'Work, work, work': Anthony Fowler interview
Hot super-welter prospect Anthony Fowler speaks to Luca Rosi about his ambitions, inspirations and why his motto is: "work, work, work and train, train, train"...
When he spoke to Boxing Monthly online, Anthony Fowler, the Toxteth super-welterweight prospect, was eagerly waiting for a call with news of his next contest.
“I’ve had four fights since turning pro in May of last year and I’m due to hear from Eddie [Hearn] about my next fight very soon," he said. "I’m hoping it will be in the next month or so. It’s been a frustrating time as I had to have an operation to my hand and so I missed five months of training. A small setback – these things happen.”
Fowler has since been added to the undercard of the Dillian Whyte-Lucas Browne bill at the O2 on 24 March, as well as pencilled in for the undercard of Amir Khan vs Phil Lo Greco on 21 April in his hometown of Liverpool - neither of his opponents has yet been named.
The former Team GB captain is adamant that he will fight for a title in 2018. “The plan is to keep on winning and to fight for a belt towards the end of the year," he said. "I can’t tell you what that strap will be, but it will be for a title. I know the targets that I set myself when I turned pro and I’ve only had four fights so now isn’t the time for me to start shouting out names yet. That time will come.”
The Liverpudlian then explained why he signed pro terms with promoter Hearn. “I met everyone who was available, sized up all the offers and felt that Matchroom Boxing has the best record developing the careers of Olympians and turning them into stars. Take Anthony Joshua and Kal Yafai who have both won world titles and Luke Campbell has fought for one. Eddie has brought them all on great and he’s doing a brilliant job with me. I’m very happy to be with Matchroom.”
Fowler’s every move was scrutinised in the build-up to his pro debut. “I was part of the ‘Chasing the Dream’ documentary which was broadcast by Sky. I had cameras everywhere, at the weigh-in [for example], so it was a lot different to what I was used to. It was terrific exposure, which hopefully provided the viewers with interesting insight into life as a professional boxer.
“It was amazing to fight in front of nearly 30,000 people at Bramall Lane in May 2017, the first ever fight at the home of Sheffield United. To be part of the Kell Brook-Errol Spence Jr. undercard was something I’ll never forget. I was a bit too pumped up as I hadn’t boxed in almost a year. The adrenaline gets to you, these things happen. I managed to avoid a disqualification. It was just over-exuberance.”
There was also time for a trip to Los Angeles before his professional baptism and a meeting with a Hall of Fame trainer. “I went over to the Wild Card gym in Los Angeles, which was truly memorable. I did a bit of training there and got to meet Freddie Roach and his brother Pepper.
"Such a nice feeling to be around all those superstars. Freddie gave me some tips, such as staying level headed, thinking about what you’re doing, not using up too much energy, focusing on the simple things, doing nothing daft. It was great coming from a legend like Freddie.”
Since his debut in the ‘Steel City’, the 26-year-old (who turns 27 on Saturday) has fought at big venues across the UK, including Newcastle, Belfast and his hometown of Liverpool.
“I’ve been really lucky to get such great exposure and fighting at the Echo Arena in my third fight [against Irishman Jay Byrne] was obviously special. We sell a lot of tickets in Liverpool, a lot of fans come to my fights and I’m flattered. I’d like to thank them all for supporting me in my journey and spending their hard-earned money.
"Times are hard so I appreciate their sacrifices. That’s why I want to put a show on and win for them too. It’s a team effort in my eyes, I do it for everyone. I was disappointed with my last outing in Northern Ireland as I always want to entertain. Even though I got six rounds under my belt, I didn’t perform but I did enjoy the experience. My opponent [Hungarian Laszlo Fazekas] was very experienced and a wily operator.”
The Reds fan is a stickler for detail and obsessive about surrounding himself with the right people to improve – even if they happen to be Evertonians.
“That’s why I decided to go with Dave Coldwell," he pointed out. "From the moment we met I could see he was the trainer for me, we gelled very well. He was very patient, showing me a lot of new stuff. I loved what he’d done with Tony Bellew, who is a great role model for myself. I don’t get involved in the football banter as Tony’s a lot bigger than me, I just let him rant and rave. He’s a big guy so I mind my own business.
"All the lads are such high quality – you’ve got Tony, the McDonnell twins, Jamie and Gavin, as well as Jordan Gill. What a great fighter he is. The reason Dave is so successful is that he puts a lot of time and effort into each one of us, so it’s very much quality over quantity.”
To give himself every chance of success, Fowler has also decided to relocate. “I moved to a tiny flat in Rotherham to be close to Dave’s gym. There are no distractions. I live and breathe the sport, I left my home, family and friends. I train with Dave five days a week and then I visit my girlfriend at the weekend. I also drive up to see Danny in Sheffield three times a week.”
Danny is Danny Wilson of ‘Boxing Science’, the sports scientist who built the successful boxing programme at Sheffield Hallam University. “When I first went with Dave I had no strength and conditioning coach. I felt I needed more support, so I asked around and met Danny. He seemed cool and I liked what he was doing.
"It’s all very advanced, very clever stuff. It’s really taken me to the next level so that when I’m fighting I know I’m in the shape of my life. My first run with him was only two minutes long but it was that intense I thought I was going to spew up. Sports science is definitely the future.”
