Mario Barrios Interview “I Most Certainly Will Be Going for the Knockout!”
By: Benny Henderson Jr.
Coming up this Saturday night, May 11th, at the EagleBank Arena in Fairfax, Virginia, to be televised live on Fox, the undefeated 140-pound contender, Mario Barrios 23-0 (15 KO’s) puts his unblemished record up against the battle tested Argentinian fighter, Juan Jose Velasco 20-1 (12 KO’s) in a scheduled 10-round Junior Welterweight match-up.
Since making his pro debut in 2013 at the age of eighteen, the now, twenty-three year old ring warrior has banged out twenty-three consecutive victories, and the tough Texas plans on keeping his record intact this Saturday when he faces off against what he says, his toughest opponent to date.
Read on to see what Mario Barrios had to say about his upcoming bout, his training camp, career and more.
Benny Henderson Jr.
You have the fight coming up May 11th against Juan Jose Velasco, give the readers your thoughts on that upcoming match-up.
This will be another step-up fight against a tough opponent who has fought at the elite level. Although he lost to Regis Prograis, he gave him a good fight. This fight will air on FOX national, where the whole world will be watching. I’m looking to get the win and look impressive doing it. If I get him hurt, I most certainly will be going for the knockout.
You have fought some tough opponents in your time as a professional fighter. Being brutally honest, where do you believe Velasco ranks amongst your opposition, when it comes to level of competition and durability?
Velasco will be my toughest opponent to date. He’s only got one lost to one of the best fighters in the division in Prograis. I’m expecting a very tough fight.
Without giving away too much, what does Velasco bring to the table that you feel poses a great threat to you in this match-up, and what kinks do you see in his armor that you feel you can capitalize on?
The fact that he’s coming off his first loss, I know he’s coming in the best shape of his life. With that being said, I will have to be on my game to be victorious. There is no big threat, I just know he’s going to be at his best. I see some flaws that were exposed in the Prograis fight that I’ll be attacking, but that is confidential information.
Your thoughts on your training camp and preparation for this upcoming bout?
First off, training camp has been great. I’ve been out in Bay Area with Virgil Hunter for the last six weeks, getting ready for this fight. We got great sparring and I’m learning a lot with Virgil on using my reach. In addition, I’ve been doing my strength training with Victor Conte and Remi Korchemny at the SNAC facility. After moving up from super featherweight to super lightweight, my power has increased tremendously. This power surge is what make me standout from others coming up in the 140 pound division.
What is a typical day of training for Mario Barrios like?
I usually will get up around 8:30 and make my way to the SNAC facility to start training with Remi and Victor. After that I head to the gym around noon to get my boxing workout in. On sparring days I’ll head to the gym around 11:30 and then do my evening workout after that. That’s usually how my days go in camp.
I know as well as you know, a fighter should never overlook their opponent and gaze into the future ahead of their task at hand. But I have to ask, what timeline do you give yourself for a title shot, and if victorious against Velasco, any names come to mind who you might would like to step in the ring with?
I feel I’m ready to fight for a title now, but I let my management team make those calls. I just fight who that put in front of me and take it fight by fight. Velasco is another fighter in front of my that I must beat to get me my world title shot. Right now, I’m ranked #1 in the WBA, so a fight with Regis Prograis is on the horizon. I’m ready to fight anyone they put in front of me, and that includes all the champions at 140.
What about Mario Barrios outside of the ring? What are some of your hobbies and interests aside from the sport of boxing?
I like to travel to different city’s either here in the US or outside the country. Seeing other places and cultures if very cool.
If you could list three major influences in your boxing career, what three would that be?
God, Family and my team. Without none of them, I would not be where I’m at today.
If you could send Juan Velasco a message before this match-up, what message would that be?
Let’s give the fans a great night of boxing and show them why we are both worthy of TV.
Boxing Insider Interview: Maurice Hooker: Laying Claim as the Boogey Man at 140?
By: Kirk Jackson
“I’m here to show the world that I am ‘The Boogeyman’ and that I’m one of the best at 140.”
Apparently, Errol Spence isn’t the only ‘Boogeyman’ wandering around the landscape of boxing. Fellow Dallas native Maurice “Mighty Mo” Hooker 25-0-3 (17 KO’s) believes he holds the mantle as the Boogey Man at 140 lbs.
Heading into his third title fight, second defense of his world title and third consecutive fight across enemy lines, Hooker believes the other junior welterweights are wary of his abilities after repeat successful performances under demanding circumstances.
— Maurice Hooker (@mightymohooker) August 31, 2018
At the very least, Hooker believes he is the ‘Boogeyman’ for Bob Arum and his stable of Top Rank fighters.
“I can box, I can go toe-to-toe, I’m ready for whoever they put in front of me and I’m always looking for a knock out. Bob Arum doesn’t want his champion (Jose Ramirez) to lose the belt, then what? He’ll have no more champions at 140.”
“He tried to give my belt to Alex Saucedo so they’d have two champions at 140 (junior welterweight) but that didn’t work, so now I think they’re gonna try to stay away from me.”
The other champion Hooker is referring to when interviewed by Boxing Insider, is the current WBC junior welterweight champion Jose Ramirez 24-0 (16 KO’s). When pressed for a possible opponent if successful this weekend against undefeated challenger Mikkel LesPierre 21-0-1 (10 KO’s), Hooker mentioned the desire
“To me it’s whoever. I’d love to unify and fight Jose Ramirez for the WBC title in June. Pretty much I’ll fight anybody in June.”
“Nah I think that fight would be very hard to make because I’d don’t think Bob would want me to take out another one of his guys. I already took out Alex Saucedo and we don’t hear no word from him no more. I don’t think he wants me to away another guy, but if the fight (Ramirez) happens I would love it.”
Whether Hooker is truly the ‘Boogeyman’ at junior welterweight is yet to be truly determined. But what we do know is he possesses great mental strength to consistently challenge and defeat opponents on their own turf. And Hooker encountered various bumps, bruises and adversity along the way.
The adversity ‘Mighty Mo’ overcame thus far appears in various forms.
“Ahh yes my fight with Darleys Perez 34-4-2- (22 KO’s). A week before the fight I went to the doctor, my ear was bothering me. I went to the doctor and I had a hole in my ear, in my ear drum. He gave me some ear drops to take before the fight and he said before the fight I’d be good before the fight and it would close the hole.”
“But come fight night, I guess the hole didn’t close, I didn’t have an ear drum. It was the worst fight ever, I got in the ring and the ring was shaking, I couldn’t get my balance, I was off the whole fight.”
Another form of adversity came when Hooker clashed with undefeated Alex Saucedo in front of his hometown fans in Oklahoma City. This fight is where Hooker would suffer a knockdown in front of a ruckus crowd.
“I just got caught in the second round, first round was pretty easy to me and I came out the second round cocky and careless and he caught me with a good shot. It was a good shot, it was a flash knockdown, I wasn’t hurt at all. I knew from there I gotta take the guy seriously and my coach told me to take one round at a time and that’s what we did and I got up and took it to him.”
— Roc Nation Sports (@RocNationSports) February 26, 2019
As things are heading into the semi-finals round of the World Boxing Super Series tournament, the junior welterweight division is heating up.
Another fighter if not considered the ‘Boogeyman’ of the division, at the very least regarded as one of the best fighters at junior welterweight, Regis Prograis 23-0 (19 KO’s) is on Hooker’s radar and a someone he has mean intentions towards.
“Uhh, I just don’t like him. He (Prograis) don’t care. I don’t like that guy, he feel like he’s the Boogeyman at 140 and I feel like I am too. I tell everybody I want the best at 140, and if Regis Prograis is the best than I want him. I guess he took it the wrong way, I don’t care how he takes it, he got defensive, I just hope he does good in the tournament.”
