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Interview with Gary Rae: A Painter and a Boxer

By: Oliver McManus

On the same card as Josh Taylor vs Viktor Postol, Gary Rae took to the ring for the eight time as a professional boxer with the 29 year old looking to move up the ranks as quickly as possible. A full time painter-decorator, I rang up Gary whilst he was poolside in Tenerife and, whilst I know I’ve got to refrain from too much of an opinion, he has to be one of the nicest guys I’ve met since I’ve started covering the sport of boxing.

Gary is unique in that his trainer, Mark Breslin, has been coaching him since the amateur days – way back in 2010, when the Barrhead super bantamweight first took up boxing – and their relationship, as he goes on to say, has developed to such an extent their like father and son. The following is our conversation, talking everything from last week’s fight, THAT relationship with Mark, targeting titles and, most importantly, what type of sweet he’d be – we’ll start about sixty seconds in;

… “I’m good Gary, I feel like I’ve woken you up!”

No what it is, is, I’m actually on holiday in Tenerife, we’d book it at Christmas time for my mum, my sister, my girlfriend and my eight year old nephew – his first time abroad – and when they first announced the fight it was a strange one, it was originally the 9th June and then they pushed it back a bit and I was flying out at six in the morning on the Sunday (24th) so I had to get from Glasgow back to Barrhead which is around an hour’s drive, pack my suitcase and then get on down to the airport.

How long are you there for?

Just a week, flying back out on Sunday.

I mean, holiday aside, the obvious starting point is the fight on Saturday (against Johnson Tellez), how do you feel it went?

It was great just to get the win, I felt it was a good fight but I was a bit slow to start. He was working well behind the jab and I feel the occasion was a real eye opener for me, I was looking round and thinking “that’s more than my mum and my girlfriend cheering for me”. It was an awesome atmosphere to come out just before Josh but I think I was trying a wee bit too hard for the stoppage. Near the end I was loading up trying to chase Tellez around the ring instead of cutting it off but it was a great experience for me and he was throwing some shots back, caught me with a couple.

He was only small but he really didn’t stop throwing punches, was it hard to get into your rhythm?

Yeah it really was, at the weigh in I knew he was pretty small but when we got into the weigh in I thought “my god, he’s tiny” and from then I knew it would be really difficult to catch him clean, I think a few times it was hard to get down to his level, I’m used to throwing shots straight, but he was so small and I don’t think I’ve even sparred with anyone that small but it was hard work to put punches together.

He could just roll and step out the distance, I have quite long levers but I couldn’t get the distance for a couple rounds; he was throwing the punches and moving around and his shots were ones that could have been dangerous if I wasn’t fully switched on.

I tried to keep it 1, 2, 3, back to basics and keep my distance, land some nice body shots. I haven’t seen it back myself but my coach, Mark (Breslin), was telling me to keep my distance and not to get involved too close because he was worried about head-clashes and getting a cut. I did end up getting a wee lump above my left temple from a clash of head – it was nothing major, it went down after a couple days.

And this was your third fight of 2018, how often can we expect to see you out in the remaining six months?

I would like to be out again as soon as possible, to be honest, I’m always of the opinion that although I still work full time, boxing is my other job and it’s my full time job, too. It’s my job to always be ready to fight – I’m a painter and decorator so at any moment I’ve got to go and paint someone’s house and I think it should be the same the other way round, I should always be ready for a fit. I’m always fit, I’m always in the gym and I live a healthy life so I am always ready whenever I get the opportunity.

Ideally as soon as possible but speaking with Iain Wilson, my promoter, I think he’s having a public show in Paisley Lagoon in October (6th) and I’d like to get out on that after a wee break but as soon as I get home I’ll be back in the gym; it would be great to have two or three by the end of the year, get to 10 and 0 in my second year as a professional, looking at what’s going to come up next and I’m excited to see what we can really do.

Not sure what’s happening with Josh’s world title fight, I see some rumours it may be in New York, but it’ll be great if it’s in Scotland so I can be on the undercard of a world title fight and that would be amazing.

How hard is it to fit training in and around working full time?

Yeah, I can’t lie, it is really hard to get through but as you say it is something I have to get used to because I don’t have loads of money where I can fund being a full time boxer so I work full time, get up at half four in the morning, go and do my training – strength and conditioning or runs – then I go out for eight, nine hours at work, get home and change my clothes and then it’s straight back out sparring, boxing training, strength and conditioning at night.

