Going for gold: Interview with Anthony Fowler
Five weeks after following a school friend down to his local Toxteth boxing gym, an 11-year-old Anthony Fowler was already celebrating his first victory before owning a proper pair of boots or even a gum shield. Fast forward to 2016 and after successfully qualifying for Team GB for this year’s Rio Olympic games, Anthony’s preparations at the squad’s Sheffield training base are in full swing.
We caught up with the middleweight medal hopeful to discuss his Olympic dream, why he’s held off turning professional and how changes to the rules could help him go all the way in August.
Interview by Lawrence Saunders
You secured your place at Rio 2016 after winning a box-off at the European Olympic qualifying event in Turkey this April. How does it feel to have booked a spot on the plane?
A few years ago I thought I would be guaranteed to be there, but last year I had a few problems and some injuries and I started to have a few doubts about whether I was going to make it. I had three qualifiers this year and I qualified in the first one so that twas a great weight off my shoulders and I’m made up to be there.
As the most experienced member of the team and one of Team GB’s most fancied gold medal hopes, do you feel an extra pressure to go out there and succeed?
No, to be honest I felt a lot of pressure just to get there, I thought if I don’t get there then it would be a complete flop and it would be four years wasted. But now that I’m there I feel as though there is a lot less pressure on me. Obviously I do want the gold medal, more than anything else in the world, but at the end of the day I do believe I’m going to have a great professional career after the Olympics.
My life isn’t all about the Olympics, the Olympics is just three rounds and if I’m going to go professional I’ve got 12 rounds where I think my dedication, my fitness and my strength will come through a lot more. I don’t need to be an Olympic champion to become a world champion, although it would make things a lot easier for me! Whatever happens I’m prepared to do it the hard way and I believe I’ll get to the top either way.
“I thought rather than turn professional I could follow that Olympic dream and go for gold.”
This year’s Olympics will be the first where head guards will not be used and also has the possibility of being the first games in which professionals will be able to compete; do you think these factors could have an impact on your chances of victory?
Well there have been no head guards worn in amateur competition since 2013 and all my success has come since they stopped being used. I’m a powerful puncher and I hurt my opponents a lot more without the guards. If they do allow professionals to fight at the games I will welcome it as just another challenge, whoever wants to be there I will box them. Over three rounds I don’t think it’s much of an advantage for them, obviously they’re used to fighting over 12 rounds and they’ve adapted to that. It’s like a long distance runner and a sprinter.
I used to spar with Carl Froch (former super-middleweight world champion) and if we went past six rounds, into the seventh, eighth, ninth and onwards, he would start getting too strong for me but over the first six rounds I would be on fire.
Is there a reason why you have held off turning professional considering how many boxers at this stage of their career have usually done so?
I was going to turn professional after I won the ABA Championships in 2010 aged 19, then Robert McCracken (Anthony’s trainer) phoned and offered me a spot on the GB squad. I thought why not? I went down to Sheffield and enjoyed the set-up so I tried to make the London 2012 summer Olympics team. I was doing well; winning nearly all my fights, 12 out of 13 in fact – I only lost to the reigning world champion.
Ahead of one of the qualifying tournaments I broke my nose and didn’t get to go – Fred Evans did and he won a gold medal. Winning that medal qualified him for London, which meant I couldn’t go. I had to sit and watch as he won a silver medal. I believed I was a better fighter than him so it was a hard thing to do.
At that point I could have turned professional with no credentials or medals but I thought I would try and go for the next Olympics instead. In 2013 I won bronze at the World Championships, then a Commonwealth gold the year after so then it was only two years until Rio. I thought rather than turn professional I could follow that Olympic dream and go for gold there – I’m still on track now and hopefully it pays off for me!
Do you take heart from the success of fellow Liverpool boxers such as the Smith brothers who have all won British ABA titles?
I’ve obviously got a lot of respect for them, they’ve done great for the city and they are all dedicated fighters. They put the effort in; they’re not just naturally talented. They’re all local lads just like me and as I always say to people, we’re no different to everyone else, we just dedicate our lives to boxing. It’s not like we’ve just been given this natural ability, we have to work day in and day out for this.
You started working with sports psychologist Brian McCready several years ago. What impact has this had on your fortunes in the ring?
I’m big on sports psychology – I think a lot of the battle is won in your mind before the fight. For a lot of people the nerves can get the better of them and they don’t perform as well as they can because they’ve built it up that much in their head. I visualise my victory and go through my routine with Brian – this allows me to save lot of energy so when I fight I feel strong all the way through.