Raphael Gramajo: “This Is Why I Box”
By: Sean Crose
No one needs to be told what a tough time the world – and America in particular – is going through. Still, there are some of us who are able to find away to make at least a glass or two of lemonade out of a seeming orchard full of lemons. Super bantamweight Raphael Gramajo is one such person. “I held up pretty good,” he says of the time he had to spend isolated from the larger world during the Covid-19 pandemic. “I got my kid with me. That made it go a lot smoother.”
Some guys simply enjoy Dad Duty. Count the 11-2-2 Gramajo among their ranks. Talking to the man over the phone for a few minutes, it becomes clear he really enjoys the activities nvolved. “Art work,” Gramajo says of his time spent parenting in quarantine. “We built stuff. We played some games.” Being a family man is more than a side gig to Gramajo, it’s obviously the whole gig. “This is why I box,” he says. “I box because of this.” A product of the famous West Side boxing gym, Gramajo looks at his team through the prism of family, as well. “My career ends here,” he says of his gym. “This is not only a team it’s a family.”
Although Gramajo is an Los Angeles fighter through and through, he’s happy to admit he’s originally a product of Kansas. “Home to me is Kansas,” he says, “but this (LA) is home to me now.” There’s little doubt that his adopted home town has served Gramajo well. You can literally see his fans at ringside, donning matching white shirts, cheering him on. “That’s all thanks to LA.,” says Gramajo. “I’ve got a lot of fans out there now.” Fans who are undoubtedly eager to see their man’s ring return. “Just waiting for that call,” he says.
Although Gramajo would certainly be considered more of a boxer than a puncher, his last fight – an impressive win over Daniel Olea via retirement in the fourth round – showed the man can employ his power when the opportunity presents itself. “I want to see what the fighter’s about,” he says of his opponents. “I want to see what he’s working with and depending on what he’s working with, we go from there.” Its an analytical approach to the fight game that has served Gramajo well. “I’m focused from the moment I walk into the ring,” he says.
Boxing Insider Interview with Jack Massey
By: Oliver McManus
Thursday night sees cruiserweight contender Jack Massey vie for the vacant British title against Richard Riakporhe. The Chapel-en-le-frith resident is a local legend round Derbyshire and is keen to bring the belt back home. Boxing Insider caught up with him on fight week for a short and snappy interview. Massey began by explaining how the title shot is a perfect end to a somewhat stuttering year; blighted by missed opportunities.
<em> “Yeah it’s been a frustrating year, to be honest, but I feel as though this (the British title) has been a long time coming. Obviously I was supposed to compete in Ultimate Boxxer at the beginning of the year but pulled out of that to face Okolie (scheduled for July) and I ended up injuring my bicep. I’ve been saying for a while now that I was ready for the British title so I’m looking forward to getting in the ring on Thursday.” </em>
Having turned professional in 2013, Massey has patiently developed on the Derbyshire small hall scene and, more recently, with the support of Frank Warren. Initially he had hoped to fight for the British on December 22nd last year; the slight delay could perhaps be a blessing in disguise, as Massey elaborated.
<em> “I was in the gym for six weeks for Okolie, I’ve been in the gym for 10 weeks for this fight so I’m definitely prepared. I’ve never trained for a 12 round fight before but now I’ve sort of had one and a half camps to gear up for this one. Yes it might be six, twelve months later than I was expecting but, at the same time, I’m that many months hungrier and I’m that little bit more prepared, motivated and mature.” </em><em> “It’s a good time for me to be fighting for the British title” </em>, he continued, <em> “it’s the right time, as well. I’ve obviously been professional for six and a bit years and I’ve had a good mix of challenges. It’s been about building momentum, I’ve been learning on the job but I’ve also been keeping the confidence up and trying to stay busy.” </em>
The 26 year old was due to contest the title in July against Lawrence Okolie but a nasty bicep injury curtailed that opportunity; Massey outlined what occurred.
