Birmingham boy: Sam Eggington interview
In the wake of his European welterweight title triumph in May, Sam Eggington spoke to James Oddy...
Boxing isn’t always the best sport for feel-good stories, but hearing Birmingham-born-and-based welterweight Sam Eggington talk about his path from potential journeyman to European champion would put a smile on even the most jaded fan’s face.
“It was a crazy feeling [winning the European title],” Eggington told Boxing Monthly after his brutal stoppage of champion Ceferino Rodriguez in Birmingham on 13 May.
“I spoke a lot about the European title before the [Paulie] Malignaggi fight and after it. I really did want to pick it up. So to be able to do it in front of a home crowd like we did in Birmingham, it was brilliant. It’s still sinking in.”
The victory was an unlikely high point for Eggington, a fighter who was willing to take fights around the country right from the start of his career.
“It is crazy to hear people screaming your name and wanting you to do a job,” he said. “I sold about 200 more tickets than I ever have before for this show. The Birmingham crowd are really starting to come out, not just for me but for all fighters. It’s a mad feeling. People actually coming to watch you.
“I went away for my first fights. My first home fight in Birmingham, I sold about 15 tickets. That’s including my mum, dad, brother and my sister.”
Despite the thrill of having the crowd right behind him, Eggington was adamant that it had no impact on his performance. Instead, he prefers to credit the victory to his professionalism and focus.
“I don’t think it [the crowd] affects me,” he said. “It’s nice to have the crowd [support] there. It gees you up. If you get caught with a nice right hand, or you catch them with a right hand, it gives you an extra push.
“But I don’t really take anything from the crowd into the fight. I treat every fight the same, if I’m at the top of the bill doing a 12-rounder or at the bottom doing a four-rounder. Either way, the outcome has to be a win. It’s me doing my job.”
That professional pride was evident in the post-fight TV interview, when Eggington was critical of his performance. With time for reflection, and after having watched the bout, his view has changed somewhat.
“When I was in there it felt really messy,” he said. “Loads of holding, grabbing, pushing. But when I’ve watched it back, it wasn’t too bad.
“The first round, I pretty much always lose. Anyone who can box a bit, they’ll always win the first two or three rounds with me. I’ve come to just take that on the chin. It takes me a while to warm up.
“I lost the first round, just by seeing what he does, seeing how he gets around the ring. The next three rounds, I felt I won. The sixth round I think I lost and obviously I won the seventh. It was a good performance, I thought. I thought it was quite tidy.” [Editor’s note: Eggington won the first round on the Polish judge’s scorecard and he swept the sixth round on all three judges’ cards.]
The seventh round was a barnburner — another round of the year contender for “The Savage” — in which the boxers traded heavy shots, reminiscent of a similar round in Eggington’s fight against fellow-Midlander Frankie Gavin last year.
“It always seems to pop off in the seventh round,” Eggington said. “I don’t know why that is. Rodriguez lasted longer than I expected, to be honest. I don’t say that like I’m an animal, I just didn’t think he would hold up as long.
“I [realise] when I’m getting outboxed — I can kind of read it. With Rodriguez, he was a decent boxer. So I was thinking, do I stand off and try and box him, give rounds away, and take a round here and there? Or do I do what I want to do? So I decided to do what I have to do.”
Eggington, 23, doesn’t go along with the notion that he will take punches to land them.
“Sometimes I try and figure it out when I’m in there,” he said. “If I can box someone and break them down that way, then I will. I pick the easier option when I’m in there. If I could box someone all night, and get a comfortable 12-round win, then I would.”
The Rodriguez win brought Eggington’s record to 21-3 (13 KOs) and was preceded by stoppage victories over stylists Gavin and Malignaggi. He agrees with the perception that he is getting better with every fight.
“When I turned pro, I was a novice,” he said. “When I was an amateur, I was training two hours a week. I’d go out on the piss all weekend. I’d wake up on a Sunday morning, hung over, stiff neck, and go box in the [amateur] championships at 12 stone.
“I’m learning stuff as I go. Everything I do now is something I’ve learned as a pro. It’s not like I’ve brought it on from the amateurs. I used to go into the gym [as an amateur], sparring, trying to knock anyone out, and taking shots myself.
“Anything I do now I’ve literally learned in the pros. My pad man, my coaches, they all tell me, they’ve never really seen a kid my age take things in so easily.”
The win over Malignaggi wasn’t just a learning experience — it created a friendship between the two.
“Just fighting someone like him, I think it has helped out a lot,” Eggington said. “The first few rounds I felt like I gave him too much respect, thinking: ‘I’m fighting Paulie Malignaggi’. That’s put me in good stead for any other fights, because at one point, I just thought: ‘It doesn’t matter who it is, fuck it, we need to win the fight.’ And that’s what we did in the end. Hopefully next time I fight a big name, I won’t be as star-struck for the first few rounds.”
Steering Eggington on the road to big names is Barry Hearn. Although the chairman of Matchroom has largely handed over control to his son Eddie, Hearn Sr has taken a special interest in the determined and durable young fighter.
“I can’t thank Barry Hearn enough,” Eggington said. “At first, I was a bit apprehensive of what his agenda was. Like people say: ‘Why Sam? Why pick him [for special guidance]?’ Because I’ve not got anything to give him. I ain’t got a golden medal, nothing from the amateurs. I’ve got nothing to show. So why pick me? I didn’t really get it.
“But he’s done so much. He’s helped me out with everything. Sponsors. He took me to Vegas for training. He’s put everything into it. He’s always at the end of a phone, ringing before fights, after fights.
“If Barry Hearn is helping me out, then I must be doing something right, in terms of my attitude. I am just trying to carry on doing what I’m doing. Hopefully Barry and me will work out that world title some time.”
A world title at welterweight is a prized possession in arguably the most stacked division in terms of talent. Yet Eggington has a belief in his ability to mix at the highest level.
“I’m always confident, no doubt,” he said. “The welterweight division is red hot. There’s obviously a way to go, but I couldn’t have dreamed [when he started boxing] of fighting for a world title. I didn’t think I’d have the chance to fight for the British, Commonwealth and European.
“I’ve never turned down a fight. That’s worked for me, and I’m not going to change it.
“The way I’ve approached boxing is, if someone rings me up and asks if I want to fight on [a] show against [whatever opponent], I’ve just agreed. Why not? Most of the time, it’s worked great.
“If someone rang, and said: ‘Thurman wants you for January’, I’d say yes.”