Feature

LONG READ Scott Quigg – the obsessive, reclusive world champion

Danny Flexen visits the home and old school of Scott Quigg, plus accompanies him along a favoured running route, to get to know the real Bury hero

LATER, we visit Quigg’s old school, Elton High, and the sign attached to its gates – urging the reader to “Exercise with a smile on your face” – appears so reflective of Scott’s guiding philosophy it renders his decision to quit the establishment at 14, and that of his mum and dad to sanction the request, all the more perplexing. Quigg rapidly realised that the more time he could devote to his sporting goals, the greater chance he would have of repaying his parents for their toil and unwavering belief in him. Nevertheless, it remains hard to envisage such a young boy conceiving the idea of leaving school prematurely and his parents, both loving and conscientious, offering unquestioning assent. Of course that long-ago pact has now been vindicated by a shiny championship belt and the lucrative battles that surely lie in Quigg’s future; but what utterly convinced that teenager and his family to make a move so seemingly fraught with risk, back when he was a promising Thai boxer and aspiring midfielder struggling to make the grade with Burnley?

Scott Quigg at school

“The headmaster asked me what I was gonna be if I dropped out,” he recalls. “I said a professional footballer but they said that a lot of people said that, but then I said, ‘I’m gonna be a world champion boxer.’ They just laughed but there was something about the way I said it, there was no bull behind it and when I look back now, it sent shivers. It was my eyes, my mum was like, ‘I thought you were gonna fly at ‘em.’ My mum told them she believed everything I was saying and they agreed. My mum hated school when she were there, so she could understand and me dad wanted me to be a footballer. I wouldn’t advise any kid now to drop out of school, because it could have all gone tits up. It’s just coz I’m the way I am.

“They got stick for backing me to drop out of school. From that day on, I knew I’d never let them down and I’d give it everything.”

Freed from the shackles of formal education, Quigg devoted himself to both pugilism and football before Burnley released him at 15 and a chance meeting with Bury ABC head trainer Mick Jelley stole some of his passion from Thai boxing and redirected it toward the traditional code. Something of a prodigy, Quigg won the junior ABAs in just seven fights and had begun training alongside hardened pros at Brian Hughes’ renowned Collyhurst facility long before the climax of his abbreviated amateur career. After 21 paid victories masterminded by an underrated and accomplished mentor, Quigg reluctantly accepted Hughes’ retirement and, following one triumph achieved under the auspices of Brian’s erstwhile assistant, Pat Barrett, joined Joe Gallagher’s thriving Bolton-based set-up, where he has remained ever since.

So it’s all worked out pretty nicely, though an underlying concern refuses to desist. While Quigg isolating himself with that early escape from school has moulded an outstanding athlete and consummate professional, Scott’s social skills have suffered, a consequence compounded by his negligence in honing them. Perhaps this provides a clue as to why big rival Carl Frampton, his opponent this Saturday (February 27), generates more publicity. The Ulsterman embraces the spotlight and has seen his profile rocket as a result. Quigg sacrificed personal development for the pursuit that would become his job and, ironically, that choice is now stymieing his career.

“It’ll never come before training,” he affirms, with a resigned frown that he is knowingly sabotaging his growth as an attraction. “Say, on a Saturday night, ‘Oh there’s an amateur show, do you wanna come?’ ‘No, no, I got yoga instead.’ Going there might gain me an extra 15 tickets and that’s a lot when it keeps building, so I do think it can hinder me, but all that matters to me is getting my hand raised. I don’t need friends, I don’t need anyone to like me. Other than getting on TV, doing promotional stuff, that’s all you can do. Obviously, getting the bigger fights and me putting in top performances, that’s down to me.”

Scott’s timid television interviews may suggest he can be a little slow-witted – a perception for which he receives considerable abuse online – but Quigg is far from stupid. His natural shyness and narrow, concentrated vision conceal a deep thinker – one who knows exactly what he wants out of life and the most expedient route by which to obtain it.

Scott Quigg being interviewed

A genuine casualty of Quigg’s retreat into the social wilderness, however, is his speech. Often cruelly mocked, Quigg’s diction is hampered by a long-time stammer, one most audible when the media glare is at its fiercest. The TV cameras seem to trigger Scott’s stutter – the impediment is noticeably less pronounced over the phone and, today, talking to a journalist, albeit one he has known for around five years, in his front room, at his old school and atop Holcombe Hill, a favoured local run route. For many in the public eye, the stammer would be a cause of embarrassment and frustration but, if he pays it any mind, Quigg merely deems the ailment amusing. He laughs at my discomfort as I tentatively broach the subject.

“It used to be worse because I used to get more nervous in front of the cameras,” he admits, not remotely surprised by my line of questioning. “I went through a point when I dropped out of school where I didn’t talk to anyone. What I mean is during the day I used to go to the gym and then just be at home on my own. I used to speak to my mum, dad, but I never had any mates so I’d be in my room; I hardly spoke for a period of about 12 months and I couldn’t string a sentence together. I’ve always struggled a bit to get my words out but that made it worse. I used to make sure I knew what I was gonna say and think, ‘Don’t…’ and that made it worse. But now the stick I get, people taking the p***, putting videos up, I just find it funny. It’s me. You can try and get it away but it’s natural and it is what it is.

“I mix more with people now than I’ve ever done but I live like a monk. After the gym, if I went in the Jacuzzi or sauna, people would think I were rude [for hardly speaking]. Same with the messages…”

Scott is referring to the texts we had exchanged the previous week. I was eager to confirm our meeting and received a simple “Yeah” in response. I had playfully chided him for his brevity and a presumed lack of enthusiasm.

“That’s the same as how I sometimes speak, because it’s easier,” he explains. “I’m not being ignorant. It’s just the way I am. Even in boxing, keep to the simple, basic things; they are the things that will win you the fight.

“For instance, when I was in the ring after Frampton’s last fight, you’ve got Frampton being respectful and then [Barry] McGuigan giving it… live on ITV… and I’m thinking, ‘You… rat!’ But I thought, ‘I’m not gonna get into a slanging match’, because you don’t wanna start saying something and then stutter.”

Quigg is rather introverted, awkward on occasion and certainly no raconteur. But Scott is grounded, forthright and invariably expresses himself with sincere, if occasionally stilted conviction. To give oneself up so completely to a quest, even a vocation, is almost inconceivable, yet Quigg has done exactly that, and with barely a complaint.

It’s this single-minded obsession that can lead to increasingly exalted prizes and a surge in that elusive quality he claims not to “give a c***” about: popularity.

This article was first published in Boxing News magazine

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