Derry Mathews Interview
During a professional career that now exceeds a decade, Liverpool star Derry Mathews has established himself as one of the biggest crowd pleasers on the domestic circuit.
A former Junior Olympic gold medallist and Senior English ABA champion in his teens, the Scouser’s ‘rock’em, sock’em’ ring manner has seen 26 of his 44 paid starts end early; plenty in triumph but several in heartache.
After reigns on the English and WBU feather and British lightweight thrones, Derry is presently the proud custodian of the Commonwealth 135lb strap and, aged 30, still covets a chance to crash the major international titles.
Victory in December’s crossroads collision with Dublin’s Stephen Ormond for the WBO European gong at The Echo Arena in his home city will certainly edge him a few paces closer.
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Last week, boxing writer Glynn Evans tracked down the amiable Scouser to discuss his long and colourful career, and how he hopes that re-associating with promoter Frank Warren will bring him the opportunities to fulfill his remaining goals within the ring.
In your two most recent fights, you delivered vastly contrasting performances. In July, you laboured against Hull’s Tommy Coyle, before getting out of jail with a spectacular knockout in round ten.
Then, ten weeks later, just as some critics were whispering you might be a spent force, you rebounded with a really commanding effort to destroy Curtis Woodhouse in four rounds. How do you account for that?
It’s hard to explain. Against Coyle, I’d had an excellent training camp and felt great in the changing rooms beforehand but just couldn’t get going. The fight was outdoors and my body just didn’t react. Danny (Vaughan, his coach) bawled at me to stop moaning and get on with it.
But you also have to credit Tommy. It was his cup final and his coach Jamie Moore, who knows me better than most after the time we spent together at Oliver Harrison’s gym, devised a fantastic game plan.
I’d probably not won a round but, though Tommy’s very tough, I knew eventually I’d get to him. I’d heard he’d been over a few times in sparring and I’m hitting very, very hard right now at lightweight. Thankfully, I landed the shot but if I’d lost that would probably have been the end for me. None of the younger lightweight prospects would’ve risked fighting me to allow me to get back in cos they’d not want to risk getting hurt.
Against Curtis, I was very motivated not to get beat by the footballer (Woodhouse is a former midfielder at Sheffield United and Birmingham City). (Ex Everton and Arsenal star) Frannie Jeffers is a friend and he was giving us loads of stick beforehand.
But I told a lot close to me to bet on round four. We knew Dave Coldwell would get Curtis to come out firing on all cylinders but boxing is about levels. Without being disrespectful to Curtis, he was a relative novice whereas I’d won Junior Olympics and ABAS. I’d come through tough spars with top, top lads. I knew eventually my power would take over. Curtis can come again.
You’ve already had a proper career since turning pro as a teenager over ten years ago, winning English and WBU titles at featherweight, British and Commonwealth belts at lightweight and challenging for the European and IBO crowns.
However, on reflection, given you won the ABAs and Junior Olympics as a teenager, do you feel your true potential remains unfulfilled?
Yeh, definitely. I’m a greedy kid. I’m always hungry for more. It won’t be until I’ve won 50 fights at a good level that I’ll be a happy man.
I grew up idolising Naseem Hamed and Mike Tyson and, when I first signed as a pro, it was my dream to be a legend just like them; known as one of the best British fighters ever. Though I’ve had a good career, you’re right, I’ve not yet become the superstar that I thought I would be.
I was forced to serve my time the hard way but hopefully I can still get there in my next few fights. I’m dying to win a Lonsdale Belt outright and a European title would be the icing on the cake.
To what do you attribute the success that you have enjoyed?
I’ve had really good people around me. My family realise that boxing’s me job and they’ve been very understanding when I’ve needed to go away to camp for six weeks at a time.
Also, I’ve always seen the Vaughan family, old George and his son Danny, as my bosses, rather than the other way round as some fighters seem to treat their trainers. If I don’t turn up for training, they’d expect to see a letter from my mum explaining why not!
Danny is a good coach and we believe in each other 100%. Before the Vaughans, I was very fortunate to have Tony Challenor at the ‘Solly’ (Salibury Amateur Boxing Club) to guide me. I’ve been lucky.
I suppose the qualities that have served me well inside the ring are my hunger, my size at the weight and my boxing brain. As an amateur, I won six national titles which suggests I can box a bit and I think everybody would acknowledge that, for a lightweight, I punch very hard.
And what held you back from achieving even more?
Though I never really moaned at the time, sweating down to nine stone for so long killed me. For eight weeks before a fight, I was living on one meal a day plus a bottle of water. When I boxed Choi, I was on a 6in Subway sandwich and a can of Coke. That was it. Choi hit really hard and I just had no resistance, no energy. (Mathews was dropped five times whilst conceding his WBU featherweight crown to the Mongolian in April 2008).
Prior to that, I was on good money so didn’t want to give my belt up but, retrospectively, I regret not moving up in weight a lot, lot earlier than I did. Today, I’m a very, very big lightweight which shows you how much I was struggling. I took a bit of time out and, since returning, I’ve had a very good second career up at 9st 9(lbs).
What do you consider to be the highlight of your boxing career?
Two stand out. Firstly, there was the night that I beat Manchester’s Stephen Foster Jnr at the MEN Arena in his home city to win that WBU title (pts 12). Everybody thought he’d beat me easily.
Secondly would be stopping Anthony Crolla to win the British lightweight title in Oldham (rsc6, April 2012). I was given just five weeks notice and only accepted the fight when Danny Vaughan agreed to train me.
I’ve a huge amount to thank Oliver Harrison for. He’d spent a lot of time with me and was instrumental in getting my confidence back but I felt I’d gone stale. Oliver, gentleman that he is, wished me all the luck in the world. That meant a lot to me.
