The Changing Landscape for Scott Quigg

By Jeff Weston on November 4, 2016
The Changing Landscape for Scott Quigg
There is a quiet weighing up of things from Scott Quigg – mature counsel. (Tim Hobbs)

One worries about his expected step-up, his joining the nine-stoners. It’ll be like fleeing a gang only to find himself in a tougher neighborhood…

Put mittens on the two lads behind reception at Gloves Community Centre – James Shorting and Carl Dyer – and you’d expect a TKO in round six or seven; an austere uppercut from the stockier Dyer. Neither man boxes. Neither man professes to want to step in a ring (although Dyer is taking his ABA coaching badges). Yet this is the thing about boxing, its pre-bell, thin definition – you see two specimens side by side and foolishly think you know who’s the hardest.

Scott Quigg would have been downed in his sixth and eleventh fight if that was the case – against Gheorghe Ghiompirica. He would have succumbed to Rendall Munroe twice in 2012 and been chewed up by Kiko Martinez – his “first big-name win” – only last year.

Except, the heart isn’t always visible. And ugly doesn’t always execute the menace that its face promises.

On the outside, Prince Street, Bolton is ugly, unprepossessing. The home of Joe Gallagher’s legion of champions feels like a piece of post-2008 Detroit. An eight-story block of flats sits opposite. Faded double yellow lines shimmy in front of the similarly colored gym front. Half a dozen old, wooden crates stand pointlessly propped up against a nearby wall. The boarded up Cotton Tree public house down the road – “another lost pub” – symbolizes retrenchment of a sort.

At 7 am, sat outside what was boldly heralded by the local rag – post-Carl Frampton – as “the centre of the boxing universe” (what with the Team Fury gym just a mile around the corner), there is a kind of beauty, however – a mishmash of humanity preparing itself for another day. All potter and weave beneath the prominent B&Q orange lights in the distance. All look minuscule in the shadow of the self-storage warehouse behind this boxing hub.

‘No Ball Games’ blares the red and white sign in the housing association gardens across the road. If not, then there has to be something – exhalement and focus quartered in meaningful barracks; a group of kids and young men directing their angst somewhere.

James opens up at 8.45 am on this late October Monday morning. He refers to himself as a “caretaker”, the odd job man, the man with the keys. He loosens the necessary doors in time for the pro boxers who invariably train between 9 am and 1 pm. It doesn’t appear to be a taxing job, but he has to smile and greet all manner of people – some of them warm-hearted, some of them overweening.

Looking around it is clear that this is Amir Khan central. Thirty-four framed snapshots of his fights line the wall. “Just the Canelo fight to go up,” James says, almost six months after that heavy night in Las Vegas.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez is the man that links Bolton’s famous son with the current Scouse (and Mancunian) occupants. Past the two Toshiba televisions, leather suite and boxes, and through a maze of conference rooms and staircases, reside Gallagher’s often maligned crew including Liam “Beefy” Smith, Anthony “Million Dollar” Crolla and Scott Quigg.

It is just Gallagher and Bury pugilist, Quigg when I arrive – sat on the humble, slat benches of the beige-tiled changing room in their archetypal black gear. Gallagher has his usual scorched smile; Quigg, his always-alert eyes and indoor skin. The Manchester twang of Gallagher is noticeable although less striking – a little softer – close up. He seems reasonable, more approachable in the flesh than he does on TV; his backstreet haircut a sign that intensity and fitness are at the forefront of his thoughts, not la-di-da smoothness.

It is five years now since these two hooked up – Quigg’s super bantamweight Lonsdale belt win against decade older, Jason Booth to many the start of the ride. Gallagher got him at the right time (fight number 23). And Quigg’s part of the deal is that he’s no longer sprayed in the face between rounds by Brian Hughes, but instead has a damp, white cloth placed on his head.

“You’re a Bolton fan?” I say to Gallagher after getting some poor information on the way through.

“Who told you that?” is the retort, the appalled counter to such a statement.

I get the names mixed up: “Carl.” Blame the imagined, uppercut specialist instead of the guy on the canvas.

Gallagher shakes his head. He likes to work in the provinces, away from the bright, imposing lights of Manchester – following a “surprise” phone call / agreement with Khan’s dad, Shah over four years ago – but his football team is firmly “Man Utd. Him too…” he nods in the direction of Quigg.

