Quigg masters university of the gym
Bury’s Scott Quigg lives and breathes the 'hard work, dedication' mantra that has become an oft-quoted phrase in modern-day boxing. Indeed, this mindset has not just brought him to the top of his chosen profession, it also led the WBA super-bantamweight titlist into the sport after it became clear that school wasn’t working out for him.
“The final straw was when I thought: ‘Right, I’ll give this a go’ and worked hard,” said Quigg (30-0-2, 22 early), when telling Boxing Monthly why he left school at the tender age of 13.
“It was mock exam time and my favourite subject was maths. I did all my homework and concentrated then did the test. I thought: ‘I’ve got it here, I’ve done well’ then got the test sheet back, red crosses on every question.
“I screwed it up, whizzed it away, and thought: ‘I’ve given it my best go’ - I just wasn’t taking it in. I told my mum and dad I wanted to make it as a boxer or footballer and the more time I had to train the more of a chance I had.”
His parents persuaded the school to expel him, leaving Quigg free to concentrate on sport. “I thought I was going to be a footballer,” he recalled. “I was good, the talk of the league, and had trials with Barnsley, Bury, Manchester City and was at Burnley when I was 15.
“I was there for a season then they released me because they said I was too small, getting pushed off the ball too easily at a time when you’d get a 16-year-old who was 6’ and the clubs wanted big players.
“I’d been doing Muay Thai to build myself up. I liked boxing - I was interested in it before - but went to a Thai gym to help me get stronger. When I stopped football, I got the chance to have some amateur boxing fights. I won them and never looked back.
“This suits me more than football because, although I’ve got my trainer and support team, when you’re in the ring you’re on your own - I’m one of those people who doesn’t need anyone around me.
“It’s a very lonely life because it’s all I’ve known since the age of 13 - it’s all I’ve ever done. I never went out with mates and did all that type of stuff so I don’t know what I’m missing, if anything.
“I’ve got mates, but I’ve not got friends because if I did have them I’d let them down. If I need to do my training that’s all that matters to me. Some people think I don’t have a life, but my response is that I wake up every day doing something that I love and want to do. Not many people can say that. I don’t do it for money - will money get me out of bed?
“There’s nothing more enjoyable than being in that ring and having your hand raised at the end of a fight. No life experience can ever beat walking out in front of 20,000 people at the MEN [when he beat Diego Costa Silva by second-round TKO on the undercard of Carl Froch versus George Groves in November 2013]. I looked out and thought: ‘Wow’ - nothing can compete.”
Quigg made his debut on a Wally Dixon-promoted dinner show at Manchester’s Piccadilly Hotel. He hooked up with Hatton Promotions in 2009. The young boxer did not fight in an arena until he had 18 contests under his belt and had been a pro for three-years (WTKO9 over Gavin Reid in 2010).
Fighters who have modest amateur careers do not get the red carpet treatment. Quigg, though, wouldn’t have had it any other way. He said: “Don’t get me wrong, the ones who start at the top-level deserve it because of what they did as amateurs, so credit to them.
“The way I started and was taught, seeing it from the bottom as a I came through, worked for me as I could work my way up - that was the best way. If I was with a big promoter straightaway, I don’t think I’d be where I am today. It kept me grounded.
“I can look back to where I started and where I am now, I don’t want to be back there. I turned pro at the Piccadilly Hotel, as it was called then, so to look at where I am now makes it sweeter for me.”
In the early days, Brian Hughes MBE handled Quigg’s career. The veteran trainer taught Quigg the ropes and gave him life advice. Hughes retired in 2011, so Quigg joined Joe Gallagher’s thriving stable; he told me that Hughes and Gallagher have both been big influences.
“I wouldn’t be sat here in this position without Brian. I wouldn’t change anything from the start of my career. He taught me. He built the foundations. You could have a nice looking house, but if the foundations aren’t good it won’t last long. He taught me the art of boxing, when and when not to throw.
“When Joe says something to me now, I can take it in and absorb it because I was taught that from the start. To practice in the gym then take it from the gym to a fight, which isn’t easy - it takes time. You have to know the method that works for you. Brian guided me to that method. I was devastated when he retired.”
Despite his recent success, the 26-year-old has avoided the Manchester party scene. He told me that one night out could lead to many more and become a distraction.
“When you’re doing well, a lot of people want to be your friend,” he said. “They invite you to parties, the best clubs and all that, but then you see people who are retired who are not invited to those clubs anymore. You’re not needed.
