Piranha ready to bite: Ryan Garner interview

Danny Winterbottom
31/05/2017 4:45pm

There's more to Southampton's featherweight prospect Ryan Gardner than a menacing nickname...as he explains to Danny Winterbottom...

Boxing history shows us that a good nickname can go a long way to giving fight fans a glimpse into the character of a fighter and what they're about inside the squared circle.

'Ferocious' Fernando Vargas, Arturo 'Thunder' Gatti, Mark 'Too Sharp' Johnson and so on.

So Southampton's 19-year-old featherweight prodigy Ryan Garner chose well when he donned the name of South America's most feared omnivorous fresh water fish - 'The Piranha'.

“I actually came up with the name in a lift at the Copperbox Arena!” revealed the unbeaten 19-year-old former amateur star who was relaxing at home following a game of football when Boxing Monthly called.

“You need a good nickname, don't you?” reasoned Garner. “Me, Frank Hopkins [manager], Wayne [Batten, Garner's coach] and Joe Pigford had gone through a few like Ryan 'The Lion', 'Iron' Ryan, stuff like that be they were either taken already or didn't sound right and then suddenly the name 'Piranha' popped into my head.

"I thought it suited me because I have a bit of a bite in the ring and I like to nibble away at my opponents!” he joked

The baby-faced teenager could have chosen the 'Schoolboy' moniker made famous by the late, great featherweight and super featherweight world champion Bobby Chacon. In his street clothes he could easily be mistaken for a college student on his way to class to study for his A-Levels rather than dishing out his own lessons in a boxing ring.

However, looks can be deceiving as Garner has despatched four out of five victims so far inside the distance and shown a mean streak at odds with his appearance.

On his debut in June 2016 he stopped Ricky Leach in the fourth and final round at York Hall after having Leach on the canvas in the opening round, and he halted Aleksandrs Birkenbergs at the Harrow Leisure Centre in August. But it was Garner's dismantling of the tough and experienced Antonio Horvatic in two rounds in Southampton that caught the eye of ringside observers and hardcore fans, with Garner bettering the result of touted super-featherweight prospect Leon Woodstock.

Garner made it four stoppages in four outings before he travelled up north for the first time to take his place on the undercard to Josh Warrington's battle with Kiko Martinez in Leeds on 13 May where he was taken the distance for the first time by the hard as nails Nicaraguan Rafael Castillo despite his best efforts to finish him off.

“The fight against Castillo did me the world of good,” said Garner, who fights in the pocket and likes to let his hands go in combination. “In my other fights I had been blowing them away but Castillo was fighting back and I had to show a different side to my game and box more.

“He [Castillo] was very experienced with over 50 professional fights and very game. In the long run those kind of fights will help me to develop as a fighter because I had to think what I was doing in there and to pick my shots. I took a few shots back but that is part and parcel of my style. Again it is something I will be looking to improve in the gym and in future fights I will have to be cuter defensively and roll out of attacks with my hands up.

“It was an amazing experience to box on a big show,” he added. “That's one of the reasons why you turn pro. I've boxed at the York Hall and in Harrow and whilst they were on BoxNation and good exposure they were only small shows. I thrive on fighting in front of a big crowd, it gets me excited and hopefully there will be many more to come.”

Boxing has always been considered a young man's game and, at just 19 years of age, Garner has chosen to take the professional route at an early stage in his physical development from boy to man.

Yes, there are world champions not much older than the Southampton featherweight such as 21-year-old WBO light flyweight kingpin Kosei Tanaka and Floyd Mayweather's 22-year-old IBF super featherweight protege Gervonta Davis, however gaining as much experience as possible before committing to life in the cut-throat professional business is the more common approach, although every fighter is different.

“If I'm honest I started to lose motivation in the amateurs,” Garner explained. “I had been boxing for so long and I needed to change things up and the pro game has given me my hunger back because I'm surrounded by a whole new set of people that I need to impress.

"In the amateur game I had success at a young age and people knew who I was. I won three national titles, a GB gold, two European golds and I got to the quarter final of the World Junior Championships before losing to a Cuban [Alayn Boudet] on a split decision and he went on to win the gold medal.

“In the pro game I've got a good team around me in manager Frank Hopkins and my coach Wayne Batten as well as Frank Warren. I would like to be pushed on quickly but they all have their jobs to do and they will bring me on at the right pace and get me the right fights at the right time. I'm only 19 years old so there is no need to rush, time is on my side and when the time is right I can hopefully one day win a world title or however far I go.”

Boxing hasn't always been at the forefront of life for Garner - like many young boys he originally dreamed of becoming a professional footballer before his love of scrapping in the school playground forced him to seek out a place to channel his aggression before it landed him in serious trouble.

“All I wanted to be when I was at school was a footballer. I played at quite a good standard but I also liked to have a fight with my older brothers and their mates! One day I went down to the boxing gym and I didn't look back. I wasn't a real trouble maker, I would describe myself as a 'little shit' but when I started to box it taught me discipline and the right way to behave because when I was travelling all over the world with the England team you had to behave or else the coaches wouldn't pick you for the next squad.

“Although I got in trouble at school I was always quite clever and I got good exam results,” Garner revealed. “You never know how long your career in boxing will be. You could pick up an injury and the next thing you know that's you done so after I left school at 16 I started to do an apprenticeship in Carpentry but I was really struggling because I got home late after a long day and then I had to go to the gym or do roadwork which was a killer. So when I turned pro I packed it in.

“I have a couple of sponsors that help with with buying kit, but other than that I need to be sensible with my fight purse, which isn't a huge amount just yet but it gets me by.”

Ryan was at ringside in London on 13 May to support his gym mate Joe Pigford who brutally knocked out Aaron Morgan after a five action-packed rounds in one of the fights of the year so far. The Copperbox bill also featured British featherweight champion Ryan Walsh earning the right to own the Lonsdale belt outright when he defeated Belfast's Marco McCullough and Garner told BM that although he is still on the nursery slopes of his career he would love to win a title at 9st before allowing his body to grow.

“I have been at 9st 2lbs and for the last fight with Castillo I was 9st 5lbs. For a title I could get down to 9st but you need to be disciplined," he said. "I feel strong but I don't think I have got my man strength yet but with all the work I do in the gym with Joe [Pigford] and my coach I'm only going to get stronger and start to hit even harder.”