In the past, the days leading up to a weigh-in were wildly unpleasant for Lee McGregor as he endured an arduous battle to lose the final few stubborn pounds to boil his 5’7” frame down to the bantamweight limit.
However, when Boxing Social caught up with the Scotsman on Monday evening, ahead of his fight with Ryan Walker tomorrow, the biggest issue he was facing was boredom. McGregor was in isolation in his room in the hotel that promoters MTK Global were utilising ahead of the event, awaiting the results of his Covid-19 test.
Of course, the move up to 122lbs for this bout has certainly alleviated some of the strain on his body, but McGregor believes the major contributory factor has been the addition of a dietician to his team.
He is prepared to make a statement against Walker and hoping to put the best at bantamweight and super-bantamweight on notice.
“I feel the best I’ve ever felt,” said McGregor (8-0, 6 KOs). “I’m flying, I’m in the shape of my life. Compared to normal fight weeks, I’ve never felt this good, ever this close to a weigh-in.
“Making that weight for all my previous fights, I’d just sort of done the diet myself, which was really not ideal. I was doing a lot of things wrong, not deliberately or anything, just because I was inexperienced, and I didn’t know. This time, for the first time, I’ve had a nutritionist on board and, oh my God, the difference it’s made.
“People will see that in my performance. Even the day before the press conference, you could tell I was tight at the weight for the Kash Farooq fight. This time, I’m still full-faced and I’ve done things completely different for this camp. I’m in a really good place, both physically and mentally. I feel like I can make bantamweight again as well, especially now with the nutritionist I have on board. Big, big differences will be seen come fight night.”
While such comments about training camps are commonplace ahead of a fight, even if the entire process was in actual fact horrendous, the conviction in McGregor’s voice is persuasive.
McGregor was honest enough to admit that even he was shocked at how well his preparations have gone, given the turbulent state the world is currently in.
Due to the global pandemic, McGregor felt it was best not to relocate to Sheffield to work with trainer Grant Smith for this bout. Having been based in Sheffield as an amateur while he was on Team GB, then in London when training with Shane McGuigan at the start of his professional career, McGregor previously believed that, in order to prepare to the best of his abilities, he had to remove himself from his native Edinburgh.
However, familiarity doesn’t appear to have bred complacency. McGregor believes that being home with his partner Amber and their daughter Maddison-Blue has brought the best out of him.
“I’ve been at home,” he said. “I’ve been back with my old amateur coach, Terry, for this fight, just because of the circumstances we’ve all found ourselves in. I started off with [Terry] when I was 12, 13-years-old. He’s always been involved with my career ever since. He’s always been in my corner and helped out. Tez has always been in the mix. He knows me as well as [my] family do. There’s no worries on that side of things.
“I’ve had the benefit of having my home comforts, which I didn’t think would suit me. It’s actually surprised me, it’s been unbelievable, it’s brilliant. It went better than I expected. My girlfriend has been an absolute diamond. For the last seven, eight weeks I’ve had my meals tailored and weighed to every training plan, my diet has been based on my training and she has prepped and made every single meal for me. Everything has went so smooth this training camp, I couldn’t have asked for a better one. There’s no excuses coming from me this week win, lose or draw. I feel like a big performance is pending.
“People might think, ‘He’s not taking this fight seriously,’ but please believe me, this has been the best I’ve ever felt leading up to a fight in my whole career. I’m fully prepared and expecting a career-best performance on Wednesday.”
Given the success of this impromptu training camp, does this mean that McGregor will eschew Sheffield in favour of Scotland in the future? The answer remains a mystery as the 23-year-old refused to be drawn on the subject, preferring to keep his attentions on his upcoming bout instead.
“We still don’t know what the hell is going on in this world,” he said with a laugh. “We could get hit by another pandemic at this rate. I still talk to Grant every day, just about. We keep in touch and I still get on with him brilliantly. We both agreed that the focus has to be on this fight, win this fight and we’ll take it from there.”
It is understandable that few people are giving 12-1 underdog Walker (11-1, 2 KOs) much hope of springing an upset, given that he has been found wanting in the past at English title level when losing to Michael Ramabeletsa in 2018.