<em> “It happened in sparring with Hughie (Fury) and I went to throw a right hook but he’d stuck his elbow slightly and I hit it. It went straight through to the bicep and I knew straightaway it wasn’t good. It was nasty and, obviously, I was really frustrated at the time but I couldn’t do anything about it and there was no point in getting flustered about it.” </em>
The title remains the same but a new opponent awaits. Richard Riakporhe has been on a mean streak since linking up with Matchroom Boxing and is a heavy betting favourite. Predictably the odds are skewed to the home fighter but Massey insisted they were more alike than many expect:
<em> “We’re fairly similar in height so I don’t think that will be too much of an issue. I’ve had plenty of rounds with Shakan Pitters to try and replicate those long limbs and his speed but heavyweights for their power, too. I’ve been kept on my toes and I am feeling really up for it. I think I’ve prepared for everything possible: there’s been plenty of variety in camp.” </em>
Not only is there the British title on offer, and all the opportunities thereafter, but a place in the history books of Derbyshire boxing. Who knows, they might even let him turn on the Christmas lights this time next year…
<em> “There’s not been many British champions from Derbyshire (Jack Bodell reigned the heavyweight division for one fight in 1969) so that’ll be a great feeling. I had a little open workout (in Chapel-en-le-frith) last week for those that can’t get down to London and the support was incredible. They’ve always been really generous with their support – right from when I was fighting on small shows in Buxton – and it’ll be to go back home as Champion in time for Christmas.” </em>
Diego De La Hoya: “I’ve Learned A Lot”
By: Sean Crose
Diego De La Hoya was supposed to win when he stepped in between the ropes to face the 31-3 Ronny Rios last July in Carson, California. Instead, it was the 21-0 rising star out of Mexico that found himself stopped in the sixth round. Yet De La Hoya, a member of a royal boxing family if ever there was one, indicated he sees the loss as a positive. “With this loss,” he recently said to me over the phone, “I’m going to gain a lot of experience.” Like Anthony Joshua recently proved, a single defeat does not a career take. “I’ve learned a lot from this,” the 25 year old told me.
De La Hoya returns to the ring this weekend when he takes on the 16-6 Renson Robles in his native Mexico. “I’m very happy,” De La Hoya said, “we’re only days away from fighting in Mexicali.” With his single loss behind him, De La Hoya feels that “things will go well” when he faces Robles on Saturday. Although not a household name, Venezuela’s Robles, who is on a three fight win streak, would clearly love to make his mark against a fighter as well known as De La Hoya, who shares his cousin Oscar’s last name.
“He’s a very valiant fighter,” De La Hoya said of his foe. He’s not lying. Although Robles has lost six fights, he’ll be fighting for the fourth time this year this weekend – an oddity in the modern fight game for a boxer who isn’t just starting to get his feet wet. “This is a fight,” De La Hoya told me, “that’s been brewing for a while.” Not that he comes across as uneasy. When we spoke last week, De La Hoya had just finished up camp, and was sounding confident and energetic.
Now entering his seventh year as a pro fighter, the former standout amateur is clearly eager to get back on track in the loaded featherweight division. De La Hoya has already bested the likes of Estrella Ruiz and Randy Caballero. With names like Warrington, Russell, Stevenson, and Frampton on the featherweight roster, the sky’s the limit for any fighter on the rise. By fighting in his hometown this weekend, De La Hoya has the chance to impress. “They can believe in me,” he says of the local fans, indicating that he’s a fighter who obviously believes in himself.
Jay Harris: Anything is Possible Now
By: Oliver McManus
Tucked away in the corner of Cardiff, Gary Lockett is building an impressive stable of fighters. Away from the bright lights of London his proteges set to work in an unassuming manner; their hard work and patience now rewarded with opportunities aplenty. MTK Global have invested time and money into Welsh boxing, staging two title shows this year. Yet even for Jay Harris, who works in Swansea’ Amazon warehouse, their delivery is ahead of schedule.
