Callen McAulay is looking to put a spark back into his boxing career when he returns on Friday.

The 23-year-old Electrical Engineer has spent over two and a half years away from the ring but will cure his itchy knuckles in Aberdeen against Kris Pilkington. An eighth win for the Scottish super-lightweight prospect will shake off the ring rust (which exists depending on who you talk to) before taking a step up in 2022.

His bout takes place at the Beach Ballroom, Aberdeen – McAulay’s first professional fight outside of Glasgow or Paisley – and will be shown live on FightZone. The card is headlined by Dean Sutherland taking on Michele Esposito for the vacant WBC International Silver welterweight title.

“I’m one of only three or four other boys in Scotland who have a deal with FightZone,” an enthusiastic McAulay told Boxing Social.

“This promotional deal is massive for people like me and Scottish boxing. It means money gets pumped into the sport up here for title fights which realistically is out of reach for boys like me in Scotland. The only way people like me would get a shot at a title is if I got four weeks’ notice to go down and fight a Frank Warren or Eddie Hearn prospect. Now, I’m actually signed with FightZone and they’re actually going to be backing me directly which is exactly what I needed for the next step.”

And what of the age-old cliché ‘ring rust’. Fact or fiction?

“I feel like you get that out the way when you’re sparring, the ring rust. Fighting is much different. No headguards, smaller gloves, it’s a whole different ball game. A hundred per cent you need to have time to get back into the feel of it but that’s what this one will be. Me getting back into the swing of things and hopefully step on further. In terms of the ring rust, not really, not to a great extent I don’t feel.”

Life without a fight for so long would drive most professionals up the wall but McAulay, thanks to thinking about the future long before now, has had the fortune of having a welcome distraction during his time away from the ring.

“A big emphasis through all my life has been my education,” he explains. 

“When I was in the Scotland team as an amateur, I was sitting school exams and I remember being in Russia with the Scotland team and getting my exam passes after the training sessions in Russia! 

“I’ve since been at University, and I was just at the tail end of my fourth year when I had my last fight (against Richard Samuels) and I broke my hand. It was a five-year course, so I had my fifth year of Uni which was my Master’s and the big report that goes with that. So, I had to focus on that, and I got that out the way then Covid hit. Obviously, I wish Covid hadn’t happened because it’s been terrible, but it happened at a time where I didn’t actually lose as much time. It all allowed me to focus on my fifth year of Uni and get that out the way.” 

“I’m always in the gym training,” he adds. “Last year I did loads of challenges for charity. I’ll always train regardless.”

McAulay has boxed since he was 7 years old. A fan of the Cuban fighting style, citing Guillermo Rigondeaux as his favourite fighter, the 140-pounder always ensured his schoolwork was finished before hitting the gym. Still fighting at the age of 40 and beyond isn’t in his plans despite him having only had a handful of fights so far. 

“You need to have something to fall back on,” he reminds us. An important statement for anyone who plans to put all their eggs in one basket.

The balancing act of work and training has always been a tricky path to navigate for a fighter. The early morning runs, starting the day job, returning home then training. A familiar tale throughout the years and one that can derail a promising career because of the demands. McAulay is a rare breed who seemed to thrive on the pressures of studying and boxing. Staying busy is key for him.

“Funnily enough it was my fourth or fifth pro fight I had an exam for Uni in the morning then I went and fought that night. So, I weighed in on the morning then went into Uni done my exam and had my fight that night. I think the studying keeps your brain switched on and keeps you sharp. Although it can be tiring, I like it. I think it’s easier to be at Uni and box and work an apprenticeship or be on your feet all day doing stuff.”

Thankfully McAulay isn’t involved in a job where a strain is put on his hands. Tools that are crucial to his work on weekends every few months have been put under strain and pressure due to two breaks as he explains.

“I broke it in my last fight and then it healed but it healed a bit dodgy. It didn’t heal right at all and then I broke it in sparring seven months later and we knew at that point something was wrong and needed an operation. Ended up getting a metal rod put in.”

The hand issues played a major part in his reason to turn professional rather than pursue some amateur success at senior level.

“I’ve always had problems with my hands and always been pretty injury prone with hands and everything in general. I was on the Scotland squad and was up at Sport Scotland and that was the road to the (2018) Commonwealth Games. I ended up breaking my hand which meant I couldn’t go to any of the qualification tournaments you need to go to. And then I thought what’s the point in staying amateur. I may as well go pro. I’d have went to the Games I imagine because I was the only one at my weight on the development squad at that time. Then I broke my hand so I couldn’t go to any of the qualification tournaments so I ended up turning pro.”

Did he find it mentally challenging to go through those injuries or does he accept it as part and parcel of the sport?

“It’s brutal!” he says in a way that only a Scotsman can.

“I’m kind of used to it because I’ve always had injuries and always had something to focus on. If I wasn’t doing anything outside of boxing, I’d imagine it would be worse. It is brutal because it was my left hand I broke and that’s the hand I write with. At the point I did it I was fuming; I was gutted but I got over it.”

McAulay is no longer the ‘wee guy’ who once wore trunks down to his shins as a kid while participating in skills bouts during boxing exhibition shows. Five stone to ten stone, amateur level to training with Colin Belshaw but now having amicably left that partnership McAulay now trains with his dad and spends time honing his craft with one of finest talents the country has produced, Gary Jacobs.

“I’m going up to Gary’s once or twice a week to do pads, to do different sessions, work on different stuff. I’ll still do all my stuff all the other time with my dad but getting that wee insight from Gary is great.”

Scottish boxing needs life after Josh Taylor, Lee McGregor, Kash Farooq, Hannah Rankin and veteran Ricky Burns whose shoulders carried the nation’s expectations for years. Callen McAulay’s future is in his own hands and a little bit of pressure is off thanks to FightZone and the streaming service’s interest in investing in boxing shows north of the border. Friday night will be a runout and a chance to wipe away the last 32 months. And perhaps in 2022 he, just like Dean Sutherland, can be headlining his own show somewhere like the Lagoon Leisure Centre in Paisley, just a few minutes from his house.

“This one is going to get me back into it, after that hopefully it’ll be a step up. I think FightZone have a few ideas for me. See how it goes in this one and then a step up.”