By Oliver McManus @OliverGMcManus
‘Mighty oaks from leafy beginnings grow’ to paraphrase the much-worn D. Everett quote but it’s pertinent when discussing the life and career of Daniel Morley.
From life as a ‘very shy’ child who ‘never really felt confident’ in his surroundings, the 22 year old sprung the biggest of surprises as a teenager when he told his parents he was headed to the gym. He began by discussing that context and his life growing up.
“I grew up in Mitcham and I wasn’t particularly outgoing but I didn’t not fit in. I had friends but I never felt safe or confident in myself when I was young. I was always running about, played a lot of football until I was about 16 and I played cricket as well for Mitcham Cricket Club; it’s actually the oldest cricket club in the world.
I moved to Epsom when I was 12 which was a big turning point in my life – I love it here. Getting into boxing was a weird one, to be honest, because I can remember being on the back of my dad’s motorbike and if someone cut him up I’d think ‘oh shit’. I didn’t like confrontation. I was 14 when I went down to the gym because a friend of mine (Luke Clarke) had been going down there but I got halfway to the gym and bottled it, I came back home. It niggled away at me for a few weeks until eventually I went down the boxing gym and I was very intimidated going in there but it was really relaxed.”
“I got halfway to the gym and bottled it.”
Initially it was the ‘individuality’ of the sport that sparked the intrigue from Morley – who would box in the garden and ‘take a battering’ among friends. For a kid low on self-confidence it was an opportunity to grow into his personality and trigger a lifelong passion for the sport.
“It fed into my insecurities about not being confident in myself and I was escaping how I felt emotionally. For me it was the confidence of knowing I could carry myself, defend myself and be good at something I never thought I’d have the courage to try. I enjoyed it from that perspective (to begin with) and it took me a while to think ‘I’m alright at this’ but now I’m obsessed to the point where I could name you a fight from 1955 or something.”
Following 26 amateur contests, a career best described as ‘short but sweet’, the London representative began to slip through the fingers of pugilism and into the dark corridors of a day job. Working at Gatwick Airport on shifts with ‘six days on, three days off’ was not conducive to happiness and it was his girlfriend, away at University, who nudged Morley to ‘give (boxing) another go’.
“I hit my legal years of drinking so I wasn’t really taking it too seriously towards the end of my career. In the two years I had out (of the sport) my grandad died and we’d had a few family problems so I decided to get a job, good money, but on those 13-14 hour shifts I knew there was something missing. I spent a lot of time in hospital with my grandad, with a lot of people coming to the end of their lives, and I just kept thinking ‘if I knuckle down now’ I won’t have this big regret years down the line.
“If I wasn’t boxing I’d probably be in the same place. Just a little heavier.”
A message to Adam Martin, his coach at 12 Rounds in Clapham, prompted a partnership that has seen Morley mature far beyond his tender years. Five four rounders in 18 months is steady going for the welterweight and he’s yet to lose a round. I was keen to know if he was able to joy those first few fights given the often dour nature of opposition.
“You’re picking up experience and little tricks along the way so I do enjoy that part of it. Boxing at York Hall, as well, in that famous venue makes it even nicer so it is enjoyable but, at the same time, you are always trying to force that excitement. I always try to go for the knockout which I haven’t got, due to the four rounds, though I have thought ‘if this was a six rounder, they’d be gone’. I’m quite fortunate with tickets and fighting on good shows at good times with a busy venue so I’m lucky from that point of view. I suppose you enjoy the occasion as a whole more than just the fight.”
The main source of enjoyment has come ‘from proving first impressions wrong’ with his ‘leafy’ upbringing often mistaken for Morley being a ‘soft-touch’. His five professional fights, often in front of a packed York Hall, have offered plenty of opportunities to spin jaws and it’s an experience that gets better with each passing contest.
“I liked my last fight (against Kristaps Zulgis) because he was coming off a 1st round knockout win and usually fights at the weight above me. He gave it a go and it was the first opponent that really pushed me back a little bit. I’ve looked at his record since and he’s been stopped a couple times; I’m thinking ‘I hit him with everything and I couldn’t get him out of there’. I must have softened him up for the others. Lee Hallett, who beat Harley Benn, can really fight. He is so slippery and he will catch anyone that isn’t concentrating – I broke his ribs in our fight but he dug in and stuck it through.”
Well reasoned and modest as he spoke, not to be mistaken for understated, the welterweight dropped encylopaedic bits of knowledge throughout our conversation. From the history of Mitcham Cricket Club to the career of Gennady Golovkin, his boxing idol, there was always a fact for context and it showed just how passionate Morely is about everything he does. Having admitted he was first happy just to become a professional boxer there is no sitting back from the 22 year old who continually, incrementally, sets himself new goals. Long term it’s to ‘get to the top’ but for now the realism in his head says ‘pursue challenging fights… to get a title next year’.
In an increasingly ferocious and competitive welterweight division that level-headed nature could make all the difference.
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