12 months ago the flyweight said he felt ‘forgotten’ by the world of boxing with few opportunities emerging for the Commonwealth champion. His dedication to the sport, and Lockett’s dedication to his charge, has been met with ambition from MTK. Three fights this year have seen Harris pick up the European and IBF Inter-Continental titles – the latter in a pulsating clash with Paddy Barnes.
“The first round was alright, weren’t it?”, he remarked in humorous fashion, “but I think the fire was too big for Paddy. I was too big , too strong and he was throwing everything he had at me. He’s a tough guy and I expected it (the hard pace) because of how our spars were in the past. I was expecting to go to war – the first minute was a bit quiet and then it was just abuse, really. Bombs flying everywhere.”
The 29 year old is arguably used to more subdued affairs with his best wins – against Thomas Essomba and Angel Moreno self-described as “learners”. This more gung-ho style against Barnes may have caught onlookers by surprise but in truth it was closer to home for the Welshman.
“I’m a pretty come forward fighter myself so I reacted instinctively. Obviously if I felt he was coming on too strong I’d have taken a backwards step but I was feeling it. I was feeling physically stronger and that I could push him off so I knew I could stay toe-to-toe with him.
I felt so relaxed after the first round so that’s where the training pays off. Once I landed a couple of punches I was able to relax that little bit more because I was confident in winning; then the shots just rolled off that little bit easier.”
The fight itself ended in the fourth round after a sustained assault from the youthful looking Harris. For its brief duration it was an electric encounter that had the Barnes-infatuated Belfast crowd roaring with every punch. Even away from home and in ‘enemy territory’, the Swansea-man was able to enjoy the raptures of the crowd.
“It is the best place I’ve fought at. It used to be York Hall but this was incredible; sold out, the noise was ridiculous and everyone was enjoying themselves. Everyone got behind us, they appreciate a good scrap, and the people were so welcoming to me: even after the fight!”
“I knew Paddy was their number one when I signed up for the fight” he continued, “so I knew I wasn’t going to be popular. I was expecting to get booed when I went to the ring but I never got any of that. The crowd were brilliant; they support their own but afterwards they were so respectful to me. I 100% want to fight in Ireland again it was just so great.”
His spiteful performance said everything for a fighter who’s talent has been slept on for far too long. If this was considered a ‘breakthrough’ fight then it’s fair to say Harris is here to stay. 2018 was a torrid year for the, then Frank Warren fighter. A bout with Dexter Marquez was cancelled due the Guyanese fighter failing a brain scan. Then the phone went cold. Mo Prior kept Harris busy and, in December 2018, the Welshman was able to defend his Commonwealth title for the first time; 21 months after winning it.
The turnaround in just a matter of months is something that even the optimist in Harris struggles to comprehend.
“I couldn’t have imagined life being like this. The last nine months where I’ve been signed with MTK has been like a dream. Everything has just worked perfectly from the Brett Fidoe I was in full knowledge of the direction I was going – we’ve continually taken upwards steps. I don’t want to be in crappy little six rounders because I want to put on a show and I want to be in more title fights.”
Direction is exactly what was missing for the 2012 GB Amatuer Champion – “I was training for the possibility of a fight”, he said in reflection. Six years on from a debut that pocketed him £250, a long six years, it was genuinely refreshing to hear Harris say “I’m happy now.” And who can begrudge his happiness after such a slog to get there. His efforts in the ring – at long last, some would say – are now handsomely recognised.
“I’m ranked in all four governing bodies – five with the IBF, seventh with WBC, 11 with the WBO and 13 with the WBA – but that’s not happened overnight. I’m just glad I didn’t wrap it up when I was thinking because I look at those rankings and it brings a smile to my face. A world title fight isn’t a dream anymore, it looks as though it could be happening on the horizon.
My mandatory for the European, Mohammed Obbadi, is ranked with the IBF so why not get that on as an eliminator. I’m going to have to fight him either way but if we can get that as an eliminator it’ll be great and then who knows what will happen next year.”
