I’VE been watching a lot of Mike Tyson recently. Watching him in his early days training. Trying to find out as much as I can about him himself. He was obsessed with the sport in the early days. He knew all kind of old fashioned fighters, old warriors, leaders, emperors. So I’ve just been reading up on a lot of that stuff.
As well as being a boxer, I’m a fan. It’s making me more excited for when it does come back.
I’m at the highest level. I think I’ve said it many times but I realise it doesn’t last forever. Why not enjoy it. I’ve been boxing since I was eight years old, when I first walked into a boxing gym. From that age I’ve always had an interest in it. 11, 12, I used to run up to the shop pay my £1.20 for Boxing News, flick to the amateur section, look down the results.
Did I ever think I would get to the level I’m at right now? Did I think I would be fighting headline shows in arenas and at stadiums, and potentially going over to the States? I’m at that level now, it’s kind of living the dream. At the same time boxers don’t go on forever. One punch can change a fight, injuries can come in. Things like this can happen and leave a massive delay on it. You’ve got to enjoy it.
Leaving a legacy, the whole idea excites me. That’s why the fire’s still burning.
I won the schooboys, was Junior ABA finalist. A couple of decisions didn’t go my way. I felt hard done by. I had my last fight in the senior ABAs, I went in at 60kgs. I probably should have gone in the 57kgs category. I boxed Tom Stalker in the semis. I got all the way to the semis. I won the first round. I think the second round was level. He beat me by about 18 points in the last round. I don’t know how that happened. He was captain of the GB squad at that time.
From 14, 15, I won the schoolboys but never got called up to go on the England squad. I would have been happy just to go and do a training session. More than anything I wanted an England vest. I wanted to go in the Four Nations and represent there. But I never got the call and it kind left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.
I’m the only one [of Britain’s elite world champions] who’s not had a little dabble on the England set up, the GB set up. I think even Tyson Fury had a dabble. I’ve never had any of that. I didn’t come up from the podium squad or GB or anything like that. It’s all hard work. It’s been me and my dad really from the start. People have joined on as my career’s progressed and the fights have got bigger. But it has always been me and him. We’ve done it the hard way. We’ve done it the traditional way. I guess it’s worked for me. It might not work for everyone. Timing is a massive factor. I’ve come into my peak at the right time. I’ve never had false confidence.
People have peaks in their careers… Mike Tyson says people peak at certain times. He peaked as a man at 13 and then in his career at only 21 Mike Tyson was world champion. I think he had his peak around them years.
By the time I got to 16, 17, in my last years of being an amateur, I was sparring Gary Sykes, Carl Johanneson, doing a lot of sparring with him… I was only going in and doing four rounds. The thought of doing 12 rounds, bloody hell. Especially on TV. But by the time I got to 18, the next goal was to turn pro so I went in the senior ABAs.[I thought] if I can get a house deposit or maybe a car by the time I retire then I’ll be a happy man. But if I can win a British title that’ll be a box ticked.
That was it. That was the ultimate goal. British title. I’d watched Carl Johanneson at Leeds town hall beat Ricky Burns, lift British title above his head. I’d seen Dale Robinson bringing his British title into the gym, Jason Booth.
My 21st birthday was spent with Carl Johanneson in a 12 foot ring. I went home on my 21st birthday with a massive shiner and a big fat lip but I took some of Carl Johanneson’s best right hands but I gave some of my own back. By the time I got to my sixth fight I’d already sparred Dale Robinson, Jason Booth, Gary Sykes, Carl Johanneson. I’d also sparred Jamie McDonnell, Anthony Crolla, John Murray, Joe Murray. There were some good, good names who I’d mixed with and they were all getting to the peaks of their career.
When the world title shot came against [Lee] Selby, it was like I’ve done everything now. I’ve done everything that I needed to do to get to this stage. I never thought I could get to a stage where I’d be able to fight for a world title. Now is the stage where I can let everything go. I don’t have to think about slipping up or things going wrong. I’m at world stage now so what will be will be.
Against Carl [Frampton] it was a fight. And I absolutely love that fight. Not just because of the occasion and how it went but whilst I was in there, being toe to toe and warring it out with him. I remember watching Barrera-Morales for the first time when I was 12 years old and that still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I used to think to myself, wow I’d love to be in a fight like that. But I never thought I would be. But years later that was my non-stop action, in front of big audience for a world title kind of fight. It’s like I’m bringing out what I’ve always been capable of doing. I’m bringing it to the table now, I think when it most matters.
Never did I think that I’d be fully making a living from it. I used to picture myself maybe at work at this age now, I might have had my mortgage half paid off or something from the money what I’ve earned from boxing, maybe have a nice car. I never thought I’d get to a stage where boxing pays my wages.
I thought I might be fortunate enough to buy myself a fancy season ticket down at Elland Road. I think a lot of fighters in their early days, they get too worked up on being a world champion as soon as they turn pro. They’ve got all these sponsors coming out their backside, they’ve got all these people around them telling them what they potentially could do. There’s times when my dad would say to me listen if you don’t perform on the night you can say f****** bye bye to you going out and buying these fancy trainers.
‘Say bye bye to that mate, because it all fucking stops.’ That would always give me a bit of a touch with reality and a bit of a reminder.
A factor in my mentality was if I win this fight then I get another payday and I can put a house deposit down. Once I won that fight, onto the next one, win this one and I’ll be able to furnish my house how I want it. Maybe get a holiday. It’s just gone on like that. I think when the purses started to get bigger and bigger, then it’s like if I win this one then I can pay my dad’s mortgage off. Then I can help my brothers out. They’ve had to sacrifice time over the years. If anything ever went wrong with my sister I can help her out in future. Now I’m at this stage, I’ve got family, I’ve got kids as well. There’s all those factors adding to motivation to get to this level.
But as we’ve seen many many times, it doesn’t always follow the script.
‘I went home on my 21st birthday with a massive shiner and a big fat lip but I took some of Carl Johanneson’s best right hands’
Getting these big world title fights, it doesn’t just happen over night especially when you’re dealing with solicitors and managers from all over the world. I think we got to a stage where a deal more or less was finalised for Can Xu. We were more or less finalised with the date, we were about to get everything ready for the presser and the announcement and everything just went boom. The plug got pulled.
It would have been in the UK… Would have been a fully fledged unification.
I’m desperate to go to the States but I don’t know if his fanbase is fantastic over there. I think he potentially would have been the last big one over here before we set sail.
It’s not really sat with me that the fight’s not going to happen. I’m still trying to remain optimistic that it will happen. I’m just thinking that it’s been delayed. I’m sat in a position where I’ve got a world title. That’s a strong position to be in. I’ve got a loyal fanbase, who’s ready to be behind me when the next fight comes. I’ve just got to keep myself ready and be prepared for something coming at short notice. Or maybe not the opponent that we expected. There’s three world champions out there. They’re all going to be wanting to get on it as soon as they can. So I’ve just got to be prepared for anything.