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16 Jan 2013
Birmingham might be Britain's Second City but it's yet to produce a bonafide professional boxing world champion since World War Two.
In recent years Pat Cowdell, Robert McCracken, Wayne Elcock and Matt Macklin have all faltered at the final hurdle.
However, there is growing optimism that Hall Green's Frankie Gavin, Britain's only ever world amateur champion and the reigning domestic welterweight king, might possess the tools to finally break the jinx.
Despite well chronicled problems outside the ropes, the silky
southpaw remains unbeaten in 14 (10 stoppage wins) and is gradually
returning to the form which made him invincible in his final years
in the unpaid code.
Just four days out from his maiden defence against Walsall favourite Jason Welborn, at Walsall Town Hall this Friday, the 27 year old Brummie spoke at length to boxing writer Glynn Evans and clearly he already had his game face on.
Here, in his own words, Gavin talks about his childhood years and early ring career in the Second City, his fanatical fans and how returning home has rekindled his zest to replicate his amateur deeds and re-conquer the world.
"I grew up in Yardley with my elder brother John and my sister Donna. We were brought up by our mum and she worked so hard, had three jobs to make sure we had a good meal on the table every night and never suffered. She beat cancer last year. Now she's got the flu!
"Other than that, it was a pretty normal childhood. I'd go out eight o'clock in the morning and stay out all day, playing football and getting chased. I'd slag all the bigger, older lads then leg it. Seemed fun at the time! I was half decent at the football - always fit and I could run - but I knew I'd never make it as a pro.
"As I grew older, I'd be out on my bike all day, in the parks. The next door neighbours were boxers and one Monday evening, when was 12, I followed 'em on my bike to the boxing gym. They gave me a spar the first night, took me to get 'medicalled' on the Friday and got me my first bout within a fortnight! I lost on points then won the next 12. It all happened a bit quick for me.
"Starting out, I used to fight scared! I was always on the move, always blocking, very good on my feet. As I got older and more confident, I learned to land my shots and then move. I never got hurt. I was very small for my age. When I first won the schoolboys in Year 11 (age 15-16) at school, I was just seven and a half stone.
"The following year, I won the Junior Olympics at eight stone. Growing up, Robbie McCracken was the big local star from Birmingham. He had a lovely jab and could also whack a bit but, growing up, I was far more interested in the amateur boxing. I'd go to as many shows as I could around the Midlands and sit down ringside to study the boxers, watch every bout.
"I knew everything about every boxer; their weight, their record, who they'd beat and lost to. I never took notes, just stored it all in my head. When I got home, I'd spend ages on the amateur boxing (web)sites. I used to do exactly the same at the big international tournaments around the world once I started boxing for England.
"As I started winning things and getting a reputation, I began to develop a huge following around Birmingham. However, as I progressed, I got to box there less and less. Usually, when I entered the ABAS the other entrants immediately pulled out. When I first won the senior ABAs in 2005, over 70 travelled down to The ExCel in London to watch me. There were four limousines full.....I think it was someone's birthday!
"On the Olympic squad, we weren't supposed to box for our clubs but I snuck a crafty one in and boxed on a club show at the Mackadown Social Club in Tile Cross. It was ram packed and plenty were locked out. I beat a kid called Cottey in what ended up my last amateur fight. (Gavin withdrew from the Olympics with weight-making issues).
"So far, two of my 14 pro fights have been in Brum. For my debut at the NIA (National Indoor Arena) I sold over 800 tickets out of my own hand. All the Blues (Birmingham City fans) turned out for me. I've had the club crest on me shorts for every fight. That was the best reception I've ever had.
"Then, the night I won the Irish light-welter title by stopping Michael Kelly at the LG Arena in Birmingham, I flogged about 720 myself. Matt Macklin, who topped the bill in a European title defence that night, and me have a lot of mutual friends. Several who bought tickets off him would've bought 'em off me and vice-verse.
"For this fight, I was given 250 and they went within nine days, without me pushing it. I sell 'em 'first come, first serve' but there's plenty who've been to all my fights who can't get one. Trouble is, they all wait until last minute. Now I'm having to pester all the other boxers on the bill for spares.
"I love the atmosphere on the night when I box locally but I hate selling the tickets. It seriously stresses you out. The night of a fight, I'll be having to hang outside the front of the arena, passing on tickets to people. It ain't good. Now Tom (Chaney, his trainer) don't let me have anything to do with the tickets. He, and my brother John, sort 'em.
