The stresses of being a professional boxer are well documented, from the endless hours of training, strict dieting, ticket sales and weight cuts. If you speak to a university student you will hear a different set of worries about studying, classes, dissertations and final exams. So what would possess someone to do both? Callen McAulay falls into that small category of individuals that decide to put themselves through this, as the Scottish prospect recently completed his fourth year in Electrical Engineering at Strathclyde University. He now looks to achieve his Masters at the same time as working towards his first professional boxing title. Before heading to meet him, I prepared myself to hear of the struggles of juggling two mammoth fortes. Instead, I was met with an athletic academic who clearly takes it all in his stride.
‘‘To be honest, it’s been fine! You couldn’t just expect someone to take both up at once, but I’ve just done the same as I done at school and made time for both, it’s not difficult – you just get to spend less time on the Xbox… I was boxing in Russia for four weeks on the lead up to my Highers. I was training and boxing every day, then took part in a tournament in the last week, all while having to make time for studying… It’s just the way I am and always have been”.
Often it’s our parents who can be more uptight and concerned about our studies but it seemed his dad (who is also heavily involved in the boxing career of Callen), Grant, was very much on board with the decision to turn professional whilst in his second year of university.
“I’ve got to take my hat off to him. He’s never struggled with school. All his life, he’s managed to dedicate appropriate time to boxing and studying without any problem, so I didn’t have any issue with him doing both in university and turning professional, I bet there’s not many out there doing it – but I knew he’d cope”.
Throughout the career of world champion, Nathan Cleverly, we would listen to commentators discuss, almost in disbelief, his academic achievements, highlighting how difficult a task it must have been. This is a trait that has already started with Callen and will no doubt follow him.
Tales of the stereotypical student in Glasgow would no doubt include taking shots, hitting the streets in the early hours of the morning with food on the brain. I guess that could describe Callen, if you were referring to throwing and slipping counters, early morning runs and planning out diets plans. His dad tells me he wasn’t like other youngsters, never shown an interest in drinking, instead opted for healthy eating and counting macros. Speaking with the southpaw student, it was clear it wasn’t a sacrifice but a choice.
“It wasn’t a case of missing out, I’ve never had a drink in my life, so it never bothered me – I’d sometimes go along but never drank”.
Like most young lads in Scotland, Callen’s relationship with sport started with football, although his dad informs me he went from being really interested to standing on the pitch being distracted by the aeroplanes in the sky. With football not holding his attention, at the recommendation of a friend, Grant decided to take him down to boxing.
“Colin Bellshaw had just started Renfrewshire boxing and had a wee club at Love Street, under the away stand. Kevin McIntyre and Kris Carslaw were training in there at the time. I would take Callen along once a week and he thrived on it, think he loved the intensity of it and he was looking up all these older guys training hard and it encouraged him to get involved”.
Speaking with Callen’s dad, Grant, he comes with a passion for boxing, that you would assume he had always been involved in the sport. But it wasn’t the case, it wasn’t actually until Callen took it up that he decided to get involved and is now a familiar and respected name within the boxing community due to his involvement in coaching with Greenock and Renfrewshire Boxing Club.
“I never really chose to get involved with boxing as such, it just kind of happened through Callen. I would take him to training all the time, drive him to different gyms for sparring and eventually went and got my coaching badges through Boxing Scotland just so I could help with his training. Once Danny Lee caught wind of that, before I knew it I was down helping at Greenock Boxing Club every week and my life just became immersed in boxing since”.
Boxing for the Paisley lad started at the early age of seven, although his amateur career didn’t have the best of starts with an opening record that would have had many youths opting to go for a different sport – it showed Callen’s resilience from a young age that has continued into his adult life.
“I played football when I was a wee boy and when I was about seven I got into boxing for fitness. I liked it and upped the training and eventually I had to pick between boxing and football and went with boxing. I had few exhibitions on club shows while waiting to turn 11 and have my first amateur bout and would you believe – I actually lost my first three fights! All against the same opponent but I fought him around my sixth bout and finally got my revenge and beat him!”.
His dad reflects on that time period surrounding his debut:
“His debut opponent had already had 14 bouts, which is unheard of but it was down to what Colin Bellshaw was seeing in the gym every night, he had that belief in him. And although he was outmatched and lost the three of them, they were all close”.
Unfortunately, much of Callen’s amateur days were littered with injuries – “name an injury and he probably had it!”, dad explained. Despite being involved in the Commonwealth Games programme, they were left disappointed to miss out on the chance of being selected due to injury; however, even with some long lay-offs his amateur career remained very credible.
“I was Scottish champion three times, and British champion once but I ended up with a load of injuries but the ones I entered I won, I had around 55 fights and lost about 10, which isn’t actually a lot considering how long I was involved with boxing, at one point I was out for nearly two years”.
Whilst it would be easy to let missed opportunities get you down, it again shows the determination Callen has to keep returning after constant setbacks. Grant also shared the benefits of the whole situation:
“The positives from that are a lot of these boxers go into the programme with a lot of wear and tear, whereas Callen might have missed out on that experience but he’s going into the professional game fresh”.
So far the Strathclyde student’s proved to be the master juggler of time as he works through dissertations and journeymen simultaneously. While his learning of the elements involved in Electrical Engineering are being picked up from books and lectures, the education of ‘The Sweet Science’ has been on going, in and out of the ring. Callen, now (7-0) has been winning in dominant fashion in all of his fights and now pushing towards his first title but also proving to be a success in the ticket sales and sponsorship side of the boxing game, which has been made a lot easier with his dad’s assistance.
“What people need to remember is Callen’s age, he’s only just 21. He’s learning and growing everyday so we’re taking each fight as it comes. We’re doing our bit to get his name out there, trying different things to grab people’s attention”.
One of the common issues within boxing is cross promotional divide but that’s not proving an issue for the McAulay’s, already gaining experience fighting on black tie dinner shows for St Andrews Sporting Club to small hall shows for Kynoch Promotions and even on the powerhouse production shows of MTK. Currently a super-lightweight, Callen sits in one of the most exciting divisions in Scotland and that experience proves they’ll be able to grab any opportunity on other shows and fight anyone if they need to. Grant’s sure the chances will come:
“It’s a no brainer, we sell bundles of tickets! Of course they’re going to want Callen McAulay on their show!”.
With school almost out, we look to the future; Callen is approaching his final year at university, with hopes of graduating with his Masters in Electrical Engineering next year. But it doesn’t sound like that drive will end as he fully intends on putting that degree to use.
“I’m just going to wait and see but I don’t see why I won’t be able to make time to work and fight. Obviously if big fights came up, I would give that my full attention but I definitely aim to get a good job too. Otherwise, what was the point!?”.
‘The Instyle Kid’ is the current moniker and that’s to show appreciation to his main sponsor Instyle Kitchens and Bathrooms who have backed him from the start. Callen proves a fine example of boxers doing their bit for sponsors and has since had more come on board; Urbanfit, Angelini’s Pizzeria and JMG Utilities LTD. Although Callen seems to have a laid back demeanour when it comes to juggling boxing and studies, it is no doubt made easier with the help of his sponsors and he can’t thank them enough.
Callen McAulay returns to the ring, August 17th as part of the Kash Farooq vs Duane Winters card; a St Andrews Sporting Club event at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Glasgow. Callen will take on former Scottish Champion, Marek Laskowski. If you are interested in heading to a fantastic night of boxing, make sure to get in touch with Callen on social media. If not, the event will be televised so make sure you tune into BBC Scotland on the night.
Written by Allen Payne | Featured picture by Allan Picken