Failure isn't an option: Nick Webb interview
Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Heavyweight Nick Webb has had a tough year, but tells Garry White he is determined to bounce back, starting with victory in Friday night's Utimate Boxxer tournament...
Jonathan Rendall in his much admired book ‘This Bloody Mary Is the Last Thing I Own’ wrote of “riding the blue curve” - that unstoppable wave where success follows success and if life were a game of blackjack, every hand would reveal an ace and a ten. The magic time where all of our shots hit the back of the net and every move is the right one. A period of invincibility that whilst it’s being lived encourages an impossible belief in its permanence.
For Rendall, it occurred on the coattails of Colin McMillan, with the wave reaching its zenith when ‘Sweet-C’ claimed the WBO featherweight title. It was inevitably destined to end at some point, but it came crashing down in the cruellest way possible when McMillan dislocated his shoulder in his first defence. The title went west at just the point where McMillan was hitting the big-time and was a solitary step away from the serious money.
Sport is cruel. Life is cruel, and boxing with its unforgiving laissez-faire economics is perhaps the cruellest sport of all.
Until July last year Surrey heavyweight Nick Webb was riding his own blue curve. Maybe not a McMillan-esque freewheeling arc, but something of note at least. Unbeaten with 12 wins and ten knockouts on his record, he was beginning to establish himself on the big Matchroom cards.
An injury whilst completing his roadwork then resulted in a dislocated clavicle and torn shoulder ligaments. But with the future seemingly there for the taking, Webb rushed his way back into a British title eliminator and got levelled in four rounds by David Allen.
In the space of less than 15 minutes he’d gone from being on the verge of fighting for a Lonsdale belt, to absolutely nowhere. The curve had mocked his confidence, flat lined him and placed his once burgeoning career on life support.
Webb’s stock declined still further when he lost again five months later to the granite tough journeyman Kamil Sokolowski. The sponsors that had sought to cling onto the ‘curve’ with him and profit from its azure sheen, could not jump for the lifeboats quickly enough, once the waters around Webb became choppy.
The 32-year-old has had a year now to come to terms with finding himself in a career cul-de-sac. His voice is warm and amiable but there is still a certain rawness lurking underneath.
In a break from training he confides to Boxing Monthly that, “Boxing is probably the hardest sport out there, because you are not allowed to lose. It’s a total joke really, because how are you supposed to learn?
“In any other sport you can lose one week and then win another week and it’s alright. So long as you are mostly winning then you are doing good. But boxing doesn’t allow that.”
It’s a fair comment - back in the good/bad old days a fighter like Tony Zale could amass a mediocre record of 19-10-1 from his first 30 fights, and still become a two-time world champion. It is despairing to think that if ‘The Man of Steel’ was transported to the modern game that he would by now have probably been sent slinking back to the noise, sweat and despair of an Indiana steel mill. Any notion of one-day becoming an all-time great being liberally scoffed at by managers, promoters and Twitter warriors alike.
If Webb’s descent was rapid, then he reveals that the path back up has been ever tougher. “After the Allen fight I came back against Dorian Darch,” he recalls. “I wasn’t mentally ready to come back but I got pushed into it and got an easy win.
“And then against Sokolowski, I didn’t want to be there either. In the week leading up to the fight, I was like: ‘I don’t wanna fight.’ Things were just not right with me.
“When you are losing, you are left thinking: 'Bloody hell! Now I’m in no-man’s land.'"
A year has now elapsed since that York Hall defeat and Webb has continued to be absent from the ring. “I’ve tried to get back out there, but I’ve had shows cancelled. I’ve been trying to get opponents as well, but it’s been costing too much. Moneywise it’s been hard to come back from. I’ve lost sponsors and it’s all a lot harder now, but I don’t want to go down the journeyman route.”
Participation in Ultimate Boxxer 6 has thrown the Chertsey man a much needed lifeline. Its heavyweight edition this Friday night promises to be its hardest hitting instalment yet, as eight of the sport's big men battle it out over its three rounds format for the Golden Robe, and the largest share of the price pot.
