Iain Martell jokes that the only thing out there that scares him is women. When the laughter faded away, admitting that relationships don’t interest him, the 30-year-old has a desire to find out what his fears are and tackle them head on.
The British light-heavyweight, who only last year was the Southern Area cruiserweight champion, talked to Boxing Social about his current attitude on life which, because of the Coronavirus pandemic, has shifted course to a mantra of no regrets when he leaves this earth.
“With all this that’s gone on we’ve just got to go for it,” he says. “I want to lie in my death bed with no regrets. If anything does scare me, I want to find out and run towards it. I really do mean that. I want to give it everything I’ve got and that includes boxing, being a human being and being a friend. I want to be the best version of myself.
“The pandemic has given us a better perspective of what we’re doing. If we’re not enjoying our work then stop it, don’t do it. Go move abroad, go do what you’ve got to do but find some happiness because life is far too short, and I carry that in everything I do now, and I absolutely love to fight. It’s what I do, it’s what I’ve always done and it’s what I’ll always do, and right now I just feel like the stars are aligning. With Kev and my trainer, I’m going to have the opportunities in front of me so I can just go out there and be myself.”
‘Kev’ is Kevin Maree, boxing manager to one of the biggest British stables of fighters that grows by the week. Martell was announced this month as the latest addition to the team and will be trained by Steve Whitwell.
“He’s [Whitwell] the complete opposite, and I’ve said this to his face. He’s the complete opposite to what I would want but sometimes that’s what you need,” says Martell.
Whitwell is the replacement for Graham Everett who early on for Martell wasn’t the right man for what he wanted.
“From day one it never worked out,” he explains.
Martell describes himself as being a racehorse wrapped up, never being let out. Potential which had no platform, no push or no exposure in his words.
“Jamie Moore once said it about Carl Frampton. He said sometimes fighters don’t realise how unhappy they are until they get out of certain situations,” was how Martell summed up his time in Norfolk with Everett.
From Norfolk to Cambridge. Unhappy to happy with a team in place singing from the same hymn sheet. All part of a plan which Martell has long craved. He has craved activity, too. He gets that this summer with fights in place for May and July.
“A happy fighter is a dangerous fighter,” he reminds us.
This happy fighter is dropping 25 pounds in a move from cruiserweight to light-heavyweight. In boxing’s wide array of divisions, it is the single biggest drop you can make from one weight class to the one below minus the heavyweights. Losing nearly two stone for the average Joe can come without expertise and amateur methods. For a professional boxer to do it requires eyes on the prize constantly. Safety is the priority.
“I’m working with a nutritionist and have done for a couple of weeks,” he says. “I’ve lost over a stone now. It’s consistency. Some people think fighting is the only part of boxing. There’s so much that goes into it. I’m bringing in all these other elements to make the perfect team because the perfect team and my hard work will achieve everything I want to. I’m just putting everything into place now and we will get it done.
“It’s all calorie deficit,” he explains as to how Team Martell are achieving the weight drop.
“Whichever diet fad you’re on, keto or into fasting, whatever you’re doing, it’s all about calorie deficit. So, I’m in the deficit now, I’ll stay in the deficit, I’ll boost my carbs for sparring days so I’m fresh for those. It’s a bit boring to be honest. My friend related it to how you see a tiger in the zoo. He’s placid and he’s chilled and gets his meals every day. Quite content. You see those ones in the wild? They ain’t stopping for nothing. They’ve got a different look in their eyes and a different energy and that’s what I’m going to bring this year. It’s going to show in my performances definitely.
“You have your low moments every now and then, you have a flat hour,” he adds. “With that said, I feel fantastic. With the adjustments I’ve made to my training and my diet, I finally feel like I’m training like a championship fighter, which is what I am. And beyond that, physically I feel great with this weight loss. There’s more to come. I feel good, I feel fitter, I’m doing my 10 rounds with ease. It’s an adjustment definitely but I’m really enjoying it.”
Martell gives assurances that he will win titles this year at his new home of 175lbs. The challenges excite him. Look up and down and you see contenders and champions such as Lyndon Arthur, Joshua Buatsi, Callum Johnson, Craig Richards, Anthony Yarde, Dan Azeez and Shakan Pitters. The list could continue. The depth is obvious.
“I feel that in a new division and with a few more fights there’s not a man in this country that can beat me at light-heavy,” he tells us. “I know for a fact there is no man stronger than me at light heavy. None. And if any of them are stupid enough to stand in front of me it’ll be a hard night for them. It’s exciting. It’s like a rebirth.”
