Time on his side: Ted Cheeseman interview
John A. MacDonald
Ted Cheeseman is hungry for success but his advisers counsel patience. He tells John A. MacDonald he knows he has much to learn, though dreams of world titles are never far away...
This interview was originally published in the May 2018 issue of Boxing Monthly magazine
At just 22 years of age, and less than three years into his professional career, Ted Cheeseman is conscious that time is on his side.
He has lofty ambitions but knows that after 60 amateur contests and 13 fights* in the paid ranks, he is the very definition of a work in progress.
However, this knowledge is tempered by his fiercely competitive streak and the exuberance of youth.
This element of his nature was evident in the immediate aftermath of his career-best win over Carson Jones in February at the O2 Arena, London. Rather than revelling in victory, Cheeseman immediately began to suggest future opponents to his trainer Tony Sims, and Tony’s son Charlie, who handles public relations for his father’s stable of fighters.
“It ain’t a sprint this sport, it’s a marathon,” Cheeseman told Boxing Monthly over the phone. “You’ve got to take your time. As a fighter, it’s hard to see that. You are always pushing.
“Straight away, after the fight, my first thing was to look at Boxrec: ‘Charlie, can you get me Zakaria Attou? Get me in for the European [super welterweight] title.’ Charlie said: ‘We’ll look into it.’”
It was Tony Sims who managed to curtail the enthusiasm of his charge, explaining that development at this stage was more beneficial to Cheeseman than titles. Cheeseman heeded the advice, if somewhat grudgingly.
“Tony came back and said: ‘You’re 22, why do you need to fight for the European title? You fight for a European title, you can never come back [down in level of opposition]. Calm down. Have another couple of good learning fights, then we’ll push on at the end of the year,’” Cheeseman recalled.
“What he says is right because, in my head, I know I’d beat that Zakaria Attou and I’d be European champ, but where do I go from there? I can only move up towards world level and get a world title fight.”
By his own admission, Cheeseman (13-0, 8 KOs)* is not ready to contest world honours just yet. However, on the back of capturing the WBA International super welterweight title by defeating Jones on a unanimous decision, he will likely receive a top 15 ranking from the sanctioning body, which in turn would make him eligible to challenge for their world championship.
Regional titles are often maligned by fans but Cheeseman can see their worth because they could ultimately allow him to fulfil his dream. Although it is unlikely, the Bermondsey man could be selected as a voluntary challenger within the year. He is aware such an opportunity would be premature yet his unyielding will to win would leave him conflicted.
“Even now, if I got offered one, it would be hard to turn it down, but you don’t want to force it so that’s your only option,” he said. “You want to be in a position where you can go down, you can go up, you can go whatever way you want. I am still only 22, but it’s a hard thing. Once you’ve had a good win you don’t want to go backwards. But it’s all about taking time.”
Jones initially weighed in four and a half pounds over the divisional limit of 154lbs. Tony Sims had contacted Cheeseman on the Friday morning to inform him that Jones was going to be overweight and that Cheeseman did not have to get down to the championship limit.
Cheeseman was resolute, though. He wanted to win his second belt as a professional — having previously captured the English title. While others may have been fazed by their rival missing weight by such a considerable margin, Cheeseman was nonchalant.
“It’s just a bit of weight,” he said. “It would be different if he was a stone over. I know by the time he got in the ring he was at least a stone over. I knew he’d only come here to win. He didn’t care about the title.
“He knew by coming in heavy he’d make himself more durable and have more energy. I think if he never came in so heavy, I’d definitely have got him out of there. He made sure he had every advantage he could have. It’s boxing, though. You’ve got to take risks. To be honest, I weren’t really bothered. All I was bothered about was getting the win and putting my name out there.”
The opening four rounds of the contest were gruelling, as both men stood in range and traded hurtful shots. Cheeseman suffered a bloodied nose but was unconcerned as this happens frequently during sparring. Cheeseman was expected to use his boxing skills in the early stages of the bout, when Jones was perceived to be at his most dangerous.
