Shark Attack: Ronnie Clark interview

Luke G. Williams
31/08/2018 11:59pm

Compelling, charismatic and controversial, Scottish super featherweight Ronnie ‘The Shark’ Clark has already ended the highly regarded Zelfa Barrett’s unbeaten record and tells Luke G. Williams he is gunning for more glory...

Scottish super featherweight Ronnie “The Shark”’ Clark has endured a turbulent couple of years, but when he talks about boxing a sense of calm seems to envelop him.

“I just love the feeling of fighting,” says the Dundee native, who trains in Belfast as part of Mark Dunlop’s MHD stable. “There is nothing that compares. Nothing in life compares. Yeah, I have a family, yeah I have a partner and yeah, I have children, but fighting is my life.

“It’s like a medicine for me. It’s what I love. People say that when I fight I have a big smile on my face and I do. Not because I’m disrespectful or arrogant — I smile because I’m happy and I’m free when I’m fighting.”

Fresh off the biggest victory of his career — a stunning majority points win against highly regarded and previously unbeaten Zelfa Barrett in February — Clark proved captivating company.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of his personality is his willingness to bare his soul with a series of no-filter responses. Spontaneous and thoughtful, the 33-year-old resolutely avoids superficial or easy answers and continually emphasises the vital importance of being “real” and “true” — both as a boxer and as a man.

“When I say things, I don’t plan to say things,” he explained. “I just speak my mind. I can’t script me. My manager will say: ‘Do this, do that, say this say that.’ And I can’t. I can’t plan what I’m going to do, because I don’t know what I’m going to do and I don’t know what I’m going to say.”

To judge from his appearance at the weigh-in for the Barrett clash — clad in a leather thong and sporting dyed green braids — a casual observer might conclude Clark is an exhibitionist who deliberately courts media attention.

Such a conclusion, though, doesn’t tally with his minimal social media presence (no Instagram or Twitter, just a basic Facebook page), or with the softly spoken, fiercely intelligent man I shared a fascinating hour-long conversation with.

“If I feel good, I fight good,” is Clark’s explanation for his most recent choice of hairstyle. “The hair doesn’t change anything about me. I didn’t do it to ‘build a character’ or whatever. It’s just me. Like I might go out wearing cowboy boots. It just happens. A couple of days before the fight I thought: I’m going to wear my hair in green cornrows!”

Clark’s candid nature extends to a brutally honest take on the politics of boxing matchmaking. “Boxing is about the fans and I think I have a big fan base because they know that I’m true and I want to give them real fights,” he said. “I don’t believe in fighting journeymen — I have no disrespect towards journeymen because they do a good job for what they do and it’s a way to make a living.

“But I don’t believe it’s fair that the public should be conned. I believe if a journeyman is turning up he should be turning up to win, and not be worried about winning and not getting a fight the following week! People say: ‘Well that’s just boxing!’ But things like that are not good.”

To support his point, Clark cited an example of a past fight on away turf. “Beforehand I was handed my money [by a promoter] and told: ‘Ronnie, you’re just down here for a payday. If you beat this boy, you’ll not fight on one of these shows again.’ I was like: ‘Good, I’ll not fight on one of these shows again then!’”

Although he may harbour distaste for boxing’s political machinations (at one point he referred to the sport as “the big conveyor belt of boxing”), Clark has warrior blood coursing through his veins, having been involved with combat sports since the age of seven.

“Because I was so young when I started, I don’t understand anything else but fighting,” he said. “When I was 15, I started competing in full contact kick-boxing. Back then, I was an amateur and I loved it. Now I’m fighting and I’m getting paid for something I love. A bonus upon a bonus.

“A lot of my friends have died from drugs or violent crimes. I feel so sad when I see people I know or that I’ve grown up with begging on the streets and stuff. I don’t judge these people. We’re all human and sometimes we take the wrong roads.

“I’m just blessed that I never took drugs, never got involved in drinking. I always worked hard and wanted to maintain good shape and be true.”

Although a multiple world champion kick-boxer, Clark lost his enthusiasm when his long-time trainer migrated to Australia. He switched to professional boxing at the age of 26 after a short amateur career. Seven years on, he is riding higher than ever, fresh from that stunning victory against Barrett.

It was a fight Clark took at barely a week’s notice and few expected him to win, but the southpaw proved himself and then some, flooring Barrett heavily in the sixth en route to a deserved 116-111 (twice), 114-114 points win.

After years of being matched tough and being on the wrong end of some tight decisions, Clark admits he was relieved to be given the nod against Barrett.