“I will never drink. I made a promise to my mum and dad to make something of myself. They made it possible for me to do that. I can go out for a six-mile run, come back dripping in sweat and see the look of pride in what I’m doing from my mum and dad - that’s what drives me on.
“People might enjoy a night out, it might be fun for them, so if you’re invited to the best clubs with celebrities you’re not going to turn that down. All I want to do is make sure I win fights. If I’m out in a club, I’m not practicing or in the gym. By working hard, I can be a better fighter than I would be if I was stood in a club pretending to enjoy myself with a load of people.
“People try to mix the parties and boxing at the same time because you know you don’t get it all once you’ve finished. You don’t get the free things, the invitations - I think that what makes a lot of fighters turn to temptation and allow it to get hold of them."
Quigg was relentless once he hit the title trail, picking up the British belt and then the interim WBA title, which became the full title in 2013. Five defences later, Quigg believes he is closing in on Guillermo Rigondeaux, the division’s consensus number one. However, he has called for a domestic showdown with Ireland’s Carl Frampton to gain some more big fight experience.
“Carl wants the fight, he believes he can beat me and I believe I can beat him,” he said. “They’re the fights you want to be in. People want to see it. It’s frustrating. Every demand they’ve made has been met. He wants a 60-40 split, but he doesn’t deserve that - the winner deserves it. They can have the co-promotion, anything they want, but if they’re so confident why not go 60-40 for the winner? I’m happy with that.”
Frampton’s team have argued that the Irishman's media profile and popularity is what makes the fight compelling, turning down a guarantee of £1.5 million and stressing that they would earn more on PPV if they took a percentage whilst also maintaining that it could take place on ITV if the money became available.
For all the talk of 60-40 and the 16,000 fans that Frampton packed into Belfast's Titanic Quarter when winning the title, Quigg believes the single most important equation is that they need each other to progress.
“He’s selling 16,000 in Ireland, put this on at the MEN [Manchester Arena] and see how many it sells then. It’s got to Carl’s head - if you’re that good then fight me. We ain’t selling 20,000 without each other. Carl says he brings the fans. The fight brings the fans and will bring in people who might not have seen me or him - that’s what they’ve got to remember.
“It’s not often you get a rivalry like this. Look at Joe Calzaghe, he didn’t have this during his time, we have each other and it can be massive. We’re both at the top, which is why it is so big. Even the Americans want it.
“It seems like [Frampton's manager] Barry [McGuigan] makes all the decisions, Frampton has to do what he’s told. It’s all about having an input. If I want a fight, I say I want it and we know where we’re going.
“[Quigg's promoter] Eddie [Hearn] would let me fight on ITV because I wouldn’t let him stop me - that’s the difference. Look at [Floyd] Mayweather and [Manny] Pacquiao, HBO and Showtime worked together for that. I want to fight. The money’s just a bonus. I remain hopeful the fight will happen. If Mayweather and Manny can come together then there’s no reason why a kid from Bury and a kid from Ireland can’t make it happen.”
Quigg was so keen to nail the bout down, he went over to Ireland for Frampton’s fifth-round TKO win over Chris Avalos in February.
“I went out on my own money with my team. I wanted to see him fight in the flesh, as it’s different than seeing him on TV. I wanted to see the atmosphere. It made me wish I was Avalos that night because I’d have thrived on it.
“I wasn’t worried about it being hostile (at ringside) because the Irish fans are real boxing people, they respect boxing and how tough it is. I got respect when I was over there. We took photos and they were nice as pie. I didn’t get any hassle over there. The Irish fans wished me all the best, but said they obviously support Carl.”
He added: “After going out there, I thought the fight would get made. Carl said he wanted it and was respectful. Barry got a bit carried away, but you’re on live TV so I didn’t want to react.”
The back-and-forth saga has played across social media outlets. One or two fans have taken things too far, personally abusing Quigg and pelting him with insults for his shyness in front of the camera.
“When people take it the extreme it just makes me laugh, I must be doing something right,” he said.
“Anyone who gets in that ring isn’t a coward. There’s people on Twitter whose Tweets I laugh at. You just take it with a pinch of salt. I look at them before I go running or the gym and it just fuels you.
“I woke up this morning and someone was Tweeting me abuse at 10 past eight, so they must have woke up thinking about me. That makes me think: ‘How sad must your life be to wake up and give me grief?’ You expect it during the day, not when someone’s just got up.”
If he were to fight and beat Frampton, Quigg would have to deal with Guillermo Rigondeaux, who sits atop the 122lb division. It is a fight few believe he can win yet Quigg has already faced off against the Cuban sensation during one of his self-financed trips to the Wildcard Gym in LA.
