STANDING 6ft 4in tall with an all-action fighting style and a self-confessed ‘Jack the lad’ personality, Jack Cullen is hard to miss. Nonetheless, the 25-year-old English middleweight champion has managed to sneak up on his rivals in a competitive domestic division. Cullen’s popularity has been steadily rising in the North West but the assured yet aggressive performance he put in to outbox and outfight the previously unbeaten John Harding Jnr in August grabbed the attention of a nationwide audience watching on Sky Sports and a large, rowdy following from his hometown of Little Lever caught the eye of show promoter, Eddie Hearn. Almost overnight, Cullen made himself a very visible player.
Cullen, 17-1 (8), may have made an impression much sooner had he not been sidelined for the latter part of his amateur career. Owner of one of the best nicknames in the sport, “Little Lever’s Meat Cleaver” spent his late teens labouring on site during the day and learning in the gym at night. Rather than providing him with a craft to fall back on had the boxing not worked out, a serious accident almost cost him absolutely everything.
“I woke up strapped into a helicopter,” Cullen told Boxing News. “They told me I’d had an accident and out I went again. Next thing I knew I was awake in Salford Royal hospital, totally naked with my family surrounding me. I didn’t know what had happened to me.
“I was scaffolding and fell off a ladder. I had to have about two years out when I was an amateur. I fractured my wrist and had a slight fracture to my head and hurt a rib too. I had to have pins put in the hand and then they had to take them all out. That’s why I didn’t do that well in the amateurs.
“My friend said I was snoring. Luckily, he’s been in the paratroopers and knows all his first aid. If I’d been with anybody else it could have been a bad one.”
Cullen has the dimensions of Thomas Hearns but has spent most of his career fighting like Baby Jake Matlala and his natural inclination to ignore his physical advantages and put himself in harm’s way drives his trainer, Tommy Battel, to distraction.
Battel – a respected amateur trainer who was Amir Khan’s first coach – first met Cullen when he was 16 years old and saw enough potential to follow him into professional boxing. The pair have become an inseparable but entertaining double act with Battel in equal parts proud and exasperated by Cullen’s antics.
“I decided to go pro and Tommy was going to let me go with somebody else. He had cancer at the time and was in a bad place. He kept coming to the gym because he lives for boxing and this is what he knows. Eventually he changed his mind. I’m so glad he did,” Cullen said.
“Every camp, I feel like if I don’t get a b*****king from Tommy it’s not normal. It’s usually about my weight or something I’m supposed to have been practising in the gym. If he’s not b*****ked me there’s something wrong. I feel like you get some coaches who leave you to it, but he just wants the best for me. If I’ve been out at a weekend, Tommy knows. He gets a phone call before I get home. I can’t get away with anything but it’s a good thing. Everybody in Bolton is looking out for me.”
Against Harding Jnr, the years of nagging and afterhours care paid off when Cullen produced his most complete performance to date. The tougher tests start with this weekend’s clash for the Commonwealth title against Felix Cash but the recent arrival of his first son, Bobby Noel, coupled with the realisation that he has the ability to win without going into the trenches mean that he enters the most important stage of his career in the best possible shape.
“I wanna be in the big fights but I don’t wanna be in these brutal fights getting hurt. I’m in a game where you do get hurt if you stand there. I don’t want to be older and not being able to speak to my kid,” he said.
“I know I need to box more but I just love having a good scrap. Felix Cash and his side might be thinking they’re gonna beast me because I’m tall and skinny but if he comes to me, that’s even better for me. That’s where I prefer it.
“I just have to keep going now. Everything I’ve worked for is starting to pay off. Once I start earning them millions it really will pay off. It’s what I’ve always wanted. I don’t want to go to work and go digging or scaffolding. I want to box. I want to do what I’m good at.”