Johnny Fisher had a rugby ball in his hands and then he dropped it. An attempt to grab it was made but four people fell on his hand. 

The hand swelled up; something wasn’t right. He could still move it and use it but when he was punching with it the pain was terrible and impossible to ignore. A visit to a hand specialist showed that the hand had healed itself incorrectly. Surgery was required, the hand now feels brand new. In between, the Londoner continued playing rugby with his hand strapped up. 

For a while, both rugby, which he played during his sixth form years and at Exeter University, and boxing both played an important part of his life. The operation and recovery triggered something in Fisher to give boxing another shot. A sport that has been in his family’s blood through his father and grandfather.

As a five-year-old he had a go at it himself. Six junior bouts and 10 senior bouts then came before the age of 14. Four years later, he would go again. Now at 21, Fisher is just hours away from his professional debut on the David Avanesyan-Josh Kelly undercard later tonight on Sky Sports.

“I’ve done a university degree but when I think about the boxing world, I’m doing an apprenticeship. I’m learning on the job, it’s quite a funny contrast really,” said Fisher who spoke to Boxing Social about his path into boxing’s professional ranks.

“I’ve only started properly dedicating myself to it the last couple of years. I was playing rugby and doing boxing at the same time at one point. On Wednesdays I’d play 80 minutes of rugby and then Fridays I’d go down to Repton Amateur Club to do some sparring and it was getting too much so I had to make a choice in the end.”

Fisher used to balance rugby and boxing before opting for the latter sport.
Photo: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.

That choice has led him into the management team of Sam Jones at S-Jam Boxing and being promoted by Eddie Hearn. It is a seismic shift for a man who has only had 10 amateur fights, three of which were first round knockouts. The experience that perhaps one might have expected to come in the amateur ranks has come in the gyms, in the rings, sparring the likes of S-Jam stablemate Joe Joyce along with fellow heavyweights Fabio Wardley, Kash Ali and the now retired Dave Allen. Fisher spoke to his trainer Mark Tibbs recently about his lack of time in a vest and headguard.

“He [Tibbs] said if you’ve been a great amateur it doesn’t mean you’re going to be a great professional. You’ve got to adapt to everything because it’s a completely different sport, you’ve got to start again. So, instead of me learning to be a great amateur I might as well go in and try to be a good, solid professional and go from there.”

Life could have been different for the educated Fisher who got a 2:1 in history, specialising in the Russian Revolution, at Exeter University. Boxing has never been a necessity in his life, nor has it been something to keep him out of mischief and trouble. 

“I want to do it and I think that says a lot about my character,” he says. “I’m not here because I’m being forced to do it or because it’s my only way out. I’m doing this day in, day out and I enjoy every single minute of training. I love it. I’m here because I want to be here. I’m not here because I need to. It’s a great reason to do it, hunger, but I’ve already got that hunger.”

Fisher is a man who loves boxing first and foremost. From documentaries like ‘Champions Forever’ to watching George Foreman vs Ron Lyle to sharing his thoughts on the great heavyweights over the years, Fisher isn’t your conventional 21-year-old. 

“From a boxing perspective I like to watch Lennox Lewis and how he boxed David Tua,” said Fisher who believes Lewis is in the top three of the greatest-ever heavyweights.

Initially, the plan was for Fisher to do a couple of more seasons at Repton ABC. But like so many fighter stories lately, matters were taken out of his hands by the Coronavirus. He turned to helping his dad’s food service business after returning from a trip to Las Vegas where he submitted his dissertation while sparring Joyce in ‘Sin City’.

Fisher had also been eyeing a career in the corporate world, but the pandemic-hit London was providing no opportunities. A dead end. Sam Jones offered him an open door into big-time boxing whenever he felt ready.

“There’s nothing going on so why not take a gamble and see what I can do,” said Fisher. “I know I’ve got something about me, and it seemed like a perfect time especially with no amateur boxing going on. No competitions have happened for over a year now.”

He added: “I’ve never made any bones about the fact I’m raw in terms of experience and I’ve got a lot to learn. But, as expected, if you’re on a Matchroom show there’s going to be a lot of eyes on you to put on a performance. I know that expectation is there but if I stay relaxed and I stay true to my boxing skills, and use what I’ve learned with Mark, then it shouldn’t be a problem. Everyone understands. Sam Jones understands, [promoter] Eddie Hearn understands, I’ve got to get my experience levels up before I can be advanced into them big fights.

“There might be times when I show my power and my aggression, but the main thing is, I’ve got to learn to get about that jab and show my boxing skills and then the more emphatic wins and knockouts should hopefully come.

“It’s about refining them skills which Mark Tibbs is doing with me and learning my style and just progressing, and then who knows in 12 months’ time, two years’ time I could be mixing it with some top-level British opponents.”

Fisher (left) faces Matt Gordon tonight in his pro debut.
Photo: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.

Main image and all photos: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.