'I've been waiting for this day': Jack Massey interview
Photo: Dave Thompson/Getty Images
Ahead of his British cruiserweight title fight against Richard Riakporhe on Thursday night, Jack Massey speaks to Garry White...
For most fighters based in London or the southeast, undercard appearances and even bill-toppers at the York Hall are a familiar rite of passage. But for Jack Massey – six years in the pro game and with an unbeaten ledger of 16 wins - the closest he has come to the fabled home of small hall British boxing, is watching it on his television at home.
For the man from Chapel-en-le-frith in Derbyshire - a small picturesque town in the Peak District that is sometimes referred to as the ‘Capital of the Peak’ - London’s Bethnal Green is nearly 200 miles away, with a literal world of difference in between.
With a shot at the vacant British cruiserweight title awaiting him, the excitement of finally performing in east London's most famous pugilistic venue is amplified still further.
“It feels amazing. I’m on top of the world. I’ve been waiting for this day for such a long time,” an ebullient Massey tells Boxing Monthly in a break from training. “To be headlining the York Hall live on SKY is outstanding. I’ve always wanted to fight there. I’ve watched the boxing there loads on television, and have always wanted to go, but have never had a chance to even go and watch a fight there. To get an opportunity to actually fight there myself means a lot.”
Massey has no concerns about being the 'away' fighter on the night and facing up to Londoner, Richard Riakporhe, in his backyard. “It makes no difference to me,” he says. “I will be bringing a few supporters down. A Thursday night is a bit awkward, but there’ll be a few coming down. There’ll be treating it like a Christmas night out.”
For Massey, there is a palpable sense of relief at finally getting his chance to compete for a Lonsdale belt. His opportunity should have arrived back in July when he was signed to fight Lawrence Okolie for the coveted domestic prize before a torn bicep ended his participation. It was a deflating time for the 26-year-old, but one that his sunny disposition is determined to extract positives from. “It was frustrating,” he admits.
“All that hard-work going through training camp and then the injury happening so close to the fight. But it’s put some extra fire in my belly for this fight. You know, some things happen for a reason. This is probably a better fight for me than Okolie. It has the makings of a good fight.
“Whereas Okolie is renowned for being awkward [to fight], and when you are on your first big fight headlining a show on SKY, you want to show people what you are about, and that’s not being stuck in a wrestling match with Okolie!”
These injury troubles are now firmly in the past for the man nicknamed 'One Smack', who has knocked out exactly half of his opponents to date. He confirms that “everything is going to plan” in his current camp under the watchful guidance of trainer Robert Rimmer, who took on the coaching duties full-time three years ago from his father Bobby, and reveals that he feels “the fittest I’ve ever felt. My mind-set is the best it has ever been”.
But this hasn’t deterred the bookmakers from positioning his opponent at a nailed-on price of 1/10. Despite the almost insulting odds, Massey is sanguine about the oddsmakers' lack of confidence in his chances when he steps into the ring. “To be honest he was always gonna be.” he acknowledges when considering his opponent's short price.
“He’s been on SKY and all that stuff. He’s had more fights over longer distances as well. You can look at it that way, but it makes no difference to me. I’m experienced enough now and have the amateur background as well. It’s just time to go and get in there!”
Massey confirms that he fought 54 times in the amateur ranks and only “lost nine or ten”. He includes among his past opponents the likes of Hughie Fury, Joshua Buatsi and recently-crowned Commonwealth champion – and Riakporhe’s most recent victim - Chris Billam-Smith. Among multiple accolades, he can count himself as a national senior ABA champion and a Youth Commonwealth Games bronze medallist.
For Massey, the decision to turn pro came at the tender age of 20, following an unsuccessful trial for the Great Britain squad. Disenchanted with his apparent lack of prospects he went to meet Stalybridge based trainer Bobby Rimmer and signed a professional contract with Steve Wood [he is now managed by Kevin Maree]. The timing proved serendipitous as Massey now recalls; “The same day I signed I got a letter through the door inviting me for further GB trials.”
But there is not even the merest hint of regret at a missed opportunity as he confirms: “My mind was made up anyway. Going pro was a bit more exciting. I knew that it was what I really wanted to do.”
However, despite his unbeaten record formed over six years – including undercard appearances at Manchester Arena and Elland Road - a solitary WBC Youth Silver title (won in 2015) feels like a poor return on his obvious potential. He admits that the usual developmental opportunities for Area or English titles just haven’t manifested themselves.
Yet he remains philosophical: “We’ve had a few ups and downs. It’s been a tough journey, to be honest, and it’s been a bit slow with injuries and other setbacks.” acknowledges Massey.
But he cannot resist letting his own brand of appealing positivity come bounding through. “You’ve got to think that everything happens for a reason. It just takes a bit more time sometimes. I just think of it as giving me more time to prepare. It’s given me good experience.
"You know, six years provides very good experience of what to expect and what to do in the gym training-wise. It’s given me that extra fire to go out and get it now.”
Massey is careful not to reveal any game plan for fight night but is unsurprisingly willing to disclose that “a knockout would be nice!” Amidst engaging laughter, Massey continues: “A nice early night would definitely be good.” But quickly quashes any images of a quiet return to his hotel. “I’ll be out in London after the fight,” he beams, with the obvious expectation that Lord Lonsdale’s famous belt will be introduced to the full range of London’s out-of-hours nightspots.
The Derbyshire man readily confirms that this is not the first time that he has come face-to-face with his upcoming opponent. He recollects having done four rounds of sparring with Riakporhe in the not too distant past, but his professional integrity prevents him from sharing any ‘closed doors’ details.
All BM can glean is that it was a “good spar” before Massey adds the tantalising follow-up of, “I’m definitely confident going in there!”
Should his confidence be successfully repaid at York Hall, Massey is determined to respect the belt and is committed to winning it outright. “To be honest, it’s one of the hardest belts to win and that’s why I think a lot of people chose to bypass it. You know, at a domestic level you can easily dodge around it and get easy fights for inter-continental belts and stuff.
“They might get you more money, but at the end of the day, some of these British title fights are the hardest ones out there; outside of world level. There is so much prestige in winning it outright.
“I would love to do that.”