I gelled back with Danny and George immediately. They were the only people in all boxing who believed that I could beat Crolla. Winning a British title with the Vaughans, after all we’d been through, was really special.
Probably getting stopped by Scott Lawton. I was still being trained by George at that time and, in the changing rooms after, he said something like :‘You’ve had a great career, son, but this is the end of your journey.’ I cried my eyes out. I had great respect for George and that really hurt me.
Who was the best opponent you’ve fought?
The most skilful would’ve been David Burke (the former Commonwealth and WBU champion) in sparring. He was always massive for the weight and would really give it to me.
The most skilful I fought in a fight was probably Martin Stead of the Army, a triple ABA champion. We boxed six times. He won the first three, I won the last three. The toughest I fought was Scott Lawton. In our second fight, I clattered him with some real bombs but he just wouldn’t go down.
The hardest I remember being hit was by Emiliano Marsili who stopped me in round seven for the (vacant) IBO title (January 2012). At the end of the first round, I remember walking back to my corner thinking: ‘Wow! I’m in trouble here.’ He’s now the European champion and still unbeaten in 27.
It’s possible that Martin Lindsay hit me harder but I don’t remember that one. I was out before I hit the canvas!
In September, at the Board of Control’s Annual Awards Ceremony, you collected the Sportsmanship Award for the gracious manner in which you’ve conducted yourself throughout your entire career. That must have been very gratifying?
Yeh, I was delighted, particularly as I’m now coaching kids myself. We’re all competitors but I always stress that no matter what’s happened in the build up, after you’ve fought you shake hands with the opponent and perhaps share a beer together.
No matter what was said in advance, I’ve always made a habit of going back stage to check that my opponent was healthy. I’ll apologize for any bad blood and sincerely wish them the very best for their future. I also make it a habit to publicly thank both sets of fans for turning up because, without them, us fighters wouldn’t get paid what we do. I’ve always had fabulous support, home and away, and I know everyone of them by name.
Me girlfriend escorted me to that awards dinner and I also picked up the gong for Contest of The Year, for the rematch with Crolla. So, yeh, it was a special night all round.
You’ve given a huge amount of entertainment to the fans over a long period of time now but you’ve been involved in your share of ring wars. At 30, how much is left in the tank? How do you feel physically and mentally?
I still get really nervous in the build up to all my fights so I know I’ve still got a lot to offer. Besides, I’ve got to keep fighting to keep my wife-to-be in shoes!
When the nerves stop I’ll know it’s time to go. But I’m still hungry to win more titles and I’m working hard because I know I can still do it.
In the gym I’m capable of doing more now than I’ve ever been able to do. I run faster, I’m stronger on the weights and I’m more flexible. The older I’m getting, the better I’m getting.
Any thoughts as to what you might do when you finally hang your gloves up?
Don’t worry, you’ll be seeing plenty of me about. Hopefully, I’ll be staying in the game as a trainer. I’ve already got me own gym, the DM Fitness Centre on Great Homer Street in Liverpool. Lots of good pros such as Tony Dodson and Nick Quigley use it.
I’m also in the process of getting my amateur club Derry ABC affiliated with the ABA. I’m a learner who spends his time studying old Georgie, trying to pick up little tips. He’s 76 now but still in top nick. If I can achieve a small fraction of what the Vaughan family has, I’ll die a very happy man.
So you’re back where it all started, after re-signing with Frank Warren!
That’s right and I’m delighted to be back with Frank at Queensberry Promotions, back boxing on BoxNation. I’m desperate to convince them that their investment was wise, to show them that I’ve still got what it takes as a fighter. I really want to impress them and I’ll thrive off that pressure.
Why is fighting Stephen Ormond for the WBO European belt a good move for Derry Mathews at this stage of your career?
Firstly, it provides me with an opportunity to collect a new title. Secondly, I understand that if I’m victorious, I’ll get a top ten (WBO) world rating. Thirdly, it’s a big fight at what’s sure to be a packed arena in my home city. What’s not to like?
Right now, I need to be fighting the best. Anthony Crolla and Kevin Mitchell decided that they wanted to go different routes. Short term, I want to be made mandatory for the British, I want to challenge Marsili for the European in a fight that would double as a world eliminator then finish off by fighting for a world title.
How has prep gone and how important shall home advantage be?
As Danny Vaughan has married Sandra and moved to Glasgow, I now train at a gym up there. I’ve got a great sponsor in Sake Bake which enables me to stay in an apartment up in Scotland for seven weeks before a fight. I’m locked away and I’ve a chef who sorts out three good meals a day.
This is a 50-50 fight which I didn’t have to take so home turf is definitely a plus but not my only advantage. Stephen basically is a big featherweight cum super-feather who’s never really been tested yet. He’s also never been 12 rounds. Danny studied him for a week and told me to accept the fight.
Ormond was a quality amateur winning three All-Ireland senior titles and he’s lost just one of 16 as a pro. What problems do you envisage him causing? What type of fight are you anticipating?
For a start, his work rate is very good and he delivers his shots from all angles. But with my jab and size, no one’s going to outbox me. I’m very confident that I’ve got the brain and ability to overcome whatever Stephen brings.
I expect it’ll be an absolute war that the fans are going to love. If he wants to fight, that’ll play into my hands. I’m hardly going to run away from him in my home city. I’d never be forgiven!
On December 7th, we’ll see who’s got the better chin and the better punching power at lightweight. May the best man win on the night.
Remaining ambitions within the ring?
When I re-signed with Frank, we agreed to try to get into the mandatory position for every belt going; British, European, world. Do it the hard way so that the champions have to fight me. If I could get those opportunities, I’d be the happiest man alive.