The striking blonde hair dipping through the ropes at Dunfermline Boxing club has brightened a recently darkened, local landscape. Undefeated prospect, Craig Morgan (4-0, 0KOs), has been visiting the club of late, educating children or aspiring adults on the Sweet Science – his way of giving back, aged only nineteen.
Morgan is from Kelty, the former mining village with a population of around six thousand people, far reduced from the days when coal was King. Although he’s moved to the outskirts, he was keen to inform me that it was ‘still Kelty’. There are no unfamiliar faces here, he explained, with a sense of community plastered from their football stadium to their only two schools.
It felt important to firstly address the recent, tragic loss of the village’s other popular fighter – Connor Law. Law, who had recently taken his own life, was the man who extended an olive branch when our subject had pondered his future in combat sport, with both men’s fathers sharing friendship. The loss of the undefeated people’s champion had rocked the boxing community – none more so than young Craig Morgan.
Fighting tears, he explained the impact of Law’s passing, “There’s no downplaying it. The boy is a legend now. He’s done pretty much everything that Kelty could have asked of him. He’s not just a boxing legend but just a really, really nice person. He’ll always be remembered as that. Besides that, I can’t really say anything else cos I’ll start greetin’ [crying].”
“He was like a big brother to me. Through boxing, he went everywhere with me. He came and saw me win my European bronze medal, he saw me win my British championships. He’s been there through thick-and-thin, boxing wise and just in my life. I’ll be forever grateful I had him in my life.”
Ahead of his return to the ring on June 22nd, in Glasgow’s Emirates Arena and as part of MTK’s return to Scotland, Craig was preparing to grab a fistful of wins. The fleet-footed teen had come from stellar amateur stock, winning 70 of his 77 fights and amassing plenty of silverware, including his bronze at the European Schoolboy Championships.
His introduction to the sport had been at the behest of Law, yet it wasn’t his only brush with martial arts. The transition to boxing had come naturally, but when discussing his initial interests, it was clear he’d always been athletic, full of intrigue and ready to scrap – despite his youthful, innocent appearance.
“I liked football, but I went to taekwondo, just for a bit of extra fitness. Then, I ended up being a three-time Scottish champion and a two-time British champion at taekwondo. I don’t even think I was eight or nine and I was literally on YouTube because my Dad was telling me about Prince Naseem. He told me, ‘You have to watch him’, and he was the only person I loved to watch boxing. I wanted to be like him, his personality and the aura around him. He was just an entertainer.”
He continued, “I went in, first day, to Kelty Boxing Club and on day one I fell in love with the sport. Roughly, I had some of the most titles in Scotland, I think six or seven national titles. I had two British titles and I got a bronze at the Europeans. To be honest, I went through the amateurs and I’m not gonna say that I accomplished everything, but I got to the level that I thought it was time to change. I got selected for the Commonwealth games and a few things happened that meant I couldn’t go for a few reasons. I thought, ‘Right, I’m gonna go pro and change my life’.”
Morgan made his professional bow in October last year, squeezing in four fights in five months. It was clear that he’d established a fanbase in Fife, especially as we’d delayed our conversation in order to allow for ticket sales and deliveries, all completed in person as he trawled from postcode to postcode. He estimated at this early stage, petrol costs and time taken to dish out tickets to valued, paying customers would see him break even. Kelty, he explained, was a village rich with loyalty – he liked that.
The main differences between amateur and professional boxing were often points of debate amongst fervent supporters of both. Longer rounds, plus additional rounds and no vests or headgear (now redundant in most competition for either discipline, somewhat controversially). The self-styled ‘Kelty Bomber’ was very open about struggling to adapt, now facing journeymen determined to see the final bell, yet content on having their opponent’s arm raised. It was this defensive, survival tactic that Craig attributed to all victories coming via the judge’s scorecards – though, each time convincingly.
The featherweight talent had commenced his professional career with Billy Nelson acting as his manager, but their relationship as trainer/fighter would take slightly longer to establish. Nelson has tasted success with former world champion, Ricky Burns, Stephen Simmons and former commonwealth champion, David Brophy, but welcomed his newest charge to the gym, renowned for both hard work and good fun.
“Characters?”, Morgan ponders when asked about Billy’s stable, “You’re not joking (laughs)! The training is class. You get a lot of boxing clubs that are too serious and it can’t be like that all the time. The training is hard, all the time, it’s stressful and pushes your body to the limit, but he’ll have a laugh with you when you do it. He knows what you’re capable of. He’ll take the piss out of you when you’re running, but it gives you a boost cos’ he’s having fun. The whole aura in the gym is so funny. You’re always smiling, laughing and ripping the piss out of each other. Billy always has a big grin on his face and you’re always wondering what’s gonna happen next…”
Despite sharing camaraderie with the rest of Nelson’s stable, it was all business come Saturday night. Morgan faced off against Elvis Guillen, a man who’d shared the ring with British talents such as; Thomas Patrick Ward, Reece Bellotti and Zelfa Barrett. Life on the road provided little in the way of victory, but the Nicaraguan was travelling to Glasgow with purpose.
For now, the Elvis Guillens of the boxing circuit were appropriate for a young fighter honing his approach to the professional game. In time, he’d climb the ranks, growing physically as well as mentally and begin challenging for titles. We’d spoken of the year ahead and Craig was grounded – aware that as he matures, his residence in the featherweight division may become a thing of the past.
“We don’t really know yet [which weight I’ll be]. I’ve still got a good bit of growing to do, but at the moment, featherweight or super-featherweight and kinda fluctuating between both. I’m the youngest [featherweight in the UK], and I’m 19th out of 49 boxers in Britain. Even now, ranked more than half way up in a division with Josh Warrington and Kid Galahad, I’m pretty chuffed at my age. It’s really good!
“In twelve months time, I’d like to be ready to fight for a youth world title like the one Lee McGregor just fought for. I’d like to be at that level. I’d like to be up to six rounds, then eight, but I’m new to this. Billy has a lot more experience than me and he knows what I’m capable of, so I trust Billy. I’ve trusted him from day one. I met him seven years ago when he asked me to come and train with Ricky Burns and I trust him now. I think in twelve months, I’d like to be 8-0… and I’d like to get a knockout (laughs)!”
Although Craig Morgan’s career is in its infancy, there were high hopes nationwide for the Kelty man. As always in boxing, you can never judge a book by its cover, with placid champions such as Manny Pacquiao knocking opponents out cold, with a chilling smile. Morgan is yet to find that punishing streak, but his positive, happy-go-lucky approach didn’t seem to detract from his dedication.
His local community in Fife had been rocked by the loss of young, talented fighter Connor Law, but behind the cloud that was cast over Kelty, Morgan provided a slither of sunshine. His talent was unquestionable and during our time together, it was clear that boxing meant everything to him. This weekend, he’ll take to the ring at the Emirates Arena in search of a fifth professional victory – but I got the impression that this fight meant much more.
“I’m not fussed about who I fight, I’ve been brought up like that. I’ll fight anybody. If the fight’s there, I’m gonna take it and I don’t care. It could be at heavyweight, I’d still take it. I think I will move up [in weight], as I say I’m gonna develop and grow, I’m only nineteen, so you don’t fully develop until you’re twenty-five or twenty-six. It would be good to fight against them [top domestic rivals], but there’s only gonna be one winner and that’s the ‘Kelty Bomber’.”
Interview written by: Craig Scott
Follow Craig on Twitter at: @craigscott209