A bright talent to emerge on BoxNation screens last season was stylish Chingford super-middle Tom Baker. The 6ft 1in redhead with the ramrod left jab made five starts since July 2013 and excelled in each to advance his slate to a perfect 9-0.
The former two time senior English ABA finalist and regular England rep kick starts his new campaign with a six rounder at the York Hall on September 20TH. To see how he fares and to catch the whole card – tune into BoxNation, the Channel of Champions (Sky Ch.437 (HD490)/Sky Ch.546) from 7pm on fight night. Last week, boxing writer Glynn Evans caught up with quiet but likeable 22 year old to review his career thus far and discuss his aspirations for 2014-15.
You were raised as a Romany gypsy, one of 13 kids on a site in Chingford, Essex. What’s your recollection of growing up as a young traveller lad?
Very happy times. We were brought up rough and ready but I liked that. My mum and dad have since done very well for themselves.
I had a pair of boxing gloves on for as long as I can remember and was always a big fan. All six of my brothers boxed and my uncle ‘Plod’ (Mark Baker) was once a Commonwealth super-middleweight champion.
I went right through school from nursery up until I was 16 but, like most travellers, I really enjoyed the outdoor life. We went ‘coursing’ for rabbits with the dogs and I enjoyed all types of hunting, still do.
And of course there were all the ‘knuckle’ fights to settle arguments or for side bets. They’re a big part of gypsy culture and they’re much harder than the pro fights. Very rough. They were good to watch.
You were a top quality amateur at the Repton and West Ham clubs, twice reaching the senior English ABA final. In what ways have you needed to adjust your style to adapt to the harsher professional code?
Starting out I was very stiff but Mark Tibbs has spent a lot of time helping me to relax so that my shots can flow better. I’ve always had a hard, stiff jab so we want to maintain that.
I’m really enjoying the pros. You can see a lot more, boxing without the head guards and, though I’m not a real banger, I enjoy fighting with the smaller gloves. I don’t get hit much myself but can inflict more pain on the opponents.
Mark is my main trainer but Jimmy, his dad, also helps out. I owe a lot to both for the way that they’ve guided me and helped me develop into a decent pro. They’re both no nonsense guys, who’ve been in the game a long time and don’t tolerate any idiots or messing about.
I’m also very fortunate that I’ve received a lot of top quality sparring. I’ve been to Wales three or four times to work with (ex WBO light-heavyweight champion) Nathan Cleverly and regularly spar with (European middleweight king) Billy Joe Saunders. He’s got fantastic hand speed and head movement.
You’ve been a professional for just over two years now and are unbeaten in nine fights with just two stoppages. Thus far, you’ve only boxed at four and six round level. How do you assess your progress?
Pretty good. I feel I’ve improved in all ways. I’ve managed to stay unbeaten and I’ve lost a lot of my bad amateur habits. I’m starting to look more like a pro now. I’m beginning to build the rounds up and my stamina is certainly getting better. I’m now maintaining my level throughout a fight, rather than just starting brightly.
What areas do you feel you still need to develop before you can be unleashed into title fights?
I need to get a bit more age on me and work on improving my strength. Still, at the level that I’m fighting at, I think I’m doing good.
Life as an apprentice pro, before you start to earn championship purses, must be far from glamorous.
Yeah, we’re certainly not like these Premier League footballers. If I’m not in training for a fighter, I still work as a roofer for my dad’s business and I basically keep my head down. Work, train, sleep, repeat. I’m married now so that’s my focus. There’s lots of time to go out enjoying myself after I’ve retired. It’s all hard graft at the minute.
You’ve always been regarded as a classy technician. However, in your last start against Stoke’s Mark Till, you demonstrated one shot ‘take out’ power for the first time, ended the fight with a single right uppercut. How have you gone about developing that?
I’m 22 and I think my ‘man strength’ is finally starting to come. I might do a couple of weights classes over a fortnight to help improve my power but, to be honest, it’s more to do with me being far more relaxed now.
