I KNOW everyone will be thinking the Alex Arthur fight was my best one and it probably was the best fight, but the one that meant the most to me was when I beat Gary Thornhill. Arthur was my hardest fight but, not being disrespectful to Alex because he’s a friend and although that fight made me and that’s the one people talk about, it has to be Gary Thornhill.
I was 21 and had never had a penny in my life. I went to York Hall in trainers with holes in because my shoes didn’t fit me anymore and I couldn’t afford a decent pair.
Before the fight Frank Warren had taken me out to Atlantic City. I fought William Alverzo [w pts 6] and boxed really well, probably the best I ever had in my life. For some reason I was a boxer then – I became a brawler later.
I remember head-butting Gary at the weigh- in; I used to do that a lot – I did it against Alex Arthur – and did it to scare them. Gary had stopped Dean Pithie and was a big name.
That scared me – that’s why I went into that frame of mind.
In the changing room before the fight, with [trainer] Brian Hughes, I couldn’t believe I was fighting on Sky. And I had never seen 500 quid let alone £10,000. I was paid £10,500, which was unbelievable. It helped me buy my first house.
Everyone knows I get really nervous before a fight. I did not sleep a wink before that fight. We had a baby and I was bottle-feeding late at night and thinking if I lost to Thornhill it [boxing] was over. We always said we would give the kids the best we could, so I would probably have had to get a job or something.
But I did not feel under pressure. To be fair, it was the same with the Arthur fight. There was no pressure on me. I was the little travelling kid everyone liked but no one really rated.
But I put pressure on myself. I wanted to buy the best prams, the best Moses baskets; that was my outstanding drive. But from other people there were no expectations for me to win. I’d had about 17 fights and three losses. I suppose before I went to America I might have seen the Thornhill fight as just a payday.
But when I went to Atlantic City it was the first time I had been abroad on a plane. I got a taste of the good time, seeing the big casinos. That’s when I started becoming more confident and head-butting people. I was training then and thinking, ‘The gypo can really do this.’
Whether or not head-butting him worked, I don’t know. I had never used that before, so it could have backfired. But I saw something in his eyes that said ‘Why are you so confident?’ It was the same with others and I thought, ‘I can do this.’
I was boxing Gary, just jabbing and moving and when that shot [left hook] connected I couldn’t tell you what went through my head. It was just outstanding. I’ve got a picture of it up on the wall in my house.
I don’t think I ever threw another shot like that again in my career.
It was a bit of a shock, really, a bit of a surprise. I remember going back into the dressing room with Brian and him telling me to calm down because I was so fired up.
I looked down and when I looked back up there were about 20 reporters there, taking pictures, asking questions and I just burst into tears and started crying. It was the best night of my career. I had never thought for a minute I would knock him out.
Ever since I landed that big left hook I changed my style [became a brawler]. Maybe if it hadn’t been for that I would still have a straight nose! But it’s not an overexaggeration to say that the Thornhill win changed my life.