“I made a lot of mistakes, but I was working on these things as well. I was staying in close. Obviously I’m a tall boxer for my weight category, but I was working in close a little too much.
“I had a lot to learn in that fight, more than the previous eight. I need to work on it a bit more. I need to just adapt between the two distances. Moving and boxing or fighting. It needs to be half-a-minute, or a minute, then back to moving again at my range.”
The knowing voice of a young, inexperienced fighter echoes over the phone from Belfast to Glasgow. Wise and self-critical, he’s just overcome another stiff test on home soil, left dabbing frantically at an open wound. This wasn’t just another night at the office – it was progression.
Growing up in Northern Ireland, sandwiched between two older brothers hell-bent on testing his resilience, Sean McComb (9-0, 4KOs) has always understood the importance of building character. If it wasn’t the whisper of Belfast’s street corners, it was the incessant, hurtful insults thrown from inside the family home.
His expressive posts on social media, his bemusing catchphrase ‘Bang Bang, Chip Gravy’ and infamous short stint in an Australian jail cell have all contributed to a burgeoning public profile. Yet beyond that, McComb is a truer boxing man than he’s given credit for. Recently beating a former world title challenger in only his ninth outing, bruised and bleeding from above both eyes, he’s yet to look flustered.
Now training in Holytown, a small village outside of Motherwell, the twenty-seven year old is preparing to launch his own assault on titles after Christmas. Backed by MTK Global and trained by Danny Vaughan, boxing hadn’t always demanded McComb’s attention. The discipline required to surpass amateur club fighters and succeed nationally had been long reported missing.
“I was always talented, but I never trained”, explained the grinning, unbeaten professional, “I was always messing about, so if there was a competition, all the other kids had been training for weeks and I would just show up a week before to start training. I won them. I was never, ever fit but I was winning on points and just scraping by. I could never win the Irish title, though, cos I wasn’t fit enough.”
“I never enjoyed the training side of boxing but I was keen to win an Irish title because both of my brothers had won them. I was fifteen and my coach got Billy McLean in to train me and get me fit. I trained for about five, hard weeks. Then I won the All Irelands and I won them every year afterwards. I knew then what it would take to win them and I wanted to keep the buzz going, right through the levels up to Elite level.”
Despite spending his time warming the pavements of Belfast with the ‘wrong crowd’, it wasn’t a brush with the law that forced the former Holy Trinity amateur to embrace boxing. That would come far later, at the opposite side of the world. Infact, it was spending time at home with two, mouthy Irish national champions, also named McComb, that tipped him over the edge and forced him to commit.
“My brothers were always winding me up, slagging me and giving me shit. ‘You couldn’t win an Irish title, you’ll never win an Irish title’. Always winding me up, saying I couldn’t win one and slagging me around the house. I laughed about it, acted as though I didn’t care about it, but deep down I was thinking, ‘Fuck, I need to win that Irish title so they can stop saying that to me!’ Deep down, it was something I had to achieve.”
McComb continued, “When I won, they said, ‘Sure, I’ve got five Irish titles, you’ve only got one’, so I had to win more (laughs). I knew then what it was like to win. The slagging stopped and I think I’ve had the last laugh in the end. It was good to have them there in the gym.”
“Having older brothers, it was good because nobody really fucked me about. Nobody tried to bully me cos they were always around. They looked out for me, yeah, but in the house they were just constantly giving me shit! First thing in the morning and last thing at night, so it was good craic and good banter. It was something we all had an interest in, so we could always talk about it.”
Conversations and insults were thrown from bedroom-to-bedroom back then, but the siblings have continued supporting one another with the youngest of the three now staking his claim as a professional. The highlight of his amateur career draped in Irish colours should have been his qualification for the Commonwealth Games, held in Gold Coast, Australia. The trip was certainly memorable, despite tumbling out of the competition at an early stage.
“I lost to Luke McCormack from England, so I went out and had a pint and met my friend. He was living out there and obviously the rest of the team were in the village on the Gold Coast. I went out and… got arrested.
“They charged me with causing public nuisance. It’s stuck by me, like. Everybody just called me it and I’m in a group chat with some of the lads, they changed the name of the chat to the ‘Public Nuisance’. It was all banter but when I turned pro, I thought, ‘Sure, why not? Everyone calls me it anyway’.”