Quigg is supposed to be loyal to Bury as well, but there is no interjection, no roar from the younger man. He doesn’t mind Gallagher taking the lead. When he feels like speaking, he’ll speak. There is a quiet weighing up of things from Quigg – mature counsel. By his own admittance he lives a very isolated life and so perhaps trust takes a little longer to come by.

I discuss Carl Thompson with Gallagher as Quigg continues to wrap his hands. “I think I read [your article on] that. Was it a two-parter?” he asks.

“No,” is my flat response, knowing that these boxing doyens have a lot of fishing lines in their head and sometimes tie bait together mistakenly – cross one story with another.

We move on – talk about the weekend’s boxing and also the discernible, up and coming mismatch between British and European super middleweight, Callum Smith and Luke Blackledge; Smith putting Rocky Fielding to sleep within one round in November 2015 and Fielding doing the same to the “Malik Scott,” mask-wearing Blackledge two years earlier.

“The British Board have ordered it…we’ll do it.” Gallagher seems more respectful than I anticipated. He’s aware that Blackledge took a blow to the side of the neck that evening – something you can never legislate for. But maybe only Lee Markham has been of decent caliber / opposition since. And Elvis Dube didn’t exactly raise Blackledge’s stock on Saturday night.

I cut back to Quigg: “I think Scott’s had three outstanding, career-defining fights – Jamie Arthur…” Before I can rattle through or recall the remaining names of Yoandris Salinas and Hidenori Otake (and avoid mention of the malfunction versus Frampton), Gallagher is bubbling over upon hearing Arthur’s name.

“That was our Jamie Arthur moment [on Saturday],” he says, verbally nudging Quigg, briefly shaking off his regular, utilitarian voice.

It’s not clear if he’s referring to Blackledge (down in the 1st), recent recruit, Paul Butler or serial headbanger, Jamie Cox (cut in the 5th) on the Bolton Whites Hotel card. Everybody loves Arthur, the Scottish Welshman though it seems. And for good reason. The “give it your all,” free-swinging fighter embodied much of what Gallagher preaches: tenacity, grueling gym sessions and heart. He epitomized a ring attitude that many trainers these days see as high risk. 

Gallagher too would worry over the lack of a high guard, a proper defense. “Engage when you want to engage. Work the jab,” were his words to Quigg after Round Two on that night back in February 2012; ironically the 24th professional gig for both boxers.

How a fighter’s career trajectory can change in the space of a few seconds. Quigg – down in the 4th, possibly about to lose the first defense of his British title, the ringside commentators referring to the “first crisis of his professional career,” but then employing the front foot, boxing at a better pace.

“You push Arthur back and you take away a lot of his assets,” was the boiled dictum from outside the ropes, the cue to Quigg to change his approach. Imperative there’s a Plan B.

Frampton significantly said of Quigg in the run up to their fight four years later: “He has to train hard because he is not a natural. He is manufactured.” This is undoubtedly the central, salient point about Quigg and one that I can’t help wondering over as I attempt to draw out a sentence or two from the 28-year-old now.

Is he manufactured – lacking in flair and quintessential ability? Such a question brings in and lassoes many facts and observations concerning the 5’8” super bantamweight, soon-to-be featherweight.

Gallagher knows he has a good one. He has previously bemoaned the training regimes of Ricky Hatton and Michael Gomez – north-west fighters who unnaturally shed the pounds in the gym pre-fight, unable to stop their weight from ballooning. To Quigg, the gym is a church. And every day is Sunday. When away from the congregation, he is out hill running, swimming, consuming his Science in Sport strawberry protein. But does that make him a potential great and can he live with the skilled architects of the weight divisions around him?

“You know more about my fights than me,” he self-deprecatingly states after an initial lull, perhaps healthily looking to the future, perhaps trying to forget the Frampton mist that descended at the Manchester Arena back in February.

Some of it I buy. Some of it I don’t. The Quigg Diaries – six, seven, eight years of monitoring and evaluation – are well known. And if every facet of his training – sparring, bagwork, padwork – is videotaped, watched and re-watched, as has been reported, then the fights that prompt such tweaks and preparation must be in his head. “It’s a disease…it’s obsessive,” he once said.

The archive shows that he has skittled over Angelo Villani, Andrey Kostin, Santiago Allione, Diego Oscar Silva, Tshifhiwa Munyai, Stephane Jamoye and Kiko Martinez. From these fights we learn very little, however, except that there are stuntmen, wide open Russians, weight dodgers, boy-like boxers with red Mohicans, fragile atomic spiders, those prepared to be bullied (offering a mere ragged jab by way of muster) and those without a reverse gear.