It’s not just the Commonwealth, European and IBF Inter-continental title making splashes out of Wales. Gary Lockett, for a long time, has been spearheading the next generation of Welsh talent. A stable of talent personified in the quartet of Harris, Alex Hughes, Rhys Edwards and Chris Jenkins; speak to any of them and they’ll wax lyrical about the 42 year old.
It’s telling of Harris’ character that, when speaking about his trainer, he was keen to heap praise not only on their relationship but the work he’s done for other fighters. In particular, British welterweight champion, Chris Jenkins.
“He’s doing wonders with Chris – he’s got better and better with each fight and he’s one of the most underrated fighters in Britain at the moment. The gym atmosphere is brilliant and we’re all able to look at each other’s success. Gary is so much more than a trainer; he’s invested in all of us and he’s a credit to the sport. Even guys like Richie Garner and Mo Prior – they’re all really nice. They go out of their way to help you. It’s nice to have people around you that you can trust, that’s all it is.”
A year can be a funny old time in any walk of life – a fact only magnified by the twisting politics of boxing. Jay Harris been on the unfortunate end of that stick but how quickly the chaser becomes the chased. No longer ‘nagging Gary for a fight’ instead given the luxury of choice nowadays. His ambition, drive and desire remain the same but what a difference happiness can make.
“I’ve got loads of different options and I don’t have to chase fights anymore. I’ve got people chasing me which feels a little weird but I’m not going to complain. Anything’s possible now.”
Interview with Dmitry Bivol: “Of Course I Want It, But The Other Champions Are Busy”
By: Vishare Mooney
“Of course I want it, but the other champions are busy,” said WBA Champion Dmitry Bivol, (16-0, 11KOs) when asked about his long wait for a unification bout and referring to his peers in the light heavyweight division. Oleksandr Gvozdyk (WBC titleholder) fights Artur Beterbiev (IBF titleholder) on October 18th, and two weeks later, Sergey Kovalev (WBO champion) will entertain Canelo Alvarez’s first bid in this talent packed division. Rather than wait, Bivol will stay busy, fighting the most available and formidable opponent, Dominican boxer Lenin Castillo (20-2-1, 15KOs) in Saturday’s fight in Chicago’s Wintrust arena, a co-feature to the Usyk vs. Witherspoon heavyweight main event, promoted by Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing and streamed by DAZN.
This is Bivol’s sixth defense of the WBA light heavyweight title, and despite not yet having the opportunity to fight for the other belts, his dominance in the ring with his powerful and fluid movements continues to gain the attention of fans and fighters. Bivol recently sat down for a talk with Boxing Insider, during the last days of his fight camp at Combinations Boxing Academy, a new gym owned by Freddie Roach protege, Marvin Somodio in Lawndale, CA. Amiable and relaxed, with long time trainer Gennady Mashianov and manager Vadim Kornilov in the background, Bivol talked boxing, life, and a potential move to Los Angeles. You can see our interview on Instagram @boxingInsidercom.
Photo: Lucas Noonan
At times we see shades of Gennady Golovkin in the Russian/Korean Bivol, the kind of fighter that is humble outside the ring and a terror to his opponents inside the squared circle. Indeed, Bivol was born eight years later than Golovkin, in 1990, in Krygyzstan, neighbor to Golovkin’s birthplace, Kazakhstan. His mother is Russian born, Korean descent while his father is Moldovan. Bivol moved to St. Petersburg when he was 11 and has boxed since he was 6.
During Bivol’s early childhood in Kyrgyzstan, Jackie Chan was an early hero and he started off in martial arts. “Why do you like him,”I asked. “I like that he’s funny and that..” said Bivol, he turned to Kornilov and spoke Russian. Kornilov translates, ““that he is a good person and he will try to defeat negative powers using his skills.”
His stint in karate was short lived. At their local gym, which was split between karate and boxing, Bivol and his father noticed the boxing scene had far more competitions. Bivol noticed the fighters got more medals..he wanted the medals. “I wanted to get more medals, I counted them every time I got one.” Bivol estimates he has around 60 medals, symbols of a stellar amateur career which included 268 wins and 15 losses, including 2 world championships at the junior level.