“Josh Taylor asked me to watch him but I hear he’s pretty good. I don’t care who wins the tournament, I just want to fight whoever wins it and go from there. For the tournament I don’t care who wins, I just want the winner but as far as the tournament I think he (Prograis) has a good chance of winning it.”
Whether these two match up remains to be seen. Fortunately, if they are to match in theory, the fans will be treated to a wonderful display of boxing with both guys going for the knock out.
But in order for Hooker to be recognized at the ‘Boogeyman’ or better yet as the flat out best in his division or even pound-for-pound caliber, he must continue to seek great challenges which includes fighting the best and moving up in weight for even greater contests.
If unification is the goal, ideally Ramirez would be next up and in succession facing the winner of the WBSS tournament, who would then have the other two world titles (IBF and WBA).
“The winner of the tournament, I’d love to fight the winner of the tournament, that’s my ideal next fight the winner of the tournament.”
Depending how things turn out tournament wise and promotion wise, we’ll see which match-ups are made. The last guy to occupy the throne as the best fighter at junior welterweight was able to unify the division to become undisputed champion – a rare feat only accomplished by Mike Tyson, Terence Crawford, Muhammad Ali, Marvin Hagler, Bernard Hopkins, Roy Jones Jr., Lennox Lewis and Cecelia Braekhus.
“I want to be like what Terence Crawford did. He had all the belts, he was the best at 140 then he moved up. What he did is what I want to do. That’s the goal but first if I move up, I wanna take over 140. I have to take over 140 before I move up.”
Hooker continues his quest this weekend.
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Boxing Insider Interview: Maurice Hooker: Boxing’s Road Warrior Striving for Greatness
By: Kirk Jackson
Maurice “Mighty Mo” Hooker defends his WBO World Super Lightweight title for the second time against undefeated Mikkel LesPierre 21-0-1 (10 KO’s) at the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York on Saturday March 9, live on DAZN in the US and on Sky Sports in the UK.
Continuing his role as the ‘Road Warrior’ Hooker won his title on the road by playing spoiler, snatching it from the former undefeated WBO lightweight champion Terry Flanagan (at the time 33-0 [13 KO’s]) in Manchester, England just two days shy of his birthday.
Hooker then traveled behind enemy lines for his first defense, overcoming adversity and placing together an exhilarating win over local favorite Alex Saucedo 28-1 (18 KO’s) in Oklahoma City in November of last year. Hooker climbed up off the canvas in the second round to stop Saucedo in the seventh.
Hooker once again travels behind enemy territory to New York, placing his WBO title on the line against Brooklyn’s LesPierre – who would be Hooker’s fourth consecutive undefeated opponent. Although facing home field disadvantage, ‘Mighty Mo’ anticipates success in the form of a knock-out for his title defense.
“With me, I really don’t care where I fight, the ring is my home. It don’t matter where I fight, I just gotta be prepared and ready.”
“I just gotta go in there and do me ya know. Make him adapt to me and I’m gonna use my jab. I watch him but I don’t see nothing that I’m really concerned about with his style. I don’t want to overlook him and I just gotta be prepared for whatever he brings come Saturday night.”
While Hooker is regarded as the heavy favorite, he doesn’t want to overlook his opponent LesPierre and realizes the challenger is coming into this fight hungry with the intention of an upset.
“To me it doesn’t matter who I fight. But this guy’s (LesPierre) is undefeated, but it’s hard to take somebody’s zero. I rather fight somebody undefeated than someone who got a couple losses already. Once they lost, they give up already. When they’re undefeated, it’s hard to take their zero, it’s hard to break them down.”
“He’s going to be more motivated, nervous too, but more motivated. He’s at home fighting for a world title, he’s the underdog this should motivate him, he’s gonna come prepared. This guy is pretty good, he’s durable, he never been knocked out, he won all his fights. You just can’t overlook this guy because you never know what he might bring come Saturday. I’m just ready.”
The role of the ‘Road Warrior’ the proverbial villain – at least on the road, is a role Hooker embraces. The boo’s, the negativity from fans, even the trash talk, fuels Hooker to train harder and perform under pressure. The distractions from the crowd do not prevent him from finding a measure of comfort inside the ring and getting into his ‘Zone.’
“When the fans are booing me and cheering for them, it motivates me to even go harder. Something about the crowd gets to me, being the underdog, getting booed.”
“Sometimes you’re the underdog, but sometimes it goes your way, makes you train even harder. Like I said, once I get in the ring, I’m very comfortable and I’m so zoned in.”
“I focus on that guy and the fans? What are they going to do, cheer? It’s nothing, as long as I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, the fans are gonna be quiet.”
🗣 “I’m ready to show the world that I’ve got power in both hands.”@mightymohooker says he’s wanting to make a real statement on Saturday night 💥 #HookerLesPierre #BivolSmithJr pic.twitter.com/5hgcZpeyq6
— Matchroom Boxing (@MatchroomBoxing) March 6, 2019
“A lot of people take it wrong when I say I’m going to knock the other guy out but that’s the name of the game. A lot of people will say he’s big-headed, he’s this and that, but I put that in my mind the quicker I knock em out the quicker I get paid.”
“A lot of people think I’m cocky for saying stuff like that, like when I fought Terry Flanagan, I told him I wanna punch him in the mouth – I mean come on its boxing you’re gonna get hit in the mouth. A lot people take it the wrong way, I’m pretty sure the dude (LesPierre) I’m fighting on Saturday wants to knock me out. It’s boxing, we both knock each other out, people take it the wrong way, but once they interview me or get to know me they find out I’m a cool person.”
Clearing any misconceptions, Hooker is steadfast in stating his dedication towards family and exhibits a laid-back demeanor in during his time outside the ring.
“I like to hang out with my kids and my family I’m a real laid back person. I like to sit back watch tv or play with my kids, take my kids out somewhere to have fun. I’m real laid back.”
Nevertheless his laid back demeanor should not be mistaken for weakness or complacency for that matter. Hooker wants to achieve greatness like other great fighters before him, fighters he admittedly admired growing up. Fighters such as Mike Tyson, Roy Jones, Muhammad Ali and Tommy Hearns.
“I watch him (Tommy Hearns) a lot, I like his left hook to the body – I wanna get that down like how he had it. His left hook to the body, he had a good one.”
“When it’s all said and done I wanna be one of the best like Muhammad Ali. I want everyone to remember my name, I want everyone to know that I’ll go anywhere and fight anybody.”
Hooker realizes these aspirations and overall worldwide recognition requires greater accomplishments down the line. Starting with conquering his current division and obtaining more, ascending towards mythical pound-for-pound status.
“That’s the goal but first if I move up (in weight class), I wanna take over 140. I have to take over 140 before I move up.”
“When you say pound-for-pound, I look at pound-for-pound different. I’m looking at the different weight classes, how many titles you won in a different weight class. I would say Terence Crawford right now, he’s been in the game a little longer than Errol Spence. He had a belt at 135, he had all the belts at 140, he now has a belt at 147. You look at Mikey Garcia, but later on in Errol Spence’s career, I’ll say he’ll be pound-for-pound; if he moves up in weight or if he dominates at 147.”
“To me I’m not on the list yet, I haven’t accomplished some of my goals. To get on the list I have to keep working hard and keep pushing myself to win more titles and to put my name out there even more. But I’m not up there yet, I’m working, that’s one of my goals.”
By facing his fourth consecutive undefeated fighter in the challenger’s backyard, Hooker is making a statement. Hooker is chasing greatness and aims to establish his reputation as one of the best to ever do it. While the champion from Dallas known as ‘Mighty Mo’ has a steep mountain to climb, he won’t allow detractors and nay-sayers keep him down or from achieving his goals.
