“I’m washing the dishes for Pizza Hut and the colleagues are like, ’What do you do?’ And I say, ‘I’m a boxer’. They’re like, ‘Nah you’re not a boxer’.

Having worked as a delivery driver for the fast-food giant, the résumé of Lerrone Richards also includes the job titles stock controller and doorman. 

The 29-year-old former European super-middleweight champion has come a long way since a period of career inactivity between 2014 and 2016 when he had to find other ways to make ends meet. Thirty months without a fight could make or break a man used to a sense of fulfilment and getting paid for what you love doing. Richards admitted to Boxing Social that while he is a positive person it was still a challenging time for him where managerial issues had an impact on his progression.

“I’m a very positive individual but there’s times when you feel a bit down and think this is hard,” the Londoner says. “But one thing I never did, I never stopped. People think why are you doing this, and it gets hard, but it never came into my mind because I knew I just had to be patient so I done a few jobs.”

Just like the conversations over the sink scrubbing plates work colleagues at the call centre also disputed the fact he was a professional prize-fighter.

“It wasn’t easy, even like little things like at lunchtime,” he recalls. “You’re sitting there in the room and you’re eating your lunch with your work colleagues and just talking along, and I’ll say, ‘Oh yeah I’m a boxer, and they’ll look and say, ‘Nah mate, you’re not a boxer.’”

Richards laughs about it now because of how his career has been transformed. He then breaks his career down and despite having been professional officially for eight years, he believes that because of the time away from the ring he has only been boxing for half of that.

“It doesn’t feel like eight years. I was out of boxing for nearly three of those years. Inactivity and going through managerial problems and all that. In that time, I was inactive, but I was still going out sparring the likes of Tony Bellew, Billy Joe Saunders and George Groves. I was trying to develop my craft and learn off these top-level fighters but in a way, even though it’s been eight years, I’ve really only been boxing professionally for four actively. For what I’ve achieved in four years of an active professional career is good! I don’t let it get to my head; I just get on with it. I’m stepping up and enjoying it. This fight here with Carlos Gongora is going to be a tough fight and I’m expecting nothing less. Then it’s going to be another top fight and another top fight. I enjoy challenges. That’s the type of athlete that I am.”

On Saturday night, live on DAZN from the Manchester Arena, Richards (15-0, 3 KOs) departs his status as a Euro-star and aims to hop on board a flight to world success. While the fight against Gongora will place him in economy class thanks to the Ecuadorian’s IBO title at stake a win gives him the chance to look ahead to business class where Canelo Alvarez is treated like a king.

The unbeaten Gongora, 32, who has his own dreams of winning a Canelo lottery ticket, won the belt a year ago withstanding the pressure of Gennadiy Golovkin training partner Ali Akhmedov. A wobbly second round might have seen a better marksman get Gongora out of there, but he would go on and take the Kazakh into the deep waters of round 12, the first time for both, and it was the South American who prevailed. A mammoth uppercut dropped Akhmedov in the first minute and the same shot, a much shorter version of it, was all she wrote in an upset win for the underdog. 

Richards faces the toughest test of his career against Gongora tonight in Manchester.
Image: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing

Matters were more straightforward for the southpaw in his first defence against Christopher Pearson back in April. An eighth-round knockout has now taken him to Manchester where he hopes to fare better than another South American called Carlos (Maussa) who lost to Ricky Hatton’s impersonation of a Joe Frazier lunging left hook 16 years ago.

“I feel it’s a big step up,” Richards says (the current 11/8 betting underdog) who is correct in his assessment.

“Obviously, I’ve been quite vocal in talking about doing things at the right time and picking up the right titles and moving forward. Winning the British, Commonwealth and European and now I believe this is the next step and I step I belong at.”

Richards agrees with his promoter Eddie Hearn, to an extent, who said, ‘You can’t walk around shouting you’re a world champion with the IBO title’ but nevertheless it’s a seat near the top table and a slice of the metaphorical cake we often hear about.

“When I win the IBO, I’m going to be a proud IBO champion,” Richards insists. “I’ve got a lot of respect for the IBO, but without the belt this fight’s a good fight anyway. It’s the right step in the right direction. It’s challenging and I’m all about challenging myself and fighting the best. I’m looking forward to this fight and looking forward to showcasing my skills and showing everyone that I can operate at this level and beyond.”

The fight represents Richards third outing with Matchroom since signing with them 13 months ago. Two fights, two wins, including a European title victory against Italian veteran Giovanni De Carolis. So far, so good for Richards and new trainer Dave Coldwell.

“I’m really enjoying my boxing,” says the former Queensbury Promotions fighter.

So, was Richards not enjoying the sport before the switch to Matchroom and Coldwell?

“I won British, Commonwealth, WBO European and International championships and I just felt like I was a man in the dark. I feel like my career wasn’t moving forward as such. Even though I won all them titles it was like yeah, alright. 