Cheeseman revealed that he had been instructed to jab and move but as the contest progressed he felt the tactical switch would be beneficial.
“Before I go in there it is always: ‘Box, use your head, take your time,’ but it’s how you feel once you get in there,” he said. “You can never plan fully. You can have tactics, but you’ve always got [plans] A and B. In my head, I thought if I stood off, kept moving, trying to get away from him I’d tire myself out when I don’t need to.
“All I needed to do was [to] stand with him, weather the storm, push him back, show him that I’m not a kid, I’m not just a boy at 22, I’m a strong 22-year-old. Show him my strength, show him I’m not worried about taking a shot — and if I do get hit, I’m going to come back and try to hit you twice. That’s all I wanted to prove. It showed everyone that I can be in the trenches if I need to. In my head, I think I broke him in four rounds. After that, it was plain sailing.”
At the start of the fourth round, Jones hit Cheeseman with a shot that appeared to stiffen his legs momentarily. While Cheeseman was not unduly perturbed by his heavy-handed opponent, it was a shock to the system, as it was the first time he had been caught clean as a professional by someone of Jones’ calibre.
Rather than cover up, Cheeseman immediately fought back and by the bell was in the ascendancy. He felt he had a point to prove.
“At not one stage of the fight did I feel hurt, but it was the first actual fight I’ve been in where someone’s really come to beat me,” he said. “Even though I’ve had fights against unbeaten fighters [Jack Sellars is the only unbeaten fighter he has faced, Lloyd Ellett, Matthew Ryan and Tony Dixon each had one defeat], I’ve beat them before I’ve got in the ring, really.
“With Carson Jones, there was a lot of pressure on me, people thinking I’m getting beat and a lot of people didn’t know if I’d crumble at that point. That’s what I thought at points when I got hit with shots. I didn’t expect them because I hadn’t really been hit with little gloves properly before in a fight. I’ve been hit with little shots in other fights, but nothing properly.
“My first instinct was: ‘All right, regroup myself, as soon as I feel my feet are planted well, let my shots go.’ I weren’t worried. His power weren’t scaring me or worrying me. It’s boxing. You can’t go out in the rain without getting wet, can ya?”
As well as the ability to take a punch and the resilience to battle through adversity, Cheeseman proved he could withstand Jones’ veteran tactics. There were head clashes, low blows and hip punches. However, Cheeseman did not show any signs of distress.
Even in the most arduous moments Cheeseman would smile at Jones or stick his tongue out. These gestures were not borne from machismo or bravado but from a love of fighting.
“It was a great experience,” he said with surprising enthusiasm for a man recalling being struck in the groin. “He did everything he could do to win. That’s what made it a better win. He turned up, he never laid down, he tried everything. I think everyone can see [my] professionalism and that I’m years above my age, in boxing terms. I’ve proved to everyone that I can deal with the tricks, I can do my own tricks, I can box, I can fight, I can do a bit of everything — and I’m exciting.
“It’s a fight. Things are going to go wrong and things are going to go right. When something goes wrong it shows how good a fighter you are. If you can keep going, keep moving. If I was moaning to the ref: ‘Oh, that was low,’ it’s a sign of weakness. People would go: ‘He’s moaning, he’s under stress, he don’t really like what’s happening. But it didn’t bother me. It’s all part of it. It’s a fight.”
As well as being Cheeseman’s first genuine test, the Jones bout was also the first time he had received such a prominent slot on a card (as chief support to the fight between Lawrence Okolie and Isaac Chamberlain).
This resulted in increased media responsibilities at the press conference and the weight of expectation to perform. Cheeseman thrived, however. He believes he has a quality that cannot be taught: mental fortitude.
“I enjoyed it all because no one had got to see how good of a fighter I am and how I can perform under pressure,” he said. “Even from the press conference, we stand head to head and he tries to make me jump and I just stood still. He couldn’t break me.