For Webb it’s a chance to be featured live on BT Sport and to reignite his career. “It will help me push my name back up there,” he says matter-of-factly.
Drawn to face Chris Healey in the quarter-final – an opponent he has previously stopped in three rounds back in 2017- Webb is in confident mood that he can get the best out of the tournament's short format. “It’s like going back to the amateurs and how I used to box there. It’s very similar to that,” he reveals.
“I had a good amateur career. I was an ABA finalist – I should have won it to be honest - and I won the novices and stuff like that. When you look at my fights, I’ve had 11 KOs and most of them have been inside the first three rounds. My preparation has been great. Everything just needs to be shorter and more fast-paced. The format will definitely suit me.”
When the eight combatants sat in a line on the ground floor stage at the BT Tower recently for the customary press conference, they had the look of a battered and not very good Westlife tribute act. Fortunately, nobody burst into song, but you got the feeling that extrovert Scot Jay McFarlane – equipped in Minions goggles and holding a pink teddy bear - would have been happy to do so. Just 22 but with four defeats already inside his first 14 bouts, he needs this opportunity as much as Webb.
Beside him sat the intimidating presence of Sokolowski. The Devon based Pole is 33, but carryies a face that looks like it has been through a century of wars. Wheeled out as a journeyman, he won just two of his first 11 fights before he started banging out prospects like Webb, Alex Dickenson and Naylor Ball.
His loss column includes full distance defeats against the likes of David Price, Lucas Browne, Nathan Gorman, Martin Bakole and a three-round exit to Dillian Whyte. With a record of eight wins from 25 fights he should be the tournament's trial horse but you sense that everyone is aware of the quiet man’s obvious danger.
But for Webb it is a fight that he is desperate to have. The format of the draw has ensured that they could only possibly face each other in the final, and this perhaps provides an additional scintilla of incentive come fight night. “I want to right that wrong,” says Webb of a potential match-up with his Polish nemesis.
“I want to avenge my defeats one at a time. Obviously I need to get past Chris Healey first, but I would love that fight later. I want that revenge. I was beating him last time and then he caught me. That’s boxing. It happens!”
Most of the fighters stepping out in Manchester this Friday are looking to bring renewed life to an ailing career or provide impetus to one that has never really got started. The obvious exceptions are former soldier Mark ‘Bad News’ Bennett, who has quietly chalked up five victories in and around Nottingham and has seen off Sokolowski and Healey already in the past 13 months. The other is Jonathan Palata, who commenced his career following a prison sentence and has since recorded seven straight wins inside 18 months
Touted as the pre-tournament favourite, many consider him the one to beat. Signed with Frank Warren he is currently riding his own blue curve. BM suggests to Webb that there are parallels to where he was 18 months ago - prior to the Allen fight - and the 32-year-old doesn’t disagree.
Webb recalls that they have met before: “Last year in sparring. I know what he’s about. I know sparring’s not fighting, but I’m confident if we meet [as expected] in the semis.”
Whatever, comes his way in Manchester, Webb is determined to face it head-on, whilst skilfully adapting his game plan. He is confident that he has undertaken all necessary preparation and has adequately analysed and learned from those earlier destabilising defeats.
“I’ve really worked on addressing my weaknesses and have improved my strengths. I think these last 12 months have been beneficial for me boxing-wise,” he says, drawing positives from those difficult experiences.
“You know, I’ve been out sparring some great people like David Price and I’ve tightened up my defence. I’m a lot better defensively now. Before I was all-out offense. My shoulder injury took a while to get better and for me to properly get my style back. But now I’m ready and I’m able to fully incorporate defence with offense.”
A training regimen that has involved long-term trainer and former British champion and WBO heavyweight title contender Scott Welch in Hove, has also sought additional input from the experienced Guildford-based John Edwards. A balance that Webb feels “will get the winning formula back”.
And of winning Ultimate Boxxer 6 and leaving with the Golden Robe, he says: “That would mean a lot. It would show everyone that I’m here and I’m back.”
You get the feeling with Webb that failure isn’t really an option.