on board as a producer, so the four of us all came together on the project.
“With my boxing contacts, I secured a gym for us to train and rehearse in, then I secured a live audience at York Hall, where I used to box myself. Ross directed and David and Craig were in my corner playing the role of my coaches. We filmed it all within the space of 30 minutes.
“Game of Thrones actor, James Cosmo, is a personal friend of mine and I asked if he could play the role of my dad in the film, but he was out of the country on another job at the time, unfortunately, but then he actually changed his schedule around and it was amazing for him to be part of the film.
“The story is heavily inspired by situations in my life, where I did suffer from depression and anxiety as a young man, so it was inspired by things that metaphorically happened, where I felt like the world was against me.”
It was at the film premiere for ‘Shadow Boxer’ in Leicester Square that Chris decided to announce his retirement from boxing, but he couldn’t draw upon his acting skills as he broke down during the emotional speech.
“I think I felt the most emotional when I was actually writing my retirement speech on the morning of my film premiere. I read it to my girlfriend and as soon as I mentioned the support of my family and friends through the years, just before I said I’m retiring, that’s when it hit me hard.
“It was a passing of the torch from boxing to acting, so I chose that exact day to do it, but I had actually made the decision two weeks earlier and it was when I was writing it that the emotion hit me.”
Chris’s latest role was in Guy Richie’s latest masterpiece, ‘The Gentleman’, which stars Hugh Grant and Matthew McConaughey, where he worked closely with Colin Farrell.
The typically intricate plot, synonymous with Guy Ritchie projects, involves American drug mogul Mickey Pearson (McConaughey), who became rich by building a marijuana empire in London. When word gets out that he’s looking to cash out of the business, it instantly triggers an array of schemes from various rivals, who plot to inherit his lucrative business and fortunes.
Evangelou plays a part in the movie as ‘Primetime’, a grime-loving teen member of the quirky-dressed gang, ‘The Toddlers’. The group of misdemeanors all look up to their leader ‘Coach’, played by Colin Farrell, who is an Irish boxing trainer that ‘The Toddlers’ all follow and hold in high regard.
In his own words, Chris described his character’s background, “So Colin Farrell plays ‘Coach’, the boss of the local boxing club in East London, and he took these troublemakers from the streets, who grew up to be known as ‘The Toddlers’. We’re naughty boys who he tries to put on the straight and narrow and looks after us, but obviously we get into mischief.
“My character’s name is Primetime, I’m the technical guru of the team. We film fights and publish them online, we’re a fighting team and I’m the boxer, but we are the loveable rogues and we’re the reason why things spiral out of control for Matthew McConaughey, who plays Mickey Pearson.”
The aspiring actor took his opportunity working with a Hollywood star to gain some vital advice.
“Working with Colin Farrell was a dream come true. As soon as I walked into the pub where we were filming on the first day, he came up and put his arm around me and said, ‘You’re Chris Evangelou, the boxer, right?’ I was taken aback that he knew who I am, so that was amazing to hear that!
“When he was filming scenes, it was like a masterclass to watch, he’s so confident and has such charisma, I was blown away by him. I asked him for advice and he happily gave it to me and told me all about how he got his big break and what to do. He said he saw something in me and thinks I’m on the cusp of something big, so it was amazing to hear that.”
After reluctantly accepting his fighting career was finished, unlike many other unfortunate souls before him, Chris would not allow himself to spiral into a state of depression, despite coming very close a number of times.
“You have to say to yourself that everything happens for a reason,” Evangelou advised. “I personally feel I didn’t achieve what I should have in my boxing career and that can be hard to take, and even harder to let go of.
“I was a hot prospect signed to Matchroom Boxing, I was sparring at the Mayweather and Wildcard gym, I was wanted by American promoters, and in the amateurs, I was beating everyone in front of me.
“I had to tell myself that, for whatever reason, it wasn’t meant to be, but it doesn’t mean that I’ve failed. Stepping in the ring is giving your life for something you love; you went for it and that’s the achievement right there, there’s no shame in not reaching the goal you set.
“When we got in that ring, we went for it and we stepped out safely so there’s no failure, only achievement. Yes, there were injuries and setbacks, but I have to say that it’s ok and learn from that and put it all into your next move.”
For the former fighter, the daily struggle is no longer keeping his mental health intact; there’s now a new fight, an exciting one that doesn’t inflict as much physical punishment as boxing but can be just as tough and brutal.
“As a fighter, you always want to get to that next level, to the next big fight or title opportunity. I saw ‘Shadow Boxer’ as my first ever fight in acting, then ‘The Gentleman’ was my even bigger fight I landed, so now I want to get to my next big fight.
“I always give my everything in anything I do. It’s why I flew out to Hollywood last year to network and make my face known. I met with film directors and agents and I plan to go back again for pilot season.
“Despite calling time on my boxing career and struggling immediately after the decision, it is true what they say, that everything does happen for a reason. I can honestly say that I’ve never been happier, and I love what I’m doing with my life right now. It’s something I have always wanted to be a part of since I was a kid.”
Not only has Evangelou proved to fellow fighters that there is hope outside of those ropes when that final bell sounds, he has gone one better to show that there’s other goals to achieve after the curtains close on one career.
When one door closes, another opens. For Chris, that door was a stage door, and he is now happier than ever after walking through it.