Rising light-welter prospect Billy Morgan concedes he was a boy in a man’s world when he dived into the profession as a willowy 20 year old back in 2010.
But the triple national junior champion and Young England rep has latterly added the brawn to supplement his unquestionable skill set and is expecting to soar up the rankings in 2014.
Already unbeaten in nine, the 23 year old stylist from Canning Town in London’s East End resumes his career at The Copper Box on February 15th with a fascinating six rounder against Tottenham’s former ABA champion Michael Grant.
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Boxing writer Glynn Evans caught up with the Cockney plumber to evaluate his life as a fighter and speculate about what promises to be a bright future.
Canning Town is one of the more notorious districts of the East End and proper fighting terrain. What was it like growing up there?
There were loads of characters when I was a nipper but a lot have moved out now and it’s changing.
I had a terrific childhood. For a while, my family owned a pub in Canning Town so I was brought up around that environment too; all the great 60s and 70s music. My great uncle, also called Billy Morgan, had been a good amateur who sparred Henry Cooper but then met my aunt and never went pro.
As a very young kid, I was always out on the street playing football and getting up to mischief but, from the age of about 11, I was always in the boxing gym so didn’t get involved in some of the more serious stuff.
Being a boxer but also very small for my age, other kids would always be challenging: ‘How do you think you’d get on with me, then?’But I always stood my ground. It was usually just ‘front’ from them and I rarely had to prove myself.
Most the kids I grew up alongside got themselves in trouble with the police; thieving cars and bikes. Thankfully, I choose a different path.
From the age of 11, you trained for a decade under the venerable Micky May at the West Ham ABC. Micky trained well over one hundred national amateur champions. What was it that made him and the club so successful?
Again, things have changed. When I was there we had a great squad kids like Dudley O’Shaughnessy and the Nugent brothers. We all went to different schools but looked out for each other and stayed in contact. It was like a family.
I loved going the gym so much that I’d go an hour early to chat and have banter with the lads. I’d train for two hours then stay another hour afterwards.
Everywhere we boxed we’d take loads of parents and supporters. Wherever we fought, we’d always be like the home club. My first fight was up in Darlington in the north-east yet we still took a mini van up there. We always had massive support.
We all really looked up to Micky. He was very disciplined and took no bullsh*t. He spoke the truth. If you boxed bad, he let you know, if you did well, he’d congratulate you.
He could get very worked up and passionate. He’d be banging the canvas and swearing at the officials and always craved perfection. I’ll never forget when I boxed in the National Feds quarter-final in Bristol. I was very slow out the blocks and, though I probably still won the first round, Micky went absolutely ballistic when I got back to the corner; slapped my face, slapped my legs and told me if I didn’t stop the kid next round, I’d get no water for the rest of the championship!
Though I delivered that stoppage, he was still banging on about that first round all the way home. But next time I went to the gym, I was hell bent on improving. I never started slowly again and went on to win the national title that year.
You turned pro at 20 in October 2010 but your back up team has restricted you to just nine starts whilst your ‘man strength’ develops. Retrospectively, do you regret not staying on in the amateurs a little longer?
No regrets but I do sometimes wonder: ‘What if....?’ Could I have won a senior ABAs and had success at the major international tournaments as a senior?
But I made my bed so have to lie in it. I’m glad I’ve been brought through slowly. This camp, all my sparring opponents have commented on how much stronger I look, how much harder I’m hitting. I’m now holding my own with mature men in sparring.
In hindsight, I spent too long starving myself as an amateur to keep my weight low. I’d eat nothing, train on an empty stomach then struggle to hold my food down when I ate afterwards. Now I’ve sorted my nutrition and I’m far stronger.
Why is training at the TKO gym in Canning Town under Jimmy and Mark Tibbs such a good place for a young prospect to blossom?
It’s a very busy gym with loads of different sparring. Also you’re able to sit down and study top calibre fighters such as Billy Joe Saunders, Frank Buglioni and Freddie Turner as they work out. All us young prospects just bounce off each other. There’s plenty of quality banter flying about.
You can feel the presence of Jimmy Tibbs as soon as he enters the gym. It’s becoming the same with Mark (Tibbs). While Mark is more ‘hands on’ with me, Jimmy is always watching, pulling you aside and giving his input.
Mark has been like a best friend to me, ferrying me around for sparring. Michael Grant has also been training at the TKO with (coach) Barry Smith. I train around lunch time and Michael’s supposed to train evenings but he’s been slipping in a bit earlier to have a crafty spy on me as I finish my sessions (laughs)!
You continue to work full time as a plumber. Juggling that with the boxing must be difficult.
It’s a strain, yeah. The only advantage really is that it delivers a regular wage during the periods when I haven’t been active.
After a really competitive sparring session, you just want to chill, relax, take a nap. But I have to dive in the van and get back to a site where I might have to listen to a client constantly moaning. Sometimes it’s hard to hold your cool but you have to be professional.