Bivol turned pro in 2014, though not without reservations. “When I was younger, I saw boxing on TV and I understand that if you want to be a great boxer you have to go pro, but my boxing style was different and I thought I can’t be a good pro boxer, but Gennady said to me, “you can, you have to go pro. I thought no, no I can’t but when I went to America I had a couple sparrings here against pro boxers, I thought, oh, maybe I can.” Mashianov has been Bivol’s coach since 2010 during the height of his amateur career up until now. Perhaps Bivol’s overall success has as much to do with Mashianov’s constant tweaking of his athlete’s abilities as well as Bivol’s natural talent. In observing the pair, Mashianov is ever vocal in his adjustments to Bivol’s form in mittwork and during sparring sessions.
When asked about his opponents, it’s apparent Bivol does his research and can make adjustments midfight. On his March fight UD win against powerhouse puncher Joe Smith Jr. Bivol noted, “Joe Smith is a really dangerous fighter, he’s strong. When he punched me with right hand I felt it with all my body. I felt that I can beat him all fight and I have to be in control.. But he is a little bit slower than I expected of him..I saw his punches,,but one punch I didn’t see, he got me.’ The one punch, referring to Smith’s clipping him at the bell in round ten. Bivol stormed back in the twelfth round decisively winning the fight.
On last year’s win against veteran Jean Pascal, he noted that Pascal favored hooks exclusively and modified his fight plan accordingly. “He has good hooks, he didn’t use straights or uppercuts..and he’s fast..he’s strong too. When I punched Pascal, he threw one hook, he didn’t get me but I saw it’s really fast, so I thought I can’t be next to him I have to use only my straight.” On upcoming fight with Castillo, Bivol surveys him as a good counter puncher with a strong chin and respects his Olympic boxing pedigree.
Bivol wants most to fight Canelo of course and is well aware of Canelo’s strengths. “He has a good defense. This is really good for boxers, not many boxers have a good defense. He has a good defense and he is fast, he is quick and he is powerful for a middleweight, maybe for heavyweight? We will see.”
As our conversation tapered off away from ring talk, we remembered his friend Maxim Dadashev, who tragically passed away last July from injuries sustained during his light welterweight bout with Subriel Matias. Both Bivol and Dadashev met in 2003 grew up in St. Petersburg and went through the amateur system together, celebrated milestones together, both married with young children. “It’s really sad but we chose this. And I love boxing, and I think Maxim chose the same way. Because when he was boxing, when he was in competition, he was great, he felt like he was living. This is our life.”
It was time to wrap up our conversation, with one more sparring session to go, Bivol was to leave for Chicago for fight week. My parting question was to ask about his thoughts in America, would he ever consider moving here? “I like Russia, of course. I like that my parents live there. I have a lot of friends there and the culture this is why I want to be in Russia. But of course in America I see a lot of pluses, maybe for my kids to get an education here.”
Would you live in California? “I would like to live in California. If I move to USA, I choose LA.”
Otto Wallin Fight Week Interview: “I Feel Very Well Prepared”
By: Sean Crose
“I had a tough training camp,” says Otto Wallin, “with a lot of quality sparring and many rounds in the bank. I feel very well prepared for Saturday.” By “tough,” of course, Wallin means successful. Camp shouldn’t be easy when one’s preparing to battle one of the most colorful and high profile boxers on the planet, Tyson Fury. “I feel great,” Wallin adds just days before his heavyweight battle with Fury at the T-Mobile arena in Las Vegas. “I’m very excited about this opportunity and I want to leave everything in the ring on Saturday.” This weekend represents the opportunity of a lifetime for the 20-0 native of Sweden. Should he defeat the 28-0-1 Fury, it would be a shocking upset, perhaps even more thunderous than Andy Ruiz’ stunning victory over Anthony Joshua last June at Madison Square Garden.
