Craig McEwan: On His Way Back

by John Wight: It’s hard not to like middleweight contender Craig McEwan. In fact a more personable and friendly guy it would be hard to meet. And in the world of professional boxing, in which sadly there is far too much emphasis placed on ego and bombast at the expense of respect and humility, this is no mean feat.

But regardless of his personality it is Craig’s talent and ability in the ring that has seen him emerge as a genuine contender. This year especially, after his epic battle against Ireland’s Andy Lee, he’s seen his profile and reputation enhanced, despite going down to defeat. Indeed, when you consider how superbly he boxed that night before succumbing to a TKO in the tenth, this is no surprise.

Nonetheless, it was still a defeat, his first in twenty outings as a pro, and sitting in a car travelling from Edinburgh to Billy Nelson’s Fighting Scots Gym in Glasgow, where Craig has recently decamped after six years living stateside and training with famed trainer Freddie Roach at his much venerated Wildcard Gym in Hollywood, I’m curious to learn what his thoughts are on the fight just five months on.

“I’ve only been able to watch the tape [of the fight] twice,” he tells me. “It’s too painful. I knew I was in front going into the tenth and my corner were screaming at me to stay away from him. I had to decide whether to do that or keep the pressure on and continue forcing him back. I decided to try and keep my distance and he caught me.”

I wondered if he took any comfort from his performance even though he lost.

“Well, HBO (HBO carried the fight live) told me after the fight that they definitely wanted me on again.

And my promoter, Golden Boy, seemed happy enough. So we’ll see. All I’m focused on now is getting in shape for September 17.” (Craig was due to fight on the undercard of the Mayweather v Ortiz fight in Vegas on September 17 against former world champion Kassim Ouma. However, at time of writing this fight has been cancelled and Craig is hoping that a replacement opponent can be found.)

Regarding his decision to return to Scotland, I asked him if he considered this a backward step in his career.

“The thing that most people don’t realise is that just because I was training at Wildcard and Freddie was my trainer, I wasn’t getting much time with him. His schedule’s that full working with Manny and Amir Khan he isn’t able to fit in the other fighters in his stable who’re not quite at that level. Basically I trained myself for my last three fights.

“Of course the weather’s great, and the lifestyle and all that, but that’s not why I moved over there. After my last fight I felt it was time to sit down and have a long, hard think about my career and both my wife Sally and I agreed that it was time to come home.”

And how are things working out training with Billy Nelson?

“Billy’s the right trainer for me at this point. He’s got an excellent stable that includes the likes of Ricky Burns and John Simpson, as well as a group of hungry young pros. The atmosphere in the gym is excellent.

When I ask him what his most vivid memories are of his six years training in the States, Craig has no hesitation in answering.

“The sparring, without a doubt. I’ve been spat at, kicked, elbowed in the face, headbutted, you name it. It really was a case of sink or swim sparring at Wildcard. New guys come through the place all the time looking to impress. You couldn’t afford to take a day off.”

I was interested to know who stood out among the fighters he sparred with over there.

“I worked with guys of the calibre of Vernon Forest, Winky Wright, Antonio Margarito, and Bernard Hopkins. I remember one period when I would spar six rounds with Margarito in the morning and then come back in the afternoon and do four rounds with Hopkins. It was really tough work

“I worked with Margarito for a few weeks before he fought Paul Williams. It was so hard I began to dread it. I mean, the guy’s an animal. It was only when I reverted back to my own style of hitting and staying on the move, staying on my toes, that I was able to handle him. Before that I was standing and trading with him, trying to mimic Williams’ style. Not a good idea.”

What about Hopkins?

“I worked with him in two of his training camps, before he fought Winky Wright and then for the Calzaghe fight, when I was his chief sparring partner.

“Hopkins likes to spar four minute rounds and we were doing 6-8 every day. He’s got so much experience it is unreal. He’ll tie you up, trash talk, do whatever it takes to get you rattled. One day he KO’d one of the other sparring partners then turned to me, pointed and shouted, ‘Next!’

“That’s Bernard. He’s from the street and he brings that mentality to the ring. You have to be careful when it comes to working with these guys, though. You can end up seeing yourself as just a sparring partner if you’re not careful. It’s good to do it for a while, but at some point you have to do your own thing.”

What about the future?

“I’m keen to take my career to the next level and show people what I can do. I know I can improve training with Billy, and I’ve already shown that I’m willing to fight anyone anywhere.”

Just like Ken Buchanan?

“Yes. Kenny won his world title abroad and he defended it abroad as well. All these years later and he’s still the benchmark for any Scottish fighter hoping to do well in the sport.”

Watching him go through some hard sparring under the keen eye of his new trainer Billy Nelson later that morning, it was immediately apparent that far from a backward step, Craig McEwan’s decision to base himself back in Scotland has rejuvenated his career and appetite for success. Look out for him. He’s on his way back.

Article posted on 02.09.2011

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