Farrag on the rise
John A. MacDonald
Last year was a vintage one for British boxers fighting on foreign soil. Jamie McDonnell twice put his WBA ‘regular’ bantamweight title on the line against Tomoki Kameda in Texas, Tyson Fury dethroned Wladimir Klitschko in Germany - picking up a clutch of belts in the process - and James DeGale both won and defended his IBF super-middleweight strap in America and Canada, respectively.
Although nowhere near as heralded as those aforementioned, but almost as impressive, was Ryan Farrag’s victory over Stephane Jamoye to claim the vacant European 118lbs title in his opponent’s home town of Liege, Belgium, in October.
Farrag (15-1, 4 KOs) was seen as an underdog by the bookmakers. His rival – a two-weight world title challenger – was vastly more experienced and had faced some of the elite fighters in the world, such as Shinsuke Yamanaka and Leo Santa Cruz. Conversely, the Liverpudlian had never been scheduled for more than 10 rounds and had never gone beyond eight.
Despite these disadvantages, Farrag was never in doubt that within 48 hours he could arrive in the country, win, celebrate and be back in England. The perfect smash and grab.
“It was the best feeling ever. I planned to go over and stop him and I delivered on the night. It was a brilliant night,” Farrag told Boxing Monthly over the phone from his home in Liverpool. “I just wanted to get in, get the belt and get home! We just went back to the hotel. Everyone who came over, came back and they all had a good party. Then I was off to the airport at half four in the morning so I didn’t do much sleeping. It was a great night.”
There are horror stories of fighters travelling to other countries only to discover they’ve been put up in a hotel that makes Faulty Towers seem like a five star establishment, being kept awake until all hours due to excessive noise from other guests or construction work and being offered food that is barely fit for human consumption.
Farrag was wary of what to expect but was pleasantly surprised by the treatment he received with the language barrier being the only real inconvenience. Despite this being his first time fighting abroad, he was in his comfort zone throughout, something he accredits to the mental fortitude instilled in him by coaching duo – brothers – Paul and Mick Stevenson.
“There was none of that [underhand tactics]. Jamoye himself, he’s a gentleman,” Farrag said of his treatment. “They all treated us good over there. I messaged Jamoye after the fight and said: ‘Thank you.’ Because I half expected some of those things. I know what the English boxers are like when the lads come over! Credit to Jamoye, he’s a gentleman.
“Things like travelling and that, doesn’t seem to faze any of our lads [in the gym]. The way Paul and Mick train us – we couldn’t ask for better coaches. From and early age, they drill that toughness into you. I think that’s why it didn’t really faze me. We are going there to fight one man, it doesn’t matter what country you are in - it’s one man in one ring. It’s just the same scenario wherever you go.”
A 7pm weigh-in – later than he’s accustomed to – was the closest he came to any skulduggery from his rival’s camp. It didn’t appear to have any detrimental effect on the 28-year-old as he executed the tactics that his coaches had formulated for him, to the letter.
Despite having only amassed two stoppage victories in his previous 14 contests, Farrag had promised he was not only going to beat Jamoye but to stop him. This may simply have been put down as pre-fight hype, after all he wouldn’t have been the first boxer to make such claims only to go on to box a tactical bout. However, this wasn’t to be the case as due to concerns of finding himself on the wrong end of a ‘hometown decision’ - he was actively pursuing the knockout and, after the opening three minutes, he was adamant it was a question of when rather than if it would come.
“From the first round, I could sense he wasn’t going to be there in 12th,” he recalled. “I was able to land me shots and I knew he could only take so much of that. I couldn’t really miss with the right hand. I knew that Jamoye was the type of fighter who would come forward and commit to his jab. That’s what I wanted, I was always going to counter with the right hand and I was able to land it all night so it was great.
“I didn’t get to see the fight before but I believe that Jamoye’s brother [Steve] won a fight he shouldn’t have won [a majority decision over Lukasz Janik]. The judges gave it to him when they shouldn’t have, that just shows! I didn’t want to leave it as a close fight.”
The Englishman always seemed in control even when Jamoye intensified his work rate in the middle rounds. Farrag remained calm under pressure and was able to drop his opponent in the seventh and again the ninth, obliging referee Andre Pasquier to stop the contest.
“When Jamoye did up the pace, I knew, I could sense it was out of desperation and there wasn’t much in his shots,” he proclaimed. “I knew he wouldn’t have been able to keep that up anyway. I felt comfortable in there under attack. I didn’t feel like I was taking any big shots. I was able to counter him when he finished so I didn’t mind.
