Dean Sutherland: Heart of Granite

“I love the idea of boxing, it’s two people with the same beliefs. They’ve got one heart, one head, two hands, and it’s really down to who’s going to give the most of themselves to win. I’d just want to have absolutely no regrets and make sure I gave everything to the sport. Then, I can walk away from the sport healthy, financially looked after for my family, and I can have a happy life after that…” – Dean Sutherland 

Aberdeen’s Beach Ballroom stands alone, enjoying a spring break from the lashings often dished out by Aberdeen Bay, just a stones’ throw away. The venue has been opened and operational since 1926, playing host to music giants including The Beatles once upon a time, almost lifting its glass roof with manic noise from frantic fans. The North hasn’t been a boxing hot bed in the United Kingdom – or in Scotland – for some time. But unbeaten prospect, Dean Sutherland (12-0, 4KOs), is set to change that. 

This weekend, when Fightzone roll their cameras and professional boxing returns to the Granite city, Sutherland is the main attraction once again, building on an impressive 2021, and aiming to push towards British, Commonwealth, and European titles. It is his fans that will cheer on their own main event, the city’s great hope, whilst hanging perilously over the beautiful, detailed balconies, and bouncing inches off the venue’s notorious springed dance floor with every punch thrown. For Sutherland, this isn’t surreal; it is the realisation of a dream. 

“Fighting up in Aberdeen, it’s unbelievable. The support I’ve got, even from my kickboxing days, it was really big then and I’ve pushed the levels up again with professional boxing. Even people I’ve never met before are contacting me to get tickets; they’re all very interested and they all want to be a part of the journey,” explained the former cadet and senior world kickboxing champion, now aged 23.   

“In Aberdeen, there isn’t much in the way of sporting success right now. We have the football team, but they’re pretty shite now, to be fair. The city is craving and looking for some success, and I’m just very lucky I’m one of the characters they’re getting behind. Having Fightzone coming up, putting on big productions regularly with good quality shows, it’s really exciting. It’s a great platform and if I can put on entertaining nights, we’re all good here. It’s still surreal to me that this is a job that I’m able to do. It’s crazy, honestly. I keep having to pinch myself, waking up, not having to go on the tools and not having to crawl under the floors, I’m very lucky now, I know that.” 

In the last three months, the young shining light from the often-grey Northern giant has been able to hang up his tools after receiving financial backing from a company based in Aberdeen – but we’ll get to that. Sutherland was keen to focus on his grounding in combat sport, telling Boxing Social that from the age of five, he’d been competing in taekwondo. Next up, it was a transition to kickboxing as he entered his teenage years, and he’d squeezed in a handful of amateur boxing bouts to improve his hand speed.  

In a sport that’s now filled with fighters turning over later in life, or with little background in boxing, Sutherland was a refreshing reminder of a young man doing things the right way: “There was a competition on every weekend if you really wanted to go to it – that’s pretty much what I did. I came home from school on the Monday, found out where in the UK the competitions would be, spoke to my mum and dad, and we’d be planning to go there from Friday to Sunday nearly every weekend. Travelling about, competing, and finding major success. I’d achieved everything, and more, than I’d set out to do. I’ve always had a passion for boxing, and the choice came down to: if it was a big boxing event or a big UFC event, which one would I want to be a part of, or watch? It was boxing.” 

“I’m a visual learner,” the now-retired, fully qualified electrician continued, “Still to this day, three times per week, I’ll just sit down and study boxing videos, maybe an hour or two at a time. Doesn’t have to be fight nights, it can be training. I sit and watch the likes of Roy Jones Jnr, Mayweather, Pacquiao, then guys like Lomachenko were just coming up when I was turning professional. He’d just really started to make a scene; he was this southpaw, and I was fascinated with his movement, he was so quick, and he’s been the biggest influence on me in terms of his movement. If I sit down and watch something for 15 minutes, half an hour, I can normally pick it up. I learn quickly like that…” 

Praise has been heaped on Sutherland north – and now South – of the border, especially with regards to his footwork. He’s slick, slippery and measures distance expertly. Heads are starting to turn, and with promoter Sam Kynoch linking up with Dennis Hobson, it seems a matter of time before big fights come calling.

In his last two fights, he’d scored stoppage wins over decent opponents (10-1 and 18-4 respectively) for the WBO Youth and the WBC Silver International titles at welterweight. Stepping away from the trappings of the Scottish small hall cliché, four rounds and the rotation of recognisable journeymen, has allowed him to thrive. He believes it’s only going to continue, and despite facing a bold, fearless Corey McCulloch (a pro with just six fights to his name) who’s filling in at the last minute this Friday, Sutherland knows he now has a new job to do every time he steps through the ropes. 

