One of the biggest boxing clichés is the ex-fighter who can’t let go of the game. They’ve still got it, they believe and have regrets that they want to correct. And, like many clichés, there’s plenty of truth in it. Every boxing writer has spoken to fighters who never truly walked away, mentally.
So, it’s always refreshing when you speak to a fighter who had their success in the ring and managed to move on. Frank Buglioni (22-4-1, 16 KOs) is one such person. “I’ve got nothing to prove [in boxing]. I’ve done what I’ve done,” the Enfield-born, former British champion told Boxing Social. “I’m very content with my life. I’ve got lots of things which keep me occupied.”
One of the things occupying Buglioni is something he had experienced in the embryonic stages of his career. “When I first turned pro, I was working for my father’s company in construction. I studied building surveying at university before I turned professional,” he said.
“I was mixing that in with my amateur boxing career. I got three or four years through the five years, but then moved to Sheffield for the GB team, so I couldn’t carry on with the course. But I’ve got a good foundation of knowledge in the construction industry. I kept my eye in with a few projects whilst I was pro. I’ve rejoined the company, my dad is sort of semi-retired, so me and my brother are working on it.”
The sacrifices Buglioni made early in his career put him in good stead, however. “My first year of my professional career, I worked, which gave me a good work, life balance, kept me disciplined and focused. And it also gave me something to fall back upon,” he said.
When Boxing Social suggested that the option of a job in construction provided a nice ‘back-up’ option during his fighting days, Buglioni said that wasn’t really the case. “When I was fighting at the high levels, I didn’t really have it in my mind,” he said. “I think when you’re boxing professionally at a high level, you can’t really be thinking about an exit strategy. If I’m in something, I give it 100%. I don’t really present myself with those options and think, ‘if this doesn’t work out. I’ll go into this or that’.”
One thing which almost all fighters seem to share is a profound self-belief. It can appear arrogant to some. But in a world as unforgiving, both physically and emotionally, as boxing, it’s an essential component of being able to withstand and dish out punishment. This total commitment to his career was something Buglioni expanded upon.
“When you’re in that boxing world and you’re preparing for dangerous opposition, [such as] Hosea Burton, Craig Richards, Ricky Summers, Callum Johnson, Fanlong Meng, [Fedor] Chudinov, they’ve all got capabilities of hurting you,” he said. “I mixed it with a lot of good fighters and they’re all top guys. So you have to be on it, you have to have that confidence in yourself, in your ability, your chin, your stamina. When I was boxing, I didn’t think I was untouchable or unstoppable, but you have that aura of confidence where you think you can’t be beat.”
There were, however, some fights which Buglioni decided not to take during his career, showing a pragmatism which active fighters can’t always reveal. “You know your limitations… I saw potential to beat everyone I faced, although it didn’t always turn out that way. And when they offered me [Andre] Ward and [Sergey] Kovalev, I thought, ‘that’s a step too far for me’. Those are the fights I didn’t take.”
However, that idea of a ‘100%’ work ethic was evident to anyone who saw Buglioni box at 168lbs and 175lbs. Although not lacking in technical ability and with very solid power, it was other elements of his character and style which led to his domestic popularity. His determination, fitness and toughness were hallmarks of a come-forward fighting style, which saw him challenge for a world title and shift plenty of tickets. Yet it was that style which led to a disappointing loss in his final fight due to a horrific cut to his eyelid against Fanlong Meng in 2018. That fight, in front of a relatively sparse crowd in Monaco, was a calculated risk at the time, according to Buglioni.
“Beat Fanlong and I’d be right back into the mix [for a world title],” he said. “For me, I was never bothered about who I had to fight to get back into the swing of things. He was an unbeaten fighter, an Olympian, number one in China, so he was no slouch. We’d done our research and it was a fight I thought I could win and I was good against southpaws. But it wasn’t to be. On a different night without the cut, I think I had the beating of Fanlong.”
The loneliness of a beaten fighter reflecting on what the future may hold is nicely articulated by Buglioni, who took Boxing Social through the thought process which caused him to call time on his career.
“As soon as I suffered my last cut, I was in the hotel room in Monaco and thought, ‘enough is enough’. My career was stop-starting due to injuries. At the highest level, it wasn’t going to ease off,” said Buglioni. “I had a lot of scar tissue around the eyes. And the last one was on the eyelid. I thought I’ve achieved a good amount, I don’t think I achieved my potential, but I was happy with where I’d got to and I accepted that. The company needed my support, so I thought it was the ideal time. I got home on the weekend, had my stitches out on the Monday or the Tuesday, and I was in work on the Wednesday.”