Initially as a pro, I went looking for knockouts or to bowl the opponent over. Mark’s slowed me right down and now the shots are coming off better. My timing has improved because I’m not rushing. A couple of fights before, I had Harry Matthews ‘going’ when I caught him sweet with a single shot but I backed off. And Harry’s a real hard man. No one stops him.
We knew Till would be fiery and it took me three or four rounds to settle him down with the jab. I actually just missed him with a couple of uppercuts before I actually landed the one that finished him. It was ideal because I also got six good rounds of experience against a tough pro, before landing the knockout.
With only one stoppage in me previous eight pro fights, this has given me a lot of confidence. I’m starting to put a few fellas down in sparring.
The 12 stone super-middleweight division in which you operate is one of the most densely talented in Britain. How do you assess and rate the key runners and riders?
Carl Froch is definitely the daddy of the group. There’s no one over here who can beat him just yet. Then you’ve got George Groves and James DeGale who are both wicked, world class fighters and pretty evenly matched. I’d edge to George winning again if they eventually have their rematch. James is a southpaw with great movement but George has it all and is still a young man. He’s vicious and skilful.
Next, we’ve got Paul Smith challenging Arthur Abraham for the WBO title next month. Abraham must be nearly 40 (he’s actually 34!) but I doubt Paul will upset him over in Germany.
In fact, I believe his youngest brother Callum is probably already in front of Paul. He’s certainly got better long term potential. I actually beat Callum in the amateurs but today it’s a different story. He’s got a bit of age on me and is definitely further up the ladder. Then you’ve got another Scouser, Rocky Fielding. He’s a good fighter, a big puncher, but he’d not beat Callum Smith.
Finally, what are your aspirations and ambitions for the forthcoming season?
I’m still only 22 so I’m quite happy just to continue moving along nice and steady. I’ve every confidence in Mark Tibbs and Frank Warren knowing the right time to move me up. There’s certainly no rush from my part.
If all goes to plan, I believe the fight on the 20th September at the York Hall shall be my last six rounder. Then I’ll move on to eight round level and we’ll see how I get along there. It’s far different doing it in a fight than it is to doing it in sparring.
By next spring, hopefully I’ll have developed sufficiently to be considered for a Southern Area title fight or possibly even the English. It really depends who the champion is at the time. I want to win titles, not just challenge for them.
Frank Buglioni holds the Southern Area title and he’s just left our gym so I suppose that could happen, in time. ‘The Bug’ is a good friend of mine so I hope it don’t (happen) but boxing, first and foremost, is a business so who knows?
At the moment Frank’s a bit in front of me. He’s a 10-12 round fighter, I’m still fighting six rounders. But we sparred loads over the years and the quality is very high. It’s touch and go, very even. That’s all I’ll say!
Coach Mark Tibbs, himself a former five time national champion and ex pro who has trained Baker throughout his entire pro career, adds:
“I’m really pleased with Tom’s progress. Now he’s eating right, resting well and performing when it matters.
He’s a natural boxer who’s a very good thinker, can work problems out by himself. The jab is the key to everything in boxing and Tom has naturally got that; everything else comes off the ‘old trombone’.
Lately, Tom’s started to relax a bit more. He’s always been a solid puncher but, previously, his eagerness has been getting in the way and that was putting his timing out. His second to last fight against Darren McKenna was particularly frustrating because Tom wasn’t transferring the form he was showing in the gym, into the ring on fight night. He needed to show greater patience.
But last fight (Mark Till), he finally ticked all the boxes. The fella pushed Tom all the way and it was hard for him to get his jab off but Baker stuck with it. He put plenty of good turns in and responded to my instructions to lift his shots up. The finishing shot was a ‘corker’.
Hopefully, he’ll finish at six round level on September 20th then I’ll be speaking with Frank Warren about a move up to eight round level. We’ll see how Tom fares there.
We’re certainly not in any rush with him. He’s still a baby in boxing terms but three or four fights down the line he should be ready for a crack at the Southern Area.”