“I stay focused and I don’t wanna get cocky or too big headed and I keep pushin because I know I can better than where I’m at now.”
Boxing Insider Interview with Luther Clay
By: Oliver McManus
Caught up in the bizarrely busy Thursday afternoon traffic, a relaxed voice emerged. Luther Clay, talking via handsfree I hasten to add, came across as a content and serene individual throughout the 40-odd minutes we spoke. He started by telling me the simple stuff, as every boxer does, of when he first laced up the gloves. The word ‘simple’ is to be used loosely in this instance, Clay doesn’t do anything by half measures.
“I was born in South Africa, a sort of farming area of the country, but I moved to England when I was six, seven years old. All my family is in Africa, in England it’s just my dad, my mum, my sister and I. You’ve probably heard it a lot but I used to get into a fights a fair bit at school but I didn’t really start boxing until I was 15. Had eleven amatuer fights in three years before I stopped and went to university. I was studying computer, web and app development, but I never really wanted to end up in that industry.
To be honest I only really went to university because of my parents. They didn’t force it on me, don’t get me wrong, but they really wanted me to go, no-one in my family had been yet, and I didn’t fancy a full time job. I’ve always loved boxing and when I got there I ended up getting roped back in.”
A key figure that “roped” Luther back in to the sport was Al Siesta who, alongside Gennadi Gordienko (a Russian trainer) were influential to Clay turning professional. A machiavellian figure, almost, Siesta always strikes me as someone with the demeanour of a Bond villain but I was reassured he’s not part-timing as a criminal mastermind,
“I get that but he’s a nice guy, really, very talkative and raw, I’d say, what he says is what you get. He’s a genuine character who’s always very hands on, I see him a couple of times a week and he’s always coming in the gym to see us training. He likes to see what’s happening but it’s not just boxing, he’s interested in you as a person.”
Since the fateful linkup with Siesta there have been a number of opportunities provided by his promotional company. The welterweight, aged 20 at the time, debuted in Latvia on a show headlined by Mairis Briedis. Subsequently he’s fought away in Lithuania, Georgia and twice more in Latvia and it’s something that Clay told me he was loving,
“I’m really laid back about it all, to be honest, a fight is a fight as far as I see and the boxing ring will be the same wherever I am. From there it’s just my job to go in and win the fight. I prefer fighting in those countries, if I’m honest, my personal goal is to fight in South Africa one day but I will fight anywhere that Al wants me to. I’ve received a lot offers, especially from Fox, to fight in South Africa so the opportunity has been there but it has to align with Al’s plan. Realistically we’re looking at next year but it will happen.”
With a fight in South Africa being the only definitive long term goal, titles aside, the Bracknell fighter is fully focussed on his next contest. On March 17th he’ll face O’Shane Clarke, a fighter he knows well.
“I know O’Shane, I know him. He’s from Reading and he was always more advanced than me – he’s a couple years older – and he was a good amatuer. I’ve seen him sparring people at my gym and over the last year and a half we’ve done a couple rounds so I think I know what to expect from him. He’ll probably use the whole of the ring, try to survive, and take me to a decision but I’m confident I’ll beat him. Apparently this fight is an eliminator for the Commonwealth title so that’s a title I’ll be eyeing up for the near future.”
Whilst speaking to Luther he seemed to be really reflective about his time in the sport, speaking with honesty even if it went against the general norm of opinion for a professional boxer. It was interesting to just sit back and listen to him discussing, with himself, what he would like to get from the sport,
“I think, and I know it’s just hypothetical, I’d be in the sport until I’m 35. It seems a long time but it’s really not, it all depends on how good I get though. If I saw, in myself, that I couldn’t achieve a certain level in the sport – let’s say British or European – then I wouldn’t continue. I’m not in this to just be here, be a gatekeeper. I love a fight but I want to be at a certain level so I can be satisfied with myself and my career. If I can’t reach that level then I’d rather just go and get a job.
“Boxing is crazy, you see people who have won world titles and aren’t in the best position in life. The ultimate dream is to win world titles but just to have a successful life, outside of boxing, would be the goal. To be able to leave the sport and be in a good position. This is out of nowhere but look at Dave Allen, he might never be a world championship boxer, but he’s got houses and he’s in a reasonable financial position. You want world titles but you want to be successful. Fuck, though, I want belts. Life has a way of giving you some stuff and taking some away – James Toney has done in a lot in his career, an all time great right, but now he’s basically bankrupt.”
The 23 year old was confident in his ability to mix at a domestic level, welcoming potential fights with fellow prospects, but was pragmatic when discussing his progression.
“I’d happily take any fight as long as the risk-reward ratio was worth it. Right now I’m still in my learning period of the sport but in the next 12 months you never know what can happen, there are fights out there that I know I could win but it’s about taking it at a time that benefits me the most. It’s all about the opportunities that are provided to me, it doesn’t matter what route I take to the titles because the end destination is the same. People ask me if I wish I had a ‘big promoter’ as in Eddie or Frank but that’s irrelevant, the doors are there but you’ve got to be ready and I’m not going to take a fight I’m not ready for. You can’t chuck yourself in a position that you’re not ready for and I’m realistic about that, this year I will be ready, trust me, I will be ready, towards the end of the year I want to be knocking on the door of that British title.”
Looking to move 11-1 on the 17th – a sole loss that came in Georgia but one, Clay confesses, has made little impact on his mentality – the truly fascinating character ended our conversation by discussing exposure and building a profile.
“When I had just started it really annoyed me that people would overrate guys like Conor Benn so much just because of the name and the platform. As I’ve been progressing through and I look at the names I’m next to in the rankings I just think “man, I shouldn’t be worried about him, let me worry about getting these guys out of the way”. I think so many boxers like to focus on what other people do so I’m just trying to concentrate on myself and seeing where that path leads. I know and my team know my ability but let’s not get hung up on fights that might never happen, let’s focus on the ones in front of us. Keep on winning and these fights will have to happen, it’s as simple as that, and then the talking can stop.”
Jesus Rojas Lays Out Big Plans For 2019
By: Sean Crose
“Our last two opponents were southpaws,” says 26-2 featherweight Jesus Rojas, who will be facing 15-2 orthodox contender Can Xu on January 26th at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. “We’re working on our jab,” he says of training camp, “we’re working on our head movement, and we’re working on our lateral movement.” Indeed, different fighters require different camps. “What changed primarily,” says Rojas, “was the sparring. We’re (now) sparring with people who are right handers.” The fight, which will be for the WBA featherweight title, is one Rojas wants to win in impressive fashion.
“I want to make sure that I win impressively,” the Caguas, the Puerto Rico native claims. An impressive win, after all, can lead to fights with such names as “Oscar Valdez, Leo Santa Cruz, or even (Josh) Warrington.” Not that he’s writing off Xu. “You have to be careful with what you’re doing with him,” he says of his upcoming opponent. “He’s a tall, strong boxer, and he’s ranked.” A native of China, Xu, 24, will be fighting on US soil for the second time in a row, his first American endeavor being a split decision win over Enrique Bernache last September in Las Vegas.
Rojas, on the other hand, is hoping to return in grand fashion after dropping a unanimous decision to Joseph Diaz last August in California. That fight was supposed to be for the WBA featherweight championship, but Diaz showed up a bit heavy and lost the opportunity to be crowned as a titlist. “I don’t think it (the weight) had an effect on the fight itself,” Rojas says with refreshing honesty. Still, Rojas feels Diaz lost “the opportunity to earn the title by losing the fight on the scale.” It’s simply something Rojas feels is indicative of “a lack of discipline.”
As for the future, Rojas has big plans for 2019 (provided he gets past Xu). “The plans are to win this fight and then unify the titles,” he says. As far as the issues that can keep champions from facing off, Rojas feels that’s “something that’s between the promoters.” The man simply wants to become an undisputed champion. “If we don’t have the opportunity to unify,” he claims, “we’ll move up in weight.”
