THE moment Nathan Gorman thought would never come came midway through the fifth round. On his back after taking a huge right to the temple and aware time was against him, he rolled onto his knees and placed his gloved fists on the canvas. He tried to keep count with the referee’s outstretched fingers as he pushed himself onto all fours then up through the fog and the blood until he emerged on two feet. Dazed but undertstanding what was happening, he shook his head and looked again at those outstretched fingers as they waved the fight off.
“[The referee] Victor Loughlin said something to me that I’ll never forget,” Gorman tells Boxing News about the moment he lost his unbeaten record. “He went, ‘No, son, it’s not there tonight.’ I remember him saying those words so clearly and he was right. Devastation hits you all over. It was just me, it was down to me, there’s no team, it’s just you and the other fella. There’s one winner and one loser, and I was the loser. It’s very hard.”
Daniel Dubois was the winner and the new British champion. The superstar in waiting with a record still punctuated by that all important ‘0’. It took less than 20 minutes for Gorman to go from unbeaten prospect to domestic nearly man. Just one poor performance, littered with tactical errors and lapses in judgement, transformed his reputation.
Boxing is the cruellest and most fickle of sports when that zero on your record is replaced by a one, particularly in the heavyweight division. The hoopla that previously followed you disappears along with the pats on the back from the new friends you thought you’d made. Gorman was left alone with memories of where and why it went wrong.
“I was devastated, I really was in a dark place for a while,” he admits. “You put all that work in over 10 or 12 weeks in camp and you lose. But it happens, boxing isn’t plain sailing. It’s all uphill and there’s going to be loads of bumps in the road. It’s a situation you have to overcome.
“I took some time off, had two months out of the gym. I didn’t even look at a pair of boxing gloves, I couldn’t face it. I done zero training for two months. I needed to spend time with the family.”
Gorman stresses more than once that he does not want to make excuses for the defeat. What was happening to him in the build-up to the fight with Dubois does not constitute as an excuse, however. It’s a valid reason why, as referee Loughlin identified, it wasn’t there for Nathan Gorman that night. His son, Nathan Jnr, was barely two years old and going back and forth to hospital with serious respiratory issues, fighting for breath, fighting for his life.
His daughter, Valencia, was born in the midst of the crisis.
Gorman would say at the time he did his roadwork for Dubois by pacing up and down in the hospital car park. “I never had any doubts that I was going to win but I knew that I wasn’t 100 per cent right,” Gorman explains today. “What went on with my family, I’m not using that as an excuse, I just knew I wasn’t right and in boxing you have to be right.
“It was a horrible feeling and my dad even said to me a couple of nights before the fight, ‘I think you should pull out, you’ve had too much going on, you’re not right, you’ve got too much on your plate. We’ll call it off and we’ll go again.’ I told him that wasn’t going to happen. Even if I had no arms I’d still have gone in that ring and had a fight.
“I’m not trying to diss Daniel’s win. He did extremely well. He beat me and it is what it is. He did a marvellous job.
“Looking back, I don’t know how I done it to be fair. I don’t know how I went through all that and then got in the ring and had a fight. I really don’t know. As human beings you put all these things to the back of your subconscious and you think you’re okay when actually you’re not. That’s not just me, that’s everyone in this world. Anything bad happens, they put it to the back of their mind and they think, ‘That’s fine, I can crack on.’ But it does take mileage off your clock.”
Nathan Jnr is now a healthy three-year-old boy. Valencia is 16 months old. And Nathan Gorman is in a good place, at last. “Valencia is moody 24-7, she’s always in a strop,” Gorman chuckles proudly. “And Nathan is like his dad. All he wants to do is eat and watch TV.
“He knows I’m a boxer. He calls it box-box. He says, ‘Are you going to box-box soon? Punch them in the face!’ So yeah, he’s got a bit of an understanding of what I do!
“Thank God he’s all sorted now. I enjoyed lockdown, it was fantastic because I got to spend some family time with the kids. Everything you do is for your kids. They’re all you think about.”
Gorman is also allowing himself to focus on boxing in a way that was simply impossible when Nathan Jnr was hospitalised and his wife was heavily pregnant. The 24-year-old is now trained by Nathan Clarke following an amicable split from Team Hatton (Nantwich’s Gorman wanted a fresh start and to be close to his family during training camps – the Hatton Gym was a 110-mile round trip). “It’s been good to go back to basics and learn,” Gorman reveals. “It’s been nice. I look forward to it every day when of course I wasn’t before. I had so much on my mind. Now I’m happy and I’m very content and I’m training really well.”
Clarke is a familiar face and a coach the heavyweight has been working with in varying capacities since the start. Nathan remembers those early days well. He looks back on the first time he stepped foot in a ring with rather more pride than the last. “I can remember it like yesterday, truth be known,” he says. “I was only 11. I can remember walking out into the crowd and I was fine then. But as I stepped in the ring I realised what I was about to do.
“It was in a working men’s club, maybe 200 people there, and I got in the ring and I thought, ‘What am I doing here?’ I was only 11. ‘Am I insane? What am I doing?’ The bell went, the lad jabbed me in the face and all the nerves just went out of me. I stopped him in the second round.
“After that, when I got my trophy, it felt unbelievable… and very addictive. That feeling of winning, it’s not a team sport, you’ve earned it, you’ve won. It was unreal.
“But I never planned to be a professional boxer. My dad never wanted me to do it. I never thought when I first walked into a boxing gym that this is going to be my lifestyle, my passion or where I’m going to earn money. When I was a young lad, all I wanted to do was go down the boxing gym, have a spar, have a couple of fights then have a laugh really.
“It all happened when I won the [Youth] ABAs and I thought to myself, I’m alright here, I can probably do something. I got on the Great Britain team and that’s when you think to yourself, ‘I’m quite decent.’ How many lads actually make it on to the Great Britain team? There’s only a few.”
But the competition for places in Team GB was fierce among the big men. Gorman hardly fought competitively as a consequence. “When I joined the team they already had Joe Joyce, Frazer Clarke and everyone else. Daniel and I actually got on the team at the same time, the exact same day. We were not only competing against each other but all the rest of the heavyweights on the team. You had to spar well every session, you had to run well, you had to lift weights well, you had to do everything well. That was good, it brought me on, I was only 18. So the sparring I had against all these experienced people, when I’d only had 11 amateur fights, was benefitting me.”
Armed with more experience than those 11 fights would suggest, Gorman turned professional at the end of 2015 and steadily rose to 16-0 – beating opponents like Kevin Johnson and Razvan Cojanu – before his son fell ill and Daniel Dubois came along.
Gorman returned to the gym 13 months ago. First he couldn’t get a place on Frank Warren’s late 2019 shows before a comeback in May was pencilled in and then erased by the coronavirus pandemic. On Saturday night, he makes his return. Ghanaian Richard Lartey will be in the opposite corner, who like Gorman was last seen in a ring losing to Dubois last year. A solid measuring stick for Gorman and, he hopes, the first pit-stop on the road to redemption.
“When I turned professional I wanted to be world champion,” he concludes. “That was my ambition and it still is. In anything you have to aim for the top. You don’t get remembered for being second best.
“That loss was just a loss. I’ve moved on but the only way to truly rectify it is to fight again and win again. You can do all the sparring in the world but nothing compares to fighting. I am still aiming for the top, so let’s see where we end up.”