Ben Davison was hitting a metaphorical brick wall before Lee McGregor challenged for the European bantamweight title last Friday night.
Trainer and fighter were doing some last-minute preparations before the British and Commonwealth champion would step into the ring in Bolton to face French veteran Karim Guerfi (29-5, 9 KOs). It would be just the tenth fight for the 24-year-old Scotsman.
“In the warm-up with Ben before the fight, he had the gloves on and he was proper hitting me,” McGregor told Boxing Social while spending some much-needed time with his family.
“He was hitting my arms and my gloves, and I was catching the shots. Ben said beforehand, ‘I was hitting you hard and it felt like I was hitting a brick wall and I’m a hell of a lot bigger than Karim Guerfi’. Going from that with Ben to Karim in the ring, the minute I caught the first two or three shots I was like there’s no way this is going 12 rounds.
“The plan was he was going to come out cracking away and be made to feel like he’s hitting a brick wall, which is what he did feel. Then he’s going to panic and have no option but to sit in there with me and the minute he does its uppercut, left hook to the body. I knew it was going to soften him, but I thought it would be three or four rounds [before] we would start breaking him down, but it didn’t even get out of the first round. I had so much more up my sleeve, much more variety but do you know what, it’s a good thing because people have seen a glimpse. The future opponents haven’t seen too much and it’s a good thing for us because I’m going to keep surprising people.”
McGregor beating Guerfi wasn’t a huge surprise but the way he did it was. Fifteen seconds into the round a long right hand caught Guerfi’s body. An early warning that the experienced champion could do little about for the next 140 seconds before McGregor’s patient and meticulous onslaught saw the title change hands and leave Manosque for Edinburgh.
The display from McGregor has British boxing licking their lips at the future for the young man who 16 months ago was in a fight of the year contender with rival Kash Farooq. A night where Edinburgh met Glasgow with the Scottish capital coming out on top.
McGregor is starving for further success. Not just hungry, his belly is rumbling to the point of turning into a Tartan Pacman. The morning of this interview (Monday) he had been out for a 15k run. His love for boxing had never vanished but it did diminish. Gaining too much weight after fights is just one example that built up worrying signs in his life that had to be addressed. The Farooq fight was the tipping point.
“I was just knocking myself ill mentally and physically trying to do the weight,” he recalled.
“The state of me on the scales for the Farooq fight was terrible. Even walking to the ring, I was weak and heavy-legged. You could see it three-four rounds into the fight. I was fucked to be honest and then I got a second wind but that was just my heart and determination. The kind of guy that I am, the upbringing I had means I can dig really, really deep. It just shows if I do things right in camp like I did for the Guerfi fight there then I might not even need to go as deep and dig in like that. It’s always nice to know that you’ve got that, but I’d rather dismantle them in a round or two like that and everyone can be a lot happier, especially my family watching back home.”
The early night in Bolton for McGregor ensured he would return to home sweet home without any significant bumps and lumps to worry his loved ones. Some pizza after the fight and a little celebration in the hotel afterwards was suffice before returning to his family on Saturday. It had been a draining week for the IBF’s No.4 rated bantamweight.
“The night before you make weight you don’t sleep very well; adrenaline gets you through it all,” he says.
“Even fight week you don’t sleep that much. The only good sleep I get on fight week is the night before the fight when I’m refuelled. After the fight you’re still on cloud nine, the adrenaline is still running, you don’t sleep much that night so when I got home on Saturday to see my family, I was just shattered. I was in bed by six o’clock just knackered. I had a good sleep that night and it was the same again last night (Sunday), so it’s just been nice just chilling spending time with the family getting some nice food. It’s not like normal where it’s chaos going to the pub, going mad and things like that. I’ve actually enjoyed it to be honest.”
It is something of a new dawn in the career of Lee McGregor. ‘Going mad’ appears to be long gone. Hooking up with trainer Ben Davison last September and a team that features one of the best boxing brains in the business in Lee Wylie has refuelled McGregor’s desires for greatness. The squad remain grounded, but the potential has been upped significantly. Last Friday’s performance has been one of the most memorable that we have seen in a boxing ring this year. McGregor has always had ability, but his trainer may have just awoken a monster.