Boxing Insider Interview with ‘The Mighty Celt’ Tyrone McKenna
By: Michael Kane
Tyrone McKenna took on Scotland’s Lewis Benson last month in Benson’s home country and came away with a decision win. McKenna and Benson both were coming off of defeats in their previous bouts and this could have been considered must win for both, McKenna won and Benson announced his retirement.
Boxing Insider spoke with the Belfast man, McKenna to find out his thoughts on the fight, what’s next and how his nickname came about.
Did the fight play out as he expected?
“The fight did play out how I expected,” McKenna said. “I knew, because I was fighting in the away corner in his country, I couldn’t afford to sit back, I knew I had to push forward, be the aggressor, to take the rounds and that’s what I did from the start.
“I thought he might have died off in the later rounds but credit to him he stuck in there. I wasn’t 100 percent delighted with my performance I knew there was a lot more that I could have done but felt a bit flat that night from round 1. Even though feeling flat, I was still the one going forward, pressuring the fight and landing the bigger more telling shots he never really troubled me in the fight and I was never worried.”
Immediately after the closely fought fight, Benson was clearly disappointed with the decision and stated he was finished with the sport. Recently it appears he wants a rematch. However McKenna is not convinced by that proposal.
“Yeah, I seen he was asking for a rematch but no I beat him in his home country, he’s got two loses on the trot, he’s way down the rankings, he has no belts, he isn’t a big name, he isn’t a big draw! So he doesn’t bring anything to the table, it’s not something i’m remotely interested in looking to the future.” McKenna stated.
McKenna is part of a generation of Irish boxers where big things are expected and having came through the ranks with the likes of Olympians, Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes and European champion Tyrone McCullagh, McKenna says they are still close and he’s looking forward to a few of them fighting this weekend in Manchester, when possibly the highest profile boxer that emerged as part of that group, Carl Frampton bids to regain another world championship.
“Yeah, myself, Carl, Mick, Tommy McCarthy, Paddy and Tyrone all grew up on the Irish Elite team together and travelled the world with a few of them. They are some of my best mates not only in boxing but outside too.”
How does McKenna see his friends fare this weekend?
“Well Paddy has a routine win working his way back into world title contention, so he’s out to show his class and show he belongs with the top fighters in the world.” McKenna said. “Mick is going to put on a masterclass on Saturday. I believe his opponent suits his style and will make him look really good. And of course Carl, people are saying its a tight fight and will be close but I believe Carl will be too strong and finish the job within 8 rounds.”
McKenna’s nickname is the Mighty Celt, which hailing from Ireland might be expected however he took the name as he started in a movie with Robert Carlyle and Gillian Anderson called ‘The Mighty Celt’.
How did his part in the movie come about?
McKenna explains, “Well it was just really by chance, I never had really pursued acting. Casting directors came to every school in Belfast basically and told everyone to come down to audition, so around 3000 kids went for the role and I only went down because my friends were going. After six or seven auditions I finally landed the lead role, haha.
“Boxing was always my main passion, although I loved acting, I know it will always be there after boxing and boxing is a short lived career.”
Where does McKenna see himself this time next year?
“I hope to have picked up a few belts at least and be in a few major fights. I see Joe Hughes won that EBU title, I’d love a crack at that. Hopefully by the end of the year be in with a shot at a world title eliminator or even world title shot.”
What inspires McKenna?
“My biggest inspiration isn’t really a person but being able to give back to the sport, the way fighters before have given back like Carl Frampton, that inspires me to train harder and make it!”
Josue Vargas: Boxing Is My Passion
By: Sean Crose
“I had a great amateur background,” super lightweight Josue Vargas tells me. “I’m ready for anything right now.” Having recently signed with the prestigious Top Rank Promotions, Vargas is especially ready for John Renteria, his opponent this Saturday night at the famed Madison Square Garden in New York City. For Vargas will be part of a card that will see pound for pound powerhouse Vasyl Lomachenko pitted in the main event against Jose Pedraza. With an amateur career that saw Vargas face off against the likes of Shakur Stevenson, the Bronx native feels like he has the pedigree to rise to the top of the sport himself.
“I feel great about being with Top Rank,” he claims. “I trust them.” Although a New Yorker, Vargas headed west to California in order to train for this weekend’s match. “I was training with Robert Garcia,” claims Vargas, “and also with my dad.” While some fighters like to train close to home, Vargas is willing to travel in order to properly prep for a fight. “I didn’t stay home in New York because the winter started kicking in,” he says. “We fight in the heat…I went to California and took care of business.”
When he steps into the ring back in the east coast on Saturday, Vargas knows he will have supporters as well as detractors. “A lot of people come to support,” he says, adding that “a lot of people do hate and want to see you lose.” There are, after all, those who simply resent success. Yet Vargas is happy to be surrounded by those he feels he can count on. “My father’s my main trainer,” he tells me, “always making sure I’m prepared for every single fight.”
Vargas also has nothing but good to say about the men who guide his career. “Richard Roman,” he says, “one of the main guys who has always been there for me since I was 13 years old.” Vargas likewise has nothing but good to say about Gary Jonas. “He got me signed with Top Rank Promotions,” Vargas points out. “He’s the guy who got me 4 and 5 and 0.” With such support, the 20 year old feels like the future is his. “I see myself with a world title in about two years,” he says, adding that “I will always stay humble.”
“Boxing,” he claims, “is my passion.”
Lamont Roach: “I Will Be One Of The Better Champions”
By: Sean Crose
“This week is definitely the last week of hard work,” rising superfeatherweight Lamont Roach tells me over the phone. We’re only ten days away from his fight against 15-1-1 Alberto Mercado at Madison Square Garden, but the 17-0-1 Roach seems easygoing and confident. The Mercado fight, which will appear as part of the Canelo Alvarez – Rocky Fielding DAZN card, is for the WBO International Super Featherweight Title. In other words, it’s another stepping stone on the Washington DC native’s rise to the top. “Training’s going good,” he says, adding that “it feels great” to be back at Madison Square Garden, one of the top places on earth for a boxer to build a reputation.
Photo Credit: Lamont Roach Twitter Account
Roach admits that the time may come where he may have to leave home base to train for his bouts. At the moment, however, he and his team are comfortable doing their prep work in familiar territory. “Training camp was home in D.C.,” he says. “We didn’t have too many distractions.” The more a fighter rises, however, the more his every move can be visible to the public at large…and Roach is already earning a solid fan base for himself. There’s “two private buses, fifty-five seaters,” filled with Roach fans heading to New York for the Mercado fight, after all. Plus, Roach adds there’s “a lot of family” that will be going to New York on their own to watch the battle.
Part of the appeal of Roach is his winning personality, though he admits that it hasn’t been difficult to charm the boxing public to date. “I haven’t gotten my feathers ruffled yet,” he admits. Such things, however, may eventually come with the territory occupied by a fighter on the way up. Golden Boy Promotions, which promotes Roach, is quite aware of the pitfalls of rising fame, yet obviously feels Roach is up to the challenge. “I appreciate everything that Golden Boy has done for me,” Roach says. “I reward them by working (hard).”
Mercado will be the second southpaw in a row that Roach has faced. Roach feels confident facing another lefty. “It’s becoming kind of natural,” he says of the ability to successfully engage with southpaws. “Whatever they throw in front of us, we’re ready.” Roach realizes that, should he win on the 15th, the road to bigger things will be wide open. “Right now,” says Roach, “we’re focused on the 15th.” Roach is aware, however, of exactly where he stands and where he wants to be. “We’re ranked number five by the WBO,” he says. The man is looking forward to a shot at a championship.