For Wallin isn’t a widely known commodity. Although the man has yet to lose a professional bout, many feel that he’s simply being sent into the ring to keep the flamboyant Fury busy until bigger fights come along. Fury himself has been busy talking about other fighters rather than the individual whose been focused for weeks on beating him. “I hope he’s focusing on other fighters and looking past me,” says Wallin, who doesn’t come across as one who gets easily rattled. “That would make it easier for me!”
One advantage Fury will have over Wallin is the fact that he’s been through the media circus before. He’s beaten Wladimir Klitschko…and battled Deontay Wilder to a draw. Those were two highly covered bouts, which means the Englishman knows what it’s like to be in the spotlight, while Wallin – up until now – had yet to be center stage. Wallin seems to be taking it well, though, rather than allowing the moment to swallow him whole. “It’s been good,” he says of the lead up. “I’ve got a good team around me that keeps me from not being overwhelmed with media requests but helps to balance it.” To Wallin, all the press and attention is simply part and parcel of engaging in a big fight. “Media work is of course part of the game and very important,” he adds reasonably. “I’m very happy with all the interest around the fight and everything that comes with it.”
The interest in Wallin himself will be intense should be pull off the upset. Everyone will want to know who the polite, undefeated giant slayer is. Not that the attention won’t be well earned. Upsets bring about their own rewards. As does defeating the man many argue is the lineal heavyweight champion of the world (the man who beat the man who beat the man). If he wins on Saturday, Wallin will find himself spoken of alongside the likes of Wilder, Ruiz, and Joshua. Not that that a win would surprise Wallin. As he said of Fury in our previous interview: “He has not much to win and everything to lose in this fight and that’s great for me. He probably feels a ton of pressure and knows that he needs to look good in this fight.”
In other words, it’s not just the challenger who has to feel the heat on this occasion.
Dominique Crowder: Following Those Before Him
By: Hans Themistode
Baltimore Maryland has produced a number of great champions throughout the years. William Joppy, Dwight Muhammad Qawi and Hasim Rahman to name a few, have all risen to championship status. Even more recently, Featherweight champion Gervonta Davis is playing his part in keeping that tradition alive.
For the newly turned professional boxer Dominique Crowder, he is just looking to add his name amongst those who came before him.
Growing up in Baltimore Maryland, violence and drugs were all too familiar scenes for him. What always kept Crowder on the straight and narrow however, was his love for boxing. The sport has been apart of his life for as long as he can remember.
Photo Credit: Henry Deleon
“As a kid I watched boxing regularly so I always liked it,” recalled Crowder. “Growing up in my neighborhood, my friends would always bring the boxing gloves out and I would always win. It was around 2007 when I first stepped into a boxing gym with this guy named Eddie Butcher who began training me. I loved every bit of it.”
Finding something that you are passionate about is easy. Maintaining focus to become successful in it however, is the hard part. Early on for Crowder, he was able to stay on track and continually train on a regular basis, but then, life happened. His trainer Eddie Butcher relocated which left a major hole in the life of Crowder. At that point, he had two choices. Either continue his training at a new gym or fall into the street life.
Photo Credit: Henry Deleon
“Once Eddie went to a new gym I lost a lot of my focus. I went to a new gym but I couldn’t really focus so I stopped boxing.”
Crowder’s mind may not have been in boxing but his heart never left the sport that he loved. After being away from the sport for several years, Crowder decided to come back. With the help of one of his trainers Jose Guzman, Crowder is now fully focused. A relationship between a coach and fighter often times sticks to the confines of the gym. Regardless of that notion, Crowder and Guzman developed a connection that was much deeper then that.
“I took about four or five years off. Once I came back in 2012 I started training again but this time in New York as opposed to out here in Baltimore. Being in New York really allows me to focus. When I’m in my hometown it’s just too difficult. I’m too well known in Baltimore. Out here in New York, only the boxing world knows me. Random people have no idea who I am over here. So it allows me to focus better. I definitely give a lot of credit to one of my coaches Jose Guzman for helping me with my focus as well. Me and Guzman are like family. When I’m training down in New York he lets me stay at his house. Me and him have a really good relationship because when he works my corner and tells me what to do, it’s always right. All of the instruction that he gives me works out really well. He’s definitely a really good coach but our relationship goes far beyond boxing. Just being around him and being down in New York has helped me so much. When I’m home it’s about everything other than boxing so I had to leave that in order to become successful.”
