It was a miserable Thursday evening; I had just done a ten-hour shift and felt tired. Rain was battering the windscreen and it was dark already. I was thinking it was the kind of night to head home, get the feet up and watch Netflix but I had committed to going to see Martin Harkin at Greenock Boxing Gym and join him in a bit of training. I’ve got a cheek though, it’s the same commute the Celtic welterweight champion does daily for training after work.
Nestled in a small housing scheme, the gym was in darkness as I’d arrived a bit early. I sat feeling flat, waiting for others to arrive. Martin eventually turned up with his ginormous gym bag, waiting by the door to enter as soon as his coach, Danny Lee appeared with the keys. I couldn’t help but be lifted by Martin’s greeting, two weeks from fight night and he instantly displayed and spoke of his excitement. Danny soon opened up and we headed in towards the changing rooms, down the corridor, the walls are lined with title fight posters, featuring Scottish legends like Ricky Burns and John Simpson. Although Martin already had a spot on the wall, he’ll no doubt be hoping to see his with a fight meriting the company he is currently keeping. He has the chance to move one step closer on the 30th of January as he takes on the undefeated, James Moorcroft in a British title eliminator.
There was a jovial atmosphere in the changing room. Martin had previously told me ‘Thursday would be a good class to come to’. The other lads gave me the impression I’d been stitched up and should be ready for a tough session. As we entered into the hall, Coach Danny was all set up and the timer was clicked on. At that point, it seemed as if a switch had also been hit on the Celtic champion, as he went from chatty to laser focused.
The next hour or so was spent with a feeble attempt at keeping up with the other gym goers. I could blame the festive period, long day and lack of dinner but either way my exhaustion rose, as did my appreciation of Martin’s ability to train at an incredible intensity after a working day. Danny Lee charged us through gruelling circuits, occasionally shouting to remind Martin why he was doing this. “MOORCROFT WILL BE IN THE GYM RIGHT NOW TRAINING FOR THIS FIGHT!”
After the training session, we sat and caught up to discuss the ‘Burns Supper’ bout, it was apparent Martin didn’t need any reminding about the importance of training for this fight.
“The fight is the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing before I go bed. This fight means the world to me. It feels like my British title shot, because I NEED to win this one first to set it up. I’m honestly so hungry for this, I know I want it more than him and I’m going to prove it. He’ll need to shoot me in there to beat me!”
My time in the gym only gave a small snapshot into his training but anyone that knows the Dumbarton boxer need not question his dedication. With the biggest fight of his career looming, I was interested to see if there had been any changes though.
“Training has been amazing, I know fighters say it all the time but this is probably the best camp I’ve ever had and best I’ve ever felt. It’s a bigger fight, bigger opponent but not much has changed with my training, I always train hard for every fight, it’s just part of my normal routine.”
“The only slight change is a small cut back on strength and conditioning. I train with Alex Whelan at Pro Life gym in Paisley but I’ve been putting in more boxing technique training with my coach, Danny Lee. But I’ll pick that straight back up after the fight. I do feel massive benefits from the strength and conditioning work, it definitely makes me feel more explosive and sharper but it has been nice having that extra one to one time, working on stuff for the actual fight and a lot more sparring than I’ve had in past. It can be really hard to get good sparring up here in Scotland. I never actually had any on the lead up to my last two fights!”
“Also big thanks to Alex Whelan, not only does he do my S and C work, he also sorted out my meal prep sponsor with Power Food Company and it’s been a game changer for this camp. These foods are full of all the right carbs and protein ratio and they taste great! But the time, hassle and even money it’s saving has been such a big help with this fight and I can’t thank them enough!”
A big part of this preparation has been sparring partner, former amateur foe and potential future opponent, the Scottish welterweight champion, Stewart Burt. He also has a British title eliminator on February 8th against undefeated welterweight, Anthony Tomlinson. Meaning, if he and Martin win their respective bouts, they will likely face off later in the year in a final eliminator for the illustrious Lonsdale title. However, the prospect of facing each other hasn’t got in the way of helping each other prepare for their huge fights.
“It can be really hard to get good sparring up here in Scotland. I never actually had any on the lead up to my last two fights. This is probably the best preparation I’ve ever had, as I’ve had regular spars with Stewart, sometimes twice a week and this Saturday we’ll be moving it up to ten rounds for our final spar before I taper off for the fight.”
“Me and Stewart have known each other for years, he was a top class amateur and a great professional. We already know so much about each other and the way we fight. So why would we not help each other now? And so what if we fight in the future, we’ve fought before in the amateurs, we can fight again. We’ll remain friends after it, at the end of the day – it’s just a competition.”
“We have a good relationship with him and his coach [Joe Ham Snr] … He’s got a big fight coming up and I’ve got a big fight coming up, it’s a no brainer! And I can really feel the difference, we’re both bringing each other on every spar and I know we’ll both be better for it on fight night!”
Standing across from Martin on Thursday night will be undefeated boxer from Wigan, James Moorcroft. Moorcroft comes into the bout with one more professional outing and a record of 13-0. To be honest, I don’t know much about the Englishman but looking through his record, one name in particular caught my eye, his last opponent, Eligio Palacios, who he stopped in 5th round. The last time I had been to see Martin in the Radisson hotel, the durable Nicaraguan had managed to take the Scotsman the distance.
“I’ve seen some footage of him and me and my coach have been finding his bad habits and ready to exploit them. Yeah, he’s stopped his last four opponents, including a guy I didn’t stop but I watched the fight and think the referee jumped in too soon. Although I will agree, the fight was only going one way.”
“He looks like a good fighter, he’s undefeated but I don’t think he’s got the amateur pedigree I’ve got. I’ve fought the better opponents in the professionals too. He’s only fought journeyman, not fought anyone that’s coming to win. It’s all good beating these guys but wait till he’s up against me who’s gonna be hitting him back! And I know you’ll see the best of me when I’m up against someone who’s also coming to win! I’m gonna make a statement!”
“But I must take my hat off to this guy [Moorcroft] … He’s obviously got the same attitude as me, he’s willing to come up, away from home, his undefeated record on the line! Which I was more than willing to do but fair play to my manager, Iain Wilson, he’s managed to get the fight here.”
Despite the possibility of huge fights on the horizon, Martin remains focused on the fight at hand before looking ahead.
“I’m just focused on this fight in front of me. Whatever happens, happens. I’m not even thinking about the other fight [Burt vs Tomlinson]. If it’s Burt – it’ll be great all Scottish clash and if it’s me and the other guy, so be it. But I’ll go through anyone, I just want that British title!”
Interview by Allen Payne