One day, hopefully, I’ll be in a position to give the job up and focus full time on my dream.
How do you assess your opening three years as a professional? Are you happy with the progress you’ve made and the performances you’ve delivered?
I’m definitely happy with the developments I’ve made under the guidance of Mark and Jimmy. Physically, they’ve got me into the best shape of my life, really developed my body and my skills. The transformation in my physique is unreal.
Performance wise, thus far I’ve got through against fully mature men using just my skill. This year, hopefully, I’ll be able to show more strength wise.
I’ve also benefitted from a lot of quality sparring with championship level guys like Kevin Mitchell and Colin Lynes. Colin’s a top, top bloke with a heart of gold. He really helps me out by talking me through spars, correcting my mistakes after.
I’ve had a few spars with Carl Frampton another very good fighter. He’s a lot lighter and we’ve got the 18oz gloves on but he sharpens me up, just like I used to sharpen Kevin (Mitchell) up. I’ve also done work with (ex Southern Area light-welter king) Danny Connor and several of the other lads at Alex Wilkie’s gym. They’ve been very helpful to me.
You’ve been inactive since you suffered a nasty cut whilst winning a three round technical decision over Oldham’s Ashley Mayall at Wembley Arena seven months ago. Is everything now in order?
Yeah, the cut’s healed really well. Thankfully I had Mark, Jimmy and the late Dean (Powell) to remind me that I’ve a long career ahead of me so there was no need for me to rush back. I was offered a fight at The Copper Box in November but we let it go to allow the wound more time to heal. No rush, no risks.
You were managed by the late Dean Powell from the start of your career. His passing in September must have been a great shock and great loss to you?
Terrible. It shook me bad and I felt very alone because Dean was always on the phone cheering me up during periods of inactivity. He’d tell me he had plans for a big future for me. It was he who introduced me to the pros and we were on our journey together. A great loss. Very sad.
2014 promises to be an important year for your career. What do you hope it brings?
I hope I’ll close the year 15-0. It’s entirely up to Frank (Warren), Jimmy and Mark but I’d love to be at 10 round level and have something like a Southern Area or English title belt around my waist. From that platform, I could work my way to British, Commonwealth, European and hopefully, eventually, world titles.
Above all, I’m looking forward to facing better opposition because I know that will bring out the best in me. The journeymen I’ve faced -bar Dan Naylor and Ashley Mayall - just came to survive. If the opponent comes to win, comes to throw punches back, I’ll be able to find angles for my shots and start to look good.
Your six rounder against former English title challenger Michael Grant at The Copper Box represents a significant step up in class. What’s your assessment of Grant?
Mike’s a very talented fighter, no doubt; a sharp, slick boxer. If you stand off him and allow him to bounce around, he’ll box yer ears off. Some are saying he was unlucky against Karl Place and was handling Terry Flanagan until he blew out of gas.
I was hoping the fight might be an eight rounder but, because of my break, it’s probably wise to come back over six.
I expect Michael to show ambition for the first two or three rounds but it’s up to me to bully him, break his heart and beat the fight out of him. We’ll see if he can handle my pressure.
After eight gigs at York Hall and one at Wembley, you must be excited about the prospect of showcasing your wares at The Copper Box.
I can’t wait. Wembley Arena was a big step up from the York Hall but this is another level altogether. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be part of such a big event. I’ve attended both of the previous promotions there as a fan. It’s a great venue, the atmosphere is fantastic and there’s not a single bad seat.
And my fans are even more excited about it than me. I’ve already done about 300 tickets so hopefully I’ll be getting a few songs and plenty of cheers. Obviously The Copper Box is not far from Canning Town so, down the line, I’d love to be selling it out as a main event.
What do you hope to achieve from next weekend’s promotion?
I want people to finally start taking notice of me and make a real statement. So far my pro career has been a bit slow but now I want to start climbing through the rankings and, as fans are leaving the arena, I want them saying Billy Morgan gave a great performance. I want them to be expecting good things from me in the future.
What’s your assessment of the British light-welter division?
I think it’s packed with talent. Darren Hamilton is a very good champion then you’ve got the likes of Ricky Boylan, Chris Jenkins, Tom Stalker and Bradley Saunders coming through. They’re all great prospects and potentially big fights for me down the line. It’s great to be a part of it all.
When the time is right, I’m confident I can compete with any of them. It’s a route I’m willing to take. To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.
Finally, have you given yourself a time scale for when you expect to be competing for major titles?
That’s entirely dependent on Mark, Jimmy and Frank Warren. Right now, I’m still boxing at six round level but by the end of 2014, I’d like to be fighting 10 rounders and would expect to be making a British title challenge on a big show around the summer of 2015. Meanwhile, I’m happy to just keep me nut down and keep developing.