A fighter making his way in the sport will occasionally mention how they are not the finished article. Nine times out of ten they are talking about the improvements they need to make inside the ring in order to fulfil their ambitions and dreams.
Caoimhin Agyarko recently talked to Boxing Social about how he, too, is not the finished article, but the 23-year-old prospect was referring to his mental strengths as well as those inside the squared circle.
The Belfast middleweight is a prospect of ferocity, technique and ruthlessness that has him already carved out by many as a future champion. His career will take care of itself so long as he continues to dedicate himself in such a manner that saw him do a 6k run as soon as he stepped off the plane back home, just a day after his latest win.
Agyarko (8-0, 5 KOs) chatted about the mental challenges he faces which resurface from time to time. These include his stabbing in Belfast city centre back in May 2017. He may have survived the unprovoked attack, but he continues to feel the mental scars it left upon him.
In the build-up to his fight against Jez Smith in July, the Northern Irishman had to deal with another blow in his personal life when his relationship with his girlfriend of three-and-a-half years came to an end. Now he is in a far better place mentally as he seeks to build upon his growing reputation inside the ropes.
“That [Smith] camp was very, very mentally tough and it did affect me in the fight,” Agyarko revealed. “I’m still getting over being broke up with my ex. I’m still getting over being stabbed although it was three-and-a-half years ago but mentally, I am in a good place. I’m finding my happiness, and everything is going well. You’re going to have bad days; you’re going to have good days, but I’ve learned to deal with it.
“My coaches and manager wanted me to pull out [of the Smith fight] and wanted to send me home and knew that mentally I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to be going into a big fight. I knew myself I had to get through it, I had to overcome that and the best way to do that was to continue to fight. There’s no point letting that get the better of me and not fighting. Things maybe would have gotten worse. I maybe would have gone home and maybe I would have gone on the drink or something like that, I don’t know.
“Mentally I knew I had to stay in camp. I just had to overcome that situation at the time. I’m a very mentally strong person and I know how to deal with things, but that camp was very mentally tough for me. It was mentally the toughest camp I’ve had. It was a bad stage of my life, but I overcame it and right now in life I’m happy. Mentally I’m getting better and stuff like that. I know I’m not the finished article. I do have my good days. I do have my bad days.”
Just like a lot of his fellow professionals Agyarko believes everything in life happens for a reason. He turns 24 on November 29 and has been in relationships for the last seven-and-a-half years. Right now, he is learning a lot about himself as single life continues to be a new normal for him. His relationship with boxing, however, is as strong as it has ever been.
“I’m always focused when it comes to boxing and that stays the main goal. To keep on achieving, keep on improving and just keep moving forward,” he said.
Promoted by Queensberry Promotions, ‘Black Thunder’ picked up his eighth win of his two-year professional career, stopping what looked like an immovable Robbie Chapman on November 13. The betting favourite’s body shots did their damage against ‘The Camden Caretaker’ who was then taken care of in round seven. A heavy right hand from Agyarko’s buzzed Chapman who was quickly and brutally under the cosh for 15 seconds where nearly 20 power punches were thrown before the Londoner was stopped on his feet.
“I’m never satisfied with my performances,” said Agyarko who never admitted to being a perfectionist.
“I’m happy. I showed improvements, I showed maturity, but I’m not satisfied. I know I can always do better. I know that that performance was only a 40 per cent Caoimihin Agyarko at max. I know how good I am, and I know what I can do. I am happy with the improvements I showed but I’m not satisfied.
“I knew I was hurting Chapman, but my coach [Alan Smith] said don’t jump on him, keep chipping away and up the intensity ten per cent every round. I could see him getting tired. Whenever I hit him with body shots and catching him with hooks, I could see he was hurt but I just took my time. I wanted to enjoy that fight.”
He continued: “There is a lot of expectations on me and a lot of hype and people expect a lot of big performances. I don’t really focus on that. I focus on my performance. There’s no-one who expects more of me than myself, so I said to myself let’s go and enjoy this fight. Keep the mind free, go out there and get the job done and enjoy it most of all. And that’s what I did, and I knew when I had Chapman hurt I would close the show and I took my time with it. Once I have you hurt, I smell blood and I’m not letting you off the hook. There was two minutes left in the round and the referee did the right thing by stepping in. I don’t know how Chapman took those shots. He’s a very tough guy to stay on his feet. Before the referee stepped in, I was wondering how he was still standing. Them shots were vicious and fair play to him for showing heart, but it was the right decision. It would only have been a matter of time because his legs were gone.”
