MMA and boxing will never fully see eye to eye, but their relationship is beginning to thaw in some ways. On February 11th, Erith heavyweight Scott Saward will become one of the increasing number of fighters to have fought in both disciplines after making his boxing debut on the Tom Dallas–Tom Little undercard at the York Hall in London. Although Saward has only been boxing for three years, he has a long and varied history with contact sports.
“My starting point was karate,” he explains at the Peacock Gym in Canning Town after a gruelling training session. “I started training with [current boxing cornerman and father-in-law] Ian Andrews when I was six. I competed at national level; we were out every month virtually.” By the age of 15, however, he was ready to move on to something different. “[We] moved on to Sanshou, a Chinese style of kickboxing that incorporates throws and takedowns, and I won a British title at 17. There was an MMA class in the same community hall as the Sanshou class, and I tried it and loved it, and it took off from there.”
Boxing came into his life around 3 years ago. “I had 11 people pull out at the last minute in the space of about 6 [MMA] fights. I wasn’t getting the experience, so I thought I would try something new and I switched over to boxing. I spoke to Ian about my options, he said boxing would be best [for me]; the heavyweight division was starting to heat up again, and my hands we always my best asset in MMA from back in my karate days.”
The change, Saward says, has been huge, and he is noticing a big difference in his performance under the tutelage of respected trainer Brian Lawrence, who provides an attention to detail he never received in mixed martial arts. “Personally speaking, when I was training in MMA I was a lot younger, I wasn’t as motivated” he explained. “I mainly relied on my size, I thought ‘I’m a big guy, I’m naturally gifted, I’ll just go in and win the fight’. Since I’ve transitioned to boxing and trained in a professional camp, I have more input, I have more people with experience around me.”
It is true that mixed martial arts, although on the rise, is still some way behind the global appeal of boxing, and nowhere is that more true than here in the UK. “The MMA gym I was at was only a small gym, so my training [now] is a lot more intense and a lot more structured” says Scott. “That’s not to say boxing is [generally] harder than MMA but that’s definitely what I’ve experienced. I went from training in a small local MMA gym to training with Brian so obviously that’s a massive leap up, and I can tell the difference in myself both mentally and physically.”
At this point Anthony Yarde, one of Britain’s most promising prospects, comes over and exchanges a few pleasantries. Yarde and Saward have been sparring together in preparation for their upcoming fights, and once Yarde leaves, I ask Scott about their sessions together. He groans. “We have been [sparring a lot] recently. It’s difficult. He’s fast, very fast. He’s a lighter weight so it’s different to when I’m sparring the bigger guys, [but] he’s a very good boxer. He’s very fast and sharp. His accuracy is right up there, he won’t throw a shot unless he knows it going to land.” Despite the tough training, Saward remains positive. “But sparring people like him is definitely bringing my own sharpness up when I step in there with the heavyweights. I’m definitely noticing a difference.”
When I ask him what his intentions are in the sport, he sighs and pauses for a moment. He knows that it’s becoming somewhat cliché for a fighter to say he is aiming for the very top in the sport. Eventually, though, he says it anyway. “To go as far as possible. I’m already sparring with a few former champions and ranked boxers and I’m certainly holding my own.” He smiles knowingly. “I know I’m not the most experienced boxer, but with my size, my power and my reach, and the skill set I’ve got, I think I can go far in the sport. I’ve no plans to rush it, I’m going to learn my craft, but I’ve definitely got the ability to get up there and mix it with the best.”