Greenock super-featherweight John Simpson returns to action this Saturday (22nd September) on the huge Glasgow fight night at the SECC headlined by Ricky Burns v Kevin Mitchell.
Since debuting at title class back in November 2004, when he was unceremoniously shafted in a British title challenge to Hereford’s Dazzo Williams, the teak tough 5ft 7in Scot has debated 15 British, Commonwealth or WBU title fights, spanning 143 rounds!
His arm has been lifted after seven of those and the seven decisions that fell the opposite way teetered between perilously close to abject robberies. Only Barry’s Lee Selby – who punctured him with a body shot in round five of a British and Commonwealth crack last December – has beaten Simpson comprehensively.
Yet the road warrior, 23-9, whose scalp list contains Andy Morris (twice) Paul Truscutt (twice), Stevie Bell, Martin Lindsay and Paul Appleby keeps battling on.
Yesterday afternoon, boxing writer Glynn Evans caught up with one of his favourite fighters and found him in uncharacteristically chatty mood ahead of his Celtic title defence against Dai Davies on the big Glasgow bill this weekend.
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John, you’ve been desperately unfortunate with decisions in close fights over the years. How many of the nine defeats on your card will you concede to?
I think only Lee Selby beat me convincingly. The rest were very close and there were a few blatant robberies. Very early in my career I lost a very close fight over six-two to Chester’s Lee Holmes in his backyard. I got shafted big time against Dazzo Williams in his hometown when I first challenged for the British title. That was probably the worst one.
I was unlucky against Derry Mathews (March 2007 WBU challenge) because the fight was very close anyway but I scored a knockdown and he had two points deducted for fouls which should’ve made me a clear winner.
When I first lost the British title to Paul Appleby, Paul shaded it by just one round on two of the cards but the knockdown called against me in round five was an obvious slip and if it hadn’t been called, I’d have retained my title on a draw.
Both fights with Stephen Smith were very close but I felt I just nicked them both.
When were you most despondent? Have you ever felt like jacking it?
The defeats never get me down for too long. I’ve learned that’s just the way boxing is. Far worse has been not getting many fights, particularly when you’ve been training so hard. It’s all the dieting that does your mind in. After the setback against Selby, I was supposed to comeback on the Ricky Burns-Paulus Moses bill but I came down ill. That left me in a rut and I briefly decided to ‘wrap it’. But then I’d be watching the boxing on TV and knew I couldn’t not fight again. Once again, I came back strong.
You’ve got huge respect for fighting all the iron in your division, one after another. Only Lee Selby managed to stop you. What went wrong that night? Did you underestimate Selby?
Not at all. I’d seen how good Lee was when he knocked out Stephen Smith so I definitely knew I was in for a hard night and I trained accordingly. No excuses. I just got caught with a very good punch and couldn’t breathe. I made a mistake - crossed my legs over - which exposed my body and he took advantage. Though I got up, the ref could see I was really struggling. If he’d let it go on, I’d probably have got taken out within a few more punches.
Do you think Selby can beat Martin Lindsay when the meet for his British and Commonwealth titles over in Belfast on Saturday night?
Yeah, probably. Martin is very tough and he’s fighting at home but I don’t think there’s anyone in Britain who comes near to beating Selby at the minute. He’s just too big at the weight and too slippery. I think he beats Stephen Smith if they fight again, too.
Once again you rebounded from defeat in fantastic style to stop old rival Paul Appleby in six at The Kelvin Hall in June. Having sparred frequently with Appleby during your stint at Billy Nelson’s Fighting Scots gym in Stepps, were you surprised to put him away so emphatically?
I wasn’t surprised that I won, though some saw it as an upset, but I was a bit surprised how quick it was. However, we knew from a check weigh in that Paul had a lot of weight to lose in a short period of time and, when he failed the scales the first time on the night, I knew I had him.
Also, I’ve begun working with a strength and conditioning coach, Andy Armour, who works with the Scottish rugby squad. We’ve done a lot of explosive work together and he’s really got my strength and power up. I knew prior to the second fight with Paul that I was punching very hard in training.
Prior to avenging Appleby, you parted with trainer Billy Nelson to hook up again with Danny Lee who steered you through your first 26 pro fights. Why?
The travelling just became too much. I’d been training with Billy part-time for a year and a half then made the commitment to him full-time following my first loss to Stephen Smith. I enjoyed our time together and still use some of the stuff I learned at Billy’s gym but the daily driving started to do my nut.