“If you look back on my career, most people have [easy fights], they have more than five or six. I said to Sam [Kynoch] the first day we signed together, ‘I understand that I need to learn the ropes about professional boxing, but as soon as an opportunity comes up for me to step up, I want to step up.’ I was a multiple weight kickboxing world champion; I do not need to be beating up punch bags for an extra bit of dough. Nowadays, it would be easy to pad my record because that’s what everybody wants to do. They want to post their shite on social media.

“I’m just down to Earth, I want to compete against the best and to be the best; that’s how I want my boxing career to be. I don’t fear losing. I’ve been beaten in kickboxing before; my very last fight I had in my kickboxing career was to unify all the welterweight belts, and I was beaten in that [fight]. It’s something that wouldn’t ruin my career, I wouldn’t be finished, it’s not as though you wouldn’t see me again. I’d have to learn from those mistakes, and I’d be back again.”

While agreeing that it’s potentially harder for Scottish fighters to climb upon their perch after suffering defeat, Sutherland continued with his own mission statement: “One of the big goals for me is that as soon as somebody mentions Aberdeen boxing, they mention my name first. That’s what I want. I’m doing things the right way, I’m pushing myself, I’m taking the risks and bringing these crowds. I’m pushing the Aberdeen scene.”  

“We have Billy Stewart as well, and he’s unbelievably talented. His younger brother, Callum, is a very good amateur, and he’ll be an exceptional pro soon; he is very, very dangerous. Aberdeen boxing is just boiling, it’s at the simmer and it’s waiting to take off. It’s in safe hands for a good number of years, and it’s a proud thing for me to be the face of Aberdeen boxing – it’s a huge, huge thing. I’m doing this to put us on the map in the British boxing scene and that’s why I’m working so hard. I’m nowhere near the finished, polished article, and it’s such an exciting journey. I do believe I’ll be at world level, and if I do reach that, I’ll be able to retire a very, very happy man.” 

It’s thanks to Texo, an oil and gas recruitment specialist, that ‘Deadly’ Dean has been able to focus on boxing full-time. The company came on board after discussions with the fighter’s father, and loyal, loving fan, John, and whilst the pair know they must leave no stone unturned with Sutherland’s training and preparation, their affiliation with the Aberdeen-based powerhouse has laid solid foundations, allowing him to strike a balance he believes will prove invaluable. 

“I was working nine hours per day, plus I was doing my morning runs at five o’clock in the morning, then I was having to do my training sessions at night. To start off with, I was travelling down to Dundee at night-time for my training which was another three hours of travelling. From a social point of view, I’ve never been better with my girlfriend, my friends, my family. Everything is just much more relaxed from that point of view. A couple of weeks ago, I went out with a squad of my pals that are coming to the fight, I think there was about 30 of us, and we just played football. I have been choking to have a kickabout for a couple of years, but I’ve never had the time to do it.” 

“Now, I have the option. My best pal works offshore, so when he’s back off his rotation, I’m able to see him, go for a walk, grab a coffee. I just feel like a much happier fighter. You know yourself; a happier fighter is more dangerous fighter… It’s all about balance. When you’re working full-time, you almost feel like you’re in fight or flight all the time; you’re constantly rushing about, you can’t focus, your head’s never quite in it. Always burning off some type of negative energy – your head’s up your arse,” laughs Aberdeen’s star attraction, talking freely with the benefit of spare time, for once. 

What was evident when Sutherland caught up with Boxing Socialwas his sense of reality. Boxing can be a sport filled with bloated egos, ‘yes’ men, and fighters that continue throwing slow, telegraphed punches at the unreachable. But in Sutherland, Aberdeen has a raw talent, slowly dusting itself off, beginning to sparkle. He speaks well and talks of plans to give back to his local community, with parents suffering financially from the well-publicised decline of the city’s oil and gas industries. Whether world titles await him, we’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it. But he already possesses the most valuable attribute a fighter can boast: a clarity of thought and a vision for the future.  

“Looking back on my career once it’s finished, I believe I’ll have put Aberdeen boxing on the map. I want to inspire the next generation. One of the big things – although people think Aberdeen is the oil capital – there’s not as much money up here as people fucking think. There’s a very small amount. I’ve had so many people along the way that have had so much talent, but because of financial issues and their parents being unable to afford it; I want to make it as successful and affordable as possible for the next generation. That’s something I really aspire to.”