Successful is exactly what Crowder has become. As an amateur, he put together an eye catching record consisting of 72 wins with only 10 losses. It was clear that Crowder was ready to take the next step. This Thursday on August 29th, 2019, Crowder will be making his pro debut in New Orleans at the Jr Featherweight division. As for who his opponent will be, he has no idea. Still, that doesn’t bother Crowder in the slightest.
“In the amateurs it’s pretty much the same thing. You don’t know who your fighting unless the guy is one of the top amateurs out there. I would like to know who exactly I’m getting into the ring with but it doesn’t matter to much. In training camp we’ve brung in a bunch of guys that have different attributes. A few guys that are short and come forward and a couple of guys that are long and rangy. No matter what kind of opponent I take on this Thursday, I’ll be prepared.”
Photo Credit: Henry Deleon
Being prepared is understatement for Crowder as one of his trainers is former Welterweight champion Mark Breland. Ironically enough, Breland, was one of the fighters that Crowder enjoyed watching growing up. The fighting style in which Breland employed in the ring made him a must watch for Crowder. Although he enjoyed watching him fight, there was one fighter in particular who inspired Crowder the most.
“Coach Breland is one of my favorites. I loved watching him fight. I also really enjoyed Floyd Mayweather but my absolute favorite fighter to watch is Diego Corrales. He was before my time but I really love watching his fights. We have similar fighting styles with me being so tall for the weight class. I can box and punch. There’s nothing I can’t do in that ring.”
Crowder has always gravitated towards the old school fighters, but there are several fighters from this current era who he truly enjoys watching and draws inspiration from as well.
“Gary Russel Jr is a beast. Rey Vargas and Guillermo Rigondeax are great fighters. As a matter of fact, I personally think that they’re the two best in the Jr Featherweight division. Guys like Shakur Stevenson and Vasyl Lomachenko are also guys that I look at and admire because they had so much success in the amateurs and they’re doing the same things in the pros. I also can’t forget about Gervonta Davis. He’s an amazing fighter. Both Russel and Davis really motivate me because there from my area so it just makes me feel like if they can become world champions and become successful then I can too.”
His first step towards his own championship aspirations will begin this Thursday. It might only be his first fight as a pro but Crowder plans on making a statement. Boxing is all he has known for his entire life and he plans on giving it everything he’s got.
“I wanna get the stoppage win. I’m stepping on the gas from the opening bell. I came into boxing to be one of the best. It’s the only thing that I’m good at. I don’t work, I don’t go to school I just box so I have to put 100 percent into it. It’s boxing or nothing for me.”
Alicia Napoleon Enters The Spotlight
By: Hans Themistode
With Claressa Shields taking her talents all the way down to the Jr Middleweight division, it has left a gaping hole. One that Alicia Napoleon is looking to fill.
Napoleon, (11-1, 6 KOs) currently holds the WBA Super Middleweight crown and is looking to defend her title against Schemelle Baldwin (3-0-1, 2 KOs) on August 29th, at the Foxwoods Resort in Mashantucket.
With just four professional fights under her belt, Baldwin would seem to be an easy win for the current WBA belt holder. However, having sparred against her and acknowledging the accolades she has managed to win in the amateur ranks, Napoleon knows that this contest will be anything but easy.
“She has a great amateur background,” said Napoleon. “She has also won three golden gloves. I’ve sparred in the past with her so she might be new as a pro but she a really good fighter.”
There is currently a stigma surrounding women’s boxing. One that indicates that most of their contest end with the judges decision being announced.