The fights that best provide a semblance of insight and information on Quigg’s potential, alas, are his longer escapades: Arthur, Salinas and Otake; encounters largely responsible for the birth of Brand Quigg. The Bury maestro, it seems, only convinces the purists every fourth outing.

Reference is made to Quigg’s boxing hero, Wilfredo “Bazooka” Gomez in the Arthur scrap – the Puerto Rican turning 60 this very month. What a delight with his angles, brawn and unmitigated appetite Gomez was. In entering a ring with Arthur (18-5-0), Quigg got a taste of that – full-blooded confrontation. But then for Gomez, along came Salvador Sanchez – one of the finest talents the sport has ever seen (tragically and briefly).

Sanchez – killed in a car crash a year later – taught Gomez an important lesson in August 1981: You can’t out-tough all your opponents. If Quigg is to take this track – he possesses, after all, a quite dazzling level of stamina and indulges in plenty of behind-the-elbow tree cutting with his axe-like arms – then he needs to be aware of technically adept bruisers, “natural[s]” to re-quote his nemesis, Frampton.

Quigg gets up and ambles toward the ring. “I wanna do it properly,” he says regarding a fuller interview. “I have my trainin’ and my eatin’…I’ll phone you later.” Gallagher chips in: “He can talk a lot.”

Properly is his performance against Salinas (20-0-1) – a majority decision draw. Behind in that fight, Quigg managed to summon crucial reserves from the tank. Gallagher’s corner advice shifted from “You’re waitin’ and waitin’ but you’re not seein’ it comin’…you wanna just lay back – feint, little twitches of the head, alright. Just don’t let him turn, poke that jab. Alright. OK. Get your legs going, alright – your legs should be gassing. You’ve not got ‘em goin’ yet” (after Round One) to “You’re breathin’ smart…Stay disciplined…Chin down” (after Round Eight).

You learn a lot from Gallagher’s tone, his sense of urgency. When the words are more spaced out, then he’s generally happy with his fighter. Quigg’s volume punching, self-belief and initiative saved this and his comparable lack of an amateur pedigree was pushed aside.

Otake (22-1-3) posed a different challenge: always down on points, but a great example of an Asian fighter being able to handle the body shots; Quigg’s finest weapon, like a patter of chopsticks to the ribs. “…the old story of levels,” the commentary ran a little unfairly, dismissing the Japanese fighter’s chances, but Otake – cut above the right eye at the end of the 9th – showed himself to be a gladiator.

Three times the doctors check him out. And three times he is sent back into the war zone. Quigg, you can tell, is in absolute admiration. Such respect reinforces the peddled sentiment that emanates from his camp. “This isn’t hardship…Inside the ring is my home…There’s nothing more enjoyable than having my hand raised at the end of a fight.”

One worries about his expected step-up, his joining the nine-stoners. It’ll be like fleeing a gang only to find himself in a tougher neighborhood. (Nothing like Tony Bellew moving from light-heavyweight to the comfort of cruiserweight.) Gary Russell Jr., Lee Selby and Leo Santa Cruz – not to mention that Irish chap – are hardly generous opponents, but then neither is Guillermo Rigondeaux, the man Quigg has sparred and messed about with at Freddie Roach’s Wild Card gym.

If Quigg can stop the unnecessary scouting missions (a-la-Frampton) and find some new tricks then anything is possible. He knows that boxing can be a “dirty, horrible business” yet it gives him a thrill, provides him with a place in the world.

There’s some old footage of Wilfredo Gomez stood against a wall having a soft ball repeatedly thrown at his head; a chance to perfect his bob and weave; a chance to augment the defenses. Quigg needs some of this old school chicanery and hardness if he is to thrive. He also needs refining – absolving of boxing impurities and stiffness.

“He hasn’t had his BoxRec t-shirt yet,” Gallagher announces, referring to the gift in relation to Quigg’s ranking. Little things. It’s the little things with Gallagher, the serial talker.

“Four world champions out of two gyms literally a mile-and-a-half apart – that is some going. There must be something in the water in Bolton,” he said back in March.

The Aldi Shepley Spring water, lined up in the Gloves’ fridge and sourced from next door, would beg to differ.

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