Prizefighter Tom Doran
John A. MacDonald
Love it or loathe it, Prizefighter is nothing if not unpredictable. In its eight-year run, the eight-man, one night, knockout tournament has provided the viewing public with a raft of surprises; from a reserve winning (Robert Lloyd-Taylor, light-middleweights 2011) to a 14-1 outsider (Jono Carroll, lightweight 2014) lifting the coveted trophy.
The nature of the format, designed to produce the unexpected, was perhaps the least significant obstacle facing Tom 'Dazzlin' Doran when he entered the 35th instalment of the event, this time at middleweight, in February at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool. The Welshman had only had one six-round contest in the past three years yet had the utmost confidence he would be victorious.
“I genuinely believed I was going to win,” Doran told Boxing Monthly over the phone from his home in Connah’s Quay, Wales. “People [had] seen a few interviews with Kugan Cassius [IFL TV] and things like that and they said: ‘You come across almost arrogant.’ And I was like: ‘I’m not arrogant.’ I just knew I was going to win it and I was just stating that.”
While his comments may sound brash, the 27-year-old is not a cocky individual. He possesses a calm, self-belief and backed up his remarks with tournament success. Victories over undefeated southpaw Craig Cunningham, tournament favourite Luke Keeler and former Prizefighter finalist Cello Renda saw Doran emerge as a potential force in the thriving British middleweight division.
Drawn in quarter-final four, which limits a fighter’s recovery time in between bouts and with a tough draw, the bookmakers had Doran at odds of 7/1. Rather than being hampered by adverse circumstances, he believes they worked in his favour.
“It was perfect,” he said. “It ticked all the boxes; beating the awkward southpaw, then the tournament favourite and the big puncher in the final – the danger man.
“The way I trained for it; I was doing three rounds and taking – literally – five minutes [rest] and straight back in with a new opponent for three rounds. I’m fit enough to do that. I think if I’d stayed out any longer, I’d have cooled down and it may have been a bit of a hindrance.”
His impressive performance was punctuated by a highlight-reel knockout of the valiant Renda. Before stopping his opponent, Doran had to first endure his worst round of the tournament in the opening stanza of the final as Renda outworked him. However, this was a tactical decision designed to negate some of his opponent’s noted punching power.
“It was partly to see what his power was like but also from his semi-final you could see he was exhausted so I knew if I could get him to put a big effort in to one round it would empty the tank and it did,” Doran revealed.
“He put everything in to the first round. Second round I came out, hit him with a few body shots and you could physically see the tank emptying and he was there for the finish in the final round. It was the best punch I’ve ever thrown, I think. Luckily I had quick feet to get out from under him because he was falling on to me.”
For Doran, 14-0, (4 KOs), Prizefighter success may be the first step towards fulfilling a talent that looked as if it may be wasted. Having amassed 10 consecutive victories in his first two years as a professional, he then went 14 months out of the ring as a final eliminator for the British light-middleweight title against Jez Wilson fell through on three occasions.
Then, in July 2012, Doran announced he would be taking a break from the sport for an indefinite period of time. He cited ‘work commitments’ as his reason, claiming he wanted to focus on his career as an aircraft electrician. The hiatus lasted another 22 months bringing his total time out of the ring to three years. However, he can now reveal that injury, inactivity and politics led to him becoming disillusioned with the sport.
“I fell out of love with the sport a little bit. I’ve been boxing since I was six, first fight at 10. I’d had like 14 years of fighting without really having a break,” Doran admitted.
“After I beat [Max] Maxwell in a British title eliminator I got a hand injury so I had to pull out of the next fight. Next thing, Maxwell is fighting for the British [title against Brian Rose in March 2012] before me. It was a little bit disheartening really, it was a kick in the teeth. I had another fight scheduled and I had another injury so I had to pull out of that one, too.”
His fight with Max Maxwell was both thrilling and controversial. Rather than stick to his trademark counter-punching, Doran opted to have a fire-fight with the Birmingham brawler which produced more action in one round that many fights do over a 12-round distance.
A wild overhand right from Maxwell saw Doran receive a standing eight-count. Rather than change tack, he opted to continue trading with his opponent. A second looping right hand stunned him once more. This time he recovered quickly, landing his own right hand which backed his rival against the ropes where he unloaded a barrage of shots obliging referee Howard Foster to stop the contest. Whilst he concedes he made many mistakes in the fight, he refutes claims that he was the beneficiary of bad refereeing.
“In the Maxwell fight, I came out and fought the wrong fight really,” he said. “I could have boxed the head off him, every round, no problem whatsoever but I came in - in Deeside Leisure Centre - in front of all my mates trying to impress. I stood toe-to-toe with him, took a big shot. I mean I wasn’t that hurt but I got given a standing count and I shouldn’t have really – there’s no standing count in pro boxing. If that hadn’t had happened I could have continued with the round, no problem at all. As soon as the punch had landed I was ready to go again. People say I was saved by a count but I don’t feel I was at all.
“I didn’t think it [the stoppage] was at all controversial. The way I saw it; he wasn’t able to defend himself, his hands were at his waist. Anyone who knows me, who’s seen me in the gym, seen me sparring or have seen any of my stoppage fights know that once I’ve hurt someone they are not getting off the hook. I was never going to stop throwing punches until he was on the floor. People say it was early, I don’t think it was. Would they be complaining if he was out cold a few seconds later and in a bit of a bad way in the ring?”
During his time out of the ring, Doran initially enjoyed the separation from boxing even trying his hand at Brazilian jujitsu. However, the lure of boxing is strong and before long he was yearning to return to the ring.
“I was always going to come back. I don’t think you ever get away from boxing, it has you for life,” confessed Doran. “For a short while, I did like being detached from boxing. Then you start to see friends that you have on Facebook doing well. Little things remind you of the sport. I don’t think you ever get away from it.
“I had two semi-professional contests. I wasn’t even really training for them and the opposition really weren’t even on the same level. That’s when I knew I had to be back where I was. That was the deciding factor.”
Having stayed in shape during his three-year sabbatical, Doran found it easy to adapt to the rigours of training once more despite a shift pattern that sees him work four 12-hour days followed by four days off. Last May, three years to the month since his last fight, he returned to the ring against Harry Matthews in a six-rounder. A monetary lapse saw him take a ferocious shot but lessons had been learnt from the Maxwell fight.
“To be fair, right up until the last round, I didn’t feel I’d been laid a glove on,” he said. “I switched off for a little bit and took a big right hand in the sixth round. It was a hurtful shot and it had rocked me but I had about me enough to know I’d won every round so I thought I’d take a count. I did that, recovered and came strong again after that. It was a bit of maturity that wouldn’t have been there before that three year break.”
As well as the added maturity, Doran feels his three years away from the sport have rejuvenated a career which would otherwise have slowly fizzled out.
“I see it as a positive. People say to me, ‘I bet you wish you never did that.’ I say: ‘No.’ I was at the stage where I’d fallen out of love with it. If I’d taken another couple of fights I’d probably have gone: ‘You know what, that’s it.’ And probably never have looked back at the sport.”