By Shaun Brown
In a rescheduled contest, John Simpson 22-8 (9) will once again rack up the miles on a trip south to try and win the British and Commonwealth featherweight titles on Dec 14 at the York Hall, London, against current champion Lee Selby, the division’s fourth champion in less than twelve months.
The fight was originally due to take place this Friday (18th Nov) but a viral infection caused Simpson to take a week off training that led to the fight being postponed.
“I didn’t want to take a chance. I hadn’t been well for a week. I was taking days off and then going back into the gym and it wasn’t working for me. With the fight being so close at the time I decided to take the time off. I didn’t want there being any excuses being made for me on the night of the fight,” Simpson explained to Boxing Scene.
Having already been out for almost seven months since losing his British title to Stephen Smith, the extra days away from the gym might not have been what he wanted but it’s certainly acted as blessing in disguise according to Simpson and his trainer Billy Nelson.
“The break’s actually done him the world of good. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him better,” Nelson said.
“It gives me a little bit more time,” Simpson added. “I was struggling a bit with the weight but that’s only because of the long lay-off.”
Despite a long absence from the ring Simpson, who was due out in July, has still been “ticking over” in the gym. He even took his training with him to Cyprus when he got married in September.
Simpson defines that age old commentator description “teak-tough”. Yet despite first winning the Lonsdale belt almost five years to the day when he fights Selby next month, the 28-year old has never found himself stepping up to European level or beyond. A point not loss on the Scot as he explained to me that should he win he has no desire to defend a (British) title that he has won twice already.
“I need a different belt to have in the house, even one of those inter-continental titles! At one point in my careers I was rated three or four by the IBF. I beat Andy Morris in 2006 for a title that I’m fighting for five years later. By now I should’ve boxed for the European title. You get people like James DeGale who gets beaten and then gets given a European title shot. That annoys me, but I’ve still got time on my side.”
Thirty fights since he first fought professionally in 2002, Simpson more than most domestic fighters has seen his fair share of ups and downs. With eight losses on his record the unknowledgeable fan may take one look and turn their nose up at such a statistic. A closer inspection shows nothing but points defeats, a man who has never been stopped and who himself disputes four of the losses.
“I’ve never been put knocked out either,” he added. “In the Appleby fight I went down in the fifth but when you watch it back you can see my back foot slipped. If that hadn’t been ruled a knockdown I’d have got a draw and retained my title. It was a close fight that could’ve gone either way.”
I asked John how he coped in the days after such close losses like the ones to Appleby and Dazzo Williams (in 2004).
“It’s pretty disheartening. If I was getting beat hands down I’d consider hanging up my gloves, but I’m not. I’m not just here to take any old fight; I’m here to win bigger titles and to make a better life for myself and my family.”
“In the Stephen Smith fights most people know I won them. They ruined my career for a bit and stopped me going further. But I don’t want to dwell on the past too much. All my concentration is on Selby and winning my titles again.”
Selby came out from left field and caught everyone off guard when defeating Smith to win the British and Commonwealth titles in September. Confidence, swagger, the ability to punch and box were displayed on a night where Simpson and his trainer agree that, although Selby won, Smith wasn’t at the races.
“I’ve been watching Selby’s fight with Stephen Smith for a few weeks now. There was obviously something up with Smith on the night,” stated Nelson.
“Selby looked good against Smith,” said Simpson. “But to me Stephen looked jaded. He didn’t look himself and he seemed to be blowing after a few rounds. Selby’s awkward, a switch hitter and he can punch to a certain extent. This will be only his twelfth fight against me; I bring so much experience as well as so much more that he won’t have seen.”
Without even asking John, he told me that this is a make or break fight for him. Another defeat could signal the end for what has been, so far, a tough but a thoroughly entertaining career for everyone to observe. He may have had many battles and setbacks along the way but Simpson sees nothing stopping him from bringing back his old belts to Scotland.
“I’m still feeling fresh and I believe I’m still learning,” he enthused.
And what of yet another fight away from home? Of his thirty fights to date, half have taken place away from home.
“Even though this is another fight in England I always box away from home. Every title I’ve won has been down there. Besides I think Ricky (Burns) is going to defend his title in Scotland next time. After I win this next fight I will definitely be on that card,” Simpson revealed.
“No matter where the fight is, a ring’s a ring. Where it takes place is immaterial,” concluded trainer Nelson.