Martell’s career in combat sports was born away from boxing. Mixed Martial Arts and K-1 to be precise. A story that took him to Liverpool, Brazil and the Dominican Republic. His life before fighting consisted of chaos and a lack of direction. He was going left and right, he says, but had always been in the gym since he as a kid. His first MMA fight came at 19-years-old. A semi-pro one. Others followed. His professional debut came at 20. He lived in Liverpool with the likes of current UFC star Darren Till while trying to forge a career of his own. Bellator, a leading MMA promotional outfit came calling, but Martell couldn’t justify the decision and the upheaval.
“I couldn’t justify staying skint for the rest of my life on a punt.
“It’s such a cowboy sport domestically and to sign with a U.S promotion you’ve then got to move abroad and you’re living fight-by-fight. The right choice at the time was to come back home, earn a bit of dough and then the opportunity to turn pro in boxing came up.”
Becoming a professional fighter amidst the backdrop of cage fighting meant learning about some differences between the two sports. Journeymen have been in the opposite corner from his pro debut right through until he beat Jose Lopes for the Southern Area title last March. One of the last shows to take place in front of fans before the pandemic really took a grip of the nation.
Fighting in MMA and K-1 always meant he was getting a scrap from the first minute. Men with too much pride or too much confidence wanting to throw down to prove their machismo is too much for the other guy. Martell always obliged with some high calibre fighters being knocked out from all around Europe. Fighting a journeyman came as something of a culture shock as he describes.
“They were running away! I couldn’t get my head round it, I thought, ‘Where are you going? We’re meant to be having a fight’. In MMA or K-1, they’re ignorant or brave enough to stand there and fight with you and that was obviously their downfall the majority of the time. It’s been a real learning curve.
“From fighting as a kid in my city, I’ve always sold good tickets and sometimes up to 300 because people always know I’m in a straightener. Whatever’s happening, someone’s going invariably and that’s why the boxing thing was such a shock because you’re having an exchange with these fellas and then they disappear. It was a confusing moment for me. I’ve been so fortunate. Norwich is a good city for support with some great guys there and I always do a couple of hundred tickets so I’m very, very grateful for those.”
Life away from the sport is simple for London-born Martell. No distractions other than spending time with his mum, his family and his dogs.
“All I want to do is fight, look after my dogs and be successful. That’s it.”
Martell realises that at 30 he needs to get on with his career. Time isn’t his friend, but he rightly points out that Callum Johnson and Shakan Pitters are another pair in club 30 who are maturing through a period in their career where, for others, it may be nearing the last roll of the dice.
Whatever it takes to succeed, he says, he will do it. It may seem blunt but if that includes changing gym or trainer then he will pick up his gear and move on to whatever can bring out the best of himself.
Boxing may not have been his first port of call, but the world of MMA and K-1 gives him a different type of experience. There’s an immediate toughness to the man who broke his hand on his pro debut and fought a tooth infection leading up to the Lopes fight. Whether or not he can topple the likes of Buatsi, Arthur, Johnson and company remains to be seen but Martell is an interesting addition to a division that has potentially great match-ups wherever you look.
“It was physically the worst I’ve ever felt going into a fight. I was full of antibiotics; I had a tooth infection four weeks out. It is the worst thing ever,” he says looking back on his fight against Jose Lopes.
“My whole face blew up like a hamster. I took courses [of the antibiotics]. It was awful. Leading up to the fight I was a sack of shit and I knew I’d be a sack of shit. I had no gears in me but nonetheless I knew I was just going to have to tough this one out and get the job done.”
Toughing it out, getting through it, were feelings that Martell had to use in a completely different format when he was 21 years old. There was no opponent to fight, just the nerves of being on television. Martell thinks it was the second episode. The second episode that is of ITV’s dating show Take Me Out where someone may or may not end up with a date at the end of the night, thanks to host Paddy McGuinness.
“When I came down that lift, I shat my pants,” he said laughing. “The lift’s coming down and all you’re seeing is women, cameras and flashing lights and it’s petrifying. I was so scared. It was such a laugh. None of it was scripted because we were like the second show or something. It was all off the cuff. It was such a great experience and anyone who gets a chance to do things like that go and have some fun.”
It is highly unlikely we will see Martell on a dating show again, but experiences and challenges are what he craves, and he is ready to challenge the light-heavyweight division to a straightener. He wants to unleash the new him at top speed.
“People say do you get scared when you’re fighting and I say, ‘Look if you spent years and years building this perfect car, Ferrari or Lambo’ or whatever, and you spent all your bloody life grafting with your dieting, your food, your runs and your lifts and your sparring you want to race that car real fast’. You’ve got to, surely. And that’s the same for us. We graft and we graft, and we graft and put it to the test and find out.”
Main image and all photos: Regency Security.