Home Boy: Anthony Cacace interview

Andrew Harrison
13/07/2017 1:20pm

On Saturday, Anthony Cacace faces Martin Ward for the British and Commonwealth super featherweight titles on the undercard of Chris Eubank Jr's clash with Arthur Abraham. Earlier this year, the talented Cacace spoke to Boxing Monthly's Andrew Harrison about how homesickness brought him back home and how he’s finally found happiness in his boxing...

House music booms at Brian Magee’s gym in west Belfast, a 10-minute drive from the city centre, and Anthony Cacace — thick brown beard, sky-blue vest and shorts — chats freely while finishing a treadmill session. If there’s truth in the boxing adage about a happy fighter being a dangerous fighter, then the gifted Ulsterman, close to home and with a new team around him, should have his rivals in the super featherweight division on red alert.

Cacace, 15-0 (7 KOs), lives in Andersonstown, a working-class suburb a mere stone’s throw from here. 'Andytown', as the area is referred to locally, sits at the foot of the verdurous Black Mountain — one of the city’s most prominent features that hosts the enigmatic 'Hatchet Field' (so called because it is shaped like an old-fashioned axe). A fitting base for a boxer nicknamed 'The Apache', a moniker that ties in with the pronunciation of Cacace’s name — Cac-achee.

“I live just up the street,” Cacace says after a quick shower and change. “It’s so local. I can go over to the house and get my lunch and get straight into training again. And I also work here. I help out doing wee bits and pieces. It’s all good. I’m loving it.”

He hasn’t always. A natural boxer and outstanding junior amateur, Cacace — the son of a long-distance runner who bestowed upon him his tall, wiry frame — got lost in the pros. A myriad of management issues and wrong turns left him close to retiring. Now a mature but still-fresh 28, he sounds settled, motivated and ready to fulfil his potential.

Cacace’s manager Pat Magee, a canny, paternal figure — smart attire, rectangular glasses, snow-white hair — oversees introductions. Manager and fighter are targeting British champion Martin Joseph Ward but Cacace is unconvinced Ward will take the fight. 

“That’s what I want,” Cacace says. “It’d be great. I mean, I’ve been in the top 10 for four years now. It would be good to finally get the chance and hopefully stand up and show what I can do.”

Cacace is in mandatory position for a long-overdue shot at the winner of Ward’s title defence against old rival Maxi Hughes on the 25 March show in Manchester. “I think it’s going to be a tough fight, a 50-50 fight as before,” Cacace said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a walkover for Martin. [Ward won this fight by unanimous decision and now faces Cacace on Saturday night]

“I think [Ward’s] a lovely boxer. He’s quick. He’s a great boxer, but I believe that I’ve got all the tools to beat him, if not knock him out. I believe he’ll walk on to one. He’s not a big puncher.

“I believe Ward truly, deep down, doesn’t want to fight me. Why have [Ward’s team] not been pushing for it? Why have they not been getting on it now? I don’t know. No one seems to want to box me. I’m open to fighting anyone in the super featherweights.

“It’s really frustrating. What do you do? You can’t do anything but wait around and keep waiting, you know? It’s a nightmare. I wanna make a name for myself but…where do you go?”

In perhaps the biggest setback of his career, Cacace had to withdraw from being showcased on ITV on 21 January, due to a severe chest infection. “I got a bit sick and didn’t want to risk anything,” he said. “It was pretty bad — it was a bad couple of weeks in my household. I was raging. But I’ve bigger things on the horizon, hopefully.”

Boxing is ingrained in Belfast. Currently, it’s thriving. As a youngster, Cacace didn’t have to look far for a gym.

“Where I lived, right across the street from my mother’s house, was a boxing club [the Oliver Plunkett gym at South Link],” Cacace says. “All the kids used to come over for a night or two and they’d blow [leave], but I went over and I never left.

“I loved my old coach, Patsy McAllister. He’s still training now; he’s in his 80s and he’s still going strong. He was one of the main reasons I stuck to the boxing at that age. He brought something out of me I never knew I had.”

A decorated amateur, Cacace raced to 7-0 in the pros before he and fellow- Belfast talent Tyrone McKenna entered a management deal with an American former filmmaker, Tom Moran — who famously locked horns with Don King over his handling of Tim Witherspoon in the 1980s — and the pair relocated to Philadelphia in pursuit of the American dream.

“Oh, it was tough. Jesus, it was a tough eight months,” Cacace said. “You go into an average gym and all the boys, they’ve had one fight and yet they’d get in and spar six rounds with you and push the whole way. Just tough, tough men. It was great, but at the same time there was good and bad. I’d never been to Philadelphia. I’d never done that type of thing.”