“A week or two weeks before I was chatting to me coach Mick and we were talking about how the fight would go and I said I thought I’d have him out of there in six [rounds]. It took me three extra rounds but [with] the gameplan we had, I was able to execute it to a tee on the night. The coaches were happy with how everything went. Everything we planned came to light on the night. It was probably the best night of me life.”
Farrag now possesses a quiet, understated confidence which is in stark contrast to the self-conscious 15-year-old who followed a friend into the Everton Red Triangle Gym over a decade ago. The attraction of boxing was instantaneous, Farrag knew he had found his calling.
The bonds formed with his coaches and gym-mates, such as Kevin Satchell, have stood the test of time and brought the best out in Farrag and kept him loyal to boxing even when faced with temptation during his teenage years.
“One of me mates went to the gym. I was quiet as a kid, I wouldn’t have took myself to the gym on me own but one of me mates started going so I went along with him and I just fell in love. I always wanted to do some sort of fighting and it turned out to be boxing. I’ve never looked back.
“As soon as I started boxing that was it, I felt at home in the gym and that’s where I was always going to be. Growing up, your mates are doing this and that and you are thinking: ‘What the fuck am I doing?’ At the end of the day the world title [ambition] keeps you in it. You think of the world title and you remember you’ve got to keep focused.
“It’s like me second family,” he said of the ERT club. “They are like family, I’ve grown up around them all and stuff like that. Even the others lads that have came – like Jazza [Dickens] – we’ve still grown up in the same area. It’s just like a big family in there. Paul and Mick are like family to me. Having someone have confidence in you, gives you confidence.”
This close-knit support network was vital during a challenging 2015 which saw him inactive for 10 months until his European triumph. Promoter Frank Warren had initially won the purse bid to host the contest between Farrag and Jamoye but when the Scouser parted company with his manager - Neil Marsh - the fight was put back out to purse bids.
Although a plasterer to trade, Farrag doesn’t work thus allowing him to dedicate himself to boxing. This meant that he found himself in a far-from-ideal financial situation and, even though he didn’t receive riches for winning the European title, the prestige of the belt and the opportunities it could bring far surpassed the earnings it brought him.
“It’s been tough but there’s light at the end of the tunnel so you just stay focused,” Farrag confessed. “As long as you’ve got good people ‘round you, it’s all good. See that fight, that fight I’ve just had there in Belgium, it went back to purse bids. I split from me manager so I didn’t have a clue it went back to purse bids. The Belgians were the only ones that bid and they bid €10,000. I ended up with about three grand for that fight.
“The belt is worth more to me than money and obviously where that belt is going to place me is worth more. That’s what you are looking at and that’s the first fight I’d had all year. I’m lucky to have good people ‘round me to help me out. I’ll be at the top soon and I won’t be worrying about stuff like that!”
The bantamweight division has been one of the most successful weight classes for British fighters in recent years. Jamie McDonnell has his WBA strap, both Stuart Hall and Paul Butler have held the IBF version – with the former scheduled to fight in a final eliminator against Rodrigo Guerrero to become mandatory challenger once more on 16 April.
The IBF title is currently in the possession of Bristol’s Lee Haskins after he was upgraded from interim champion status when Randy Caballero weighed-in at 5½ lbs over the divisional limit of 118lbs.
Now Farrag is desperate to prove himself against any of the best at the weight but finds a clash with Haskins particularly appealing. Haskins gave the Liverpudlian the only loss of his professional career when they met in the semi-final of Prizefighter: The Super Flyweights in 2010. Haskins had previously won English, Commonwealth and British titles whereas Farrag entered the tournament as a four-fight novice. Despite there still being a discrepancy in experience between the two, Farrag feels it has lessened and is determined to avenge his sole defeat.
“I’ll fight anyone,” he proclaimed. “The lads above me in the British rankings are: Hall, Haskins and McDonnell. Haskins and McDonnell both have world titles so either of them will do me. Anyone with a title.
“Randy Caballero missing that weight, I couldn’t believe it. Lee made the weight, he trained for the fight so why shouldn’t he be handed the belt. I’m sure that’s a fight people want to see [Haskins vs Farrag]. It’s the fight I want. If they want it, I don’t know. We’ll just have to wait and see.
“Make the fights people want to see. What other fight is he going to take? A fight against me is a good fight for him. The others lads he’d be fighting are already at world level and much more experienced than me. It seems a smart thing to do, in my opinion. I’ve come a long way since I boxed him so whether he fancies it or not I wouldn’t know. I want to be fighting good lads. If you put someone who I know is a good fighter in front of me I always feel like I can rise to the occasion.”