Wayne McCullough: Up For An Oscar

07.07.05 - Interview by Fiona Manning: They call him a throwback. On July 16, nine days after he turns 35, Wayne “The Pocket Rocket” McCullough, Ireland’s best export since Guinness aims to show those two blind judges who ruled against him last February that he is still championship material.

McCullough, 27-5, 18 KOs, who fought WBC super bantamweight champion Oscar Larios to a disputed decision loss, gets the first rematch he has ever been granted in his long professional career.

“People still come up to me every day here in Las Vegas saying I got robbed in that fight,” said Wayne by phone from his home where he is training in his own gym in the final week before meeting Larios at the MGM Grand.

“Those two judges were incompetent. They took away from a good fight. Judging like that is bad for the sport. If they were going to rule against me, they could have given me a draw. That way Larios could keep his belt and we’d still have a rematch.”

And he got it. Not that it has come easy. The rocket man’s path is once again littered with landmines that would drop most other fighters, but not McCullough.

He says nothing could have happened without his manager/wife Cheryl McCullough and his manager Dan Goossen who worked hard to secure the rematch with Larios.

One small detour occurred this week but neither Cheryl or Wayne were thrown by it.

“We are training with Freddie Roach and were with him out in Los Angeles until he had to go testify at the Murad Muhammad vs Manny Pacquiao trial,” Cheryl said as her husband prepared to spar seven rounds in his last week of sparring.

“It screwed things up a little, but thank God Wayne is a true professional. He doesn’t need to be guided.

“I have all his training sessions on camcorder so he’s going through all those tapes, remembering everything Freddie said. Besides, he’ll be here Sunday so he’ll be with Wayne for our last week of training.

“What Wayne is doing is continuing to train and remember all the things Eddie Futch would be saying to him in this final week.”

Wayne had a tight bond with the legendary “trainer’s trainer” who trained Freddie Roach. Last August it was Roach the McCullough’s sought out to help with his return to the ring.

“Freddie is an amazing man, he’s just great in the corner, he reminds me of Eddie,” Wayne said. “They’re very quiet. They don’t scream at you. They keep calm and when you’re back in the corner, they whisper in your ear. Freddie tells me exactly what I need to do, just like Eddie did.

“The thing about Eddie was that first and foremost he wanted to be your friend. And we were great friends. We traveled the world together. He came to Ireland to work three of my fights, we went to Japan.

“And the thing was we’d have dinner together and we’d talk about all sorts of things, not just boxing. And you know what, Freddie is just like him. We just get along really well.”

It’s a professional association made in boxing heaven for Wayne and Cheryl who attract goodwill from all corners of the sport.

The couple is highly unusual in boxing for their mutual closeness, their strong family and community ties; they have even maintained a close relationship with McCullough’s ex-trainer Kenny Crooms.

“Oh, he was just over here at our house yesterday,” Cheryl said warmly. “Kenny and Wayne worked together for a long time but he had so many other fighters and he was out of town a lot.”

There was nobody in their book that could have put McCullough back in the world picture again but Futch’s protégée, Freddie.

For his part, promoter Dan Goossen believes his budding stable of world champions will have a new addition next week with McCullough.

“Oh, Dan is the best,” said Cheryl. “We couldn’t have done this without him. He promoted Wayne’s pro debut in Los Angeles in 1993 and we have always been friends.

“He calls all the time and he even called on Sunday to see how Wayne is doing. That’s the type of thing Dan does, even when there isn’t a fight on. He’s an absolutely fantastic friend and a great promoter.”

It’s hard not to root for McCullough who is one of the most popular fighters on the circuit.

Cheryl believes Larios granted Wayne the rematch because “He knows he didn’t really win that first fight and he wants to prove he can do it convincingly this time.”

What about the fact Larios is predicting he will knock McCullough down this time?”

“Nobody else has ever done it so what makes him he can do it?” she said, her lovely Belfast burr taking on a small edge.

“Wayne could have been better in that fight, he knows he could have been better. And he will be this time. ”

McCullough says he blames ring rust for a couple of slow middle rounds. “I hadn’t had a fight in three years,” he said.

Thern there was that low body shot he sustained but for which Larios was not deducted a point.
“He hit me three inches above the knee and I showed the bruise to the ref. He even hit me low in front of the ref who just turned a blind eye. The one time I hit him low, I got warned.

“Larios couldn’t get to my body. Everything Eddie and Freddie have taught me is to keep my elbows tucked into my body, so the only thing he can do is go low. ”

Still, McCullough says he is focusing on the upcoming fight and he plans to make things as difficult for Larios this time as he did five months ago.

“I don’t know why he keeps saying he’s going to knock me down though. He kept saying it before the first fight, too and he couldn’t do it.”

Will Larios pay for the big talk?

“Absolutely, guaranteed,” said Wayne who has a training schedule that would give most athletes sleepless nights.

He is sparring four guys, 140 pound prospect Brian Clements, lightweight Joel Santiago and two massive guys Craig Stott (who weighs 175) amd Matt Fardell (190).

“These are two guys who Wayne is training but they love to spar with him and let me tell you he hurts them every day,” said Cheryl who marvels at her determined husband.

“He’s definitely a throwback,” she said. “He only took six days off after the Larios fight and that was only because he said his body was sore. I told him he’s addicted. He’s always in the gym but I would rather he was addicted to the gym than to other things.”

Wayne’s trademark determination has not skipped a generation. The couple’s delightful seven-year-old daughter Wynona was making ring appearances in vitro and is a regular ringside visitor to all the Vegas fights.

“We are home schooling her and she’s just amazing,” said Cheryl. “She just started second grade. She’s supposed to be having summer vacation but she told me she was bored and wanted to start school again. I didn’t want to hold her back. She is a lot like her dad.”

Wayne feels most of the hard work is done for what he acknowledges is the fight of his life and he’s very pleased at how training has progressed.

Like Freddie’s Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, he has always trained to a 30 second rest break as opposed to the usual 60 second break.

“It’s harder for your body to recuperate in 30 seconds, so by the time you get to the fight, you get that much more energy between rounds,” he said.

“I am so excited about this fight, I can’t tell you. I can’t wait. Fighters are never the same after they’ve fought me. And Larios won’t be the same after next week.”

Article posted on 07.07.2005

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