Danny’s gym (Greenock ABC) is about half a mile from me. Danny took me to the British and Commonwealth titles the first time, anyway. He’s a very good coach and motivator and, whereas Billy split his time about six ways, I get to have Danny all to myself. He’s on my back, pushing me all the time.
You’ve contested 15 British, Commonwealth or WBU championship fights. What do you consider to be your best win and who was the best opponent you faced?
I’d have to say my best win was against Appleby, albeit for the Celtic title last time. I felt really, really good. A close second would be my points win against Martin Lindsay over in the Kings Hall, Belfast, his manor. I throw over 900 punches that night and hardly missed. My second win over Paul Truscott and second win over Andy Morris, both stoppages, were also very pleasing.
I’d have to say Selby was the best I’ve met. It was the size of him. He was inches above me and very heavy handed. You could even really feel the shots which hit my guard. The toughest, most durable, I faced was probably Paul Truscott. He took bad beatings, particularly the second time, but never went down.
You must have done more rounds of sparring with WBO lightweight king Ricky Burns than any other fighter and are as qualified as anyone to comment on his attributes. What are they?
Ricky and me having been sparring together since before he won his Commonwealth title four years back and I sparred him a few weeks ago. I think his biggest asset is the sheer size of him. Even though he’s moved up from super feather quite recently, he’s still absolutely massive at lightweight, just as Selby is at feather.
Ricky’s also got good technical ability, he’s very sharp. He always says I’m his hardest spar and he’s certainly mine. We’ve had some proper battles and, probably because I know his style so well, I think even Ricky would admit that they’re pretty even. I had a real 10 round war with him just before the first Stephen Smith match and probably left a bit of my fight in the gym because of it!
Given the grade of fighter you’ve routinely met, fight after fight, over the last eight years, will it be difficult to get up for Saturday evening’s Celtic super-feather defence against Merthyr’s Dai Davies?
Not at all. Dai might not have the greatest record (nine wins, 18 defeats, two draws) but neither is mine. I’ve got nine losses, remember. I’ve seen clips of him and he definitely comes to fight. Dai drew with Rhys Roberts, a very good boy, in his last fight and he’s the reigning Welsh champion.
He’ll come to give it a good go and, as I’m not flashy either, it should be a good hard fight for the fans. With Ricky’s world title fight against Kevin Mitchell it promises to be a cracking night. I hear they’re expecting 10,000 bodies. How could I not be motivated?
So what aspirations do you have for next season. In an ideal world, who would you like to fight?
I won’t look past Dai Davies because I’ve made the mistake of getting ahead of myself too many times before.
To be honest, I’m still only a featherweight but I’d not be in a hurry to fight Lee Selby, who holds the British and Commonwealth titles, again because he’s so awkward.
I feel a lot better now than I did when I first won the British title six years ago. I’m reliant on a high workrate and kept pretty busy against Appleby last time so that was pleasing. I’m only 29. I’ve still got youth on my side.
If I win on Saturday, a challenge to (British superfeather king) Gary Buckland would be logical. Like me, he only wants to be in great fights for the fans. Having won a Lonsdale outright, I’d then want to move onto the European pretty quickly and I think I could be quite successful at that level.
Danny Lee, the former British flyweight challenger who has trained Simpson at his Greenock ABC gym for all but five of his 32 pro fights, adds: “Since returning to me, I’ve got John back to basics; put the emphasis on speed and movement again. In his previous four or five fights, I felt John had become awful static and, if he stands in distance, he deserves to get hit which is basically what happened against Lee Selby. I was totally surprised, mind. The shot that put him away seemed nothing.
I have to say that John always trains really hard – there’s never a need to push him - and he’s proved time and time again that he’s got real grit and determination. He also generates frightening power from a short distance.
Against Appleby, everything went to plan. Following John’s loss to Selby, we knew Paul would try and do him with the body shots but John kept it very tight and, after the first round, Appleby just didn’t fancy it. He has a bad habit of lifting his chin and sticking his arms out when he throws and John just made him miss then timed him, coming in.
John’s biggest problem over the years has been that he simply hasn’t been granted the type of fights others of his calibre get. Maybe it’s because he’s so quite and shy but , he should have been fighting at European title level years and years ago and, when you win that title, you automatically crash the top ten (world) rankings. He can still get further.”
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