By Terence Dooley
'Funtime' Frankie Gavin's journey to the pro ranks was paved with as much controversy as gold; the 2007 World Amateur Champion failed to make weight ahead of the Beijing Games in 2008 and became the centre of a tug-of-blame between ABAE officials and Gavin's defenders, who insisted that Gavin, who had been struggling to make the 60kg limit for quite some time, should have been allowed to bring Kerry Kayes over to Beijing. Kayes, who chiselled Ricky Hatton down to 140lb on many occasions, was keen to assist Gavin; the ABAE, however, insisted on dealing with the fighter's weight in-house. Cue a very public withdrawal from the squad for Gavin, who then decided to turn over to the pro ranks.
Such is Gavin's ability, finesse and amateur pedigree that he is still referred to as part of the UK's 'Olympian' group, 'Funtime' did not make it to the Games proper but his pro début was as eagerly awaited as, say, James DeGale's first paid appearance. Indeed, the furore over his weight struggle, coupled with news that he would campaign at 140lb as a pro, meant that many boxing anoraks were anxious to see the first glimpse of Frankie's pro journey, a path that has taken him to 7-0 (6) in the space of 21 months.
The Birmingham-born, Manchester-based boxer fights for his first national title this Saturday night, Frankie takes on Dundalk's Michael Kelly for the Irish light-welterweight belt on the undercard of Frank Warren's LG Arena, Birmingham bill. Gavin, who also won a Commonwealth gold medal at lightweight in the unpaid ranks, believes that this will be similar to his 2006 Commonwealth win, the starting point of a glittering career and a sign of how easily he has adapted to the rigours of the business side of boxing.
“He's an aggressive, come-forward fighter with good amateur pedigree but he's quite old now and not as fast as he was. He's got good experience and knows his way around the ring but I'll put in a good performance and should come away with a comfortable win,” declared the 24-year-old when analysing this Saturday's fight.
“I think I should expect a win I've been training hard, sparring hard and he'll be on top of me so I'll get my shots. Michael will be coming to win this but he's got more chance of winning the lottery than he has of beating me.”
Gavin hopes to go the traditional route, he wants the English and British titles next before looking across the water to the European contenders. The Irish title, though, means much more than a chance to get some rounds under his belt, the southpaw revealed that he is fighting for family pride and will wear the belt proudly.
“My mum was born in Tipperary and my dad was born in Derry. I'm really proud to be fighting for this title,” stressed Gavin when asked if the scheduled ten rounds distance was more important in this fight. “I want to win this and then mix with Lenny Daws and Nigel Wright.
“But I read an article on Adam Kelly saying he wanted to win this title so maybe a defence against him could be next. There is Curtis Woodhouse as well. I want that fight because he's been shouting all the odds and saying he's going to do this and do that, he won't do nothing. I think he went home, had a think, realised what would happen and decided not to fight me.”
Gavin and Woodhouse shared a few words at the conclusion of Woodhouse's win over Stefy Bull in Doncaster this July; Curtis believes that he is destined to win the British title and that a win over Gavin would gain him the respect needed to force a crack at the Lonsdale belt. Indeed, Curtis has signed a promotional deal with Frank Warren, a move that could bring the fight closer, which is music to Gavin's ears.
“I would be so focussed to do a job on him, he's someone I'd really hurt,” blasted Gavin, who was due to face Curtis on Saturday's bill only for Woodhouse to withdraw due to a hand injury. “I expected him to pull out.
“Curtis said I went up to him at the end of his last fight and slagged him but he came up to me and did the talking. Now I'm fed-up of the talking – he can talk and be the big man outside the ring but when we step inside the ring I'm the man. Curtis beat an old and tired Stefy Bull that night. I sparred with Stefy when I was eighteen, he came up to me after the fight with Curtis and said that he was just an old man now and that I'd beat him (Woodhouse). So I want Curtis Woodhouse, I want David Barnes as well.”