“I’ll be one of the better champions,” he says, adding that, unlike some, he’ll be sure to “be active,” after he reaches the top of his division.
Boxing Insider Interview with Jose Pedraza: Ready to Put on A Great Show
By: Henry Deleon
Brooklyn’s most famous Boxing gym, Gleason’s Gym hosted Top Ranks meet and greet event on Wednesday December 5th. Here the fighters from the Lomachenko vs. Pedraza card met with the kids from Gleason’s “Give a Kid a Dream”, a nonprofit corporation in where they provide mentorship to disadvantaged youths through the sport of boxing.
Jose “Sniper” Pedraza who will be fighting in the main event Saturday, was among those fighters at the meet and greet. In the midst of it all, Boxing Insider had the opportunity to catch up with Jose on his upcoming bout.
Boxing Insider – Jose how do you feel for your fight against Lomachenko this Saturday?
Jose Pedraza – I feel great. I’m excited for it to be the 8th of December already so I can put on a great show for you all.
Boxing Insider – How do you feel to be fighting here in Madison Square Garden? Where fighters like Miguel Cotto have created a grand legacy.
Jose Pedraza – I feel very excited to be fighting here where not only Cotto has fought, but many other Puerto Ricans have fought. Like Tito Trinidad who is one of the biggest names in Puerto Rican Boxing. I feel very excited to be part of that history.
Boxing Insider – Without giving too much of your game plan away, I’m curious on knowing on how you are going to approach and counter Loma’s movement come Saturday?
Jose Pedraza – well I’m definitely the taller fighter in this fight, so I am going to have to use my distance to my advantage. We need to have great conditioning, which we do, to be able to fight at his pace and to make good usage of my speed.
Boxing insider – Going into this fight, what do you think would be Lomachenko’s most difficult attribute to adjust to?
Jose Pedraza – well we are going to see how the fight unfolds. My team and I have studied Lomachenko really well. So, we are going to see how the fight unfolds and make the proper adjustments as the rounds go by.
Boxing Insider – This is a big fight for you to end the year with. God willing, you come out victorious this Saturday, who else out there would you like to face?
Jose Pedraza – well after this fight, which I’m a 100% sure I will be victorious, we’re going to go after all those great champions in the division. We’re going to continue unifying the belts. So, we are going to make sure we keep training hard so we’ll be ready to take on these fights.
Boxing Insider – Thank you Jose. All the best for this Saturday!
Jose “Snipper” Pedraza (25-1 12 KO’s) is currently the W.B.O World Lightweight Champion. He is only the second Puerto Rican boxer to win world titles at 103 and 135 pounds. Jose will be taking on 2-time Olympic gold medalist and currently the W.B.A Super World Lightweight Champion Vasiliy “Hi-Tech” Lomachenko (11-1 9 KO’s) in a unification bout Saturday December 8th at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden. The fight will also be live on ESPN at 9 p.m ET. Tune in for another exciting night of Boxing!
Former World Heavyweight Champion Pinklon Thomas Talks to Boxing Insider
By: Ken Hissner
Back in the early 1980’s this writer would go to the Montgomery County Boy’s Club in Eagleville, PA, ran by Steve Traitz (also head of the Local 30 Roofers) and watch the then heavyweight champion Pinklon “Pink” Thomas spar with “Big” Joe Thomas, one of the Traitz fighters and a former National Golden Gloves Champion. I can still remember Traitz taking off his “Jeff cap” and putting it on the head of Thomas before he left the gym on a cold winter night.
Thomas, 43-7-1 (34), was one of the hardest hitting heavyweights in the modern history of the game. He was born in Pontiac, MI, and over time settled in Orlando, FL, in December of 1989 where he met his wife to be. He only had three amateur fights yet worked his way to the top of the heavyweight division. He was trained by Hall of Famer Angelo Dundee who once said of Thomas that he had a jab that was “as close to a Sonny Liston Jab as I have ever seen.” If you remember Liston could knock you out or your teeth out with his jab.
Thomas was unbeaten in his first twenty fights which included stopping contender James “Quick” Tillis, 22-1, and in his next fight a 10 round draw with the No. 1 contender South Africa’s Gerrie “The Boksburg Bomber” Coetzee, 28-3, in Atlantic City in January of 1983.
In Coetzee’s next fight he won the WBA World heavyweight championship knocking out Michael “Dynamite” Dokes. In his first defense which could have been rightfully against Thomas he chose to fight Greg Page losing his title by knockout in a controversial 4 minute round.
Thomas would go onto win his next four fights, three by stoppage, including over Alfonzo Ratliff, 16-1, and Michael Greer, 17-3-2. This earned him a world title fight with Philly’s “Terrible” Tim Witherspoon, 18-1, for his WBC World heavyweight title at the Riviera Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, NV, on August 31st, 1984, winning by majority decision.
In his first defense Thomas stopped former WBA champion Mike “Hercules” Weaver, 27-10-1, in the eighth round. In his second defense he was upset by Jamaican Trevor Berbick, 30-4-1, at the same Casino by scores of 115-114 and 115-113 twice to tell you how close it was. Berbick would go onto be the last opponent to defeat Muhammad Ali ending the latter’s career.
Thomas would go onto fight the likes of “Iron” Mike Tyson, Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield, Riddick Bowe and Tommy Morrison among others. In his next to last fight he defeated Craig Payne a former National Golden Gloves champion who in the amateurs defeated Mike Tyson and Cuba’s 3-time Olympic Gold Medalist Teofilo Stevenson. In this win over Payne, Thomas won the International Boxing Organization and the vacant World Boxing Federation titles.
In his final career ending bout Thomas lost to Lawrence “Poncho” Carter, 21-5 (18), at Columbia, SC.
Thomas founded Project P.I.N.K. (Pride in Neighborhood Kids) as an outlet to foster youth mentorship. He was inducted into the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame in 2009 after settling in Orlando, FL.
Thomas was graceful enough to answer questions for this Boxing Insider article.
BOXING INSIDER: I want to thank you for taking the time….
PINKLON THOMAS: I would like to thank you for writing this article and following my career so closely as this really means a lot.
BOXING INSIDER: What are you doing today?
PINKLON THOMAS: February 10, 2019 will be 30 years in my recovery from substance abuse and alcohol. Today through Project P.I.N.K. I still mentor kids and young adults. Something I use to say “After they’ve seen the rest, send them to the best and I’ll break them like a horse”. I have a passion for mentoring others. Keeping them from committing crimes, or getting killed or sentenced to life in prison. I teach them there are alternatives.
BOXING INSIDER: Tell me about your book.
PINKLON THOMAS: I’ve written a book “Back from The Edge of Hell” as told to John Greenberg. This is an autobiography and book which is currently on Amazon, and ebooks, through Digital One Media, Barnes & Nobles and many other sources.
I’m heavily affiliated with an organization called World Sports Alumni (WSA) an Alumni that work with former athletes and help charitable organizations in various capacities. The CEO Charlie Williams is also a professional athlete and former Billiards Champion.
BOXING INSIDER: I understand you’ve had some major health challenges?
PINKLON THOMAS: Over the years Boxing took a toll on my body. I’ve had two major knee replacements, two detached retinas, Hepatitis C, in which Harvoni and prayers saved me! Cancer of which Dr. Vitpul Patel of Celebration Health, introduced me to the importance of Robotic surgery. Recently, late 2017 I had major surgery on nearly 75% of my spine by Neurosurgeon Dr. Paul Sawin, of Winter Park, Florida, who literally saved me from becoming permanently confined to a wheelchair and an extensive amount of Physical Therapy that is ongoing. Due to several health issues and because of having chronic pain, as a result for relief I used prescription opioids around the clock. A buddy of mine Loui Delgado, and the help of Serenity Springs, today I’m opioid free.