“I was down to spar some Russian, he was fighting a Mexican, who he knocked spark out after the Mexican roughed him up,” said Quigg. “[Freddie] Roach looked me up and down and said: ‘Get in’ - I finished the last few rounds with him.
“Straight away, he tried to step on my foot and nail me with a backhand, which I’d been warned about. It was a bit of a nullifying spar, but it was a great experience. He’d use his knee inside to knock my knee and open me up. I used those tricks on other people the next time I sparred.”
In both life and boxing, Quigg’s always willing to listen and learn. In a sport defined by bombast and arrogance - repeatedly and loudly telling people how good you are is the order of the day - they are not bad traits to possess.
Coda: Hard work, dedication and media education
“Training is all I’ve known,” stated Quigg when speaking to BM about dedication to his craft. “When I was playing football, my dad would have me on the field for two-hours every night. He’d drill the ball in, I’d have to control it and wouldn’t leave the field until my first-touch was perfect - that’s the way I’ve always been.”
When Mike Tyson fought Lennox Lewis, the former world heavyweight champion had an intense, vigorous training camp, probably his first full one in years, but Ian Darke pointed out that a single three-month camp cannot possible undo the many years of bad living. Tyson looked the part yet lacked the core stamina that you build up over the years, a mistake many fighters make.
“When I get to camp, the engine is already there so I’m working on fitness,” explained Quigg. “Some fighters get a big world title fight and, all of a sudden, they train harder. They’ll get a bit fitter and sharper, but it won’t make a massive difference when it comes to a 12-round fight because that stamina, that fitness, is what carries you through those late rounds.
“Anyone can get fit for six, seven rounds, but in the eighth round of a hard fight your stamina comes into it. Fitness keeps you sharp, once that goes you need that stamina to give you that boost. You can’t just think: ‘I’ve trained harder than ever for this one’ and expect to have that engine. It’s like if you practiced something for a single day, you won’t just pick it up and remember it weeks later, but if you have drills every day of your life it becomes something that you never forget.
Despite a public perception that’s been defined by his quiet demeanor, the WBA world title-holder has made some clever decisions and has complete autonomy over his career.
“Boxing’s a very ruthless sport,” he said. “People in boxing know that you have to look out for yourself all the time. Once you’re no good to a promoter, once you’re no good for TV that’s your sell-by-date and the next one comes along. No one does you any favours.
“Academically, I’m as dumb as a pistol, but I’m very clued up in boxing. I manage my own career. I make my own decisions after taking good advice. I absorbed a lot of stuff by listening to people, even if they might not be talking to me. I learn from other people’s mistakes. I’ve educated myself because I know that boxing’s a dirty, horrible business.”
Aware of the fact he needs to add a bit of finesse to his media persona, Quigg intends to approach the issue with the same fervor he brings to training despite the fact that the treadmill of endless, repetitive questions can be as fatiguing as a gym session.
“At this level, you have to do it. I know that to get to that next level I’ve got to speak to more people - I just cared about growing as a boxer, nothing else mattered. I live a very isolated life, only meeting people in the gym, so that obviously shows when I’m talking. I understand that I have to grow as a person, go out there more and that will help me as a boxer as well. It’s a learning thing.”
Most boxers are approachable, well-mannered people and Quigg is no exception. Indeed, the fact that he left school early, turned pro at 18, and spent a lot of time with Hughes and mature boxers goes a long way to explaining why he has an old head on young shoulders.
“My mum and dad always taught me to be well-mannered, but when you’re around someone the age Brian was then you see them treat people with respect and you treat people that way. The way you treat people is the way you want to be treated. Brian was a big part of that.
“I just want to box. I don’t care about being recognised. I know that to get to that next level I’ve got to speak to more people, go to more places and it’s part-and-parcel of learning how to grow as a person. I just cared about growing as a boxer. Nothing else mattered.
“I live a very isolated life, only meeting people in the gym, so that obviously shows when I’m talking. I understand that I have to grow as a person, go out there more and that will help me as a boxer as well. It’s a learning thing.”
To be fair to Quigg, fielding routine questions during the run-up to a fight must be a frustrating experience. “You get to the point where you’re not even thinking, you just press play because you’re asked and are saying the same thing over and over again,” he said.
“It doesn’t get boring, but you just want to fight. Look at Manny and Floyd. It’s the biggest fights there’s ever been and Floyd looked like he couldn’t be bothered doing the interviews - he just wanted to get to the fight.”
[Scott Quigg defends his WBA super-bantamweight title against Kiko Martinez at Manchester Arena on 18 July]