Barnes has been inactive of late, the fighter relinquished his British title in 2008, a belt he won by out-boxing Barry Morrison for a points win, and looked jaded in a recent Prizefighter: The Light-Welterweight's appearance, Frankie has heard word that Barnes fancies a showdown and is eager to accommodate the former British and Commonwealth boss.
“Yeah,” confirmed Gavin when asked if he is serious about taking on the experienced southpaw, “it is not a fight I want down the line, I want it whenever he wants it. People want to put my name into the equation but I'll fight anybody. These are fights that are very, very winnable for me. Obviously Barnes is better than Woodhouse but Woodhouse has toughness and heart over Barnes.
“[Gavin's trainer] Arnie [Farnell] trained Barnes and he's telling me to go for Barnes so if Arnie says it then he knows Barnes inside out and knows I'm the better fighter, and I know I'm the better fighter. If we fought then Barnes would know who's the better fighter.
“I've wanted to spar with Barnes but he couldn't make it. I looked forward to it because you want to spar for more experience and against fighters with pedigree who have done things as a pro. I don't think Barnes has got much to beat me. I've sparred over six rounds, and against better opposition, and have done eight rounds with the likes of Matty Hall and it was good, competitive sparring against someone who can bang.”
Gavin's desire to face Barnes, 24-2-1 (11), is partly fuelled by revenge, he believes that David was gifted a win over Birmingham's Jimmy Vincent in 2003 and is keen to clear the slate for the Midlands. He said, “I don't think he should have won the Jimmy Vincent fight, that wasn't fair so I'd be getting one back for someone from Birmingham as well by beating Barnes.”
Whatever the advantages of Frankie's amateur pedigree – he also won the ABA lightweight title in 2007 – these are pretty big shouts for someone who is yet to enter double digits as a pro, Gavin, though, feels that he is a marked man anyway in the domestic ranks and should be shooting for the top of the division.
“Yeah, I think so,” he said when asked if he's a prize scalp for other 140lb fighters. “I think Daws will be looking at me now. Someone like Dean Hickman, no disrespect, is behind me, Curtis knocked him out and I think I'd beat Curtis, Barnes is behind me. Nigel Wright is ahead of me but Colin Lynes has moved to welterweight and Steve Williams has just lost so I'm one of the next names in line if Daws wants to fight. Daws could vacate and I'd respect that but he's one fight away from winning it outright so if he does give it up then it will be for a bigger fight and I'd be ready for the British next in my opinion.”
Still, forum-based fans are desperate for the Gavin-Woodhouse fight, especially after both men ripped into one another on the Boxrec Forum. Gavin is keen to add Woodhouse to his 'W' column yet feels that the fight would be sold off his back, especially if they fight in Birmingham, where Woodhouse, a former professional footballer, plied his other trade for a time.
“Course I can,” said Gavin when asked if they can bring the crowds out for that fight. “It is a good fight for the fans. I've sold lots of tickets for this fight so it would be a good one for Birmingham. I don't think Curtis sells tickets all the time, he boxed in Rotherham in April and I'm sure there were only about 500 people there [writer's note: Curtis packed out the same venue, The Magna Centre, in February]. If I was fighting Curtis in my hometown you'd have a lot of fans chanting for me, his little following isn't as big as the one I've got and I'd prove that if I fought him.”
Gavin's matter-of-fact talk could be interpreted as hubris, a sign that the young boxer is taking his gifts, and a comparative lack of talent on the side of his opponents, for granted. Frankie, though, believes that his self-belief is born of ability, hard work and physical strength, and that his training regime and life circumstances prevent him from taking anything for granted.
“Nah, you can't get bored or complacent,” admitted Gavin, “if you get bored you lose and you're out of boxing. I can't do that. I've got a son and if I get beat then what can I do to provide for him? I'd have to go away and become a labourer or something, and I can't do that. If the runs or training gets hard I just think of picking up that shovel and how harder it could be.”
However, a fighter with the nickname 'Funtime' is always going to raise a few eyebrows when talk turns to refuelling habits; Gavin, long viewed as a party animal, believes that people get the wrong impression of him and stresses that he is steadfastly living the life in his career thus far.