BOXING INSIDER: During your career was there anyone that had a great impact in your life, with the exception of your parents?
PINKLON THOMAS: Certain people I would like to recognize, that played a major part in my career such as: Roland Jenkleson, without him I may have not had a career. Jack Stafford who told me that whenever I found myself in trouble to use my left jab. This inevitable became my trademark! George Benton, who taught me the Philadelphia style on how to fight inside, which brought out my power. He put me with two of the greatest trainer mentors, Tommy Hawkins and Willard Barber. They prepared me for the championship until three weeks before going to Vegas to hook up with Angelo Dundee. When I untied with George Benton, we would train before going to Vegas to hook up with Angelo Dundee. When I united with George Benton, we would train at Joe Frazier’s gym and there I learned the skills of how to fight inside. Through Joe and his family, great former champions, as well as contenders, I rose to championship status.
BOXING INSIDER: Tell me briefly about your family?
PINKON THOMAS: Today, I reside in Orlando, Florida with my beautiful wife DaJuana (DJ) Thomas of over thirty years, of whom is my everything! Together we’ve reared two beautiful daughters Pierra and Peyton, ages 26 and 32. We have imbedded in them the importance of keeping God first, obtaining an education, and having respect for others. We also have another older daughter PaQuana, who resides in Michigan and I have a son Pinklon Thomas III, who lives in Chicago with his wife Patrice. We also have five amazing grandchildren!
BOXING INSIDER: How did you come up with a plan to secure your future? Many professional boxers are bankrupt of destitute after their career by not managing their money or having bad CPA’s.
PINKLON THOMAS: We had a plan. During my comeback to obtain my second heavyweight championship for the IBO, I felt that it would be wise and beneficial to have DaJuana pursue her education by obtaining her Bachelors degree so that one day she could provide when I was no longer able. Together we made a lot of sacrifices, and by investing into annuities early on. Inevitably the continued school and completed her MBA and currently works in Human Resources.
I’m grateful today for God’s strength, mercy and blessings!
BOXING INSIDER: It was great making contact with you again this week. It’s been years since I last saw you at Steve Traitz Gym working with “Big” Joe Thomas. How’d Steve treat you?
PINKLON THOMAS: Steve treated me great. He paid me $50 round to spar with Joe Thomas. He was a real stand up dude and very humble.
BOXING INSIDER: If you had to pinpoint one thing in how in the world with only three amateur fights turning pro at 20 achieve the heavyweight crown after 20 fights?
PINKLON THOMAS: I didn’t have a manager and signed a promotion contract with Don King and asked Angelo Dundee to train me for the title fight. Don told me he had all the heavyweights.
BOXING INSIDER: Your first non-win was a draw with future world champion Gerrie Coetzee who had the “The Bionic Hand” which was his right that was fused together after some 23 surgeries. What kind of a puncher was he?
PINKLON THOMAS: He was a hell of a puncher.
BOXING INSIDER: What were your feelings after defeating Philly’s “Terrible” Tim Witherspoon for his WBC title?
PINKLON THOMAS: That was the greatest accomplishment in my life. I was on cloud 9.
BOXING INSIDER: In your first defense you scored a pair of knockdowns over former WBA champion Mike “Hercules” Weaver, stopping him in 8 rounds. What kind of a fight did he put up with you?
PINKON THOMAS: That was a good fight. I had gotten good boxing prior to this.
BOXING INSIDER: You lost for the first time in your career to Trevor Berbick by the closest of margins of one point and two point’s each on the judge’s cards. Instead of giving you a well-deserved rematch he chose to defend against an opponent named Mike Tyson and we all know how that turned out. Was there ever any talk of a rematch with Berbick after losing your title to him?
PINKON THOMAS: No, King wanted Mike Tyson to fight him.
BOXING INSIDER: What was your toughest fight?
PINKLON THOMAS: Probably the Berbick fight. I was stressed out and not prepared like I would have liked to be.
BOXING INSIDER: In 2009 you were inducted into the Florida Hall of Fame having resided in Orlando. How enjoyable was that?
DJ THOMAS: He and Angelo Dundee went in together.
BOXING INSIDER: I want to thank you for taking the time to answer these questions for Boxing Insider and for always being a very approachable person back in the day.
PINKLON THOMAS: My pleasure.
Vergil Ortiz Ready To Hit New York
By: Sean Crose
With an impressive record of 11-0 with 11 knockouts, Texas native Vergil Ortiz is beginning to make a name for himself in the super lightweight division. The fact that the Golden Boy promoted fighter is now on his way to hit the Big Apple for one of the biggest fight cards of the year serves as an indication as to just how highly Ortiz is starting to be regarded. “It feels great,” he tells me of the upcoming experience. “I’ve never been to New York.” Now, the man isn’t only heading to the city that never sleeps, he’s taking part in the Canelo Alvarez – Rocky Fielding undercard, part of a major night of boxing that will be aired live on the DAZN Streaming Service.
“I haven’t heard anything yet,” Ortiz says of potential opponents, though it’s clear Golden Boy is looking to showcase their fighter’s talents before an east coast audience. “My one hundred percent knockout ratio is really catching people’s eyes,” he admits, adding: “I don’t want to say it should…but I’ve really worked hard for it.” Not that Ortiz has always gone for the knockout. In fact, during his last two bouts Ortiz wasn’t expecting the knockout to happen. “I wasn’t looking for it,” he says of his most recent opponent. “Both of us didn’t see it coming.”
Ortiz is happy to still be trained by Robert Garcia, brother of Mikey, former champion in his own right, and now famous cornerman. “I’m training in California,” says Ortiz of his preparation for the December matchup. “I get all the sparring done up here.” Ortiz makes it clear, however, that he stays in shape even when he’s not preparing for a fight. When it’s time to settle down, he heads west for Garcia’s tutelage. If things keep going at the pace they are, Ortiz and Garcia will be seeing a lot of each other in the upcoming year.
Provided he wins in New York, Ortiz aims to fight “four or five times” in 2019. Although it’s hard not to notice a man with Ortiz’ impressive resume to date, Ortiz is “taking things step by step” in order to secure an impressive future. Appearing on DAZN may well be a promising development. The streaming service, along with other streaming services like ESPN+, may well symbolize the future of boxing. As for the moment, Ortiz keeps life simple, focusing on matters like daily training and playing guitar in his free time.
“I’m playing it pretty much every day,” he says.
Boxing Insider Interview with Tyrone McCullagh: European Titlist with Eyes on a World
By: Michael Kane
Tyrone McCullagh is a slick, awkward boxer from Derry, Ireland. He won the WBO European title last month in Belfast. McCullagh (12-0, 6 KOs) put on a great performance to beat English Champion Josh Kennedy for the belt.
Boxing Insider caught up with Tyrone to discuss his recent wins, rejecting the chance to fight for a British title and more.
If you have never watched McCullagh fight, I would advise you to check him out. He fights with a style not often seen, similar in a way to Naseem Hamed, hands down at times, using his quick movement and agility to keep out of range, then peppers his opponent in quick bursts.
Photo Credit: MTK Global Facebook Page
This is exactly what he done to win the WBO European title and as the fight went on you could see Josh Kennedy become more frustrated by each passing round.
How did McCullagh feel about his performance?
“I was delighted with it,” he said, ” I’m usually a bit over critical with myself when I look back at fights but I don’t think I lost a round. That one judge who had it 96-94, I really don’t know, he must have been a relation of Josh and he still couldn’t give it to him! My coaches and the rest of my team were happy and that’s the main thing.”
Did McCullagh expect to be so dominant in the fight?
“Yeah, I always knew I was the better boxer and I just needed to perform on the night and I’d be ok. I knew he was going to come walking forward and I wouldn’t have to go looking. I just boxed and moved and listened to my corner.”
