By John Evans
The new boxing season is finally upon us and we can finally begin to talk about matters inside rather than outside the ring. Boxing politics can – occasionally – be interesting but none of us became fans of the sport because we were interested in the latest TV deals or fascinated by a boxer moving to a different promoter. We all fell in love with the sport because of the fights and the fighters.
British boxing is in a rude state of health so who better to talk us through his hopes for the upcoming season than the man at the helm of Britain’s most successful gym. Joe Gallagher and his talented stable of fighters enjoyed an outstanding season last time around and the signs are that they could be set to repeat the feat this year. Gallagher took time out from his schedule to discuss the fighters under his tutelage and lay out the ‘Gallaghers Gym 2011/12 Mission Statement’ to BoxingScene.com.
“I’d like him to win the British title. He’s highly ranked with a couple of the world governing bodies but I think, and this is me personally, the reigns need to be pulled in on those lofty positions. I think he needs to concentrate on becoming the British champion and becoming king of his own castle before going off conquering the world. I think he’s got a world class opponent next in Jason Booth and his credentials on the British stage will be put to question. This is his acid test.
He never had an amateur career, he’s still learning and he’s come to a gym that’s thriving with top quality kids like Stephen Smith, Joe Murray an Olympian and Anthony Crolla. If they can’t bring him on then we’re in trouble. I do feel Booth is a world class opponent and people who think I’m gonna write him off after losing to (Kiko) Martinez are mistaken. I’ve got huge respect for him and I think it’s gonna be a tough contest. We’ve gotta be a bit careful that we don’t let the old wise fox outwit the young pup. Scott Quigg’s aim, first and foremost, is to win the British title. I don’t care how he does it as long as he wins it. It’s about the result because we’re in the results business. It’s a division that’s getting quite exciting. There’s talk of Frampton but I think he’s got his own career to look after. I’m not in Carl Frampton’s career; I’m in Scott Quigg’s career. We’re ahead of him and I think Carl Frampton’s gotta go about his business and I don’t see him as a fight for Scott Quigg in this next 12 months. Frampton’s unproven and he’s got to do his own thing while Scott Quigg wins a British title and tries to win it outright.
I think there are a lot of fights that are gonna be rushed and made now because a lot of promoters are in the last year of their contracts with Sky. You’re gonna find everybody delivering this year. Frank Warrens leading the way with Bellew – Cleverly and I think there’ll be big pressure on Sky to make Quigg and Frampton but we’re not in the business of looking after Sky. We’re in the business of Scott Quigg and what’s right for him.”
“The two fighters I think will come to the forefront this year are Anthony Crolla and Joe Murray. This time next year his will be a name on a lot of people’s lips. I predicted it with Macklin and I think Joe Murray’s gonna be the next kid. He’s got a bit of maturing to do but he’s coming now and he’s young in age but old in boxing terms. He’s only been pro a short while – the same as Stephen Smith – but I do feel like he’s getting there and this year it’s all gonna fall for him.
Jamie Ancliff [Writer’s note: Murray’s last opponent] is a good fighter, a good solid pro, and Joe will have learnt a lot from it. He got twelve rounds under his belt and what we should do now with Joe is give him another couple of eight or ten round fights. Whether they go that long is another matter but schedule them so that he’s conditioned for them.
He’s got an English title fight against Chris Male next. That’s a good fight but I don’t think it is one we really should be dealing with. We’ve gotta take it though and see how we get on after that.”
“I think Anthony Crolla, and this is big talk with John Murray in the stable and I’m not being funny because Kevin Mitchell beat John, but I’d have no hesitation in putting him in with Mitchell. That’s not bravado talk. I think Anthony Crolla is improving all the time, he lives the life and in the gym he’s sparring light welters and welterweights and chopping them down. I think he is one of the most improved fighters in the country at the moment.
After he beats Willie Limond - I know he’d love to win the title outright and if his promoters can sort two defences out quickly like Frank did with Kell Brook I’d want him to - I do feel like we have to break away from this. There was talk of Carl Johanneson the other day but that’s just nonsense. I’m disappointed he didn’t fight Gavin Rees for the European title and I think that’s the next fight. I think Anthony Crolla should fight the win of Rees and Mathews. I know there are governing bodies and mandatories but Anthony is low ranked and when John (Murray) gave that belt up he should have fought Gavin Rees straight away for it. I do feel that Anthony definitely, definitely, definitely is gonna be in the top ten in the world.
He’s on a massive learning curve and still improving. I feel he’ll crack that world top fifteen this year. That’s not being disrespectful to the European belt or Gavin Rees but I have a lot of confidence in my kid and at the end of the season there could be a big fight with Kevin Mitchell.”
“I wanted John Murray to fight Corley for the WBC when Soto gave it up. Those two were number one and two and I was disappointed when they didn’t go down that route and get John the world title opportunity. Instead we got Mitchell.
I don’t think John needs to come back in a six or eight rounder; he needs to go straight into a big fight. That was his problem. He couldn’t get motivated and I think he’s got a point to prove now. He needs to get back in the gym and get a juicy fight. Those types of characters, the nature of those beasts is that they need to have the fear put on them and if they could make a Brandon Rios or Katsidis fight at lightweight I’d put John Murray in no problem.