Gavin tackled the 'Funtime' tag head on, “I do like a laugh and that. I got that nickname but I just used to have a drink when I wasn't fighting and had nothing coming up. I think most fighters do that. Arnie picks me up for runs at the weekend and if I was out on the town the night before I wouldn't be able to do the things I do. Arnie takes me on runs where I don't know where I'm going so I have to follow his car to get there.”
He added: “If you go out running alone you can come back and say you've done this and that. I have to follow Arnie there and we work out the run times and distances in the car. We always train to beat our times. We train hard in this gym and you always have contact with Arnie. Even if you're punching the bags and Arnie's with someone else, he'll come over to you and tell you to do this and that.”
A major factor in his decision to turn over with Farnell was the advice passed on by Tony Bellew, one of the first members of HMS Arnie. Bellew, 13-0 (9), as a pro and the Commonwealth light-heavyweight titleist, joined forces with promoter Frank Warren in order to sell Arnie to Gavin, who did not take much convincing.
“I knew all about Arnie anyway,” he said. “Tony Bellew is someone I respect and look up to. I had more amateur fights but Bellew was always really grounded and has a good head on him, he said to me that I'd want to come here and told me good things about Arnie. I'd seen Arnie around and always wanted to come and have a look at the gym. When I spoke to Frank, he said he had a person [Farnell] in mind and asked me what I was thinking, I told him I was thinking of Arnie and I went down for the day, got an apartment in Manchester and haven't looked back since.
“Arnie watched me doing a few rounds of shadow boxing, got me some sparring and he told me to keep the things that made me a world champion. I don't have to move around as much as I did as an amateur but Arnie told me to keep that for when it is needed. We've worked hard to add other things.”
The decision to relocate to the North West has another major plus in its favour, Frankie's discipline would have been put to the test had he stayed on in Birmingham. It is hard when you're a local celebrity, you can put drink and the social life to one side but there are constant media distractions when you box in your local borough. Gavin, conscious of this, decided to put a little distance between himself and Birmingham, though he is keen to box there as often as possible, claiming that the city is due a boom in coming years.
“Without a doubt,” he affirmed when asked if he'd made the right move. “When I'm in Birmingham you can walk past a pub and people are calling you in or your friends might want a walk around town at a time when you're resting – resting is as important as training so that is what I do now.
“I still love fighting there and the fans come out for me. I had a massive following for my début at Birmingham's National Indoor Arena, it is bigger now and I'm just looking forward to my fight and [Matthew] Macklin's fans and [Don] Broadhurst's fans all coming together to support Birmingham. I don't see my fans as different from their fans, we're all performing together for Birmingham and if we perform like we can do and keep winning then there will be some massive nights in the city.
“I've been told my next fight could be here as well. I'd love it to be against Lenny Daws, he's my ideal opponent. Woodhouse maybe because he could come forward for ten rounds, we don't know what his chin's like yet, so it might last longer than any of my other fights. Or it could get made and he hurts his leg or hand before we get there, you don't know.”
Frankie's critics still point to his failure to make weight for the 2008 Games, citing this is evidence that he may lack the discipline required to make it to the very top. Gavin's weight froze at 61.36kg going into the tournament. Kayes had started to make a dent in the pre-tournament deficit when Frankie was here in the UK only to be told that he couldn't join the fighter over in China, with amateur chiefs keen to take care of the situation themselves. Gavin was sent home, his dream was over before it even began and there were massive question marks placed over his discipline; the issue still rankles with Gavin, who feels that he was engaged in a Sisyphean task when trying to make the lightweight limit, his desired route, stepping up to light-welterweight, was blocked by Bradley Saunders.
“It is behind me now but if I had made it I'd have probably have got stopped anyway,” groaned Gavin. “I couldn't make it. There was nothing in my legs and it was absolutely killing me. There was no way I could make lightweight, it wasn't good for me, so I came to light-welterweight when I turned over.
