By Oliver McManus @OliverGMcManus
Having just returned home from the school run, bringing his daughter back from primary school, and with the alarm for dinner looming in the background, it was as good a time as any to speak to Jamie Bates ahead of his professional debut on Saturday.
Mixed in with his own training is his own day job as a personal trainer and, unless my ears deceive me, dallying his hand at part-time falconry. Like I said, I caught him at a good time. His debut, then, takes place on July 6th against Yailton Neves, although it was originally pencilled in to be versus Zach Thompson, at the Lancastrian Suite and Bates found himself positively pumped up for the occasion.
“I’m feeling good, (training is) at that point where I can wind down the training so I’ve not got that little bit of stress to worry about because it’s been a long time coming, this debut, the license took a long time to come through and I’ve not had a fight in a year so I just can’t wait. I’ve got the excitement to get back; it’s been a case of pulling myself out the gutter and getting back on track – not accepting the obstacles that were put in front of me.”
“The last time I fought here was six or seven years ago”, he explained to me, “so it’s nice to be back and I’ve got a good crowd of people coming to take the roof of the place. (Ticket sales) are going to be difficult to start off with whilst I build my following back up because I haven’t fought in this country for such a long time. It holds 750 on the tables with 500 on the balcony and there will definitely be an atmosphere, that’s for sure.”
A welcome change, then, to be fighting on home soil for the former kickboxing world champion – it was always going to come up at some point – and despite making his name in a different sport, you could argue he’s had it even tougher than throngs of amateur boxers looking to make a name.
I was ranked number five in the world
“It was a tough journey, especially as a British fighter, but I had 62 amateur fights and I won about seven championships in that time before turning pro when I was 19 and I beat a former world champion on my debut, I’ve beaten a world record holder for the most world titles held but then I had three shoulder surgeries which you can probably take two year off my career for. I had my first break fighting for Super Combat on Eurosport, found myself fighting in Russia for a while then had a crack at a feeder series called Road to Glory – it was UK #1 vs UK #2 (in which Bates beat Kev Ward) – and that’s when I got picked up with a two fight deal. I lost one (against Eyevan Danenberg) but I beat the other two (against Richard Abraham and Tommy King) and I know how to fight, I think that’s fair to say.”
That experience of fighting on the big stage is one that the 29 year old is eager to capitalise on as he looks to progress in double-quick time but there’s two different roadmaps for the future: one more realistic than the other but both peppering away in the head of the Northerner.
“I’m probably going to go down to super middleweight because I was fighting at 77kg (170lbs) when I was kickboxing so, if it was up to me, I’d probably turn around and fancy it with Chris Eubank Jr because that’s my mentality. I’ve fought the best in the world when I was kickboxing, I was ranked number five in the world, and I’ve worked my socks off but, realistically, I’ll be looking at an English title for the end of next year.
That’s the plan, the realistic plan, but in my head I’ll fight anyone. I like the super middleweight division because it’s packed but I probably couldn’t tell you the Top 10 at light-heavyweight, to be honest, aside from the obvious like Anthony Yarde – and I’d fight him – but I’ve been sparring cruisers in the build up to this so it’s nae bother to me what weight I fight at.”
It’s worth noting that throughout our conversation the phrase “I need to walk before I can run” was uttered more than a dozen times (I stopped counting after that) so certainly no arrogance to Bates, far from it. Eager to prove to himself, as much as anything, that he can tick the boxes, he was very clear as to what he was hoping to find out from his debut.
“I want to show that even though it is my boxing debut, I am experienced and I’m not just here to hang around. I want to show people that I’m capable of getting to a good level within six to eight fights, that the target I’ve got myself. Even when I was competing in kickboxing I always preferred to use my hands: there’s a lot of effort that goes into kicking and obviously you can get out of breath easily, when you go shin to shin it really hurts so, if I could help it, I’d avoid it. I want to show that I know the basics, to be honest, but I want to show I’ve got balls, I’m gutsy and be on the front foot. The opponent has been changed to Yailton Neves so that’s a southpaw in my first fight and I want to make a statement but I am taking absolutely nothing for granted.”
I’ve never purely boxed before
Having fought at sold-out arenas – including 15,000 at the Rotterdam Arena – with blockbuster fights such as the one against Eyevan Danenberg in which he cracked a rib in the first round (his self confessed favourite fight), you can be assured the super-middleweight hasn’t turned pro just for kicks – he’s here to be taken seriously, even if it means going back to square one.
“It’s definitely odd (going from sold out arenas to small hall boxing) because I’m opening the show on Saturday and back to being on the prelims, you could call it, but if you want it you’ve got to start somewhere and chase it down. I’m hoping for three fights before the end of the year because I can do that, ticket wise, and that’s going to help me get the feeling for fighting again. I’ve never purely boxed before, I’ve obviously done it in the gym but never in a fight – I tried to have an amateur career as a kid but there was always red-tape in the way because I was kickboxing, as well.”
Having originally been training with Glenn McCrory, before the cruiserweight world champion took time out for, it was an old friend that took up the ropes and Bates is in full confidence as to his own potential and that of the North East as a whole; describing it as ‘the perfect time to turn pro’.
“I’m training with Nik Gittus and there’s a cracking team down there with Jeff Saunders, Joe Laws, Lawrence Osueke – you name them – there are some wicked people to bounce off and learn from. I’ve known Nick for years and it’s good just to be back in a camp, after so long, and have a laugh. I can’t remember a time where North East boxing has been buzzing with as many names that are coming through and I can’t see why promoters wouldn’t want to come back to the North East.
Frank Warren has got quite a few names here and there’s some smaller stadiums he could put shows on so there’s nae excuse not to put on a show and they might as well jump on the wagon now.”
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