Scottish Fighters Make Pilgrimage To Wildcard

boxing by John Wight - It’s just after seven in the morning and four young fighters from Scotland are halfway through yet another lung-bursting hill run through Runyon Canyon in Hollywood, California. They’ve been in Los Angeles just over a week by now, but already they’ve put in some punishing road work and sparred with some of the best fighters in the world at Freddie Roach’s famed Wildcard Gym.

Leading the pack is Gary McMillan, a welterweight with a pro record of 9 wins, 1 defeat, and 1 draw. His next contest is an all-Edinburgh match-up against Gary Young for the Scottish welterweight title next month. This is his second visit to Hollywood. On his first visit last year he sparred with Manny Pacquiao.

Just behind Gary is another young welterweight in the shape of 6’1” John Thain.. A former Scottish amateur champion, John has just turned pro and is set to make his debut on the undercard of Amir Khan’s first defence of his world light-welterweight title in Newcastle on December 5 against Dmitry Salita.

Behind them come two of Scotland’s top amateurs and future professional prospects in the shape of featherweights, Stephen Tiffney and Josh Taylor. The oldest among the group is McMillan at 24, with the youngest, Josh Taylor still just 18.

Despite the Southern California temperatures and blue skies, which in October is a world away from what they’re used to in Scotland, these young men have been left in no doubt by their trainer that the two weeks of their trip here is a training camp and not a holiday camp. It is why he’s ensured that they are in bed by ten and up at six each morning. It’s also why he’s brought along with him three assistants to make sure they remain focused on the job at hand.

The trainer in question is Terry McCormack, who at just 46 is well on the way to building a reputation as a man who knows how to maximise the potential of young fighters through combining his undoubted knowledge of the game with a healthy appreciation of the psychology required for success. Already, he’s trained the likes of former British featherweight champion, Paul Appleby, and is currently preparing former WBO world super-featherweight champion, Alex Arthur, for his second fight at lightweight sometime in December.

Proprietor of the Lochend Boxing Club in his home town of Edinburgh, this is the third year running that Terry has made the trip to LA to provide his fighters with the experience of sparring and training alongside some of the best in the world.

As a close friend of Freddie Roach for a number of years now, the young Scottish trainer reckons there’s no better way to prepare his young stable for the big time than by throwing them in at the deep end in the cauldron that is the Wildcard Boxing Gym.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for them,” he told me outside the gym after their first sparring session. “Where else would young fighters from Scotland get to spar with Olympic champions, world champions, and top contenders? As soon as they walked into the place for the first time their faces lit up at rubbing shoulders with people they’d only ever seen on the TV or in the magazines before.”

I then asked Terry what he felt were the main differences between training methods in places like Wildcard and back over in the UK.

“Back home the fighters are every bit as fit as these guys. What they lack, in my opinion, is craft – the ability to adapt to different styles. Of course, you can’t generalise, but I’d say that British fighters overemphasise aggression to the detriment of other aspects of the game.”

I put it to him that the responsibility for that must then lie with the trainers, which he agreed with.

“Absolutely,” he replied. “That’s why these trips over to Freddie’s are invaluable in terms of my own education as a trainer. I watch and study the way he works on the pads, how he sees the small things in sparring that in a big fight can often make the difference between winning and losing. It’s the kind of education that someone in my position can’t buy.”

Also part of the delegation from Lochend this year is Edinburgh lightweight legend and Hall of Famer, Ken Buchanan. The reception he’s received from everyone at Wildcard has demonstrated once again that Ken was a man who was always more appreciated in the US than he was at home. Boxers of the calibre of current cruiserweight champ, Ola ‘Kryptonite’ Afolabi, for example, have lined up to pay their respects and have pictures taken with the Scottish champ, and Ken has revelled in all of the attention.

Speaking of Ola, he’s just started sparring in advance of his title defence in Germany in December against Marco Huck and already he looks in great shape. As does Britain’s Amir Khan, whom I watched put in some mean looking pad work with one of Roach’s assistants last week. His speed and power is truly awesome and the improvements he’s made under Roach in such a short amount of time have transformed him from a raw talent into one of the best in the world.

Speaking of Freddie Roach, he returns to Wildcard on October 26 for the final two weeks of preparation before Manny Pacquiao’s much anticipated showdown against Miguel Cotto in Las Vegas. When I asked Terry what his prediction was for the upcoming fight, his reply came in one word – “Manny.”

Article posted on 25.10.2009

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