The fight in October was McCullagh’s second title fight in a row, having defeated Scotland’s Joe Ham to win the Celtic title, in what was also a British Eliminator.
However McCullagh is not interested in fighting for a British title, coming as he does from Northern Ireland, the people there can decide to be British, Irish or citizens of both.
McCullagh explains, “Nope not at all, I am Irish, I’m not British, why would I fight for a British title? I’ve turned it down twice this year.”
He continues to say, “What I will say is that it’s nothing against the British people. I have good friends in Britain but it’s my beliefs no one else’s, and if people choose not to respect that them so be it.”
Having had a taste of picking up titles, McCullagh wants to get more, with a world title the aim.
“I want a world title, obviously not in my next fight but soon. I’ve had a great year and I’m going to build on that next year.
“I believe I can win a world title and I think I’ll be in a position to fight for one this time next year.”
McCullagh is also a trained nurse does he still find the time to do some shifts?
McCullagh said, “Not as much, it’s had to take a back seat this year. I’ve had two 10 week training camps back to back for my two title fights this year and it’s just too much to ask to work on top of that. I try and squeeze the odd shift here and there but it’s few and far between. Nursing will always be there for me after boxing and will always have a place in my heart.”
When asked who has been his biggest influence, McCullagh was quick to answer.
“My dad. He’s helped me from day one, drove me all over the country. He’s given me whatever money I’ve needed for trips and competitions when I was younger. He took me training every night, which was a 60 mile round trip and been to all my fights.”
So what was it that made McCullagh take up boxing to start with?
He said, “I was a fat kid when I was younger and needed to lose weight. I’m still a fat kid at heart but I have to limit how often he gets out but when he does he makes the most of it!”
Boxing Insider Interview with Roy Jones Jr. at the Creed II Premier
By: Henry Deleon
At the NYC premiere for Creed 2, Boxing Insider got the chance to catch up with the legendary Roy Jones Jr.
Boxing Insider: Tell me Roy, what are your expectations for this movie, Creed 2?
Roy Jones Jr.: I expect it to be another great movie. They usually do a good job with these. It’s like they’re bringing “Rocky” onto the next generation, so for me it’s a beautiful thing. I love the concept, and you know the “Rocky” movies have actually brought a lot of fans to the sport of Boxing. It’s almost like the movie version of Boxing make some people pay more attention to real Boxing. When people see fights like the Gatti/Ward fights, it’s almost like they’re watching a real life “Rocky” movie.
Boxing Insider: How much impact did a movie like “Rocky” have on your career?
Roy Jones Jr.: Not really much on my career because I wasn’t much of a movie guy. But just the fact that I knew what it stood for, I knew what the concept was because I was a real boxer made me still respect it. It gave people a clear perspective of what some fighters feel. Everybody is not going to be the Sugar Ray Leonard, the Roy Jones, or the Muhammed Ali’s of their era. But there are guys who can be just as good to watch and who can provide great action-packed fights as the Arturo Gatti’s, the real life “Rocky’s”. It’s not always about the skill of Boxing, sometimes it’s about the heart and soul of Boxing and for that very reason the Rocky movies, the Creed movies do a great job in portraying that.
Boxing Insider: Being a pro fighter, do you feel that the way Hollywood portrays Boxing does the sport justice?
Roy Jones Jr.: It all depends on what movies you’re watching. Does it do some aspects of the sport justice? Yeah, but it doesn’t do the whole Boxing game justice because Hollywood would have to get deeper into the sport to do that. But it does do Boxing good because it shows people that every fighter has a story. So, what they’re doing I’d say is helping the sport of Boxing.
Roy Jones Jr. won several world titles in four different divisions. In 1988, he represented the United States in the summer Olympics where he went on to won a silver medal in the light middleweight division. He is considered by many to be one of Boxing’s all-time best.
“One thing you gotta know about Roy. The way I always saw myself is, I’m just like you. In the ring, I have a gift, that gift ain’t on the basketball court, that gift ain’t at home, you understand me? That gift is in the ring.” – Roy Jones Jr.
On November 21st, 2018 Catch Roy Jones Jr. and many more in the upcoming film “Creed 2”. This is going to be a fight you won’t want to miss!
Boxing Insider Interview with Stitch Duran, Part 2
By: Henry Deleon
In the depths of telling us what it’s like to be a Cutman, Jacob “Stitch” Duran also caught up with Boxing Insider about the upcoming film “Creed 2 “and his role in it. Here’s what the legendary Stitch had to share:
Boxing Insider: Stitch, what was your role in this movie?
Stitch: Well you take a guess brother, I was the Cutman! (he says laughing) they brought me in to be part of the Creed legacy. When I did the first creed film, I told Ryan Coogler “Ryan if I see something that’s not authentic to the game I’ll bring it to your attention.” Ryan then said, “Stitch that’s why we brought you in here.” So, on that aspect I thought that was a very strong thing for him to say. It was pretty awesome actually and you know throughout the whole 1st Creed movie, and now this movie, not only was I the Cutman, but I was also an advisor to the judges around ringside, the referees, all the inspectors and everything. I helped and guided them in doing the right things. You guys will see when you watch the movie, you’ll notice that, what we put together, is pretty awesome!
Boxing Insider: We were there for the premier and to see the outcome of what you guys put together was extraordinary. To see how the audience in the cinema engaged with it, as if it was a real fight, was phenomenal. With your expertise in combat sports, did you have an input into how the fights were choreographed?
Stitch: Not so much in the fighting scenes. There were guys there who choreographed everything. With Michael B. Jordan though I helped keep him in that “fighter mode”. I remember when we did the first movie, I spent like 6 weeks one-on-one with Michael, which was tremendous. I would spend quality time with him in his dressing room, wrapping his hands so we would talk. I was just so impressed with him one day that I said “Michael, you’ve done such a great job in being a fighter that I am going to knight you as a fighter. You are an official fighter now”. Based on the first movie and on the second movie you can see his skill level has gotten so much better! Michael has done such a great, great job!
You talk about the psychological aspect, going back to one of your earlier questions. In the last scene where he’s fighting Viktor Drago, both Florian and Michael are just exhausted! They’re just doing take after take so they’re tired. I remember Florian sitting on the stool and Michael is down on the Canvas with Steven Caple, the Director, on his knees talking to Michael. I’m also down on my knees listening to the conversation. I hear Steven telling Michael “we have to get everything out of you for this last scene. You have to be exhausted Michael. You have to get everything out of you, I need everything out of you”. I’m over here thinking to myself “wow, what a great Director”. I see that Michael was exhausted. I tell him “Michael, this is where the Lion takes over”. I helped him get back up and they went on to finish that final scene.
Boxing Insider: Were there any moments, behind the scenes, where you had to stitch someone up or something because of accidental contact during the making of those fight scenes?
Stitch: Not so much stitching guys up, but you know Michael and Florian, they couldn’t help not making contact with each other. There was a moment, and you’ll be one of the first to know about this, that Michael showed me his knee and he has a lot of water built up in it. Michael asked me what I thought about it and I told him “Michael you’re going to have to get this drained”. That was on a Friday, and these guys worked their asses off. So, I get back to set that following Monday, Michael comes over and tells me that he got his knee drained and showed me the video of it. It’s things like that where they appreciate your knowledge and those are moments you just don’t forget.
Boxing Insider: How was it working with all these Boxing professionals on a movie set where everything is more choreographed?
Stitch: It was great! Andre Ward, you know, I’ve been working with him ever since he became a Pro. It was nice seeing him do all the acting parts and all that. All the other guys that were involved in the movie were just so excited to be part of this legacy. You look at them, you work with them, and a lot of those guys I wrapped them up behind the scenes. To see those guys, do what they do, I know when they see the movie they’re going to be super proud that they were part of this legacy.
