Pro dreams: Conor Loftus interview
Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images
Conor Loftus speaks to Oliver McManus about the amateur frustrations that are hastening his entry into professional boxing...
Finding himself in the unenviable position of being a touted amateur boxer with dreams of going to the Olympics, all the uncertainty around boxing's participation in next year's Tokyo Olympics has forced Conor Loftus to hasten his progression into the professional games.
Talking to Boxing Monthly a few days after an operation on a detached retina, the 24-year-old explained the precarious situation he currently find himself in.
“I’ve been campaigning at 64kg for the best part of two years, having previously been at 69, and then all of a sudden there was an announcement - well a rumour, I should say - that they were going to change the category to 63kg. I’m already super tired at 64 kilos and there was no way I could carry myself at the weight for the whole of a tournament so I’ve moved back up to my original weight now and, obviously, that’s dropped me down the pecking order.
"The communication [from AIBA] has been terrible about it, it’s really quite stressful, and [I’m] probably even more decided now [having detached his retina] that actually I’m just going to focus on going pro now.”
The 2017 GB Boxing Championships winner first got the bug for the Olympics when drafted to Rio as a chief sparring partner to the GB squad.
It was an experience, the Leeds fighter said, which was bittersweet in reflection.
“It was an incredible experience because I’d got on [to] Team GB in September 2015 and less than 12 months later I was with them in Rio. I was still only part-time with them so it was unbelievable to be given the opportunity and when we were out there it opened my eyes massively.
"I don’t think I had realised, until then, how special it all was and just the scale of it all. That’s when I realised it was where I wanted to be and that I wanted to compete [at the Olympics]. I guess you could say there is a little bit of resentment because of the reasons I’m not going; I know I was never set in stone and I was the number two at the weight but I’d at least have liked to get the opportunity to try and get there, you know? I feel like it’s left me with no choice but to go pro.”
A unique frustration and whilst Loftus says the decision to turn professional has been all but taken out of his hands - he could stick around as an amateur but he’d have to go back to the drawing board - there are no genuine complaints about the challenge in question.
“It’s not massive but I’m hoping to get that little bit of a head start in the pro game. This time in 12 months it’s going to be Olympians trying to get deals and then it becomes a bit crowded; most Olympians probably take 10-12 months to turn professional so that’s giving me some breathing room.
"I appreciate if I’m turning over at the same time as them then I’m not going to be first pick, I get that, so hopefully now I can maximise the promotion I get. It also means I could be five, six fights ahead of those Olympians and I’m not avoiding anyone but it puts me closer to titles.”
“It’ll sound funny”, he continues, “given I’ve said what a struggle 63kg would be [as an amateur] but I would contemplate competing super-lightweight, that’s like 63 and a half? Making that weight isn’t such a problem when you’re doing it once but it’s an issue when you have to make it three or four times in a week.
"As a pro I can make that weight and, especially with day before weigh-in’s, I’ll be able to rehydrate up to somewhere like 69kg and that’s an advantage in itself.”
That transition into the professional mindset of boxing is well and truly under way with a clear plan as to what Loftus wishes to achieve over the coming months. His understated confidence shone through when discussing the benefits of his fights in the World Series of Boxing - where he was able to win three bouts in 2017.
“When I was in the WSB that’s when I first got a taste of the day before weigh-in and it suited me down to a tee. I was so dry making the 64kg that as soon as I put any sort of fluid back into my body I just held on it until my body hit it’s natural weight.
"It is those little bits that prepare you for what life might be like as a professional so even the fact you’re not competing with vests or that you’re having a press conference; of course the fact it’s five rounds and elite competition is a major factor but everything about it is different.
"It just gives you that chance to really focus on one performance and get it right. You’re not worrying about your fights ahead, you’ve got one fight to focus on, to get it right and win, and you can enjoy the win, as a team, at the end of it.”
The team aspect of the competition was something that Loftus found himself indifferent towards until the aftermath of his own contest - tunnel vision pre-fight and then lions on the chest patriotism thereafter. His time on Team GB has been spent on the ‘podium potential’ squad, which he joined in 2015, and he has racked up two medals at the GB Championships since.
Looking back on his achievements there was a stand-out win over Ekow Essuman in 2014 that bred particular pride - Essuman now being the English welterweight champion - but also a more bizarre experience at 66kg against a future heavyweight world title challenger.
“I don’t remember the exact tour it was but I’m fairly certain it was the NAPCs and I found myself fighting Hughie Fury. There was absolutely nothing to him - he was like a big stick. I won the fight but just looking at him you could tell he didn’t belong at the weight and he was a good six inches taller than me so it was daunting to share the ring with him.
"That was definitely the weirdest moment of my career so far because I tell people ‘oh I boxed Hughie Fury’ and they just laugh at it - how the hell we were ever in the same weight, I will never know.”
Outside of boxing Loftus officially lists his interests as ‘fishing, photography and films’ but following the crude theft of his fishing equipment last year - understandably irksome - the young man has had to look elsewhere for sources of peace and contemplation.
An unusual suggestion, floated by Jordan Foster (of Portobello PR), was to start a YouTube channel documenting the life of an amateur boxer.
“That’s just trying to get my name out there a bit but also to make myself more accessible than a lot of other boxers. My time with Team GB has highlighted that not many people know what goes on behind that closed door so it was about shedding the light about the way we train and how the tournaments are run.
"It was a strange one at first because I started putting a camera in front of my face at Kings Cross station and people are looking at me all weird. At first I was like ‘oh no, this isn’t for me’ but, to be honest, I’m becoming annoyed when I forget to do it whilst I’m away so we’ll get that part of my routine and hopefully people can get on board and find out more about what goes on.”
New ground, then, constantly being covered as the Yorkshireman paces through the hierarchy of boxing and despite having been at the top as an amateur there’s still that niggling part of him that refuses to rest on his success.
“Even up until I was 15 I would still have only classed boxing as hobby even though I was winning junior and youth titles. That goes all the way up until 2015 [when Loftus was 21] and when I first got into Team GB - that’s when I first thought about making a career out of the sport.
"I’ve always dreamed of being a professional but even now I downplay myself to an extent in my head because I’m not one to blow my own trumpet or say how good I am. It’s taken me a long time to realise that I am actually a good boxer and occasionally I’ve just got to look back on what I’ve achieved and remind myself ‘yeah, you must be half decent’.
"But, of course, I’m never going to be satisfied until I’ve retired from the sport and can say for definite that I gave it my all - it would be pointless to be chuffed about everything at this moment in time.”
The immediate focus is on turning professional and, whilst Loftus is eager to get the ‘headstart’ he talked about, the distinguished amateur doesn’t want to rush into any decisions. On multiple occasions he declared he would be happy even if he didn’t debut until the early months of 2020 and that the coming months are all about "getting a feel for professional boxing".
When he does officially ink a professional contract, don’t expect Loftus to be hanging about.
“I’m definitely looking for those big promoters because I feel like I’ve earned my spot to skip the queue a little bit. My time on Team GB and the success I’ve had [as an amateur] was my apprenticeship and when I turn professional I’ll be up for any fight at any time.
"The calibre of guys [I’m] fighting at the minute are better than those that many prospect face in their sixth or seventh fights. I do, though, realise that I’ve got a lot of learning to do and professional boxing is almost like a different sport; I understand the importance of journeymen in the pro game and they’ll give me that ground for learning in the early stages. I want to be in real fights, though, proper fights so I can see just how good I am.”