Yet boxing was never meant be part of his future. “It was a fluke how I got into it," he admits. "At secondary school, a lad in my class was bragging about being a boxer. I joined the Golden Gloves ABC in Toxteth and fell in love with the sport. Everyone in my family was football mad and I was the first one to start boxing. I used to watch Ricky Hatton, really admired him, he was a big star of world boxing and a huge inspiration.”
Fowler went on to become one of Great Britain’s most decorated amateurs. “I had over 200 fights, including a bronze at the 2013 world championships in Almaty. I broke my hand in the quarter-finals so I didn’t get to fight in the semi-final against the Kazakh, Zhanibek Alimkhanuly, the defending world champion.
"During my amateur career, I had wins over the likes of Carlos Banteaux Suarez of Cuba [silver, Beijing 2008), Indian Vijender Singh [bronze, Beijing 2008 and current WBO Asia Pacific middleweight champion) and Mexico’s Misael Rodriguez [bronze, Rio 2016), which shows the level I was at. I know I can mix it with the best.”
His standout result and then biggest disappointment were to follow in swift succession. “Winning gold at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow was special [Fowler beat Singh in the final]. It was an amazing experience. Being in Scotland was like a home games, we had a good English crowd behind us, which gave me a big booster.
"I was at my peak and doing really well at that stage. But then I was plagued with injuries in 2015, missed the Europeans and world champs, and before the Rio Olympics injured my rotator cuff falling off a quad bike on holiday in Abu Dhabi. I lost to the same Kazakh who was a great fighter, it was just a shame I couldn’t compete at my best. It was totally my fault.”
The extensive Team GB boxing education at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield has aided the six-time ABA [one schoolboy, three junior and two senior titles] champion’s transition into the pro ranks.
“Under the tutelage of performance director, Rob McCracken MBE, we trained three times a day, just like pros. We’d go running at 7.45 followed by strength and conditioning at 11 and then sparring from 3-5. All Team GB boxers are very fit, very sharp and very strong. For us turning pro is no different.”
Fighting for the British Lionhearts [Fowler lost one of seven fights] in the World Series Boxing (WSB) was another important stepping stone. “The experience of this tournament was invaluable. They’re really tough fights over five rounds, not far off a pro six rounder. Most pros start doing four rounds but I was able to go in at six because of the WSB experience.”
Boxing Monthly’s number one ranked British super welter is another fellow Liverpudlian, Liam Smith. Fowler knows one of the Smith brothers particularly well – another fighter ranked number one domestically by this publication.
“Me and Callum, who is older than me and represented Rotunda ABC, were rivals in the amateurs. We had two fights and it was honours even – I won the first and then in the rematch I let the occasion get to me. The fight was hyped up and I had only turned 19 at the time.
"I felt drained and tired, but nothing against Callum, he boxed well. I like the way he conducts himself and maybe Liam and I could be rivals one day. You never know. I’m not surprised at his success, he’s a class fighter although back in the amateur days he wasn’t a big puncher so it’s surprised me how hard he’s been hitting and his KO percentage [17 out of 23]. He’s always had quality, he’s a very good fighter. The fight taught me a lot about mentality – it’s 90 per cent mental when it comes to fighting.”
So what makes the unbeaten Fowler tick? “I am what I am. On social media people say I’m a bit loud and cocky but I just want to share my journey to inspire others to be the next champion. I try to help kids, there are so many with the potential but who can’t get motivated. I’d like to think I’m an example to them, someone who grew up poor in Toxteth.
"I never had a penny in my pocket but I had a dream in my head. I always worked 100%. I had it tough growing up, Toxteth is not an easy place to grow up. But I believe that if you put 100% in everything you do eventually you’ll get to where you want. No one gave me a helping hand, no one in my family had a clue about boxing, I had that mentality to never give up and always wanted to win everything.
"I’d like to do more for my local community but it’s hard for me now. I was recently approached by my old primary school so hopefully I’ll get to go back and talk to the kids. But when I can I always do charity work, sign gloves and sell them on as I know that money can make a big difference to some people’s lives.”
The Rotherham based Liverpudlian is only too aware that he’s a work in progress. “There are plenty of areas I need to improve on. Feet, head movement, I need to be more relaxed and composed, work on my breathing. You never stop learning in this game. But a ring is a ring. A fight is a fight no matter where it is. I’ve boxed all round the world. If you fight for the crowd, you’ll fight wrong.
"If I follow Dave and our tactics then I’ll be fine. I also feel that I’m at the right weight as a pro, I feel big and strong since coming down 11 pounds [from 165 to 154] from the amateurs. Even though I was naturally strong with fast hands, I was fighting kids in the amateurs who were a lot bigger than me.”
The winning mentality he says stems from the teachings of one man. “My late uncle, Robbie Fowler senior, [former Liverpool FC footballer] Robbie’s dad, was a huge influence in my formative years. He bought me my first pair of boots and he really got into my head, telling me never to settle for second best and to always push myself.
"Work, work, work and train, train, train – that’s my motto. A lot of people say that I do too much but I believe that to be the best you’ve got to do extra. That’s why I go at it for 4-5 hours every day. All the lads in the GB programme used to call me ‘The Machine’ and the name eventually stuck.”