However, McGregor insists he has not allowed himself to think that way for fear of complacency creeping in. ‘Lightning’ knows that victory could turn the unheralded Walker’s career around. As such, McGregor has left no stone unturned.
“He’s quite unknown, which can be dangerous,” he said. “I need to be switched on because this is a massive opportunity for him. He’s got the chance to kick onto big things if he gets a win over me. I’ve prepared too hard to let that happen. I feel like I’m going to put on a big performance.”
If McGregor wins in the fashion he is anticipating, he has his sights set on bigger fights later on in the year. Despite his struggles to make the 118lbs divisional limit in the past, McGregor intends to continue campaigning there in the future while also remaining open to bouts at super-bantamweight.
McGregor has always expressed his desire to reach the summit of the sport as quickly as possible and is willing to take ostensibly risky fights to ensure his dream becomes reality.
“I’m going to jump between the two weights,” he said. “I 100 per cent believe I can make bantamweight again – safer, sounder, fitter, stronger. I’m also big enough for super-bantamweight, I can definitely campaign there as well. We’ll just see what opportunities come my way. I’m not writing anything off at both weights. Whatever is the best opportunity that comes my way, I’ll take with both hands.
“It’ll be nice to jump between the two and keep building. I’d like to defend my belts at bantamweight in my next fight and see where we are at. We’ll wait and see. I’ll never be as weak and in the state I was in making weight for the Farooq fight, never, ever again. It’s crazy the amount of knowledge I’ve picked up between that fight and now. It’s been a big eye-opener.”
It is almost impossible to talk about Lee McGregor without mentioning his fellow countryman, Kash Farooq. Last November, the pair produced an excellent fight, which saw McGregor declared the winner by split decision, adding Farooq’s British bantamweight title to his own Commonwealth strap.
In the aftermath, there was much furore from fans on social media who claimed that the Glaswegian had been hard done by. In particular, most of the ire was directed towards Mark Lyson’s scorecard of 115-112 in favour of McGregor, which didn’t give the most accurate representation of the clash.
McGregor believes that Lyson’s scorecard resulted in a great contest being mired in unnecessary controversy. He is also keen to rematch his rival to remove any doubt that he is the superior fighter.
“I feel people’s outcry was very similar to this weekend with the Katie Taylor [versus] Delfine Persoon fight,” he said. “I think it was the scorecards that really annoyed people. The cards make people go on about it, then it gets spoken about more and then it becomes a bad decision or robbery. It was a good, close, brilliant fight and one that I’m definitely willing to entertain again.
“Let’s get this fight out of the way, then I’m open to any challenge. I’m number one in the UK for a reason, and I’m willing to prove that. If that means having a rematch, then Eddie Hearn [Farooq’s promoter] can pick up the phone. I will never, ever knock back a challenge. Please, please believe me. His best chance to beat me was in November, there’s no way he’s going to get a better chance than that. No hope in hell. I still managed to grind through that. He needs me more than I need him. I won that fight; I’m looking to push on for European and world titles in the not-so-distant future. If they want a rematch, they know where we are. Scotland will not see fights like that very often. To be part of something like that again would be unbelievable.”
McGregor believes it was his will to win which ultimately swung the bout in his favour. Despite the toll making weight took on his body, he kept thrusting his limbs forward even when physically exhausted. During periods in which Farooq was in the ascendancy, McGregor was undeterred.
It is this mental resilience which McGregor believes will set him apart from his rivals. Talk is cheap, but McGregor is willing to back his words with action. All he needs is a chance.
“You can be the most talented fighter in the world, but if you don’t have heart and, if you can’t bite down on that gumshield and fight, then I can’t see you making the very top,” he said. “I may not be the most talented fighter in the world, I have a good amateur background, but I feel my best asset is my heart.
“I will never, ever quit. I’ve said that since day one and I’ve said my performances will prove that, just give me time. The Farooq fight is one of those fights that proves I’ve got a big heart. I’ve got so much more to give and so much more to show. I’ve got no quit in me. The way I was brought up and the way I’ve been, it’s just not in me. I’m fearless and I can dig very, very deep.”
Main image and all photos: Shabaz Shafiq for MTK Global.