'Progressing at the right speed': Sam Gilley interview
Sam Gilley's route into boxing came via a youthful obsession with Ricky Hatton. Harry Drinkwater speaks to the 5-0 welterweight prospect...
In the summer of 2005, a young lad from east London was captivated by a unique cocktail of exquisite body punching, rapturous support and an enigmatic personality...
Having struggled to show any real sporting prowess, largely down to his two left feet, a 12-year-old Sam Gilley was hypnotised by the magical night Ricky Hatton secured his iconic victory against Kostya Tszyu.
“I was so into Ricky Hatton," he tells Boxing Monthly, while sipping on a coffee one typical chilled autumnal morning. "There was just something about him. I don't think many fighters have been able to emulate that since, but even sitting here now it's hard to put it into words.
“My dad would get me up to watch all of his fights, I'm sure it was a bonding thing for a lot of lads my age, getting up at all hours to watch the fights late at night with their old man. But there was something about watching Hatton, he's definitely my favourite ever fighter. It was watching him that made me really think about taking up boxing.
“I had tried playing basketball but I was too small to be any good and don't get me started on football, so I kept being told about a boxing gym near me called Waltham Forest ABC. I asked my mum to take me down there after watching the fights and I became obsessed."
Now an unbeaten pro, it would be easy for Gilley to sit and talk about the ability that was unlocked in his first session, but he is too honest to try and twist the past to suit his agenda.
“If I am honest, I wasn't a natural talent, no," he confesses. "Not at all. My nan and granddad thought I'd take one on the nose and that would be it for boxing and off I would go to try to take up something like cricket, but I wasn't having any of it - I was determined to get better.
“So I kept going down, it wasn't easy but eventually I became one of the better ones at the gym. I was at Waltham Forest for around four years, I had some great fights for them. We had a show at Walthamstow Town Hall which was literally opposite my house. I had friends from school, silly amounts of family there. It was rammed, I ended up putting in one of the best performances I ever produced in the amateurs. I think I learned from that day I could really perform under pressure.
“I decided to move on to Tottenham and Enfield ABC as a 15-year-old, I had 25 fights there and won nearly all of them. It became a lot more serious at that age, I had my most successful spell under Stuart Clench and Eddie Childs.
"It was from there I had the opportunity to go over to France to represent London against Normandy, we beat them 5-2 and I done one of their top lads, he was a massive favourite and the crowd were fuming. It's only now when I look back and think about it [and I realise] it was a fairly big deal and the cards were stacked against me, but at the time I just put the pressure to one side, it wasn't like I had anyone I care about watching. “
After a successful few years, the 24-year-old admits that boxing drifted into the background as he began to go out more, enjoy the finer things in life and start working.
It was only by chance one morning that he awoke with the desire to be back in the gym. Gilley was subsequently directed to Rod Julian at R.J.'s Gym in Essex by a friend and an unique bond was born.
Julian is well-respected in boxing circles having been the go-to man to resurrect a fledgling career or for fighters coming to the close of their time in the squared circle. Julian worked with Eric Ochieng for his English title attempt and guided Ben Day to the Southern Area level.
But with Gilley he had the chance to build something from the start.
Together the pair have raced to an impressive five wins in five attempts with two stoppages. The young prospect puts a lot of his success down to their family-like relationship - as he says they “clicked”.
It isn't hard to see why, Gilley has a welcoming, honest, 'cheeky chap' persona which is so often found among Londoners.
Whilst he was prepared to be the canvas, Julian was ready to sculpt his work of art.
“When I first came down, Rod made it clear quite quickly he wanted me to fight for him," Gilley explains. "In a short space of time, he had changed my training routine which I loved and helped me with sponsors – that's everything you need as a pro. I wouldn't have it any other way.
“Rod is also my manager, I really like it that way. A lot of boxers these days have a company doing it from them, but with Rod I know I am always going to get my say. Every decision is down to me and Rod, that's the way it should be."
Julian quickly took to his phone book to search for sponsors for his prodigy. Companies such as London Recycling, Trafeforce, Homeglaze, ColdBlack, TTP Electrical Services, Memory Chrystal, Hurleyart, Ripped Gym Basildon and LCH London have all come forward to help the talented youngster stay full-time in boxing.
Gilley has also secured sparring opportunities with some of the best of the best - world-class performers such as Kell Brook - “so strong and untouchable” - and James DeGale - “he can hit you from anywhere” - have ensured that Gilley continues to test himself.
“You get more out of sparring with guys like Brook, DeGale, [and] Jason Quigley than hours and hours of just training. I did eight rounds with Chris Kongo and James [DeGale] yesterday and I learned such a lot. It's invaluable.
“I can only thank Rod for that, it was through him I was able to get on the Martin Murray undercard at the O2, I mean in my first 12 months to be fighting at the O2 is pretty surreal!
“But experiencing these big nights, testing myself with world class operators, it can only prepare me best for my career. I am not sitting here with rose-tinted glasses. I know what I need to work on, know I have a lot to learn but I believe I am doing it the right way and progressing at the right speed.”
As we come to the end of our chat, discussion turns to Gilley's next outing against the well-tested William Warburton on 15 September. Gilley knows the level that a win over Warburton represents, however the journeyman is far more skilled than his record suggests.
But doubt Gilley at your peril, although he has taken an unorthodox route into the sport, he is certainly making the most of his opportunities.