Of course, the word monster when associated with bantamweights, can only mean one thing: Naoya Inoue. A Japanese three-weight world champion who has made a habit of punching years out of opponent’s careers. McGregor is respectful and humble. He knows his 118lb onions.
“There’s the top guys like Inoue, [John Riel] Casimero and even [Guillermo] Rigondeaux who’s been a bit inactive,” he begins while talking about his chances of winning a world title.
“Apart from the top guys, I really fancy my chances with any of the rest of them. It’s just a shame that I just missed out on the World Boxing Super Series [which Inoue won] because that would have been life-changing for me. Obviously, I wasn’t ready for that but if something like that was to come up now, I’d be in that in a heartbeat and that’s when you start changing your life financially. It’s exciting because everything’s going to plan at the right time. I’m still young, I’m still maturing and still filling out. That’s a solid, solid batch of top guys and top fighters at bantamweight. I feel like at super-bantamweight I’d potentially win a world title sooner.”
We asked why. He answered.
“If I was to move up to super-bantamweight then I’m going to fill out even more and probably be even more effective and even stronger. I do think, and Ben and the team think the same, that when I do start moving up the weights it’s going to suit me better in terms of opponents.
“I’m in the best hands possible but the main focus and the main job is to win a world title at this weight then I can’t see me sticking around much longer after that. I would be then moving on. I want to be a multiple weight world champion. I don’t want to just win a world title. Ricky Burns won world titles at three weights. Maybe [I could] even make a bit of history and do four. I’ve definitely got the frame for that as well. Bantamweight, super-bantamweight, featherweight, super-featherweight. I’ve maybe even got the frame to go as potentially high as lightweight one day. That’s the goals and targets I’m setting in my head and I’m very confident that I can definitely win a world title. I’m not going to stop when I do that. I want to keep achieving my dreams.”
For now, the wagon keeps rolling. Viva Las Vegas appears to be next. McGregor is close to sealing a spot on the undercard of the highly anticipated 140lbs undisputed showdown featuring his friend and team-mate Josh Taylor who faces Jose Carlos Ramirez on May 22 in Sin City. And McGregor wants to keep up the momentum off the back of his demolition job last Friday.
“I want another decent fight. I want an American opponent. I want it to be a name,” he says.
“I want it to be someone who is rated over there, and I want to make another big statement. Like I’ve said, I like the challenges. I’m not one to shy away from any challenge so whoever my team decide I’ll be fighting then that’s who it’ll be. I’ll be a 100% and fully confident of doing a very similar job as I did on Friday night. I just feel so big and so strong at bantamweight. The better the fight the better the test and that’s where I’m going to answer the unanswered questions, but I feel like I’m answering every question so far.
“We just need to keep cracking away, no get ahead of ourselves, keep grounded. I’m seeing the progression and when you see it and feel it, it encourages you to keep sticking at it. That’s why I dealt with the postponements well because I was improving every week and I knew it was just delaying the inevitable. From the [rearranged] November date to that March date, the improvements I made were scary. It worked out good for me even though it was so frustrating and hard to deal with. Look at the performance I put in and that was the delays that made that possible. We’ve got another nine weeks till we go again and it’s going to be a better and even more improved Lee McGregor again. I’m excited to see where I’m going to be at the end of the year to be honest.”
On Friday night, McGregor knew within the first 15 seconds that he would beat Karim Guerfi. It was spiteful and destructive. The dethroned champion had hit a brick wall early on. McGregor has a wall of his own to climb. A wall where 8st 6lb monsters are lurking but brick by brick McGregor has given himself an opportunity to get to the very top. Friday was a taste of what may be yet to come.
“I’m finally doing things right. I don’t need to keep explaining myself to justify that anymore because I think my performance on Friday night showed that,” he said. “I felt like I was talking a lot, basically trying to convince everyone to believe me. Well, actions speak louder than words and I’m going to keep getting better every time.”
Main image and all photos: MTK Global.