Homesick, and after only one bout in seven months, Cacace took a return trip to Belfast to sign with Cyclone Promotions in 2014. Cacace quickly earned rave reviews from CEO Barry McGuigan — praise that Cacace admits he finds flattering to this day.

“Of course it is, because Carl Frampton’s in that gym,” he says. “You’ve got Josh Taylor — an extremely talented fighter. Training around Frampton was amazing. I picked up so much just watching. And sparring. That’s the sort of experience you’ll never get again in your life. They’re a quality team and they’re doing right by their fighters.”

However, the home-loving Cacace found it a strain working with trainer Shane McGuigan in London. (“When you’re away from home and you’re away from your girlfriend and your kids, it’s depressing like.”) Despite Cacace winning five bouts in just over a year — including an impressive Celtic title victory over Ronnie Clark — the fighter and Cyclone ended their association by mutual consent last May.

“Ronnie was just Ronnie — tricky and trying to get in your head,” Cacace said of the fight in Edinburgh that he won on a 10th-round KO. “And I thought [Clark’s tactics] worked with Ward towards the end. I thought Martin died a death after the seventh round. I thought Ronnie could have stopped him, only Ronnie wasn’t experienced enough. He had him hurt a couple of times but just couldn’t do it.

“For the first seven rounds, Ward outboxed Ronnie. I did the same, but I got the knockout in the end. I always knew, if I was to catch Ronnie clean, I was going to end him. And that was the only proper flush right hand I hit him with the whole fight.”

From beating Clark to resuming his career under Magee, however, Cacace had been dormant for 11 months. Unable to earn while contractual issues ran their course, he accepted manual work to get by. It was at this point that he contemplated quitting — torn between boxing and a need to provide.

“I wasn’t fit,” he says. “I was at the stage of just knocking boxing on the head. I’ve got a young family that I have to look after financially and boxing doesn’t help that way. Sometimes, I would feel like: ‘Time to give this up and go get a job and start looking after them properly.’ But it’s hard when you’ve been at it this long and you’ve got an addiction to boxing.

“It’s a toss-up. What do you do? I mean, do you go without money this week, or do you go get a job? Or do you go training and train harder and hope something comes up? It’s that type of predicament.

“There were a lot of people who wanted to help me. And now I’m fully focused and ready to crack on. I’m just so used to my surroundings and the people around me that are here. And they’re all amazing and supportive. It’s class. I love it. Andytown is perfect.”

Cacace — tall for a 130lbs fighter at 5ft 10ins and with the ability to switch stances — has returned to his roots and has been training under former interim WBA super middleweight champion Brian Magee (no relation to manager Pat). Working with the Magees is another box ticked for Cacace.

“It’s great,” he says, smiling. “I’ve watched some of [Brian’s] old fights back and it’s so surreal but yeah, it’s amazing. Obviously I’m working with a world champion and learning from him and learning things I haven’t done before. It’s all good.

“Pat’s amazing. He’s class. He’ll look after you well and make sure everything’s OK with myself and my family and that’s good. That’s what I want. It’s all about the kids [new-born son Cillian and eight-year-old daughter, Cadhla, meaning beautiful]. If it wasn’t about family, I might have left boxing a couple of years back and tried something else. But boxing can give me that life that I want.” And then he checks himself: “Maybe.”

Other fighters from the city are well on the way to that life and Cacace feels nothing but admiration.

“They’re all doing unbelievable and winning all sorts of titles,” he says. “Michael Conlan, he’s a pure example there. He’s unbelievable. What he’s going to do in this pro game — it’s going to be scary, I think.

“Frampton and Conlan are both out of this world. They’re both very, very talented, so I think they deserve to be where they are. What Michael’s done in the amateurs and what Frampton’s done in the pro game, I mean, Jesus Christ, it’s unreal. I’m happy for them. But I would just like to get there myself at one stage. Or at least fulfil my potential. At least.”

That could involve fights against the two leading British super featherweights, Liam Walsh and Stephen Smith. “Liam Walsh is a cracker [an excellent boxer],” he said. “There’s no doubt about that. Stephen Smith — I think I’d take him now, 100 per cent. Liam Walsh is a different story. It would be a really, really hard fight.

“[Smith] gets talked up to be everything and I watch him and he’s pretty ordinary. And I’m taller and stronger than him. I would take the fight next week.”

You get the impression that “take the fight next week” applies to any super featherweight in Europe. Cacace is just burning for a chance.

“I don’t want it to be the way it has been in the first four years of my career,” Cacace says. “I just want, now, to start getting some big names. Someone who wants a challenge. All these boxers say they want a challenge and yet they don’t, because when the fight’s offered to them they don’t want it. Whereas I wanna fight. I’d fight anyone.”