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 Herefordís 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 Barryís Lee Selby Ė who punctured him with a body shot in round five of a British and Commonwealth crack last December Ė 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.†
Burns v Mitchell is live and exclusive on BoxNation (Sky Ch. 437/Virgin Ch. 546). †Join at www.boxnation.com
John, youíve 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 Chesterís 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 shouldíve 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 hadnít been called, Iíd 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. Iíve learned thatís just the way boxing is. Far worse has been not getting many fights, particularly when youíve been training so hard. Itís 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 Ďwrap ití. But then Iíd be watching the boxing on TV and knew I couldnít not fight again. Once again, I came back strong.†
Youíve 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. Iíd 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 couldnít 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 heíd let it go on, Iíd 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 heís fighting at home but I donít think thereís anyone in Britain who comes near to beating Selby at the minute. Heís 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 Nelsonís Fighting Scots gym in Stepps, were you surprised to put him away so emphatically?
I wasnít 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, Iíve begun working with a strength and conditioning coach, Andy Armour, who works with the Scottish rugby squad. Weíve done a lot of explosive work together and heís 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. Iíd 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 Billyís gym but the daily driving started to do my nut.
Dannyís gym (Greenock ABC) is about half a mile from me. Danny took me to the British and Commonwealth titles the first time, anyway. Heís a very good coach and motivator and, whereas Billy split his time about six ways, I get to have Danny all to myself. Heís on my back, pushing me all the time.
Youíve 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?
Iíd 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.
Iíd have to say Selby was the best Iíve 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 heís moved up from super feather quite recently, heís still absolutely massive at lightweight, just as Selby is at feather.
Rickyís also got good technical ability, heís very sharp. He always says Iím his hardest spar and heís certainly mine. Weíve had some proper battles and, probably because I know his style so well, I think even Ricky would admit that theyíre 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 youíve routinely met, fight after fight, over the last eight years, will it be difficult to get up for Saturday eveningís Celtic super-feather defence against Merthyrís Dai Davies?
Not at all. Dai might not have the greatest record (nine wins, 18 defeats, two draws) but neither is mine. Iíve got nine losses, remember. Iíve seen clips of him and he definitely comes to fight. Dai drew with Rhys Roberts, a very good boy, in his last fight and heís the reigning Welsh champion.
Heíll come to give it a good go and, as Iím not flashy either, it should be a good hard fight for the fans. With Rickyís world title fight against Kevin Mitchell it promises to be a cracking night. I hear theyíre 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 wonít look past Dai Davies because Iíve made the mistake of getting ahead of myself too many times before.
To be honest, Iím still only a featherweight but Iíd not be in a hurry to fight Lee Selby, who holds the British and Commonwealth titles, again because heís so awkward.
I feel a lot better now than I did when I first won the British title six years ago. Iím reliant on a high workrate and kept pretty busy against Appleby last time so that was pleasing. Iím only 29. Iíve 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, Iíd 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: ďSince returning to me, Iíve 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 Ė thereís never a need to push him - and heís proved time and time again that heís got real grit and determination. He also generates frightening power from a short distance.
Against Appleby, everything went to plan. Following Johnís 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 didnít 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.
Johnís biggest problem over the years has been that he simply hasnít been granted the type of fights others of his calibre get. Maybe itís because heís 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.Ē