THE Highlander has fallen reluctantly on his sword. There is a cruel irony not lost on Gary Cornish that he was feeling as fit and healthy as he had done in a while when a medical report delivered damning evidence to the contrary. In doing so, it began the process that led last week to the leading Scottish light in the heavyweight division of recent years announcing his retirement from professional boxing at the age of 31.

He can now reflect on a career that began with little expectation, spiralled quickly with dizzying possibilities only to never quite touch the heights hoped for. Once on the books of Brora Rangers, this 6ft 7in colossus from Inverness only took up boxing as a hobby to improve his fitness for football.

His aptitude, however, for fighting soon became evident and a clamour around his prospects soon grew. As Cornish cantered to 21 straight professional wins to become Inter-Continental champion, the hope was that Scotland had finally unearthed a genuine contender at heavyweight level.

That was as good as it got, however. A career-defining meeting with the rising Anthony Joshua in 2015 concluded with a first-round knock-out, while Cornish’s attempts to become the first Scot to win the British heavyweight title in 2017 saw him lose out on points to Sam Sexton. They stand as the only defeats on a 25-2 professional record now chiselled in stone.

Cornish fought just once more after the Sexton fight but that was in a Russian camp sparring with former world champion Alexander Povetkin with a view to returning to the ring when concerns over a routine brain scan led to his license being revoked. Cornish twice appealed the decision before reluctantly accepting it and called it a day. There were two different viewpoints delivered at the final hearing but ultimately there could be only one.

“There’s definitely a sadness to it as I’m going to miss the buzz you get stepping into the ring and winning,” he admitted. “But there’s a wee bit of relief as well as it had been a while trying to overturn the decision. At least it’s settled now.

“A variation in a brain scan can sometimes be a sign that you’ll undergo difficulties later in life. But it’s not set in stone. We went out of our way to get reports and tests done and they looked positive so I was feeling confident going to the appeal hearing. But it wasn’t to be.

“I have to respect their decision as they’re only looking out for your health. There have been a few fatal incidents in boxing so you can’t be too careful.

“But I had moved back to Inverness and this was the best I had been feeling both fitness-wise and boxing-wise. Everything seemed to be falling into place. I was getting offered fights in America and all over the world. And then we got this bad news.”

He will be best remembered for fighting Joshua in London’s O2 Arena with the vacant Commonwealth title on the line. In hindsight, the manner of the defeat – after just 97 seconds – seemed to halt the momentum that had been building up in the four years prior to it, but he has no regrets about taking on that challenge.

“It was good to get to that point, especially when you look at what Joshua has done since,” he said. “Obviously the fight didn’t go as I had planned but that can happen in heavyweight boxing. I wasn’t going to cower and run from him for round after round. I was going there to fight but got caught early.

“But to headline a sell-out crowd in the O2 is something I can look back on with some pride. It wasn’t bad for a boy from Inverness.

“People only see what happened on the night. They don’t see what goes on behind closed doors and the hard work that gets you to that point. I spent hour after hour in the gym. And I thought I had a real chance of beating him. I wouldn’t have taken it if I hadn’t believed I could beat him. I had sparred with some of the same people he had been in the ring with and they thought I had a chance. But it didn’t happen for me on the night.”

He has a new role now as Highland ambassador for Kynoch Boxing, his task to unearth the next batch of Scottish boxing contenders and hopefully help mould them into champions.

“This is a new chapter for me working with Sam [Kynoch, his former manager and promoter] who went out of his way so much to help me,” added Cornish. “I know how hard he works for his fighters so I’ll be looking to take on a similar role as his representative up in the north.

“There’s a lot of talent coming through in the amateur scene so I’ll hopefully I can share some of my experiences and help them in any way I can. And if we can unearth another Highland heavyweight and help them win a British title that would be amazing.”