Lee McGregor: No Fear

Lee McGregor

It has taken Lee McGregor just four years and 10 fights to achieve a championship treble which can take double that and more for others.

His fifth fight, in 2018, saw him win the Commonwealth bantamweight title when he halted the underrated Thomas Essomba in the final round of their bout. The first defence came against Scott Allan who he stopped in the eighth round of an all-Scottish, bad-tempered affair. McGregor would then overcome the challenge of compatriot Kash Farooq to win the Lonsdale Belt in a domestic classic in Glasgow. And in March of this year it took the Edinburgh native less than one round to wipe out Karim Guerfi to achieve European honours.

McGregor will turn just 25 on Christmas Eve. Last week, Boxing Social began its conversation with Scotland’s ‘Lightning’ in a bottle by asking him if he has ever taken time to appreciate his success.

“Sometimes I do,” his answer begun.

“To be honest, recently I’ve started to realise [it] and have started thinking a little bit about what I’ve done. When you’re alone you don’t feel the same as other people when they tell how well you’ve done. They would say that’s unbelievable, that’s special but when it’s yourself it’s hard to give yourself praise. At the same time, I’m not stupid I know what I’ve done is quite remarkable. I am proud of that and that’s what gives me the hunger every day in training and the drive to keep on getting better and improving.

“I’ve already changed my life, but even more life-changing opportunities are going to be coming my way. That’s what gives me the desire and hunger to train even harder, if that’s possible, and just dedicate my whole life to this sport which I have done since I came down here with Ben Davison.”

McGregor admitted that before teaming up with Davison, one of the most in-form coaches in the world at present, he wasn’t always carrying out his fight preparations correctly.

“It’s not just a sport where you get just so many weeks training camp… which I’m not gonna lie I’ve been guilty of doing in the past. So, I would say to myself, ‘Right, I’ve got eight weeks till the fight, that’s my date. I’m going to train for eight weeks and then fight and go switch off for a couple of months’. That’s not me anymore. It’s a lifestyle for me now and that’s what I feel has taken me on to the next level. I already proved that in my last fight, I’m going to prove it in my next fight and I’m going to keep on proving it.”

McGregor is grateful for those moments where his approach was incorrect. A blessing in disguise and one which he is thankful for being remedied early on in his career.

Recalling such times, an inadvertent laugh covered in mild embarrassment came when he said: “The bad experiences like cutting weight the wrong way…. 

“Doing all sorts of different things that probably weren’t right. It’s not me being not disciplined, not committed to the sport or anything like that. I just didn’t know. You don’t know what you don’t know. I wouldn’t change all the wrong things and I wouldn’t change all the bad things because they made me and put me in a position where I realise, I don’t want to be in those positions ever, ever again. I don’t take them for granted now and I give it 100% because I remember those dark times, remember doing the things wrong and I remember how bad and how much it impacted me. I wouldn’t know and I maybe would take my foot off the gas in the run up to a massive fight. That could have been my downfall so that will never ever happen because I know I’ve been there. I’ve experienced it and I’m grateful for those experiences and that’s why I feel I’m in the best position that I ever have been in my life and my career.”

McGregor then uses the word ‘links’ when describing the positive knock-on effect that benefits himself and his loved ones.

“Not just my career, just life in general, everything just going right to plan and it all links. For example, my relationship with my partner and my kid, my family life. That links to how well I’m doing in boxing. If that’s going well then, I’m going to perform well in the gym. If I’m going to perform well in the gym, then I’m eating well. If I’m eating well… you know what I’m trying to say.”

Happy life, happy fighter or in reverse. Whichever way you put it whether he’s gloved up or not Lee McGregor has reached a point in his young life where everything is tickety-boo. Of course, tomorrow night in Belfast, Vincent Legrand will hope to be the man who partly dismantles the positive place that McGregor finds himself in right now.

Legrand, 30, will be the second consecutive Frenchman that McGregor has faced. Just like his compatriot, Legrand is a former European champion. Deux times the 30-year-old has picked up the belt at flyweight, two divisions south of where he is fighting nowadays. That was 2014 and 2016. Unbeaten in 32 fights (17 KOs) he has only ever fought in France or Monte Carlo. His win against Andrea Sarritzu to win the first of his two Euro belts looks good when you delve into the background of who the Italian had fought previously. Same can’t be said with Juan Hinostroza who challenged Legrand for the vacant European flyweight strap in 2018.

Nonetheless, the Lee McGregor of 2021, the Tartan jewel that isn’t so much of a rough diamond anymore, will not read anything into Legrand’s record. As far as he’s concerned, his first defence will be his toughest fight to date. That’s the mindset. The win over Guerfi, a spectacular one-round knockout, is unlikely to happen again. The champion isn’t on cloud nine anymore. The tone of professionalism sweeps through every statement he says.

