10th December 2012
Co-headlining Frank Warren’s ‘Three Kings’ bonanza at London’s ExCel Arena, live and exclusive on BoxNation (Sky Ch. 437/Virgin Ch. 546), the 24 year old from Hammersmith puts his 15 fight unbeaten slate and Commonwealth title on the line against the 43 year old ‘Road Warrior’, a one-time world light-heavyweight champion who’s been stopped only once in 70 fights – by Bernard Hopkins 15 years ago – in a career hat spans almost 20 years.
‘The Saint’, who is trained and managed by Adam Booth, shall be making his first UK start of the year and, speaking to boxing writer Glynn Evans recently, claimed he is anxious to remind his sizeable home following of exactly what they’ve been missing.
In your solitary outing this year you overcame a bad cut on your right brow to wipe out Mexican banger Francisco Sierra in round six over in San Jose, California last July. Were you satisfied with your performance?
Yeh, I was very happy. Even Adam Booth was happy!
It was great just to get back into the ring after seven months out and I felt I put on a great performance which was also entertaining. The cut added to the drama.
Sierra was a dangerous opponent, a definite force. He had a good record with some good names on and came to win so I needed to be on top form otherwise it was curtains! He was very big but I knew if I kept landing he’d not stay up all night. Mind, it took four clean shots to finally break him.
Apart from your ring performance, what other positives did you take from the trip?
I learnt so much. California was exciting but brought added nervous, which I dealt with. I also had to cope with jet lag and managing my weight which is always more difficult away from home.
I got great exposure. I met with the people from Showtime and the US press. They were aware of my wins over (James) DeGale and Paul Smith. After the fight, they gave me great reviews. It was a pro Mexican crowd but, though they booed me in, they cheered me out. Everything was sweet!
Golden Boy Promotions, whose show it was, were over the moon. I’ve always had a good relationship with them since Robert Diaz, the matchmaker who basically runs the boxing side of their company, watched me box as an amateur at Brent Town Hall. I think they saw Ricky Hatton bringing thousands of fans over to Vegas and kept an eye out for Brits who might do something similar in future.
Oscar De La Hoya was tweeting about me and GBP even offered me a fight on their 1st December date, which turned out to be Cotto-Trout at Madison Square Garden though we didn’t know that at the time. However, after speaking with Frank, we decided to go with the ExCel show instead.
Fighting in the US is definitely something I’d be keen to repeat, especially in the summer months when it can get very quiet in Britain.
Though the Sierra gig was your only ring action of 2012 thus far, you speak frequently about developing and improving during your time in the gym with coach Adam Booth. What specifically have you added to your game this year? What new can we expect to see on Saturday?
For a start, tests show that I’m fitter which enables me to throw more shots per round, whilst still picking them correctly and throwing them with spite and venom.
I’ve also become bigger and stronger and, as a consequence, I’m hitting harder. Some sparring partners that I’ve used for quite a while are now unable to last the rounds with me that once they could.
Finally, my defensive moves have improved. I’m definitely more comfortable in the pocket which is important because I’ll need to get close to Glencoffe Johnson.
How disappointing was in for you to forfeit the British title before you were able to win the Lonsdale Belt outright?
It was tough but inevitable. Firstly, I had the back injury, then I was offered a world title shot, then I got the nose injury, then the Olympics put the kibosh on any summer shows in London, then I got cut in America.
Then the Board took the Belt off me…..the Belt I won from James DeGale and defended in style against Paul Smith. Instead, they award it to the winner of Kenny Anderson against Robin Reid?! How does that work?
Kenny Anderson was made my mandatory which I felt was a sham cos he’d done nothing to merit a rematch since I smashed him before. In fact he’s gone backwards. I need to be moving forward, fighting at a higher level. Bashing up Kenny Anderson again would be a complete waste of time for me. Even if I did beat him I’d still need another defence afterwards to keep the Belt for keeps.
But..whatever! I’ve outgrown the British title. I’m at world level now.
Having sacrificed your British title to operate in international class, what changes do you envisage? How will you need to adjust?
Sometimes at a lower grade you’re able to startle opponents, impose yourself simply with your demeanour. That doesn’t happen in top class. Mentally, the opponents are far stronger and more assured.
Also, at world level you have to be unpredictable. Glencoffe doesn’t have a set rhythm which makes him difficult to read.
The top boys will expose your technical mistakes. For instance, fighters who might get away with a low lead hand at domestic level will suddenly find themselves exposed and tagged repeatedly. Any mistake and you’re made to pay so total concentration becomes very important.
What did you make of the Hayemaker in the jungle? Any plans to follow?
I thought David showed himself to be charismatic. He allowed his sweeter, softer side to come across and he represented boxing very well. It’s a pity he didn’t win. Perhaps he needed to get his glutes out a bit more!
I don’t think I’ll be following. It might be good with regard to making weight but I’m not sure I could mind my Ps and Qs for three weeks!
After a year away, you must be looking forward to performing again to a big London crowd.
Without a doubt. Last year I did the O2 and Wembley, now the ExCel. It’s a great chance for my friends, family and the fans I have from all over the UK to come and follow me. In the other big British cities, fans all unite behind the local kid but London’s a far tougher crowd to break. I’m getting there gradually. I’m happy.
With just 73 pro rounds on your roster, you could certainly benefit from some ring time. To that end, Saturday’s opponent Glencoffe Johnson, stopped just once in 70 fights, appears the perfect foil. …
I do need rounds but there’s two different types; those when you just ‘carry’ the opponent and those where you’re forced to have a real fight. Glencoffe should provide the latter.
He’s not easy to work out and I expect him to set me different problems every round.
Like I say, he’s not easy to work out. Even at 42, he still has a decent work rate and forces opponents to work very hard because of the way he constantly presses his attacks. He’s a momentum fighter with an unpredictable rhythm. He’s also got fast hands, long arms and obviously holds a good shot. I need to get in my comfort zone.
You’ll enter as a prohibitive favourite to win. What do you hope to get out of Saturday’s fight? How important is it that you become the second man to stop Glencoffe?
I’m ranked highly now with all the four major sanctioning bodies so now I’ve arrived in world class I want to build on those rankings. I want to keep my options open with all the organisations so that if any door opens, against any of the champions, I can jump straight in. Already, we’re knocking loudly.
Clearly Glencoffe knows how to survive, even if he doesn’t come to survive. Stopping him would make a huge statement. I do expect to stop him but don’t expect him to just fall over.
For the time being, it looks like you might have to bypass the European belt on your passage to the world title?
Degale (laughs)! Look, I’ve already taken care of him twice and need different fights if I’m to improve. Right now, Glen Johnson represents a far better fight for me developmentally, than a return with James DeGale would.
James is going his way and came through a hard fight himself this weekend. Hopefully we can re-acquaint sometime next year or, if not, definitely the year after. Our paths will definitely cross but I really don’t think he wants any part of me. Like Kenny Anderson, they become broken fighters after they fight me.
Ideally, what will 2013 bring? If you could pick, which champion would you target?
Having missed out on a world title shot this year when I had to pull out of the (Robert) Stieglitz fight, it’s logical I want my chance as soon as possible. I’m ready now, without a doubt.
Personally, I’d love a crack at Carl (Froch, the IBF champion). He’s been such a great champion and I’ve so much respect for him. But he’s said he only wants a few more fights and I’d love to be one of them. That would be a huge fight for Britain. I’d fight (current WBO king) Arthur Abraham any where, any day of the week.