The last sparring session of a training camp is usually met with a mixture of dread and relief. Dread at the thought of pushing an already tired body through a few more rounds of pain, but relief that the final bell will signal that the torturous workload of the previous few weeks is almost at an end.
Ten days out from his English featherweight title fight with Ian Bailey, ‘Ruthless’ Ryan Doyle, (12-1-1, 7 KOs), is wrapping his hands ahead of his final 12 rounds of action before the punches fly for real at Manchester’s Victoria Warehouse this Saturday night (16 July).
“I lie in bed at night tired. Even my hands and fingers ache!” Doyle, 24, laughed as he waited for tough journeyman, Jamie Quinn, and a Filipino light-welterweight tank called Irvin Magno, to arrive at the Northside Gym in Clayton and put him through his paces.
“Nah, seriously though, Dave [Murray, Doyle’s trainer] has timed it all absolutely perfectly. I’m only just now getting fed up of training and sparring and I’ve only got two hard days left. It’s been hard but I’m honestly in the shape of my life.
“It’s been a long, long, long camp. If I’d left it another week or so my body would have started tiring and you start to lose enthusiasm for it, even though it’s such a big fight. I’m in the best shape ever and I’m ready to go. It’s been eight solid weeks and I’ve been pretty much flat out all the time.
“I’m a scaffolder so I’ve been training around work. It’s not easy doing it before and after a full-time job but it’s gotta be done. Terry [Flanagan, the WBO lightweight champion] used to be a scaffolder too. We were having a laugh about it the other day. It’s good having a laugh with the lads on site but it can be hard work.”
Doyle trains hard to get himself down to the featherweight limit, but during this camp he has had a little extra fire to push him through the short, sharp early morning sprints and long, uphill weekend slogs towards Dovestones Reservoir.
Just under two years ago, Doyle was due to face Liverpool’s John Quigley for the same English 9st title he will contest this weekend. Four days before the fight, the Liverpudlian suffered an injury during sparring. The title was taken off the line and Quigley was replaced by a certain Ian Bailey.
After a strong start, things went badly wrong for Doyle. I was ringside at the Liverpool Olympia and from the midway point, the fight degenerated into one of the most gruelling battles I have witnessed at close quarters. The vastly underrated Bailey eventually triumphed courtesy of a final round stoppage.
This weekend, Doyle has the opportunity to finally have the English title strapped around his waist and make up for almost two years of lost time. Those would be lovely bonuses, though. For two months, Doyle has been fixated on evening the score with Bailey.
“I was winning the fight comfortably up until the fifth round,” Doyle remembers. “Then, I broke my hand, perforated my eardrum and cut my eye, all in that fifth round. I’ve said it to you before, I’ve no idea how I made it to round 10 with the way I was feeling. I’ve rebuilt since then and I’m stronger and bigger. I felt like I was swaying on a boat [due to the perforated ear drum]. It went again during the fight with Isaac Lowe [a split draw for the Commonwealth title in November 2015]. You can hear the wind whistling through your ear and you feel off balance. I knew how to handle it then, though.
“Do you know what? If I’m dead honest with you I just think about fighting Ian Bailey. At the end of the day, he’s my bogeyman isn’t he? He took my undefeated record. Don’t get me wrong, records are for DJs and a loss isn’t the end of your career, but he took my unbeaten record and he took my fire. I don’t really think about the English title, I just think of fighting Bailey and getting revenge.
“It damaged me a bit. Mentally it broke me down. It wasn’t the fact that I never thought I’d be beaten; it was just a shock. Before Bailey beat me I hadn’t been beaten for something like seven years. It was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. It was a reality check. It showed me that I’m not unbeatable. I’m not the best thing since sliced bread. I’ve still got loads to work on.
“The bell is gonna go, and he’s gonna walk straight over to me and go to war with me. I’m gonna do a little bit of everything but at some point in the fight I’m gonna have to stand toe to toe with Bailey. Obviously, I’ll go on the back foot a little bit and try to box him but I’ll have to do a little bit of everything to win this fight.”
With so many up and coming boxers being fed a long string of over matched opponents until they can be manoeuvred into a title shot, a casual observer could be forgiven for looking through Doyle’s record and marking him down as just another fighter who had things all his own way on his way up, but was found wanting when things got tough. Those people don’t know Doyle’s story.
As a young fighter, he spent time in the sweat shop gyms in South Africa before returning to Manchester and joining another hard school at the famous Champs Camp in Moss Side. Doyle is a resilient, no-nonsense fighter who has experienced more than most during his four -year career. His initial defeat to Bailey led him inadvertently to Murray and the pair have hit upon a winning strategy. Get past Bailey and he would be ideally placed to really kick on.
“If I beat Bailey. If,” Doyle cuts in. “I’ve had a couple of people tell me that I’m next up for [British featherweight champion] Ryan Walsh after this fight, but I can’t even think about that yet. I don’t wanna think about it. I’ve just gotta get this win. I need it.
“Everybody knows I’m massive for a featherweight. I probably grew out of the weight two or three fights ago. I’ve only stayed in the weight division because I’m highly rated at featherweight. I am looking to move up but, for a Walsh fight or another big chance, I’d obviously stay at featherweight.
“My careers been up and down. Even back in my amateur days I had hard fights, but my pro career especially has been up and down. I’ve done absolutely everything. I’ve broke my hand, I’ve been cut and I’ve been down in fights. I’ve been down on points and come back to knock the kid out. I’ve had early stoppages and late stoppages. I’ve been a floater. I’ve done absolutely everything in boxing. Going into this fight, I think I’m battle hardened now. I’m a lot more mentally and physically prepared.”
Ricky Hatton wanders into the gym as the evening class of amateurs and keep fitters go about their work, and casts his eye over the action as Doyle trades with Magno and chases down Quinn. As soon as the final bell sounds, Doyle jumps out of the ring and straight onto a set of scales to check his weight and satisfy a waiting BBBoC official. A couple of slight deviations from the familiar grind that Doyle has faced over the past two months.
Should Doyle get past Bailey on Saturday night, every single second of that grind will have been worth it.
Doyle v Bailey headlines a night of action promoted by VIP Promotions at Manchester’s Victoria Warehouse. For live coverage, tune in to www.VIPboxing.tv