Every day is planned out from getting up and I try to get to bed as soon as I can, I don’t like to get to bed too late as sleep is really important for recovery and I always have a rest day…

… I have a rest day every Thursday and I’ll always go and visit my gran, go up and have a wee gab with my gran whilst Sunday’s are meal prep day and I’ll make 20-30 meals for the week ahead so, yeah, it is tough work but I love it, I love the sport of boxing and I’m trying to test myself to see how good I am – that’s all it’s ever been about, since the amateur’s and now I’m a bit older than most people at this stage but I’ll give it a good go.

The fight on Saturday was part of a Cyclone Promotions card, live on Channel 5, how did it feel to be on TV or was it just a regular fight?

No it’s a bit of difference, I felt, my first two fights were in Saint Andrews, in Glasgow, and they were broadcast on STV 2 – so not a big channel – but the difference from there to this one was massive, I felt quite a bit nervous and to see all the messages from my friends and family, I was trying not to think about it but I knew everyone back in Barrhead would be watching and wanting me to win and all of a sudden I started thinking “what if I don’t win, what if I don’t perform well” and I had to get rid of those doubts, my coach Mark was telling me it was nothing.

“As soon as you get in that ring it’s just me and you, nothing else matters, just listen to what I say and box well, try and enjoy it but don’t get involved with the crowd” and I think I did that okay, it wasn’t a bad performance, I’d have liked to put together a few more combinations but I did struggle with his height.

As the interview progressed it was clear to see that Gary was one of those guy’s in the professional scene still doing it for the love of boxing as opposed to trying to rake in the big bucks – of course that would be an added bonus but it’s not the driving factor – and there was one distinct inspiration for Gary in his coach Mark Breslin, himself 15 and 0 as a professional, and a man who Gary likens to a father-figure;

For me it’s so important (continuity), I need that. Mark has looked after me since I started boxing in 2010 as an amateur – he had a good amateur, and professional, career, I think he had 15 fights as a pro with 15 wins – he knows what it’s all about but he’s someone I look up to as a father figure. I don’t have a dad in my life and I’ve got a really good bond with Mark, he’s someone who’s got two children himself so he’s like the dad I never had, a really tight relationship, I can speak to him about anything and it’s good to know there’s a mutual trust and genuine care for each other outside of boxing.

Whatever happens Mark will look after me and he knows my mentality and how much I can endure and that we’re not going to fall out over anything because we know each other so well. It’s really great to have that and not many others have that relationship with their coach, other than when they train with their dad, Mark is just loyal to the end.

If we talk about motivation, what is it that gets you through those dark times?

Sometimes if I’m at work, I just sit there and I’m surrounded by paint and I think “I’m going to have work a bit longer, I just won’t go for that run tonight”, when I sit down for five minutes I just think even if I don’t have another opponent I’m always trying to improve, trying to work harder than the next guy to make sure I don’t get beat in the next fight and that’s the way I look at it. If I don’t do it then I’m not going to perform, I’m 100% or nothing with everything I do whether that’s painting or boxing, I always want to do the best job and I will always give 100%, blood, sweat and tears. If I don’t win I want to be able to say it was by the better man not because I didn’t give everything and I will never cut corners, I need to know I’ve given myself the best opportunity.

Super bantamweight at the moment, is there potential for you to move up or down a weight?

They billed the last fight at featherweight, I’ve no idea why…

You weighed in about 123 (lbs) or 124…

Yeah I was eight stone 11 pounds but I was told I could come in up to nine stone – they told me that two weeks before the fight but, by then, I was already down at eight stone nine so I just had a couple days where I could eat and I was eating and drinking. I’m one of these freaks of nature that can still make super-bantam really well, I’m really tall, I think I’m 5”10, I’ve always been slim.

I tell you what, Gary, I’m six foot and I weight about 7st 12lbs…

That’s incredible pal, that’s a proper freak of nature right there. You’ll know what it’s like, then, I’ve got no problem making weight even if I do eat a little bit so I could see myself getting to bantamweight if an opportunity were to pop up but I couldn’t go any lower. If anything were to pop up at bantam, super bantam, even feather, I’m not afraid to shy away from these fights.

