When Boxing Social caught up with Lee McGregor in early January, the Edinburgh fighter was in a buoyant mood, three weeks ahead of his European bantamweight title challenge against Karim Guerfi.
Having based himself in London under the tutelage of Ben Davison, McGregor had hardly seen his partner Amber or their daughter Maddison-Blue, for months. The fight had originally been scheduled for November 11, but McGregor tested positive for Covid-19, 10 days ahead of the contest, elongating his time in training camp.
The sacrifices would soon be worth it. ‘Lightning’ was in the shape of his life and promising to make a statement against his French foe. However, the following day, the British Boxing Board of Control announced that no bouts would take place in January due to the spread of the virus.
While understandably disappointed, McGregor refused to become disheartened by a second delay and remained fully focussed on the task at hand.
“I’m alright, just a bit pissed off, but it is, what it is,” he said. “There’s nothing we can do about it. It is frustrating, to be honest. That’s two fights now fell through. The first time, I got the virus, then things started looking back up again, got myself back into top condition again. Then it happened again. It’s sickening. I’m just trying to stay as positive as I can. My time will come.”
In the immediate aftermath of the BBBofC’s ruling, the 24-year-old would have been forgiven for returning north of the border to spend precious time with his family while awaiting a new date, instead, McGregor (9-0, 7 KOs) chose to remain down south, as he has worked too hard to allow the progress he has made to regress.
The decision was not an easy one to make. He did contemplate packing his bag and heading to Edinburgh, but McGregor was acutely aware that when surrounded by home comforts it is easy to succumb to temptation. However, since linking up with Davison, McGregor has adopted a new mentality. Ultimately, McGregor’s call was vindicated as his promoters, MTK Global, announced that McGregor would face Guerfi on February 6t as the first main event of their Dubai Fight Series, a little over two weeks on from the date McGregor had been preparing for.
“I did swither,” he recalled. “It’s one of them things, what do you do? I’ve been in that crap position before of being overweight, being unfit and hating yourself for letting yourself get in that position. I’ve got a whole new mindset since I’ve teamed up with Ben. I’ve realised my potential. I’ve always known my potential, but he’s made me realise it even more. The way he’s improving me is making me really excited and making me realise I can’t afford to take my foot of the gas because the goals are high, and our ambition is to go all the way. He’s made my believe that. I’ve always believed that, but it’s starting to feel realistic now.
“Back at the start of lockdown, I was training through that, but it was a bit different back then [during] the one last year. I was back home, and I was just training myself, trying to keep fit. I was alright, but my diet wasn’t as good as what it could have been. I’m now in the gym, learning every day, improving and progressing; and I don’t want that to stop. The momentum I’ve built and the position I’m in, I don’t want to lose that at all. I worked so hard to be where I am just now. The way I’m feeling physically and the way I’m performing, there’s no way I’m letting all that work go to waste. Three, four days not training, eating what I want would ruin that completely. I’m simply not letting that happen.”
McGregor does not just credit Davison with instilling a new ethos but believes that the coach has helped him make improvements in every area. Davison is a forward-thinking trainer who has studied the advantages other sports have gleaned from incorporating scientific and technological advancements and incorporated them in his new gym; the MTK Performance Centre, in Essex.
Davison has attempted to gain a competitive edge by employing Lee Wylie as a video analyst. Wylie had built a following over the years on YouTube and Twitter with his technical breakdowns of well-known fighters and had impressed Davison with his eye for detail. McGregor was sceptical but believes he has already reaped the rewards.
“I just think he covers every single area as a trainer,” McGregor said of Davison. “He’s opened my eyes so much to lots of different things; nutrition, the technical side of things, video analysis, he’s got the full package down here. That’s why you’ll see the results for his fighters in the coming months and years. He’s invested a lot into his gym and his team, our results will show that it’s worth it.
“I watch boxing as a fan, but I’d never sit down and look at a fighter and say: ‘He does this because of that, this works for him,’ now I’m sitting down with Ben and the video analysis guy, Lee Wylie, and what a difference it’s making in my performance. It’s crazy. I genuinely didn’t believe that studying it would improve me so much as a fighter.
“Ben said: ‘Boxing will get there. We just want to try to get ahead of the pack and get there now.’ Before, there wasn’t really nutritionists, now there’s lots of nutritionists, it’ll be the same for video analysis. In football and the biggest sports in the world, they do all that. He said: ‘Eventually, it’ll get to that stage in boxing, just not quite yet.’ He’s taken that step and he’ll be the first of the bunch to do it. Everyone will see our results and start getting on board with it all.”
Davison and his team have already formed a strong bond, which is just as well as they had to self-isolate together after McGregor tested positive for Covid-19, just 10 days out from the original date for the Guerfi fight.
While other fighters who have tested positive reported little to no symptoms, McGregor felt the effects of the virus. Boxers can convince themselves of anything; that they’ve still got it several years into retirement or that they can win in the final round, even if they have lost every minute of the preceding 11. McGregor is no different and was adamant that after a one week of isolation that he would be fit enough to take on the veteran French champion. Reluctantly, common sense prevailed.
“I was ill,” he said. “I felt the effects. There was no way I was going to be 12-round ready, as much I was trying to convince myself that I would be. I felt drained and had really bad headaches. It took me a while to recover, but it gave me more time to learn my craft.”
Despite the setbacks, McGregor is certain that he will be victorious when he finally takes on Guerfi. He is not underestimating his opponent, he knows that the reigning champion presents a genuine threat, but McGregor would not want it any other way. He is determined to become a world champion and is keen to expedite the process by facing all-comers as soon as possible. Many fighters say similar things, but McGregor has backed his actions with words by facing London 2012 Olympian Thomas Essomba in just his fifth contest and Kash Farooq three fights later. McGregor is keen to continue his matchmaking high-wire act and would ideally like to be challenge for a world title by the end of the year.
“No one has had an easy night with Karim Guerfi,” he said. “He’s been knocked out twice, by two big punchers and one went on to become a world champion [Zhanat Zhakiyanov] and the other [IBF mandatory challenger Michael Dasmarinas] is highly ranked by the governing bodies. Up until the knockouts, he was well in the fights. He’s never been dominated or outclassed, but I feel that’s the statement I’m going to make. I’m going to go in there and really surprise him and dominate this fight.
“I don’t have to [take these fights], but I’m so keen and eager to get to the top of this game and to do that, I need to take risks. I like tough fights; I love testing myself. It also shows everyone else that I’m [not] here to avoid anyone and I’m willing to take on all challenges.
“I will not back down from a challenge. Whoever it is that my team put forward, there’s no hesitation there. As long as my team are happy then there’s no real point in asking me because my mentality is [that] I’ll fight anyone. It’s rare, but I feel that by taking these risks, I will get the rewards. It’ll all be worth it.”
Main image: MTK Global.