Boxing Insider: To be a part of the Creed and Rocky legacy, it must feel like such an amazing honor.
Stitch: It definitely is! And you know Henry when we did the first Creed movie, it was like the 3rd or 4th week and I remember telling Sly (Sylvester Stallone) “Sly you know I can’t sleep at night. I’m in my room and I keep asking myself what am I doing here?” and he tells me “Stitch, you earned it”. There was another moment when I got the script for the 1st movie and my name on the script was Marcel. “Marcel?” I questioned. I didn’t even know anyone by the name of “marcel” let alone any Cutman. So, I said I was going to try and change my character’s name. then Sly being the professional that he is, when it was time for him to introduce us to Adonis (Michael B. Jordan’s character) he introduces me as “Stitch, the best Cutman in Philadelphia” and oh man, deep inside Henry I was screaming “Yes!”. The next day, I thanked him and once again Sly being such a professional says “Well it has to feel authentic”. So many props to him for understanding what makes a great movie.
Boxing Insider: For all those who are still waiting for the movie to be released in theaters, is there any last words you’d like to say to them?
Stitch: Henry you saw the movie, I saw the movie. It’s going to be great! The story line between Ivan Drago and his son Viktor Drago is a great storyline. To be able to see the side of the opponent, in all these boxing movies you never really get to see that side. Its only the star of the movie who we learn about. In this movie, we have a few stars. We have Florian who obviously fights Michael B. Jordan and then we have Dulph Lundgren that was, and continues to be Ivan Drago. So now he’s back in the movie so it was nice to rekindle his legacy and then to see the side of his son. Even the storyline with Michael and Tessa Thompson who plays “Bianca” Michael’s wife is a great storyline. Obviously “Rocky” he’s always going to be respected in whatever position he’s in, so expect to see a great movie. Also, the soundtrack is pretty amazing, I was really excited about that.
I spoke to Florian at the after-party of the movie premier and I told him how proud I am of him. Now Florian is the only one to get away with calling me “Stitchy” I remember telling him on set “Florian, if you weren’t so big I’d kick your ass” but that’s just the cariño (“affection” in Spanish)
So, I say to him “I’m so proud of you man, you’re going to be a star” he then says “Stitchy, I’ve read your articles and appreciate your kind words. I’m starting to get all kinds of offers now and you know what Stitchy? Now I can call my shots on these”. So, expect to see more of Florian Munteanu’s face, because he’s definitely going to be a star. Michael B. Jordan, the things that he has been doing! He’s the new “Denzel Washington” of the modern age. I’m so proud to be part of his team. So, check out the movie, it’s going to be tremendous!
Stitch grew up as a farmworker in the Central Valley of California. He still considers himself that humble little Chicano who grew up in the San Joaquin Valley. When he came to New York for the premiere, he was in disbelief that he was here with all these top actors. “Everyone is treating me like an actor, and calling me a legend. It’s a mind-blowing experience!” he says.
“That’s why I like to tell people especially the Latinos that “si se puede” which means it can be done. It’s all perseverance. Go out there and do what your heart tells you to do and even if you don’t reach the highest level, you’ll still be at a higher level than where you are today”.
Creed 2 hits theaters November 21st, 2018. This is a fight you won’t want to miss!
Jack Massey: From Ice Hockey to Boxing Contender
By: Oliver McManus
“Growing up as a kid I was into Ice Hockey so I’d go see Manchester Storm at the Arena, I’ve been to concerts so it was bizarre fighting there in June. Being in the centre as opposed to in the crowd, it was surreal.”
Jack Massey was on the phone as we discussed his upcoming fight on the undercard of Josh Warrington vs Carl Frampton. “Just come back from my running”, was the first thing he said but he quickly set about telling me how he “accidentally” got into the sport.
“I must have been about 11 years old, my brother had already started, but initially I was playing ice hockey in Sheffield and that was what I really enjoyed. The only problem was that it took an hour to get over to Sheffield and the coach was honest, he said, “you’re not going to be able to keep coming here four times a week” so I looked at the other sports and ended up down a boxing gym.
To be honest I only started because I wanted to keep fit for the ice hockey but over time I feel in love with it. I was in it for fun but obviously I was aware of the big fighters – Mike Tyson was someone I watched a bit – and my dad had all the video tapes, ‘Friday Night Fights’ or something like that so I was always around the sport.”
The Chapel-en-le-Frith Cruiserweight turned professional in the middle of 2013, aged 20, and was born out of frustration with Team GB. Now 25, though, Massey feels the professional game forced him into a better fighter.
“I’m pleased with how I’ve progressed, if I’m honest, it wasn’t initially the plan to turn professional so early because I had trials with Team GB. They dropped me and the day I signed with Steve Wood, to turn pro, they sent me another letter for further trials. By that point I’d already made my mind up to try and make a bit of money. It was tough as an amateur because not a lot of people wanted to fight me, ABA champion and it was real hard work. It was getting on my nerves and I didn’t want to go stale.”
Attention quickly turned to December 22nd and the stacked card at the Manchester Arena. One Smack will be looking to make a statement against someone, he hopes, will come to fight.
“It’s absolutely huge especially to be back in Manchester because I like fighting here and it’s such a boost for my confidence to have got the nod for the show. I’m hoping to step up and make a statement because we’re looking for that Okolie fight next year so I want to see what titles are available. If I can’t then I’ll get a good eight rounder in, I want a tough opponent to get me up the rankings.
I never go out there looking for a knockout, I’m sure lots of people will say that, and the more I try to force it then the less it happens. When I hit them, though, they tend to go down.”
Reflecting on 2018, Massey was ponderous and weighed up the good and the bad –
“It’s been a frustrating year we’ve had a few little things happen, a couple of injuries but it’s seen me drop down in the rankings a little bit which is why I don’t want to waste time anymore. I need to get a busy year in 2019 with top quality opponents.
Having said that, I’d probably say that (the fight with Ian Tims) was my best performance, I thought he’d show me a bit more but, to be honest, he wasn’t as good as we expected. I got the job done but I’d have liked to show a bit more of what I can do.
That’s why I want proven fighters, good and tough who will put it on me. Because the better opponents I fight, the better the fight will be and the better I’ll perform. It’s like football, if you play a duff team then you won’t play as well.”
14 and 0 since turning pro, the Frank Warren fighter has set his eyes firmly on titles and is clear in his desire to face Lawrence Okolie next year.
“I won’t take it away from him because he’s a good boxer but his last couple fights have been stinkers and people aren’t happy about that, I’m not. I don’t usually go on Twitter, to be honest, I’ve never been one for giving people shit but it looks like that’s how fights are being made nowadays. I’ve been a bit inactive in the ring so I thought I’d wind him up a little bit to try and make the fight.
You want people to be more interested in the cruiserweight division and there’s some great fighters but if he keeps fighting like that then people will turn off from us.
Hailing from a small Derbyshire town – with a population of just under 9,000 – you’d be forgiven for thinking that, for the pride of the parish, ticket sales might be a challenge.
“I started off with a solid fan-base and I did 900 tickets on my first in Buxton so it’s quite good being the only boxer from the town. It’s a small town so everyone knows who I am and what I do, they all come and support me. The shows at the (Devonshire) Dome really helped to get my name out there locally but, obviously, being on BT is massive for exposure.”
The confidence is flowing from Massey who feels, without doubt, it is his opportunity to thrive. December 22nd, for him, kick starts a huge year with one simple mission – titles, titles, titles!
“I’ve got the foundation of sparring in Latvia (with Mairis Briedis) from last month and I’ve not took the foot of the gas since. It’s a long camp but I’m feeling better than ever and I can’t wait for December 22nd because I’m going to put on a show. I’ll send a warning for 2019, I’m coming for the belts!”