After completing a three year apprenticeship that should serve as a blue print for the industry, unbeaten Manchester starlet Zelfa Barrett intends to attack the major 130lb titles in 2018.
Since entering the profession with modest amateur credentials in October 2014, the ‘Brown Flash’ has honed his craft in six scheduled four rounders and nine scheduled six rounders - off TV, in the classrooms of the northern small halls – before sizzling in three scheduled 10 rounders in 2017. In late October, he was scary good in his championship bow, splattering city rival Chris Conwell in four to claim the vacant English title.
The speed of his development under his uncle, coach and mentor Pat ‘Black Flash’ Barrett – a monster punching British and European Light-Welter king of the early 1990s – has been quite astounding.
Now 19-0, with nine (often spectacular) stoppage wins in his last ten starts, the smooth yet savage 24 year old was nominated as Prospect of the Year by six of the 12 experts canvassed for BoxNation’s end of year review.
And rival foghorns who mocked his courage – when ‘Uncle Pat’ withdrew him from British eliminators last year before his time was fully served – have latterly hit the mute button. Seekers turned hiders!
‘Uncle Pat’ treats me like a son and has always done what he thought was best for me. But now he thinks we’ve covered all bases and I’m finally ready for the British title,’ says ‘Zelly’ who trains at the city’s World renowned Collyhurst and Moston gym and is managed by Steve Wood.
‘Obviously it was very frustrating at times with people calling me out and my uncle withdrawing me from eliminators cos I’m a fighter and want to fight everyone. ‘Uncle Pat’ is ’militant’, a very hard man to please but I’ve just had to trust him and thankfully the perseverance has paid off. We’re there now.
‘It’s been about grafting in the gym and biding my time, a case of becoming proficient in every aspect of boxing before unleashing me. Reflexes, defence, counter punching, body attack; no blips, able to adapt to every eventuality.
‘My uncle doesn’t ever want me to be a rabbit in the headlights, confronted by a situation in the ring that I’d not encountered before. Above all, it was about developing ring generalship, knowing how to own every inch of the ring.’
If the chilling countout of Conwell exemplified young Zelfa’s explosiveness, his classy 10 round beatdown of Nicaraguan nugget Eusebio Osejo five months earlier gave credence that he has the fitness and focus required to flourish over the championship trip.
‘Last year, I added more ring experience and prepared for 12 rounders in training camp,’ says Zelfa who decked Osejo in rounds four and nine en route to a commanding 99-90 decision.
‘I completed a 10 rounder where previously I’d not gone past round six. That’ll hold me in good stead for the future. There’s no point just doing it in the gym.
‘And I showed I can carry my power from first round to last because I‘ve been taught to punch with the correct technique since I was an amateur. I turn my knuckles over and punch through the shoulder, through the target.’
The silky 5ft 7in counter puncher from Harpurhey’s ring education has been further enriched by extensive spars with the city’s elite.
He explains: ‘Sparring world champions such as Terry (Flanagan), Scott Quigg and (Anthony) Crolla has played a huge role in developing the self-belief that I’m ready for the big titles.
‘There’s been tough times and trust me, they tried to knock me out. Lately, it’s got more technical, more thoughtful. It’s about who makes a mistake cos they get punished.
‘They operate at world level so if I can give a good account of myself with them, deliver hard rounds, I doubt I’m going to be troubled by those at the level I’ll be operating at this year.’
He keeps his tools sharp with a ten rounder with Dundee’s Ronnie Clark at the York Hall on February 24th and expects his passing out parade to be formalised in the second half of this year.
‘The English title win was confirmation that I’m now ready for ‘lift off’. We hope to advance the old school way – British, Commonwealth, European - and I’m still quite young,’ he concludes.
‘I’ll make my British challenge this year, maybe around September. We’re ready for any of them and now it’s on our terms.’
An action-packed evening of boxing at the iconic fight theatre features Anthony 'The Beast' Yarde (14-0, 13 KO’s) defending his WBO Intercontinental and European Light-Heavyweight titles against Frenchman Tony Averlant (26-9-2, 5 KO’s);
Knockout artist Daniel 'Dynamite' Dubois (6-0, 6 KO’s) fights at the historical East London venue for the first time in his professional career as he defends his Southern Area Heavyweight belt against Queensborough’s DL Jones (8-0-1);
Elsewhere on a stacked card hard-hitting Southampton Super-Welterweight Joe Pigford returns to the ring after a brutal KO win over Aaron Morgan in May 2017; Welling Super-Featherweight Archie Sharp aims to improve his unbeaten record to 12-0; former Southern Area Super-Featherweight Champion Boy Jones Jnr fights at Lightweight for the first time; gifted Southampton Featherweight Ryan ‘The Piranha’ Garner looks to get his career back on track when he fights over four rounds; Ilford Welterweight talent Hamzah Sheeraz fights in his second professional contest; stylish Ilford Super-Middleweight Umar Sadiq and former Team GB Flyweight Harvey Horn both look to go 2-0 while Beckton Lightweight and Anthony Yarde gym mate Mohammed Bilal Ali makes his professional debut.