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Ellie Scotney: A fighter hard to please

Ellie Scotney looks on during her super-bantamweight fight against Eva Cantos (Photo by James Chance/Getty Images)
Ellie Scotney is her own worst critic and pains over every performance. That desire for perfection is a quality that could take her to the very top, writes John Evans

IT’S SAID that if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. But even for somebody who loves their job as much as Ellie Scotney, some days can be a grind.

This wasn’t one of those days.

“I keep getting little flutters of excitement,” Scotney told Boxing News as she happily walked around a sunny Canary Wharf hours before stepping into the ring to face Maria Roman in May. “That’s a good thing though. There was nothing last time.”

The excitement wasn’t just because she was on her way to get her first ‘proper coffee’ in weeks.

At times the 24-year-old Londoner has had to be as brave outside the ring as in it but today – apart from a slight scratch left by an eyebrow technician and the dilemma of picking a catchy walkout song – the only thing Scotney had to worry about was her boxing and that is when she is at her happiest.

“That’s something I’ve learned in this game,” Scotney said as she wandered back to the hotel “You have to be able to depend on yourself.”

Later that evening, the O2 Arena rose to applaud Scotney after she reintroduced herself to them by dominating Roman. She had greeted her previous victories with a shrug, already agonising over the things she hadn’t done and the things she wished she had. This time, even the perfectionist in her couldn’t contain a smile.

“Gangloff, Cantos, Guanini. I’ve never actually smiled after any of those fights,” Scotney said a few weeks later. “I watched this fight back and you know when you can almost feel a smile? I thought, ‘That’s real.’ For me – amateur and professional – that was one of my most satisfying moments. Look, it was only for an intercontinental title – it’s nothing compared to what I want – but it was about everything I had to figure out to get to that point. That was a real smile that night.”

Growing up with five brothers and a sister, Scotney has developed wits as quick as her fists but running through the self-depreciating humour and stick about your ‘bastard’ shoes is a determination to go about things the right way. You could say in an old fashioned way. The idea of being handed anything she hasn’t earned horrifies her.

In the accelerated world of women’s boxing, Scotney’s amateur achievements – a European silver and a Senior ABA title – mean that she is already on the verge of fighting for a major belt but there is probably a nagging annoyance that she missed out on hard fought area title fights at York Hall. The nobbins wouldn’t have gone amiss either. 

When people dedicate themselves to something for the right reasons, they develop a unique ability to see through bullshit and although flattery might be nice, it takes a backseat to honesty.

“My last two performances [before Roman] were terrible. Terrible,” she admitted. “Me as a person and the way we’ve been brought up you’re always looking for more for yourself. It’s kind of how we are. I think it’s good the way I am because I’m always trying to get better but on the other hand I’m always putting myself down. I never live in the moment, or maybe I should say I never appreciate what I’ve done in the moment. It’s always, ‘Ah, but next time you’ve gotta do this or I didn’t do that.’ I always want better but in a negative way. It works in a positive sense though, if that makes sense? I’m trying to flip that on its head at the minute.”

Roman was the second former belt-holder Scotney has beaten in just five professional fights but it was the scrappy decision victory over former flyweight titlist, Jorgelina Guanini, three months earlier that triggered a change in her mindset and form.

Forced into a few days away from the gym, Scotney had nothing else to do but stew over the 10 messy rounds. She heard the positive spin about priceless experience and invaluable rounds but the honesty from those who know her best cut straight through that. 

It was her mum, April, who got straight to the heart of the matter. “She said, ‘You were like an ironing board, Ell.’

Scotney idolises all action, rhythmic fighters like Julio César Chávez, Orlando Canizales and Roberto Duran, always looking for ways to make her angles sharp and combinations sharper. For a while, everything felt blunt. 

“I think I’ll remember that fight for the rest of my career. It’ll always make want to do things cleaner,” she said. “Just scraping by? Nah. That’s not for me. We’ve always said this. It’s one thing getting there, it’s another thing to stay there and when I do get there I want to stay there for as long as I can. That’s why I’ve taken the fights I have. I’ve ticked boxes and I’ll know that when I do get to that level I’ll know that I’ve earned everything the hard way.”