"Everybody knows I had a few problems in 2011. No point going into all that again. But since coming back home, living with my mum and training back at my old amateur gym with my old amateur coach (Chaney), I've become far more organised. My diet especially is far better.
"I know I've been getting progressively better in the gym although it might not have been obvious in my last fight against Junior Witter. Getting the British title strapped around my waist was about the only thing to be happy about when you watch that tape back.
Witter had a lot of wind beforehand but I knew he'd not come to fight. People kept going on about his power but he hit me flush in about round three with a right hand-left uppercut and I was actually walking into the shots yet it didn't bother me at all.
"I knew I just had to keep my pace higher than his and not allow myself to get drawn into any of his nonsense like Colin Lynes had. I countered him every time and it wasn't nice for him.
"After my troubles, 2013 has to be a good year for me. I want it to end with the Lonsdale Belt in a nice frame in our house plus the European title, too. That said, if I was offered Khan, Bradley or Brook straight after my next fight, I'd snap their hands off. I'm not calling them out - I've no right - but I'm 27 now and need to know exactly where I'm at. If I lost, I could still come again.
"I just want to stay healthy, keep busy and continue winning title fights so I have a great career. I've still got a long, long way to go to match the respect I had as an amateur. Above all, I want my son's to be able to say: 'Our Dad was Frankie Gavin, the great champion.' That's what I think of when it gets tough in training.
"After the Witter fight (1st November), I had just a fortnight off and I've been training for Welborn since. Training through Christmas might've been a problem a few years back but now my priorities have changed. I don't want to go out. I have my four year old lad Thomas for half the week and everything is sound. I'm living right, eating right and training very hard.
"Every fight back with Tom, I'm getting stronger and adding different combinations. I'm winning good again. Forget Witter. No one looks good against him. Every opponent tells me I hit harder than they'd expected and if you sink your knuckles into anyone with those little eight ounce pro gloves on, trust me, you're going to hurt 'em.
"But I'm never gonna be a one shot (knockout) merchant. Up in Manchester, I got a bit obsessed in the gym with trying to trade; making 'em miss then blitzing 'em with these 20 shot barrages. But you'd never get away with that at the very top world level where I intend boxing.
"I won my world amateur title by using my feet, using my mind, being clever, and that's how it's gonna be from now on. I'm working on my strengths again and, when I use my skills, hardly anyone can beat me. I know I can bounce for 12 rounds and when they tire, I'll put it on 'em. I fatigue a lot of opponents mentally. You have to concentrate very hard, all the time when you're in with me.
"On Friday night, I've got to go into the Black Country? Big deal! I've boxed Russians in Russia, Yanks in America so I'm hardly going to be fazed boxing less than ten miles up the road. I'm not worried about going there in the slightest.
"Welborn may have more numbers but I guarantee they won't make as much noise as my mob. They always shout the roof off! I'm used to the big atmospheres, I've seen it all before, he hasn't. Never mind skill wise, mentally, he's really up against it.
"Welborn isn't going to worry me. I half watched his Midland Area fight with (James) Flinn (which Welborn won by fifth round stoppage) but didn't really focus. He definitely made hard work of his last fight against a limited Czech (wpts 10, Jan Balog) then said he held him up cos he needed the rounds?! I don't buy that.
"In a recent interview, Welborn said I'm still very amateurish. We'll see on the night. People tell me he can really punch but my stoppage ratio is a lot higher than his and I've fought in far higher class.
"I boxed that Turk (Aydin) Selcuk (a recent WBC welter challenger) twice in the amateurs and, trust me, he could really whack. In the Commonwealth Games semis, I got past that Lenny Zappavigna from Australia who's been knocking out world class in the pros. Trust me, Welborn's power isn't going to be an issue. He ain't knocked anyone out. He won't be forcing me into any corners. If I go there, it'll be because I choose to.
"For the last three weeks, I've not seen my kids and it's made me narky. Above all, I hate losing. I've not lost to a British kid for 12 years now and I definitely won't be losing to him. I'm technically better, harder to hit, and I've really put it in, in the gym. I don't just want to win, I want to look very good.
"He's my dream opponent; walks forward onto punches, but he'll stop marching when he's repeatedly smashed in the head!"
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