By Oliver McManus @OliverGMcManus
Stephen Webb, the latest in a long line of prodigious boxing talents from the Webb family, debuted on December 7th as part of MTK Global’s curtain-closing card in Belfast. Not just from a fighting family but a fighting city, Webb joins a new generation set to entertain the Belfast faithful for years to come.
A 40-36 win over Rudul Durica saw the young-gun adjust to the professional game successfully and set up a solid year of development. Webb, however, told me he was anything but happy with his performance:
“I wasn’t happy at all, I couldn’t get my shots of properly and I kept on sitting down on them too much. To be honest, I wasn’t happy, I didn’t show 20% of what I’ve worked on in the gym. It was a great atmosphere, thrilled to be making debut, and I felt as though I did box okay but, end of the day, I’ll have to look a lot better going forward when I face some serious opponents. The opponent made it hard, very negative, only ever been knocked out once so I knew I wasn’t going to stop him.
He surprised me how negative he was, though, he just seemed to be in survival mode and left his left hand out. After the first round I knew what it was going to be, so I tried to outbox him and just get the win without getting any stupid cuts or anything like that.”
The 23 year old insisted that although he understands the need for early development, he would much rather face riskier fights that allow him to showcase his ability and move him up the rankings.
“I was speaking to a promoter about fighting on one of his shows early next year against one of his prospects. He said he was 3, 4 and 0 but that doesn’t bother me. I know how good I am, I’ve been sparring brilliantly for the last however many months and I’ve handled it well, I’ve learned things, but I’ve done well. Fighting someone who’s undefeated, also a prospect, doesn’t bother me at all. I’m good enough to beat them so I’ll take whoever wants to fight me.”
With that talk of wanting to test himself as quickly as possible, Webb quickly established his ambitions for 2019 but, of course, Christmas comes first!
“I’ve been training flat out, two times a day, six days a week, since March. For now I’m looking at enjoying Christmas with an eye to getting out around March. I’ve seen Mark Dunlop has got a show next year at Ulster Hall in February (9th) with James Tennyson. There’s a lightweight on the show, Mathew Fitzsimons, who’s coming off a winning streak and I wouldn’t mind taking that fight because it’s one I know I can win. It’s a fight I’d love at this stage of my career and then we can just accelerate from there.”
I fell completely out of love with boxing
“To be honest with you, I’ll enjoy myself over Christmas but I don’t like going much over my fighting weight – I’ll help myself to a bit of chocolate, enjoy the food, but I’m not going to much over light-welterweight. I’ll still train.”
A refreshing attitude from the young man who admitted that, prior to turning professional, there was finding little inspiration from the amateur circuits.
“I fell completely out of love with boxing and I was just telling myself ‘I don’t want this, I don’t want to do this anymore’. I thought about everything for a year but in March I flew out to Manchester to meet and train with Kieran Farrell for a week. Really enjoyed it and then I sparred Anthony Crolla and it was that day that I decided I wanted to turn professional. It all kicked off from there and I never look back. Stuff has happened in the year, things I couldn’t change, things I regret, but I’m looking forward”.
I thought at this point I’d ask him about his style and who influenced him as a young fighter, he gave me an absolute pearl of response,
“If a young kid came up to me and said ‘I’m a southpaw, who do I watch?’, as much as I’d love to say me, I’d have to tell them Vasyl Lomachenko. His hand speed and movement is unreal, I doubt anyone will ever touch him. Whenever I was younger, watching the boxing with my dad we would put on Joe Calzaghe so he was an influence when I was younger”.
Despite finding success in the Ulster and Anrtrim championships as an amateur , Webb was open in his belief that the paid ranks are a completely different ball game,
“In everyday life it is completely different, you need to take your time, it’s a different pace and you’re throwing different combinations. It’s a bit more technical, I watched my fight back and I heard one of the commentators saying I was on my toes a little bit but, to be honest, I can do that for six, eight rounds and then just bring the tempo down. It’s not always about being energetic, you’ve got longer to do the work, unlike in the amateurs, but I do like to stay busy.”
“I can’t say that the amatuer background is 100% helpful, you can take some elements and bed them into your game but there are lots of pros who weren’t successful amateurs but are world champions and vice versa. Tom Stalker was a great amateur but he just didn’t click as a pro. Lots of people have different opinions on the necessity for an amateur background, I think it has helped me but I wasn’t a world beater.”
With talk of amateur boxing it was inevitable that the conversation would turn quickly onto Stephen’s uncle, Jimmy, and 1994 Commonwealth Games Gold medalist in the light-middleweight division.
“Some people will say that I’ve come from a successful boxing family – Jim won the Commonwealth gold, he won the Irish championship. My dad was a successful amateur, he won titles, won over in South Africa. To come from that strong line of boxers it can certainly add pressure, at times, people will look at me and say ‘oh this is the next Webb’, they try to thrive off it and past achievements. I want to do 10 times better than they did, which is no disrespect, but I want to win everything I can.”
“At the end of the day, I am a quality boxer and I’ve got my own foot on the ladder without it being handed to me, I’m more of a counter puncher but I can go to war if needs be. Whatever people want to think about where I’ve come from or expect (from my style), it doesn’t matter because I’ll prove them wrong anyway.”
I was actually asked to spar Josh Warrington
A determination to prove the doubters wrong keeps Webb driving forward but there’s a far simpler reason that motivates him, as he told me –
“I like making people proud of me, Friday night after the fight it was great and Saturday I went to a local football match and everyone was telling me well done, saying they enjoyed it and it made feel great, to be honest. It might be a big ego but I love walking down the street and someone asking me how the fight went or saying well done, that’s what keeps me motivated. I hate the thought of walking down the street one day, where I live, and someone saying ‘ah he could have been a cracking boxing but he didn’t follow his dreams’. That’s what keeps me going, to be honest”.
My final question was a simple one, something I thought wouldn’t need thinking about. Webb was characteristically reflective in his answer, though, something I found noticeable throughout our conversation. Anyway, Warrington or Frampton?
“It’s going to be a very, very good. I was actually asked to spar Josh Warrington in preparation for his fight with Lee Selby but I couldn’t get out because of family reasons. Up until the weekend I was backing Frampton with ease but I think Warrington will give him some problems, he’s got a great engine. I’m still going Carl, on points or a third-quarter stoppage. Carl to win, either way though.”
“It would be a dream (to fight on a Frampton undercard), it would be a fantastic experience. If they rang me now, I wouldn’t have to think twice about it. I wouldn’t care who it was, I know I can beat anyone at light-welterweight, I would just jump at that chance. I’ll keep dreaming, mate, keep dreaming”.
If ever there was a reason to will someone on, then that is the reason – a fighter with genuine talent, full of ambition and one of the most polite men I’ve had the chance to speak with. A debut to reflect on, positives to take, places to develop. Stephen Webb will be back in 2019 on a mission, looking to test himself at every opportunity possible.
Follow Stephen on Twitter @webber9519