“I’m expecting a tough night,” he says. “He’s done everything that’s asked of him. He’s won European titles. He’s 32-0 with 17 knockouts. To have them accomplishments behind you, you’re obviously a good fighter. We’ve prepared for the very best Vincent Legrand that there will be. Whether that’s going to be enough for him on the night only time will tell but I’m confident in myself and my own ability and I just need to focus on what I’m doing, on what I’m going to do and not worry about him. If I do what I need to do and know what I need to do, then I’m confident I’ll come away with the win however that may be. I’m prepared for a solid, hard 12 rounds as always and time will tell what will happen but I’m confident I come away victorious 100%.”

There is an unstoppable force aura that McGregor is building for himself. In the past, there may have been a temptation to show brawn over brains. The wild side, the need to prove he is the better scrapper is locked away. Davison and his team are chipping away at their bantamweight and turning him into a feared operator who is yet to reveal his best work.

The progression and rewards have seen McGregor rise in the world rankings, particularly with one organisation. As things stand, the European champion is the No.3 contender with the IBF. Thanks to the process of elimination and the No.2 position being vacant, when the sanctioning body announces its new Top 15 later this month there is every possibility that McGregor will become the No.1 contender. Currently, Michael Dasmarinas has that spot, but he was out of his depth against Japanese icon, and current IBF champion, Naoya Inoue in June. That assignment was finished in three rounds by the ‘Monster’ who also holds the WBA and RING magazine belts. Unbeaten in 21 fights, the 28-year-old champion can choose what he wants to do next. Stay where he is or go for four-weight title status at super-bantamweight. Inoue vs McGregor may well never happen and, while the Scot has the utmost respect for the divisional number one and the rest of his rivals, you won’t find him gushing over them or tick over till the moment is right to win a world title.

“I’m ready for whatever, whenever. I really do mean that,” he tells Boxing Social.

“I believe I would be ready to go and challenge and fight for a world title right now. I’m just very unfortunate to have a very elite division, an elite division that the world champions are the very elite. And with me having only had 10 fights and being 24, I see why my team wouldn’t rush me into that.

“I know there’s life-changing opportunities and that’s what I meant when I said earlier that it’s there and within touching distance. I just need to keep patient, keep grounded, keep doing exactly what I just explained to you, keep dedicating my life to the sport and everything will take care of itself, and I’ll leave that to my team of MTK and Ben. That’s not to say if I was offered a fight with one of these champions, I would knock it back. I would say yes in a heartbeat but that’s why you have a team. I have the best team around me, MTK and Ben will make those decisions for me.

“They know there’s not really any questions to be asked of me whether I would fight this guy or that guy. Anyone at 118lbs on this planet I would not knock back, and I really mean that. I’m not saying I would beat every single one of these guys, but I’m not scared to challenge them. I think that’s what a lot of people’s fears are. They’re scared. The fear of losing makes them not take them risks. I’m not scared to lose, and I think that’s why I have been so successful in my career. I went in the deep end, right in there and not scared to lose but at the same time I’m in that ring 100% confident and so far, 10 fights, 10 wins. It will be my mindset throughout my whole career. It’s just the way I’ve been brought up. It won’t change. I will become a world champion and in the not-so-distant future.”

The fear of not losing can be interpreted a few ways. He touched on how he was raised for example. As a youngster McGregor sparred his bigger brothers and in his own words would get ‘beat up’. 

The attitude to a loss in a ring appears bulletproof. The proof will be in the pudding should he ever cross that road. The desire to take a risk goes back to his amateur days and, while it has carried itself through to the man he is now, eight out of his ten fights to date he has been expected to win. Scott Allan could have been a banana skin because of McGregor’s over-enthusiasm for a scrap with someone who wound him up. Kash Farooq was as good, as his closest rival, on the night and could have got the win such was the close nature of their fight. Stepping up to face Karim Guerfi was a little acid test for McGregor. One that was over before we could begin discussing it like we were Andy Lee or Al Bernstein. With each legitimate test he comes through there begins an unquenchable thirst to do another. Vincent Legrand may not be that, but McGregor has already spoken about willing to take on the toughest foes out there. His demeanour and tone convince you. He isn’t playing games, wanting to pad out his record.

However, may there be another reason as to why losing a fight would not be a disaster to him. The young man has been through too much, to be frank, already in a life that hasn’t hit 25 yet. In just three years, his life was battered after his mother, a cousin, his grandmother and grandfather all passed away. To come through the other side can build an unbreakable spirit. Losing a fight? You begin to understand his attitude.

“In my personal life I’ve been through hell. To go in there, the fear of losing does not bother me at all, but I think people might get mixed up and think he’s not even bothered. I’m confident I beat anyone I get in the ring with, and I prepare so hard, and I get in there and I’m fully focused on getting that win. It’s why I take these challenges because it doesn’t scare me, it does not scare me to lose. I can come again or whatever. There are worst things that can happen than losing a fight.

“I always use the saying you either sink or swim. My whole career I’ve been swimming in the deep end. I’ve been thrown into big fights, big challenges where you could say not many fighters technically would be put in that early on in their career, but I have. My actions answer all the questions. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I want the hard challenges and to be in with the best and I want to prove how good I really am.”

Main image: Lee McGregor/MTK Global.