“If you think about it the timespan, I won those titles and the number of fights I’d had its quite remarkable. I don’t really look into it like that, but a lot of people mention it to me, ‘Lerrone you’ve won all these titles in just what 15 fights, wow’. With Matchroom now I’m getting a better promotion. People are starting to notice me a lot more and with Dave in the gym I’m enjoying it, I’m learning and that’s why I’m happy.”

Lerrone Richards during their Fighter workout ahead of their fight this weekend. 15 December 2021 Picture By Mark Robinson Matchroom Boxing

Saturday’s IBO title fight presents an interesting contrast in styles. Two southpaws but a clash where the champion will look to his power punching and pressure to break down the Brit, while the challenger will jab and move, looking to cause frustration and mistakes to capitalise on.

Richards swears by the mantra of, ‘Hit and not get hit’. Boxing since he was six years old there have unquestionably been moments where his teeth have ground the gumshield, where pain becomes secondary, and you win at all costs. Besting the rough, tough and powerful efforts of Lennox Clarke is never the easiest of conquests but Richards won’t shy away from what has been instilled into him since a young age.

“I’ve been boxing since I was six years old and my dad coached me, and a man called Freddie Barr coached me as well at Kingston Amateur Club,” he says. “And I was always told boxing is about hitting your opponent more than they hit you. Hit and not get hit, that’s the game. I do understand the entertainment factor, but I think my style is entertaining in ways, especially to the purists. But if I can win a fight boxing and being smart without taking stick in a fight then I’ll do that. If I need to put my chin down and come forward to win a fight, then I’ll do that. It’s all about adjusting in fights and doing what it takes to win a fight the easiest way and I’ve got the ability to do that.”

It may be a style that is not everyone’s cup of tea, one that some can’t get on board with. Do the critics bother him though?

“No, not really. I’ve always been a person that wants to stay in his own lane and do what I do. I don’t focus on anyone else; I just focus on what I do and what I do is effective. And there’s things I have in my arsenal that is effective as well that no one has seen and that’s the other 50% no-one has seen of me. I do what I need to do to get the win and look good doing it and continue to get the W’s until I become a world champion which is the goal.”

At the beginning of his career, it was simply about getting a fight on a show. Richards paid tribute to one of the unsung heroes of small hall boxing Miranda Carter. He owes a debt of gratitude to Carter as he explains.

“I’ve had to start off on Sunday shows when I turned over. Miranda Carter, I’d like to thank her because she took me, and she put me on her shows and built me up from there. I did things the right way, the traditional way but undercover and I’m here now. The point I’m trying to get at is I know how it feels to be at the bottom and I don’t want to go there again. I want to keep pushing and staying hungry and keep pushing towards my dreams.”

Those dreams will play out in front of the former work colleagues who did not believe he was a professional boxer at the time. The same people are now friends and fans of Richards, a growing support that are recognising him more thanks to his striking bumblebee trunks and his now famous rendition of the nursery rhyme Hot Cross Buns, a song which he sings to his son at home.

Richards isn’t your typical championship fighter. He won’t yell or throw tables or play the social media game to gain new followers. Singing a nursery rhyme post-fight and playing bingo aren’t exactly two ingredients you would mix into the recipe when creating a fighter. But never judge this book by his cover. He has a jab that will tear your hair out and make you look silly, and on Saturday you may see the emergence of a genuine threat at 168lbs. A division that may soon become wide open if Canelo’s cruiserweight plans and beyond play out as planned.

“Just don’t take the piss. That’s all I say,” says Richards. A message he would get across to revellers who could get carried away when he was working on the door of a restaurant/nightclub establishment in the big smoke. It’s also a statement he could put out to fellow rivals and those that dismiss his chances at world level.

“You know how you get a few bouncers that are not that fair? Me, I was fair,” Richards says of his time on the doors. “I know everyone wants to have a good night out so have a good night and enjoy yourself.

“I enjoyed it too and I met a few people there and they come to support me. It was mad because there was one time I was at the door and some guy came up to me when I was checking his ID. And he said, ‘Are you Lerrone Richards?’ I said, ‘Yeah, yeah I am’. And he asked me why I wasn’t boxing because at that time I was inactive. It sort of made me think to myself okay I’m doing this job now but it’s time now I really start to establish myself as a professional. After the security job that was when my management contract ended, and I was straight back in boxing again. It’s mad.”

And as for Saturday night in Manchester against Carlos Gongora, Richards explained what we will get and couldn’t help but throw in a bit of sarcasm for his detractors.

“As you know with Lerrone Richards one thing people know is that you’ll get the sweet science. When you see Lerrone Richards on the bill, Lerrone Richards is not a puncher he’s got feather fists! It’s a 12-round fight and if you get a knockout then woo it’s a bonus!”

“I’m all about the skills,” he says with a change of tone. “The sweet science. Hitting and not getting hit and getting the W in the best way possible. But I’m looking forward to this fight. This fight is going to bring the best out in me, and you’ll see Lerrone Richards with a little bit of spice. And I can’t wait.”