“It was a negative to begin with, but I turned it into a positive. I’ve got the photo on my Instagram of me in the jail cell, holding up the reference. I got the photo off their system and stuck it on my Instagram to say ‘The Public Nuisance’. At the time, it was all over the news over there, the news over here and stuff. In the end, they reviewed the CCTV and seen that I was right, so I just used it all and turned it into a positive.”
It’s all part of the act.
That’s not to say that Sean McComb is disingenuous – far from it. But his understanding of social media and marketbility within boxing surpasses most of his domestic peers. Moving the needle has become more important than demonstrating flashy skills during an early, undercard bout. People buy from people.
With his next outing pencilled in for the beginning of February, he assures me he’s back in the gym already, as well as playing for a local football team called St James’ Swifts. Pushing his own content, mainly through his Instagram page, has opened McComb up to a wider audience, with his tongue more often out than in and his eyes crossed. We shouldn’t forget the rangy light-welterweight stood like that on the podium as an amateur, too. It’s his thing.
“A massive ticket seller is a promoter’s dream,” explained the MTK-signed prospect, “To have a big fanbase, you need to entertain the people that are buying tickets to your fights. I’m just a bit of a headcase myself, anyway. I just try to be myself on social media and it seems to keep people entertained. Me being good at boxing, that’s entertaining as well. They’re not just getting a good performance, but they’re getting entertainment.
“The fans follow me on social media and they can see that I’m funny or whatever. People think I’m funny and they think, ‘Fuck, he’s a legend’ and that’s very important as you move up the ranks. Because you get on the bigger and better shows due to the ticket sales. It’s definitely, definitely important.”
Currently back in Belfast for the festive period, the prospect of returning to their team’s little house in the small village of Holytown, just outside of Glasgow, somehow remained appealing. Little Ireland, playing host to Tyrone McKenna, Tyrone McCullaugh, Sean McComb and until recently, Paddy Barnes, had a charm of its own. Their humble accomodation is attached to the gym which was recently visited by Japanese superstar, Naoya Inoue.
The Crazy Gang, consisting of both Tyrones and their less experienced stablemate poured hours into preparation, locking themselves away in an area that offers little in the way of distraction. Both McKenna and McCullaugh, known for their often-vibrant ringwear, are currently taking part in the MTK-founded Golden Contract tournament at their respective weights, with McComb recently travelling to London to support the former.
“I don’t know what the fuck is happening with them two there, like. Their dress sense is fucking mad. I’m a bit different. I don’t think I’ll ever lower myself to walk about with shit shirts on or those mad material clothes. It’s good craic. It’s good banter. But those two are just in a world of their own! I’d love to be a fly on the wall, just to see what they get up to, to be honest. Words can’t describe how mad they are – unpredictable.
“I would love to be a part of the Golden Contract. I’m fresh out of the amateurs. Last year or about sixteen months ago, I was an amateur. So it’s all still fresh to me. Not knowing who you’re fighting, weighing in on the day and finding out who you’re fighting on the day. It would benefit me and what a platform! It’s a great tournament. It’s a high risk and a high reward – it’s brilliant for all the fighters.”
Whilst major tournaments and titles remain slightly out of reach, there seems little doubt that the next twelve months could catapult McComb onto the world stage. An enormous 140lbs fighter who claims to make the weight ‘very easily’, the future looks extremely bright. His detractors will point to the tear-up he found himself in when facing his Argentinian opponent last month, yet it was a step-up rarely seen for a fighter with less than ten bouts.
Ignoring the images of Sean sticking out his tongue, posing for pictures on holidays or nights out, it was his re-telling of fights or specific training sessions that captured those listening. This apparent class clown is an astute student of the game. He has been for years.
When asked about his ultimate aim in boxing, he mentions becoming a ‘world champion, obviously’. Yet his full answer, only a couple of sentences longer, demonstrates his determination to make an impact. Sean McComb wants to be remembered; beyond banter and slaggings – as a true fighter.
“I wanna be known as a world champion, obviously. I’ve put too much time and effort into boxing to not become a world champion. But I wanna be known as a good one. I want people to learn from me as a universal boxer. Boxing, moving, in close, middle distance. I believe that I can do all three and that takes a lot of skill and a lot of practice in the gym. I can make it as easy as I want. But if the going gets tough, I can go with it.”
Interview written by: Craig Scott
Follow Craig on Twitter at: @craigscott209