By Shaun Brown
It is time for a fresh start for Willie Limond. A new promoter, a fresh outlook on his career and a crack at the British lightweight title on Friday night gives the Scot a chance to show everyone that he still belongs on the big stage.
“I don’t feel ready to retire,” Limond declared. “I may have had 13 years as a professional but I still feel like I have a lot to offer. This could be the turning point I need.”
To make that leap from the forgotten man to the one on everyone’s lips he has to do something that on any other occasion he wouldn’t – fight friend and current lightweight champion Anthony Crolla.
It was a friendship that was built on Limond allowing Crolla to stay with him whilst the likeable Mancunian was doing some sparring with Ricky Burns three years ago.
“If this fight wasn’t for a title I wouldn’t fight Anthony. But because the board made me mandatory I’ve got to put the friendship aside. He stayed at my house for a week as most people know. I gave him a set of keys and just told him to do what he wanted. I was going to bed at 10.30pm and he was still up at 1am. I often wondered what he was doing! I drove him back down to Manchester, I even had a cup of tea with his Mum and Dad,” laughed Limond.
It seems clear that regardless of the result both men will shake hands, embrace and share another drink (probably something slightly stronger than tea) afterwards. Both men are at different stages in their respective careers. Crolla is young, ambitious, hungry and keen to make a statement that could see him jump a few places in an ever growing queue to fight Ricky Burns, the current WBO Interim lightweight champion. For Limond, a man who has shared the ring with a young Amir Khan and an old Erik Morales, the first thing is to make sure people remember who he is.
“I want people to ask where has he (Limond) been since the Khan fight? I want people to remember me and to realise I’m still one of the best. But believe me above anything I want that title. I looked at it during the press conference, it’s one of the solid foundations of British boxing and I want it,” he said.
As far back as 2003, Limond was fighting in an all-Scottish affair against Alex Arthur to contest the British super-featherweight title. In a battle of east v west, Arthur triumphed with an eighth round TKO.
Since that defeat the 32-year-old has suffered from periods of inactivity and has not been getting the fights he feels that he deserved. When new promoter Tommy Gilmour recently came a knocking he told his new signing that he could deliver the fights he wants, thus ending long term ties with former manager Alex Morrison.
“I’d known Alex for twelve years and my contract was up,” Limond revealed. “I just felt as if I wasn’t getting the fights. I’d be going in to train and then told I’m not fighting. It was pissing me off. People kept asking me when my next fight was and I was just as frustrated when I couldn’t tell them. I need to pay the bills, you know? My heart’s back in the ring fulltime. I get on with Tommy – he told me he’d get me the fights and he’s delivered so far.”
In February of last year, tragedy struck Limond and his family. His uncle, 43-year old Louis Shields was the victim of a brutal murder that saw his killer receive a life sentence last November. However, Willie told me that he never considered walking away from the sport.
“If I was gonna ditch boxing it wouldn’t be for any other reason than not getting the fights. I wanna train hard and fight hard.”
Limond did not fight until seven months after his loss. His previous fight was over eight-two minute rounds against journeyman Duncan Cottier in the Pavillion Theatre, Glasgow. A night that saw the ring placed on the stage!
His next outing took him to a new level of venue, climate and opponent. The setting? The Plaza Del Toros in Mexico against four-weight world champion and ring legend Erik Morales, a story that quite rightly the Scot doesn’t mind sharing.
“I got to fight one of my heroes and the Mexican people were tremendous to me,” beamed Limond.
“They were stopping me for photos and autographs and asking me to sign stuff, it was brilliant. There were 56,000 there for the fight and a 100,000 wanted to be there. I walked out and thought, ‘This is alright’. It was quite pleasant. If I’m honest I was worried about being outclassed but there wasn’t much in it. I went there and I performed. I wasn’t disgraced in any way.”
From an unlikely opportunity came an unlikely friendship that nearly brought Limond a shot at a world title.
“I trained and sparred with Morales again when he was preparing for the Marcos Maidana fight. They wanted me there for eleven weeks. They told me they had a fight lined up for me in Tijuana and one in Los Angeles on April 8. I was only meant to be there a couple of weeks. They were telling me, ‘If you win this fight we can get you a world title shot’. I had to come back – I had a job and my family to think of.”
After years getting so close but not getting the cigar, maybe Friday night will kick start the career of Willie Limond.