As of now, women’s fights are contested in two minute rounds as opposed to the three minute rounds that are afforded to the men. Many believe that the shorter duration of time that the women have to work with leads to less knockouts. Napoleon on the other hand, begs to differ.
“I think women are built with more tenacity than men. I think we’re tougher and more durable. I mean we are built to bare babies so we can definitely endure a lot of pain. Maybe our strength won’t match a man’s strength but I feel that our tenacity is through the roof.”
It is hard to argue with the sentiments spewed by Napoleon. With her contest just two weeks away, Napoleon is fully focused on defending her title. Be that as it may, she can’t help but give her opinion on another big fight that is on the horizon.
Heather Hardy and Amanda Serrano are set to face off on September 13th, at Madison Square Garden. Napoleon is friends with both fighters and gave her take on what she is expecting in that contest.
“I’ve heard that Amanda hits like a mule and she is super strong. She is a really sweet girl to,” said Napoleon. “I love Heather, I’m a big fan, I work with her and I consider her a friend. She has a ridiculous chin. I think people are going to be underestimating Heather in that fight but a lot of people are going to be surprised. It’s going to be a helluva fight.”
Hardy vs Serrano is a must watch contest, but Napoleon vs Baldwin is a can’t miss fight as well. According to the current WBA world title holder, her upcoming contest will only go one way come fight night.
“I think that she is going to come in confident and strong. I am going to use all of my attributes in that ring. I can box and I can brawl and when I get the opportunities I will take them and win this fight.”
Otto Wallin Looks To Shock Tyson Fury – And The Fight World
By: Sean Crose
“Fury is not your normal type of fighter or heavyweight,” says undefeated 20-0 heavyweight Otto Wallin. “He’s a big guy and knows how to use that to his advantage and he does it well.” Wallin is referring to the 28-0-1 Tyson Fury, who is considered to the be lineal heavyweight champion of the world, and who will be fighting Wallin on September 14th at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s the chance of a lifetime for Wallin, a 28 year old native of Sundsvall, Sweden, one the fighter clearly intends to make the most of.
“My training base is in New York,” he says, “where I live and we’ll be doing the training over here until one week before the fight.” Some fighters like to travel in order to train for major matches. The 6’5 plus Wallin is happy where he is. “We’ve got a nice private gym,” he says, “and we have all we need.” This will be Wallin’s second fight in the United States. His first was an ill-fated match against Nick Kisner last April in Atlantic City, a bout that was declared a no contest due to an accidental head butt. Wallin will be preparing for more than just potential head butts in the leadup to Fury, however.
For Fury is a unique case. Not only is he extremely large and slick, the Englishman is also a master of head games. Watch Fury’s interactions with then longtime heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko back in 2015 before he bested the Ukrainian legend in a huge upset. Fury’s interactions with Klitschko were in a master class of bullying and mind games. It’s a tactic Wallin feels well prepared for. “He’s probably looking to get inside of my head like he usually does,” says Wallin, “I’ll just laugh it off and be myself at all times. I’ve got a good team around me that will keep me on the right track.”
Should he win the lineal title off Fury, Wallin will be seen as the first heavyweight champion from Sweden since Ingemar Johansson, who won the crown from Floyd Patterson in the late 1950s. I asked Wallin (we conducted the interview via email) if he felt any pressure being a Swedish fighter with an opportunity to do what what the famous Johansson did. “I don’t feel any pressure at all,” he replied. “What Ingemar Johansson did is just a huge inspiration and he already showed that it’s possible and that it can be done!”
Coming hot on the heels of Andy Ruiz’ stunning victory over Anthony Joshua last June, Wallin will face Fury with the whiff of upsets in the air. There is also a suspicion that Fury is already overlooking Wallin while planning to have a rematch of his terrific bout last December against Deontay Wilder. Wallin, however, isn’t one too make too much of such conjecture. “I have no idea what’s in Fury’s head,” he says, “but surely he has not much to win and everything to lose in this fight and that’s great for me. He probably feels a ton of pressure and knows that he needs to look good in this fight.”
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!”