'Bring it on!' Joel McIntyre interview
Light-heavyweight Joel McIntyre tells Garry White he is isn't fazed by being the favourite for Friday night's light-heavyweight Ultimate Boxxer II tournament - in fact he welcomes the high expectations...
Following its debut in Manchester earlier in the year, Ultimate Boxxer roars back into action, with its second instalment at London’s Indigo at the O2 on Friday night. Whereas the inaugural February show focused on the welterweights, this upcoming chapter switches its attention to the light-heavyweight division.
The tournament showcases eight boxers, at varying stages of their careers, all vying for the first prize of £16,000, in a straight knockout format over three rounds, and appears destined to be boxing's version of cricket's game-changing Twenty20 format. With bite-size contests, celebrities in attendance and Radio 1 DJ Charlie Sloth supplying the tunes, the event promises to bring a new and vibrant crowd to boxing.
For the fighters, many of whom are typically challenged by the financial pressures and uncertainties of the small hall circuit, it is a chance to earn a substantial purse, in front of a full house at a premier venue, live on Chanel 5’s Spike TV. As the old cliché goes: you can’t buy this kind of publicity.
Premier among the eight confirmed combatants is former English champion Joel McIntyre (17-2). The 30-year-old is undoubtedly the most experienced and accomplished competitor in a field that also includes the likes of Dec Spelman (12-1), John McCallum (11-1) and unbeaten Birmingham prospect Shakan Pitters (7-0).
Speaking to Boxing Monthly, McIntyre is comfortable in accepting the suggestion that he is the pre-tournament favourite, “I believe I am, yeah, based on experience," he says. "That’s something I like, though. If the rest are gunning for me, then great. They can bring it on!”
The Portsmouth man is also due to fight bitter rival Miles Shinkwin for the vacant English title on 1 December, in what will be the climax to a four-year, three-fight series. It is tempting to think that participation in Ultimate Boxxer could be just a warm-up ahead of that hotly anticipated rematch, but McIntyre immediately dispels that notion.
“The Shinkwin fight was originally scheduled for September anyway. So, I was in the gym when Steve Goodwin [McIntyre’s manager] gave me a call. He said ‘Win, lose or draw in that fight; do you want to do this Ultimate Boxxer competition?’ I thought, yeah. Why not? I had already had a couple of fights called off and was chomping at the bit to get back in the ring. I have been doing all this training and I need to get something out of it.”
In his amiable Hampshire tones, McIntyre reveals some more of his motivations for getting involved. “The prize money is obviously a factor,” he admits. “I definitely expect to be taking first place, but the platform is important as well. There will be a lot of faces there and well-known people. Sometimes people overlook these type of competitions because they are not ranked and are only three rounds and stuff.
“But sometimes you can fight for a title on an undercard at 6:30 at night and nobody is in the place. You know, well done and all that! But in the modern day, it‘s all about exposure. We are products really. The competition will be a real battle, but the exposure it provides will be massive.”
The tournament format of short, intense bursts of activity followed by limited recovery time, could possibly lead to a specialist approach in training. However, the 30-year-old confirms that he isn’t doing anything especially different in camp.
“There obviously needs to be a big focus on recovery, but my fitness has never been an issue. It’s a big occasion, but I am definitely ready.”
McIntyre, whose stoppage count numbers only three in 17 victories, is not concerned that the three-round arrangement could favour a more destructive puncher. "On paper, it doesn't look too impressive," he says, referring to his KO column, “but ask anyone who has ever sparred with me and they will tell you that they wouldn’t be happy taking too many of my shots. It’s not something that I’m worried about at all.”
This is in tune with his relaxed and straightforward game plan that places the onus firmly on the man in the other corner. “It’s just a case of doing what I need to do, and if a knockout comes it comes. It all depends on how much of a hurry the other guy is in whether I win on points or not.”
The next month or so could, in many respects, prove to be the most critical period of McIntyre's eight-year career thus far. After securing the English title from Shinkwin - avenging his earlier Southern Area title defeat against the same opponent - the belt was relinquished in his first defence against Liam Conroy last September.
In a fight that McIntyre was confidently expected to win he was summarily dismantled in two rounds by his then unheralded opponent. The 30-year-old is philosophical as to where it all went so badly wrong: "It's a mental game," he says. "You can be strong but you have to have the mindset right. It was a voluntary defence and I hadn't even really heard of Conroy. I was basically paying his wages with my tickets sales, and I just wanted to get it done and move on to the next one."
It proved to be a salutary lesson, he admits: “I learnt that you can’t overlook anyone. I didn’t give him the respect that he should have got and that was the problem. My fitness was the best it had ever been, but it shows that if your mental game isn’t right then, you’ve got no game at all!”
This unexpected loss has derailed McIntyre’s career somewhat, with his only appearance since being an eight-rounds points success against Bulgarian journeyman Tayar Mehmed back in February. The fight was intended as a tune-up for a tilt at the Southern Area belt against Clapham’s Kirk Garvey in June - a step back up the ladder that was called off at the eleventh hour due to Garvey failing a medical.
McIntyre recalls the day that he received the frustrating news and the impact not only on his career but also on his family, "It was the day before the weigh-in. I was making weight, I was there. Everything had gone brilliantly. I guess it's just one of those things, but I had a holiday booked for after the fight and had to cancel that as I had no pay cheque coming in. All the ticket money had to go back as well. There’s no insurance in this game. It was savage.”
Still rated eighth in the UK by Boxing Monthly, McIntyre is certain that success in Ultimate Boxxer and a follow-up victory against old foe Shinkwin will set him up for a bumper 2019. He would love a tilt at the British title and describes it as “on my career bucket list, for sure” but is adamant that he can climb “even further”.
The man who goes by the nickname of ‘El Toro’ describes himself as a self-confessed “throwback” who is “unwilling to dodge anyone” and is desperate to avenge his earlier defeat to Conroy. As he sees it, “I won’t legitimately be able to call myself a champion again until I overturn that one. I’ve got to do it for myself. I have to do things properly.”
But before all that he has his eye on Ultimate Boxxer’s Golden Robe and that winner’s cheque.