Another challenge that Agyarko has continued to face over the years has been presented by his own hands. The heavy-hitting Northern Irishman has always packed power but that has come at a price in the past. During the difficult fight camp for the Smith bout Agyarko hurt his right hand in his final spar of the camp. Ironically, it was the day that Smith accepted the fight when the incident occurred. Other opponents had pulled out, meaning the Smith fight was sorted with just a fortnight to go.
“I was seeing my physio for seven weeks straight, getting treatment on it,” Agyarko said, revealing his lay-off following the ninth round win over Smith.
“After the Jez Smith fight, I didn’t train or punch for seven weeks, so we were just letting it heal. I knew what was wrong with it. I’ve suffered with bad hands for about six years now. I punch too hard for my hands and I get ligament damage once I load up and land a big shot. They were fine throughout the [Chapman] fight but that one big shot that I landed and hurt my opponent with hurt my hand. Thankfully, it isn’t too bad. It was sore that night. It was sore on the Saturday, but the pain went away over the next couple of days. The problem with my hand is nothing major, it’s just about strengthening my hand and my ligaments and joints until the hands can take the impact and force, I put through them. It’s boxing, your hands aren’t made to be taking that amount of damage and I know that, but they are getting better. They were a lot worse, but they are getting better.
“For that Jez Smith fight, I couldn’t believe I hurt my hand. My right hand didn’t hurt for a year and a half. Everything was starting to look up, my hands weren’t sore and then just suddenly two weeks out it just went. It’s just one of those things but I know what we’ve to do to fix them. We work on strengthening them in camp and out of camp so that’s all it is. It’s nothing major.”
Agyarko’s hand issues in his professional career go back to the very beginning. His first two fights against Ladislav Nemeth and Yasin Hassani respectively went the six-round distance. Hassani was dropped but Agyarko couldn’t close the show because of the pain. Now, two years on, he uses something as simple as sand to help his hands.
“We do certain movements in a box of sand to help strengthen it with my strength and conditioning coach. We do a lot of gripping stuff that helps strengthen it. I’ve got these little bands… I don’t know what you call them… but it’s a little strengthening thing for your hands that I use daily to help strengthen it. Once I started using the sand and doing the gripping work that’s what fixed my right hand for a year and a half. It definitely does work.”
So, as you have read, Agyarko has a lot on his plate for a young man still to reach the quarter century mark. Lockdown didn’t help either. At least he knows he is not alone with that sentiment. Agyarko admitted to putting on a couple of stone on in weight during the time we were all indoors. The extra poundage soon disappeared once he was in camp for his July appointment in the ring. A lesson learned. All part of the education which is now being partially overseen by former world champion Ryan Burnett, who has opened his own gym in Belfast.
“There’s no better person to learn off than Ryan and gain knowledge from,” said Agyarko.
The pair have been friends for a couple of years and Agyarko’s trainer Alan Smith encouraged his prospect to work with someone back home when training and fight nights were over with in England.
Unless his phone rings with a short notice fight arrangement, we won’t see Agyarko boxing again until the first quarter of next year. The work will continue in the meantime enabling him to be fully prepared should that call come. Agyarko’s reputation is growing and a step up is looming. He’s eager for that move but enjoying boxing is at the forefront of his mind right now and being mentally free from the adversity he has faced.
One fight that could come into the mix over the next 12 to 18 months would pit Agyarko against new British middleweight champion Denzel Bentley. The pair fought on the same show this month with Bentley headlining the night in his rematch with Mark Heffron. Bentley won the vacant 160lbs title after four rounds with Heffron retiring on his stool due to a grotesque eye injury. Agyarko didn’t see the bout but he did spar Bentley one week before fight night.
“It was good. It was very competitive, and it was the first time I ever sparred him. I don’t think we showed each other a lot but it was a very good spar, and a lot of people would have paid a lot of money to see it,” Agyarko said of the experience.
Many will likely pay to see it for real should the pair clash down the line but Agyarko believes that he needs the learning fights that Bentley has already been through to ensure he is fully ready for such an enticing dust-up.
“It is a fight that a lot of people would want to see,” he said.“We’re two very good fighters. Bentley’s obviously just picked up the British and that’s his 15th fight. We both can bang for middleweights. Personally, I couldn’t see the fight happening in 2021 but it’s definitely a fight that I’m interested in. He’s a fighter that I’ve got my eye on. Bentley’s had seven more fights than me. Jez Smith is probably the only step up that I’ve had. The only tough fight, the only challenging fight that I’ve had.
“I still maybe need one or two more challenging step ups and see how I progress through them. On technical ability, I’m one of the best fighters in the middleweight division domestically. On technical ability, I think I’m better than a lot of the middleweight division, but you’ve got to get the experience, you’ve got to be in them dog fights.”
Main image and all photos: Queensberry Promotions.