Scotney tears into Jorgelina Guanini on February 12, 2022 in London (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

Scotney still loves the sport as much as the nine-year-old girl who followed her brothers to the gym on the promise of a Mars bar and a carton of Ribena. When injury and inactivity once forced you to temporarily park your career and take a job in B&Q, you learn to appreciate that even the most brutal circuit beats a shift telling customers on which aisle they can find paint stripper. That doesn’t mean there aren’t days when the whole thing feels like pushing water uphill though.

It is approaching a year since Scotney decided to leave Adam Booth’s stable and slotted effortlessly into Shane McGuigan’s tight knit team in East London.

Scotney thought long and hard about who to entrust her career to but she and McGuigan instantly saw the potential in each other. That alone doesn’t guarantee success. The pair spent days and weeks working away, waiting for things to really click. After training, Scotney would park herself on the ring apron to watch her gym mates hit pads and move around. Feeling caught between styles, long days in the gym were followed by longer nights wondering how she could alter her natural approach and fit in.

Slowly, it dawned on her that she didn’t need to. She was neglecting the raw ability and instincts that separate her from the crowd and made McGuigan so keen to take her on in the first place. One day the new, old Scotney walked into the gym.

“Even going into this fight – and I think probably Shane felt the same way – I needed to perform. It wasn’t a case of scraping another decision,” she said.

“I thought I had to fit into a mould and had to change completely. That wasn’t the case. It was a case of finding me again. That was key and the last camp cemented it for me. I think the performance showed that. 

“I think with my first amateur coach [at Lynn A.B.C], Samm Mullins, I was kind of spoilt. I used to listen out for that voice and thought that that was my reason for the success. When I did it for myself I kind of got a bit lost in the process. It’s since I’ve had to chop and change that I’ve realised that it’s you yourself that makes you get to where you need to. You can get any voice or any help you like but I’ve realised that it’s in me. It did take me a little bit of time to realise that. 

“[Before the Roman fight] I said that ‘I found my feet’ but it was really down to realising that I’m the one that takes the steps. I realised what I’m all about and how I want to go about things. It was a horrible process but it was worth it.”

Lots of talented people fall by the wayside after drifting along and allowing a situation to go on longer than it should. 

Maybe they want to avoid conflict. Maybe it gives them an excuse they can always fall back on or maybe they just don’t realise they’re drifting away from the destination they originally had in mind. Whatever the reason, in the blink of an eye, life has moved on and the time to better themselves may have passed them by forever. 

Realising things need to change is one thing but having the self-confidence to do something about it is another altogether.

Stepping away from the Team GB set up and a potential Olympic place to turn professional took courage and it would be a brave decision for an established male fighter to leave a renowned set-up like Booth’s after just two professional fights, let alone a young female with next to no pull in the sport. 

The right way isn’t always the easy way but if you make decisions for the proper reasons, you have nothing to regret.

“There have been a lot of changes along the way. I think it’s been a case of throwing myself in the deep end and finding armbands myself once I’m in there,” Scotney said. “There has been a bit of trial and error along the way. Its been a bit risky but it’s paid off.

“When I look back, changing from Adam took a lot. I’ve had to do a few big things, probably more than you’d expect this early on but I know what’s right and what’s wrong and take that into my boxing. If something doesn’t sit right with me, I can’t just let it just be. I can’t just settle. I just know when something’s not right.”

Finding the self-belief to trust her ability might just be the final piece in the jigsaw but it won’t take much for that nagging perfectionist inside to begin chirping away again. When it does, Scotney would do well to remember the one compliment that she does seem to have taken to heart. 

“My mum does the school run and always sees this lady. They always smile at each other but don’t know each other. Anyway, they ended up talking and she asks my mum what she did at weekend. My mum tells her she was at the boxing and that her daughter boxed. The woman goes, ‘No way. My husband and his son were at the boxing and said that there was a girl there who fought like a man.’ It’s ironic but I’ve always said that to hear that as a female boxer is one of the best compliments you can get. As long as they didn’t say I looked like one.  

“I think every female who walked into a gym and got those little glances like, ‘What’s this girl doing in here?’ It’s kind of your way of shutting them up. It might sound a bit weird because we’re obviously trying to break that barrier but when you realise you fit into that little thing, that little world, you think, ‘Ah ok. I’m not bad at this.’”

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