“Things like that, great fighters have. In this sport, you can have talent, you can have fitness, but you’ve got to have heart as well and it’s one thing I’ve got. I love the sport. When the going gets tough, I get tougher. I’m going to stick in there. There ain’t going to be a point where you see me go out without my shield. I’m going to try to go all the way. When it gets tough for me, you’ll see that I’m going to stick in there and try my hardest. I ain’t going to turn my back and think: ‘Forget this, it’s too hard,’ on the night.”
Cheeseman has recently had his desire to fight called in to question by some fans on social media. The British Boxing Board of Control had ordered Cheeseman to fight fellow unbeaten prospect James “JJ” Metcalf in a final eliminator for the British super welterweight title.
Cheeseman withdrew and ultimately faced Carson Jones. However, some interpreted it as Cheeseman actively avoiding the son of Shea Neary. Given Cheeseman’s fighting pride, does he find it upsetting to read such comments?
“Yes,” he said emphatically before the question had finished. His voice — which had been level throughout — suddenly became animated. “As a fighter, you are competitively minded. When you see people slagging you off: ‘Oh, you must be worried, you don’t want to fight this person,’ I do, I do want to fight ’em, of course I want to fight ’em. But that’s why you have a manager, and that’s why you have a promoter. Otherwise I’d be like a journeyman and fight every week [laughs].”
Cheeseman desperately pleaded with Tony Sims to allow him to take the Metcalf fight. However Sims, once again, found himself having to curb Cheeseman’s enthusiasm.
Sims was of the belief that the fight deserved to be made for at least the British title and didn’t feel that the contest would make financial sense. Cheeseman conceded that his trainer made a valid point.
“James Metcalf is a huge fight,” Cheeseman said. “People were going: ‘You pulled out of the fight!’ I said to Tony: ‘Look, I want to take the fight for the eliminator to stop people talking rubbish.’ He said: ‘What does other people’s rubbish mean? You are fighting for yourself. There’s a life after boxing and you’ve got to get as much out of it as you can. Would you fight for tuppence in an eliminator or fight for good money for the British title? There’s no point. The fight is worth more than an eliminator.’
“I’m not one bit worried about fighting Metcalf. I think I’ll clean the floor with Metcalf. But it’s got to make business sense as well. You are training for eight to 12 weeks for a fight. You don’t want to fight for nothing. I haven’t gave up all my years from 12 years old to now, all them years of not getting paid, to now be paid nothing. I’m not in it purely for the money, I’m in it to go as far as I can, but I’m not going to get underpaid at the same time. You don’t go work in an office because you enjoy it and do it for free, do ya?”
Becoming au fait with the financial side of the sport is the latest in what Cheeseman feels have been many lessons he has learned from boxing. As such, he believes he now possesses a level of maturity that belies his years.
“Boxing puts an old man’s head on a young man’s shoulders,” he said. “You’ve learnt a lot in life. It gives you discipline. You travel the world, you’ve been around older people who’ve been there and done it. You are always around good people and it turns you into a good person.
“Before this, I lived on a council estate where, to be honest, most of my mates are in trouble now — in jail or still on the streets selling drugs to try to earn a pound note. I could have done that, or I could do this. My mum and dad aren’t the wealthy mum and dad who are like: ‘Here you go, boy. You have everything.’ They’ve supported me as much as they can, but I push hard myself. I pushed for sponsors and I’ve managed to get there and do it myself. Luckily, now I’m in a good position. Hopefully it was worth all the risks I took.
“To be honest, I’d like a world title next. I just leave it to Charlie and Tony. Hopefully it’s a defence of my WBA, unless I get another title. I don’t like to call people out, but I like to defend my corner. If someone says I’m worried or I don’t want the fight, I’ll tell the truth, but I don’t care who I fight, to be honest.
“Pushing towards the end of the year, Sam Eggington would be a great fight. Our styles would gel and if I could beat him, it would be a massive win.
“As Charlie and Tony said, I need a couple more learning fights, then I’d take one of them big fights. By that time, I’d have learnt enough and be fully ready. In my head, I won’t feel like I’m taking a chance. It will just be: ‘I’m ready for the fight. Let’s do it.’”
*At the time of writing. Cheeseman's record is now 14-0, 9 KOs.