The Art of a Journeyman Boxer
By: Oliver McManus
Many who start out in professional boxing have aspirations to become World Champion, only a handful will make it, but across the weight classes oftentimes goes a forgotten brand of fighter – the journeyman.
You can bet your bottom dollar, too, that every world champion’s record has been padded by a handful of journeymen at the beginning of their career and it’s often said that journeymen possess a vastly misunderstood role.
When trying to explain boxing, specifically journeymen, to my girlfriend she was under the impression that they were just terrible fighters who turn up, get paid and go home. Oh how wrong she was.
The most active of fighters (for the purpose of this article, “fighters” refers exclusively to journeyman”) will turn out once a week with the likes of Kevin McCauley (15-158-12) and Kristian Laight (12-262-8) travelling around Britain in order to fight opponents that are up and coming or, alternatively, just coming off the back of a loss.
Getting paid anywhere between £250 – £2,500, depending on both your stature as a journeyman and that of the opponent, is a sweet reward after four or six rounds of work but it’s not as simple as that;
As a journeyman you can’t go into a fight and look like a punching bag, you need to look exciting but not dangerous – in the majority of circumstances you will be going into fights as the overwhelming underdog but with an expectation from the opposing corner that their man is going to looking impressive.
Of course fighters go in there and give it their all – I’m not suggesting otherwise – but such is the crazy world of boxing that if you manage to put in a better-than-expected performance as a journeyman you could find suddenly that the phone stops ringing; you’re no longer wanted in Bradford next week and you go from 35-40 fights a year to 12-16.
Further to that it’s inevitable that the reputation of a journeyman will inevitably precede him in terms of decision making and if it’s a fairly nip and tuck fight, there’s no surprise in seeing the supposed favourite taking it – Moses Matovu has been on record as saying he though he won at least 20 of his 64 losses.
Many don’t have complaints about this, however, nor indeed the title that they’re given with the vast majority citing that they carry on for the sheer love of boxing as opposed to the financial benefit – a relatively small benefit, too.
Even in this unique subculture of boxing exists a hierarchy with there being a distinct pecking order of journeymen – the likes of Ferenc Zsalek and Tomaz Mrazek are you archetypal eastern European heavyweight journeymen that are used as record-boosters for young British talents.
Zsalek and Mrazek have records of 21-64-6 and 10-68-6, respectively, and are expected to give rounds for new professionals to garner experience from – frequently used as an opportunity purely to get minutes under their belt.
This calibre of journeymen build their own records based on wins in their home country – and the occasional upset – but don’t possess the strongest of chins so will still be stopped by those standing out in the early stages of a professional career, providing a good yardstick.
That (a good chin) is a quality that is much sought after in this area of fighting because to be able to turn out regularly requires you to not be knocked out and therefore, serving a mandatory BBBofC, 28 day suspension. If you’ve got a weak chin you won’t be able to be a regular fighter and you’ll go from journeyman to “bum”.
Who qualifies for membership to the club is a conversation that could rumble on for hours and hours between die-hard boxing fanatics with Konstantin Airich, arguably, being a journeyman despite having a 23-18 record.
He’s the type of fighter, along with Danny Williams (49-26) that drops from contender to journeyman as they get towards the backend of their lie as a professional boxer.
At his peak Airich was an IBF Inter-Continental and WBO European Heavyweight Champion whereas Williams famously beat Mike Tyson, challenged for the WBC World title and, of course, claimed the British and Commonwealth belts. Quality in those fighters that are not to be sniffed at, then, but whilst on the decline they tend to become opponents for there-and-thereabouts fighters such as Adrian Granat, Tom Schwarz, etc, etc.
Like I say whether you can really call them journeyman is a tough call but if you look at the careers in two halves then there is a distinct parity between the outlooks – the first half looks world-class but then the second half is overtly ridden with losses, a pattern that emerges throughout this second echelon of journeyman.
You also have those such as Raphael Zumbano Love and Emilio Ezequiel Zarate, from Brazil and Argentina in turn, who, again, have winning records in the shape of 39-16 and 21-20.
The difference between this sort of journeyman and the likes of Mrazek, Zsalek, Gospic and Perkovic is that they are widely considered to be the best in their countries as opposed to just picking up wins against debut-makers. So the question of whether you can class these fighters as journeyman rears its ugly head again but, for me, the answer is yes based on the criteria that on the vast majority of times they take a step up in class, they lose.
Finally we get to those that blur the lines between journeyman and someone who could be a good fighter had circumstances been different – by no means World Champion but a strong domestic challenger – and the first name that springs to mind is Kamil Sokolowski.
Fighters like Sokolowski are not the most regular but are perceived by fighters and fans as a clear step up. They come to the ring with passion, give as good as they get and are more than capable of springing a surprise if the “home fighter” isn’t 100%.
Sokolowski has a 4-12-2 record having been in with the likes of David Price and Gary Cornish but with wins over Sean Turner and AJ Carter it is evidential that he has a fighting quality.
And as you can see this is only just touching the surface of the boxing quirk that is journeyman – a hugely underrated craft because, don’t be mistaken, to be a good journeyman you CANNOT be a bad boxer, you have to be durable and technically sound.
If ever you see me in person, stop me and I’ll talk your head off for about an hour about this subject because it is something I am so passionate about but I think we’ve learnt the basics together so all that’s left for me to say is something characteristically ambiguous;
As a journeyman you just can’t win, can you?