Looking at titles then, how long is it before you’re in the mix?

If I’m honest I’m really not sure, I’m ready to fight for the Commonwealth title and I would like that by the end of this year or even next year. I know it was vacant for a while and I was ready, I’m not sure who had it now (Ashley Lane) but I think that could be a title I would be capable of challenging for by the end of this year. I think Thomas Patrick Ward has vacant the (British) title so I feel Jazza Dickens vs Martin Ward, I think Jazza would win that, and it’s been made for the end of July. I think that’s a while away and I need experience before I challenge one of those boys over 12 but I’ve been doing that in sparring. I think I would need more rounds to mentally tick the box to show myself I can deal with the pressure under the lights, I do keep myself fit but I think there would be a difference in the ring mentally, especially when they’ve been there and done it for a few fights, I think a couple of 8-10 round fights then I’d be happy to challenge anyone for anything that came up.

Joe Ham is the Scottish Area champion (although he lost his challenge for the Celtic belt), would you fancy that sort of level or would you rather go straight in with a bigger title?

I’m quite happy to go straight in purely because of my age, I know I don’t really have that long and I would like to just kick on after another couple of fights and try for the bigger fights. I’m not sure if at 34 I still want to be taking punches every other day, working a full time job, I can’t see that happening but if something were to come up, I’m like every other fighter, I dream of a world title but you’ve just got to work towards it and hopefully one day it can materialize, secure me financially for a few years and enable me to do it a bit longer but I can’t see doing a job and boxing AND, potentially, starting a family all at the same time.

When you do retire from fighting would we see you as a trainer, a pundit or would you want to leave the sport behind for good?

Funnily enough one of my amateur coaches has often said he could see me in some capacity after I’ve finished as a fighter and I would love to give back to the Barrhead Amateur Boxing Club and help out there, bring through some young talent from my home town. It gave me so much and there’s plenty of people in Barrhead who go to boxing as a way out from family things, whatever it is, I would love to help out some young boy or girl have a professional career, or even just some amateur titles, to give back to my club that has given me, and still does, give me so much. They’re always watching me, supporting me, asking me questions and have always had my back. They tell me they look up to me and I’m always looking up at them, how strong some of the guys are, it’s a funny circle.

You were on the undercard of Josh Taylor vs Viktor Postol, did you catch that fight?

Me and my coach, and my second, we went out and we had, part of the deal, tickets to see the main event so we stayed and watched it together. It was a great fight and you could really see Josh learning on the job, it was a great fight, for a boxer and a fan to watch, you could see them both thinking and it was a really well matched fight.

I don’t want to get you to say anything controversial but what did you make of the scorecards?

Yeah I thought they were wide, I thought Josh won, don’t get me wrong, but I think Viktor Postol was competitive in every round so I can see, objectively, where some people like you or I would have thought Postol got a round, I can see why other people gave it to Taylor when it was 50-50. I definitely thought once Josh got the knockdown, the championship rounds were all his. I had Josh maybe 115-112, something like that, three rounds but it was a really eachy-peachy fight.

Do you think Josh Taylor is the best fighter in the division?

Oh absolutely, I think when Mikey Garcia moved up earlier in the year you could have said that he was the best but, now he’s back at lightweight, it’s hard not to say Josh is the best in the division.

And I want to end on a random question, if you were a sweet, what sweet would you be?

What sweet, erm, that’s a question.

If it helps I think you’d be a fruit pastille…

A fruit pastille? Ollie, you must be kidding. I tell you what though, I do like a wee kinder Bueno so I reckon that would be a fair shout – I don’t really do sweets but I do like a wee bit of chocolate; not like bars, dairy milk, but, I’ve got to admit, a Bueno is like my cheat food.

Thank you very much Gary, I’ll let you get back on with your holiday – don’t get sunburnt!

No worries Ollie, thank you for the opportunity mate, I’ll speak to you soon.

I don’t quite know how to round up this article, which is odd, but I’ve got to say that Gary, without doubt, is one of the nicest, most personable boxers I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to and there’s not a doubt in my mind that he has all the attributes for a successful career – I’m not quite sure why his nickname is Razor, mind, I think it should be Gary “Bueno” Rae.

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