“Kerry might have been able to do it for me but he wasn't allowed over. I've learned a lot from Kerry and I'm really, really starting to follow his programme. I've followed it for other fights but now I'm really taking it in. I'm drinking as much water as I can now and am still only 6lb over with more than a week to go. I haven't had that in years.”
So, no regrets? “No,” he declared. “I'd had enough of it as an amateur. I was treated like a little baby and was on the scales seven times a day. Everyone was on your weight, this went for the whole team, and you could put on a fraction of an ounce, which is a sip of water really, and you'd get moaned at. Every time I had a drink I was thinking about it. Now I know what I'm doing and do it all for my son. I know that I can't afford to take so much out that I leave nothing for the fight.”
With that said, the main criticism of Frankie, and fellow Olympian Billy Joe Saunders, is that he looks to be fighting at the wrong weight, although Gavin, Farnell and Warren all believe that light-welter was the best possible weight for Gavin upon turning over.
“I don't why they say that,” he mused when asked about his size at the weight, “because I'm 5' 10''. I'm bigger than David Barnes, who boxed at welter, and taller than Matthew Hatton and the same height as Denton Vassell. When I see Kell [Brook] getting on the scales we both look similar, but he puts more on during the next day, so I am suited to this weight and will move up as I get older. But I want a few titles at light-welter first!”
For now, though, the main aim is the Irish belt and the British belt, with Gavin concentrating his recent boxing viewing on Michael Kelly and Daws, the fighter is eschewing the world scene for now. “I am nowhere near there so don't look any further than Lenny Daws. But I do still watch a lot of Pernell Whittaker, I like the way he'd stand there in front of you and make you miss,” smiled Gavin, who adopts a similar philosophy.
“I'm getting there, I'm not there yet, no one's perfect, but I will get there!”
We had a good Olympics in 2008 and are starting to see that team come though. Sadly, we won't get to see Darren Sutherland's progression, it is a year to the day since his sad death. Gavin acknowledged the potential Darren possessed then admitted that he is keeping a close eye on his peers as they bid to make their way through the ranks.
“We've all done well. We are all unbeaten and as long as we stay that way we can set the example for the next Olympians. People will see us win titles in the future and that will show that you can go pro and make a success after a long amateur career,” he said, before giving a self-appraisal.
“I believe I will win titles. I box when I have to and fight when I have to. I am prepared to do what I need to do to win. I will never bottle it in a fight and in my opinion the only way you can make me lose is by knocking me out. No one is going to out-box me.”
Indeed, Gavin goes online to see what the fans make of him, noting that his power, or perceived lack thereof, is presented as the biggest question mark when talk turns to his potential. Gavin, who has yet to knock an opponent clean out, though to be fair that doesn't happen all too often these days, believes that his record of six stoppages in seven fights, with only the canny Peter McDonagh hearing the final bell, is proof itself, though he is happy to provide the doubters with further evidence of his power.
“I listen to the critics more than the fans. I read people saying stuff about me on the websites and they just get me completely wrong. I'm not saying I'm a massive puncher but I can punch hard. If anyone wants to come and spar me then they'll see that I hit hard enough!” he laughed, before insisting that his power will rise to the fore during the coming year.
“Eight ounce gloves, accurate shots to the chin and anything can happen.”
Ah, but what about cuts? Gavin has tasted his own blood a few times already in his short career, a sign, perhaps, that he is already tight at the weight and his skin is suffering as a result?
“It is part of the professional game,” scoffed Gavin when asked about his facial injuries. “Heads bang and you get cuts. I'm winning so who cares. I'm not a model, I'm not here to be good looking – I'm here to win fights.”
Special thanks to Richard Maynard for helping Boxingscene set-up interviews with Gavin, Kell Brook, Matthew Hall, James DeGale, Enzo Maccarinelli, Derek Chisora, Michael Jennings, Matthew Macklin, Nathan Cleverly and Frank Warren in recent months.
Sky Box Office HD PPV televise the Birmingham bill from 6pm on Saturday.