The sport is richer from the Mitchell fight and the behaviour from both camps. There was no trash talk. They sat together in the Sky studio, told each other they were gonna do each other, fought each other and then kissed and made up with each other. That’s just what boxing should be about. You don’t need all that trash talking and it was a real throwback fight like the ones in the 60s and 70s at the Royal Albert Hall. It was a very good fight but I’m sure John would love to lock horns with him again.”
“Paul Smith’s doing really well. There’s huge desire and huge appetite. People might think he’s shot goods and write him off after the DeGale fight but he wasn’t in a good place. When you’ve got somebody like Paul Smith whose been in the boxing game a very, very long time and still has the desire to get out of bed and travel to Manchester or upto the moors to do a run at 7.30am on a Saturday morning, it shows that his desire and hunger to get back to the top is as big as his appetite for food!
Paul spars with Matthew Macklin so I wouldn’t say Macklin is a level above Paul and I’d put Paul in with Daniel Geale tomorrow. That’s a juicy fight and I’ve already given Paul DVD’s of him to watch. I don’t think Darren Barker is above Paul either, I think Paul Smith would knock him out. Paul Smith carries the fire and I just think he needs the right opponent to bring it out. He had the disappointment against DeGale and I think somebody’s gonna get a good beating one day.
As far as Martin Murray goes, I think Paul Smith is ahead of him. Martin Murrays got the belt but, and this isn’t trash talking, he’s won Prizefighter and is learning the game but Paul Smiths been to the summit and is on his way back to it. He’s fought a higher level of fighter and appeared on The Contender. I don’t think you can put Martin Murray in the same bracket as Paul Smith. Thinking about it, I don’t think you can put Darren Barker in there too. I think its Macklin and then Paul Smith.”
“Matthew Macklin and his manager Brian Peters are the Del Boy Trotters of the boxing world aren’t they? Wheeling and dealing left right and centre and the next thing you know they’re pulling rabbits out of their hats. The last I heard he’d signed a promotional deal with Lou DiBella. There’s talk of him having a coming out fight in November and then facing Sergio Martinez in America next year.
I think all fighters want to test themselves. Matthews talked the talk for years but had to walk the walk. In the Felix Sturm fight he did walk the walk. He knows now that against the best, he was there and he won. I think that’s what all fighters want to do. They can then say “I fought the best and either did or didn’t have it” and he’s had that acid test now.
I think he exorcised the Jamie Moore demons. That was a terrible monkey on his shoulder and he just blew that out.”
“I think he’s a kid that hasn’t got any credit or limelight for what he’s done. He was a multi national amateur, boxed all over the world for England, fought in the Commonwealth Games and just narrowly missed out on the Olympics. He then turns over, in his eleventh fight beats John Simpson in his backyard. In his next fight he beats him again having been out for so long with his bad hand. Hang on a minute, they gave massive reviews for Groves and DeGale? They were two old amateur sparring partners fighting each other and you’d have thought George Groves and Adam Booth had devised a boxing master plan and reinvented the wheel or something. Stephen Smith went away from home and beat a full grown man who’d been involved in ten twelve round fights, won the Lonsdale belt outright and was in red hot form having beaten Martin Lindsay. Stephen came in having been out, beat him again and nearly did him in a round! Nobody ever gave him the credit for that.
I want him to move on from the British title after this next defence [Writer’s note: Smith faces Lee Selby on September 17th] as I don’t want him to get bogged down. I think he’s more than capable of winning the European belt and becoming a bit of a Michael Brodie by holding the belt for a while and making a bit of money out of it. It’s a red hot division, let those kids move on and I want Stephen to make some defences. We’ll move on that way.
There are other talented kids in the gym. There’s Callum Johnson, the Commonwealth Games gold medallist, who had a good win on the John Murray bill against a tricky kid from Ingle’s gym. They aren’t doing any favours with the matches and they’re giving him plenty of problems early on so the fights should get easier from now on. I’m really excited about him. He’s got huge potential and is dedicated. He hasn’t had much column space either but we don’t need him to right now. We need him to go under the radar and learn his trade. He turned pro in a blaze of glory with Naseem Hamed and I’d rather the next time people heard about him was when he’s fighting for the British title.
Liam Smith is another. He’s 6-0, been out with a bad hand injury and is coming back in a tough fight against Barrie Jones. There’s a lot of noise about Sky’s ‘Eleven for 2011’ and I think he’s gonna be one of Sky’s ‘Twelve for 2012”. He’s a really good prospect with a great amateur pedigree. He’ll start getting his man strength soon; he’s got very, very, very good timing and places his punches very well, like a good Mexican. We need to put a little bit of devilment in his work and he could be a surprise package.
Fingers crossed for the new season. We’re in the business of winning titles. We were denied a world champion last time but this time next year we’ll have more British and European champions and I’ll definitely have a world champion. There’s so much talent here, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s more than one. A lot of people say they have a jewel in the crown; I have a crown full of jewels.”