Sometimes boxers find it difficult to admit that they never quite reached the heights they could have, so it was interesting to hear Buglioni’s further reflections on where he felt he fell slightly short. The British 175lbs title was, of course, snatched from his grasp in a thrilling one-round shoot-out against the heavy-handed Callum Johnson, with both men trading before Buglioni was stopped.
“I‘d have liked to have won the British title outright,” he said. “I think on another night things could have been different or if my tactics had been different. [If I’d] not been too macho and boxed a little bit smarter, then I think I’d have a good shot [at winning]. But I don’t have any regrets.”
That loss to Johnson brought an end to the biggest purple patch of Buglioni’s career, which coincided with his move up to light-heavyweight, something he concedes he should have done earlier. “My first fight as a pro was at light-heavyweight and I felt very strong and very fit,” he said. “Certainly, around the world title fight [L12 against WBA champion Fedor Chudinov], the Lee Markham fight [D10 at super-middle], I was massively weight drained. I was massively big for the weight. I was losing 7 or 8 pounds on the day. On the course of the week leading up to the fight, I was losing about 18 pounds and I wasn’t putting it back on. Whereas at light-heavyweight, I was losing maybe 15 pounds in the run up to the fight, [I’d] put it all back on. There’s a certain strength to that training weight, it was my equilibrium really. At super-middleweight, I’d still be at the drained, weight making stage, regardless of what I ate or drank in those 36 hours [before a fight]. I couldn’t put it back on, it was too much of a shock to my body.”
Buglioni was certainly fitter and stronger at light-heavyweight, picking up the “beautiful” British title against Hosea Burton in December 2016 at the Manchester Arena. It was a classic confrontation of boxer against fighter with a dogged Buglioni eventually wearing out and stopping Burton with seconds remaining in the final round. It’s an achievement he has evident and warranted pride in discussing.
“There was a little bit of rivalry leading up to the fight, it was his hometown, there was a lot of pressure,” he said. “But I had a lot of confidence that I could come through anything that night and it went in my favour.
“I was hitting him a few times and I could see [the shots] having an effect. So, in my mind, regardless of what was happening to me, I could be wearing away at him. In the 11th, when I caught him and he went down, I thought, ‘I’ve got him now. It’s only a matter of time’. Then he came out in the 12th looking fast and strong, but I think he went too anaerobic. He threw a combination and caught me with a few shots and I came back with a big right hand over the top [and he had] lactic acid in the legs. So, when he went down, it was always going to be a big effort for him to get back up. He was on unsteady legs, so I just charged at him. I landed a big spearing jab to finish it.”
Despite the verbals which preceded their clash, and the dramatic ending, it’s clear how fondly Buglioni now feels about his former foe. “He’s a quality operator, I’ve got a lot of time for him. You can’t have a fight that good without an opponent that good, so I give him a lot of thanks,” he said. “He was obviously massively disappointed, but he was in one of the fights of the year. I hope he goes on to show how good he is. He’s too good a fighter to really be in the shadows. He’s got a lot of potential and a lot of skills. I’d like to see him do good things.”
For many, a great British title fight is the highlight of any show, regardless of if it tops the bill or acts in support. Yet its prestige has been diminished somewhat with the plethora of sanctioning body belts. Buglioni feels that the British title still has a major part to play in an aspiring fighter’s development.
“There’s a lot of British champions who’ve gone on to world honours [via] the classic route, where they say you win an Area title, then an English title, British title, European and World. I think that really stands you in good stead,” he said. “My career was a little bit ‘arse about face’ the way I went about it. But I certainly felt very confident after going for a British…it also gives you that pride to be British champion.”
Buglioni is now passing on that knowledge to the next generation, helping to coach his nephew amongst other promising young fighters. “I like to see young kids coming through and I’ve got my boxing academy over in Italy during the summer. I can avoid getting punched in the nose – that’s good for me!” he said.
It’s evident when discussing his time in boxing how much pride and passion Buglioni feels towards his career and the sport as a whole, but there certainly seems no risk of him falling back into the category of the ex-fighter who simply can’t move on.
Buglioni was a boxer who left it all in the ring, engaging in some brutal fights and exhibiting plenty of guts in the pursuit of glory, yet is now focused on the next stages of his life.
“I try to keep myself fit, I do some strength training when I can. I still do some boxing here and there, but I eat what I want now. I can have that second portion, have a dessert here and there,” he said.
“I’m in a good place. You give 100% when you’re in there, but when it’s done and over, you need to accept it and move on to something else.”