With boxing experiencing an enforced hiatus, the importance of maintaining conditioning and ‘staying ready’ cannot be underestimated. Fighters are returning to local gyms and hitting the concrete, racking up miles of roadwork perhaps conveniently forgotten about during the Coronavirus lockdown, with their next bouts – and in some cases their entire careers – cloaked in uncertainty.
It hasn’t been that way for Gary Cully (10-0, 5 KOs) though. The towering lightweight from Naas, County Kildare, doesn’t have an off-switch – not for global pandemics or anything of the sort. Training with well-respected head coach Peter Taylor, and alongside fellow professionals Tommy McCarthy, Tyrone McKenna and Tyrone McCullagh, he was recently described by his cruiserweight stablemate as the “Michael Jordan of the gym”. It’s greatness or nothing.
“It’s the standards that I set and I think what Tommy [McCarthy] is talking about is my intensity,” the unbeaten Cully revealed, during a rare rest period. “I just keep a high intensity all the time. I never plan to lay off. I think of myself as a bit of a workhorse and a workaholic. I’m always hungry to improve and I’m hungry to get better. I think that’s where Tommy was coming from. He was saying that my intensity never drops.
“I think as well as my standards, I’ll get into sparring and I’ll put it on people in sparring every single day. I’m sharp. I try to be sharp all the time. I try to improve with every spar I have. I think that’s what he means, as in, ‘You’ll never get an easy day if you’re sparring me’. I like to push that through the whole team as well, I suppose. If you’re not on that level, either come up to that level or you’re left behind, you know?”
Before talking to Boxing Social, the recently crowned Irish lightweight champion recorded a personal best on his latest 10km run, clocking only 35:30. Fellow professionals commented on the astonishing time on Cully’s Instagram, labelling the 6’2 fighter a “freak” and an “animal”. His best ever 5km time is 16:40, again confirming what many have thought since watching Gary’s development as an amateur – this kid could be special.
“That’s probably one of my hardest things to do – switch off. Especially even on easy days’ training or on recovery days, I’ll go out for a run and I’ll have the watch on,” he said. “You look and you’ll see the time you’ve done the first kilometre in, and then I have to beat that the next time. Or, ‘What’s my 5km time? All right. Let’s keep going’. Always keep going. I suppose it’s competitiveness. And it’s with myself, not anybody else.
“I just always want to be making those incremental gains,” Cully explained, reaffirming his belief in constant improvement. “I think I’m just in competition with myself. I think that could be an advantage of mine as well, as I’m hungry. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. We just took the eight weeks of that strict lockdown, as a training camp and just went Monday to Friday at 11:00am and 5:00pm every day. We set out a structure and set goals for the end of lockdown. That was strength goals, fitness goals and different boxing goals and then we just started smashing them.”
After making short work of domestic rival Joe Fitzpatrick for the BUI title in February (TKO1), the Naas boxer, dubbed ‘The Diva’ by promoter Lee Eaton of MTK Global, would seriously turn heads. His extraordinary range, control of distance and clinical, classy stoppage of the once-confident Fitzpatrick sent out a message to his fellow 135lbs fighters. The fight was streamed live to an audience of thousands and lasted less than a round.
Fighting journeymen was now a thing of the past for one of Ireland’s brightest prospects, who told Boxing Social his plan was to cement himself as one of his country’s greatest ever boxers. But like many kids from a similar background, boxing was initially self-taught on the cobbles or passed down like a pair of old shoes. Cully joked as he remembered getting himself into some trouble as a young boy, dreading an almost constant rapping of his mother’s front door with nosy informants detailing his antics on their road.
“I grew up watching boxing on TV, so I remember going to watch Floyd Mayweather and guys like that,” he said. “But me’ mam used to always get knocks on the door and blah-blah-blah, saying, ‘He’s fighting, he’s this, he’s that’. My brother’s two years older than me and he had started boxing. He was gone every Tuesday and Thursday. I kept asking me’ mam, ‘Where’s he gone?’ Eventually she said you had to be eight before you could start training. We went down to the gym one time and thankfully they took me in early at seven. I just fell in love with it.”
Asked if he thought his mother was worried about him boxing, Cully joked, “She probably didn’t want to see her baby being hit, you know. It’s only since I’ve turned professional that she’s started coming to a couple of my fights. All through the amateur years, she would watch them [fights] on back-up tapes and stuff but she wouldn’t go to the shows or anything. If you’re a parent, you don’t want to see your kid being hit, I suppose. That’s probably why she’s going now. She’s probably waiting for me to get hit!”
It was clear just from listening to the 24-year-old that he understood the importance of building character in the sport boxing and ‘playing the game’ with an element of self-promotion. Living close to Irish MMA phenomenon, Conor McGregor, meant that trash-talking and over-exuberance was welcomed. He praised McGregor’s business acumen, talking highly of his transition from the fighting man cashing state welfare cheques, to the controversial multi-millionaire placing comfortably in Forbes’ top earners list. Fighting gives people like Cully and McGregor the opportunity to make that change.
Fitzpatrick had tried to rile him up, to no avail. The eventual winner smirked, muttering under his breath at their heated weigh-in. “You see a lot of guys out there, they’re trying too hard to stand out from the crowd. I think the main thing is just to be true to yourself. Look, if you try and copy somebody’s style or something, it’s just not original,” said Cully. “It’s not authentic. Joe didn’t get under my skin – he was confident and I respected that. He came to win that night, but I was the better man.”
Almost five months after winning that first professional title, there has been talk of an appearance on Matchroom Boxing’s ‘Fight Camp’ series in the early autumn, yet to be confirmed. Northern Irishman Sean McComb recently spoke of his desire to face Cully at some point down the line, with the pair representing a new generation of Irish talent marching towards significant titles. But, for now, it is a focus on those incremental gains for the County Kildare hopeful, still struggling to switch off and desperate to lace up his gloves once again.
Cully spoke at length of his great respect for trainer, Peter Taylor, as the pair look to move toward the EBU title within the next year. He explained that Taylor has developed his own training methods, contrary to the typical ‘sit down on your shots more’ sound bite, often thrown at former, sterling amateur stars. It’s tailored, excuse the pun. Things that worked a treat in the amateurs would reap rewards in the professional game, but not all of them. There was nobody else who’d earned Cully’s trust as sincerely as the Bray trainer, father of undisputed lightweight champion Katie.
“I’d like to win world titles in a couple of different weight classes,” Cully predicted, when asked about potential legacy. “I think I’ve the physique to do it. I’m 6’2 and I’m a lightweight, man. I’ll start climbing world rankings and then, as I get a little bit older, I’ll start maturing into the weight properly. I’ll move up in weight and win world titles in a couple of different weight classes, I think. I suppose going down as one of Ireland’s best fighters and making a lot of money while doing so [is my main aim], because it’s a dangerous sport and we put our lives on the line. So, every time we get into the ring, I think we should be rewarded.”
There’s nothing to suggest those lofty ambitions are out of reach, with many in boxing’s media extremely hot on Cully’s potential. He spoke of the Irish talent coming through with him, names like Conor Wallace, Caoimhin Agyarko, Sean McComb and Paddy Donovan. When asked who he tipped as a certainty for world honours, he paused, before replying calmly and without any sign of deliberate, comedic timing:
“Am I allowed to just pick myself for this?”
Main image: Ricardo Guglielminotti for MTK Global.