By Alistair Hendrie
In 2011, Rocky Fielding was a mere 3-0 prospect when he became the first man in history to win the Prizefighter tournament with three consecutive stoppages. Big things were expected of him but sadly, like so many other fighters, his career began to unravel through a lack of activity and guidance.
“I was with Frank Warren at the time,” he remembers. “Soon after I won Prizefighter I didn’t hear from them for about six, seven months. Once my contract ended I got in touch with Eddie Hearn at Matchroom; he was brilliant and invited me to his office. He had everything laid out once I got there and showed me a plan to get me headlining shows, staying active and challenging for titles. I love my boxing nowadays.”
Fielding has seen his profile rise to new-found levels following the switch to Hearn. In an age where talented fighters such as Lee Haskins and Jamie McDonnell - a world champion, no less - are starved of exposure, Fielding holds a great advantage in his consistent Sky Sports airtime since joining Matchroom.
“My fanbase is growing all the time,” he admits, understandably so. Indeed, last November, at the Olympia in Liverpool, Fielding clinched the English super-middleweight title over five rounds against Carl Dilks on the biggest night of his career. In March, he defended his belt, stopping Wayne Reed in six similarly frantic rounds.
But Fielding was always destined to be a fine sportsman of some sort. His father, Michael, enjoyed a respectable career as a professional footballer and won the FA Youth Cup with Everton in 1984. Despite his early potential, he never quite made the grade and tumbled down the divisions with lower-league yo-yo clubs such as Barnsley and Rochdale.
“He was a bit angry on the pitch,” laughs Fielding. “He liked a tackle and had to retire early with a bad leg injury. Obviously I’ve always been an Everton fan through him but whenever my mates go to Anfield I always tag along just to watch the match. When I was younger, I used to play for teams all over Liverpool, and Dad got me a trial at Everton because of his connections. They were very impressed, but I decided to stick to my boxing.”
That seems to be a wise choice in hindsight. In a successful amateur career, Fielding won junior ABA titles and various schoolboy tournaments. Boxing out of the Rotunda gym in Kirkdale, Liverpool, he was well on course to compete in the senior ABAs – the Holy Grail of national competition - although disaster struck and a jaw injury almost ended his career.
“It was a nightmare,” sighs Fielding, puffing his cheeks out. “During a sparring session my opponent and I separated from a clinch. It was nothing unusual but I just had my hands down. I wasn’t ready to fight again and I got caught with a left hook – only a little one, but my mouth was still open. I felt my jaw break immediately. My legs turned to jelly. It was honestly the worst pain I’ve ever felt.”
Rocky and his gym-mates rushed to a nearby hospital, but were left to wait as nursing staff struggled to cope with a crowd of patients needing treatment. “We were in the waiting room for hours. I couldn’t talk and my mouth was just hanging open. The pain was so bad. Once we were finally seen, I had an x-ray which revealed that I had in fact broken my jaw in two places. I had to have two metal plates lodged into the bone.”
After a subsequent eighteen month stint on the sidelines, Fielding’s doctor told him that the jaw had healed and, thankfully, he was free to box again. “It did play on my mind,” Fielding admits. “I kept thinking to myself: “What if I get caught again? Will it break again?” It really set me back. I kept at it and even though I was nervous, in my first fight back I won by stoppage.”
Fielding, of course, could have easily crumbled under the pressure. Credit to him, in May 2008, a short while after returning to the ring, he excelled himself and reached the senior ABAs at York Hall in Bethnal Green.
Fielding remained pragmatic and states: “I thought I’d make the quarter-finals or the semi-finals, even if just for the experience. But I boxed beautifully throughout, boxed good lads all the way through the tournament, and got to the final against a Hungarian, Istvan Szucs, who had recently won a bronze at the World Championships.”
“I didn’t turn up on the night,” he reflects. “I got beaten on experience really. It was my first senior final, the first time I’d done anything like that, and so I wasn’t really all there in the ring.”
The defeat came as a blessing in disguise and the astute England coaches were impressed by Fielding, later handing him a place on the national side. Here, Fielding had a rare chance to make a name for himself beyond the confines of Britain. But although he didn’t know it at the time, his spell on the international circuit would also leave him with great layers of character.
Indeed, his first away tie was in war-ravaged Jordan. “We had no idea to expect. Beforehand we thought it was just England and Jordan, but when got there, we discovered it was an eight-team multi-national tournament with Egypt, Turkey, Iraq, Iran... Loads of neighbouring countries. We had to box outside, and the ring was surrounded by armed guards.”
The hostile conditions didn’t stop there. In their dingy hotel, suffering in the accelerating heat, the squad were only provided with rice, chicken and naan bread for consumption, and water was also at a premium. While dehydration set in, Rocky lost 10kg in weight, but he managed to prosper once he stepped into the ring.
“I stopped a Jordan lad in the semis and felt good doing it. But afterwards, I thought that was the worst thing I could have done – to knock out a home fighter. Later on in the final, I schooled an Egyptian and I boxed his head off. I knew, I knew I’d won but the home judges gave it to the other guy 16-14. I was disappointed, but being around the guards, and that kind of intimidating environment, it was an incredible experience, and one I’ll probably never forget. It was a bit mad out there.”
Of course, Fielding’s career under Hearn has been a lot calmer, and the only gunfire he has had contend with is the assault coming from his opponents’ fists. Although he has taken to the professional ranks with great poise after fourteen fights undefeated, he is still a work in progress, and confesses to spending hours hunched in front of his computer, analysing the best fighters hard at work.
“I watch a lot of Carl Froch training and sparring on YouTube. The way he conducts himself is 100% professional and he’s a daddy at the weight too.” Fielding begins to show his patriotic side. “He’s a lot more entertaining than Andre Ward. Ward is a great boxer who can adapt to any style, but I think if they fought again, Froch would put it on him and win. When I see guys like Froch, I like to think I’ll achieve everything he’s achieved in his career.”
Ward, who was stripped of his title through inactivity, and Froch, the WBA and IBF champion, are at the top of the table in world terms and remain well out of Fielding’s reach for the time being. There is good money to be made on the domestic prowl, though, and a fight with Enfield’s Frank Buglioni would be an exciting proposition.
While Fielding prepares for his next contest, on July 13, against an unconfirmed opponent at Hull’s Craven Park Arena, Hearn has implied he could begin to take his charge to the next level.
“He said we could fight for the WBO Inter-Continental title,” Fielding announces, happily. “My coach, Oliver Harrison, thinks we’re ready and I can’t go on defending the English forever. I’d like to maybe win the British or Commonwealth and defend that a few times. Whatever happens, I’m ready for a step up so we’ll see what Eddie can do. I’m grateful to be boxing on Sky all the time, and I can’t complain as I know there are fighters out there who can’t get any fights at all.”