“I’ve not been fed from a silver spoon,” he said. “I’ve had it really hard and I’ve had to take fights away from home. As I said at the [Barrett] press conference, I’m the only fighter in my weight division that actually fought undefeated fighters in my first 10 fights.

“So to get a fair result is a massive positive. I genuinely thought, when the first score was read out [114-114], that this was me getting stung again. So I’m really excited about the win and I am excited about winning the [IBF European] belt.

“People said before the fight: ‘Oh! Zelfa Barrett, he’s a bit of a banger!’ But I never once felt troubled by him or by his power. If you watch the fight, you’ll see that everything he throws, I just shake my head and walk forward. I knew Zelfa was good, I knew that he was strong and I was very impressed that he stayed in there after that shot in the sixth round.

“Afterwards I went to the [Barrett] corner and apologised to Pat [Barrett, Zelfa’s uncle and trainer], because I knew I was breaking their dream. But I want it more than anybody, more than anything. And that’s what people don’t realise. I’m willing to die out there. A lot of people aren’t willing to give that.”

A rematch between the two men in Barrett’s home city of Manchester has been discussed and, as far as Clark is concerned, if the fight is brokered it will be a case of repeat not revenge.

“I’m happy for the rematch to happen. If they want it in Manchester they can have it in Manchester. If they want it in his back garden we can have it in his back garden or even in his living room.

“I know they think that if he boxed me he would have had more success, but I know 100 per cent what happens in a rematch. It’s going to take a lot to beat me. I have nothing against Zelfa Barrett. But I am 100 million per cent [certain] that I beat him. At super featherweight, I’ve said it time and time again, he does not beat me.

“There’s nothing he can bring to beat me. He can’t out box me and he’s not stronger than me.”

Indeed, Clark makes it clear he is prepared to tangle with any super featherweight.

“I said to [manager] Mark [Dunlop] at the start of the year: ‘Get me the real fights and I don’t mind if I’m away from home.’ [Irish boxer] Peter McDonagh has a saying that records are for DJs and I always used to have the same idea but I lost that at the start of this year. I just want to keep on winning.

“I also used to say that belts are for holding up your trousers — but that’s thinking negatively. Now I want every single piece of bling that I can get my hands on. I want to succeed and I want to win belts.

“With my mindset now, right at this moment, I’m unbeatable. I don’t feel like that’s being arrogant or disrespectful, I just know where I am and I know where I’m going. This is the beginning of a new me.”

A scan of Clark’s 21-4-2 professional record supports his assertion that he is willing to fight anyone, having already faced opposition of the calibre of Maxi Hughes (draw), Ryan Walsh (draw), Anthony Cacace (lost KO10) and Martin J. Ward (lost points) since entering the pro ranks in 2011.

The Cacace loss is the only time Clark has been stopped, and it is a reverse he would love the opportunity to avenge.

“People judge me on the Anthony Cacace fight because I got stopped in the 10th round,” Clark said. “But at that point in my life, I had split up with my ex-partner and my children had moved away to England. I was having a hell of a time.

“Every single night I had a different girl around at my house. The guy who was training me — Semtex his name is, a really good friend of mine — he used to come into the house in the morning and say: ‘Listen girls, you have to go, Ronnie’s training this morning.’

“He would say to me: ‘Ronnie, this is the biggest fight of your life and you’re throwing it all away.’

“Also, when I went into that fight, I hadn’t taken on water, I wasn’t drinking. The only reason he stopped me was because I was so dehydrated. When he hit me in the 10th round I was stepping and I couldn’t feel the canvas.

“My corner were like: ‘Hold on!’ but I thought: ‘I’m not holding on, I’m gonna try to win the fight,’ because I thought I had to knock him out to get the win. So I went out swinging and he caught me and stopped me. But I know it was down to dehydration.

“When I get a rematch with Cacace, if it ever happens, I’ll prove to the world that fight wasn’t the real me.”

Should the rematch with Barrett or a revenge mission with Cacace fail to materialise, Clark could put another undefeated super feather prospect in his sights.

“A fight that makes sense is Lyon Woodstock,” he said. “He’s doing very well. I want to keep on pushing, you see. I believe that this is the beginning of a new me.

“I want to keep positive and keep on driving forward. I always come in on weight, I work hard, I am true and I don’t cheat — I give the fans everything that they deserve. I want to keep active, but I want to keep active with real fights.”

This interview was originally published in the June 2018 issue of Boxing Monthly