By Fraser Cox
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Lance Cooksey, a Welsh professional boxer from Rhoose, a small village not far from Cardiff. Having made his professional debut at the age of twenty-seven, with a win over fellow Brit, Michael Mooney, Cooksey has not put a foot wrong since that point. He is focused on sustaining this momentum, with his mind clearly set on winning titles.
Just before we were cruelly forced into lockdown by COVID-19, Lance Cooksey was able to extend his emphatic unbeaten run to 12(2)-0, with a convincing PTS victory over Englishman, Daryl Pearce, on 14th March.
“It was a good fight. There was a last-minute change of opponent; it was originally going to be my first eight-rounder and a big step-up in opponent. I was meant to be fighting an African fighter, Anama Dotse. He was coming in with a 90 percent knockout ratio, so quite a puncher. However, due to the Coronavirus, he couldn’t fly into the country.
Lockdown began the following week, so I was lucky to fight to be honest. Huge respect for Pearce, who gave it everything and came to win. He’s a tough kid and took so many big shots. In the second round, I caught him on top of his head with a right hand and felt a bit of pain. After the fight, it was swollen, and ended up being a tendon issue. But, considering the circumstances, there was time for it to heal and recover fully. Everyone enjoyed the fight and it was definitely a crowd-pleaser. In the end, it turned out to be one of the last shows before lockdown.”
I literally found out twenty-four hours before the fight that I wasn’t going to fight Dotse. Tony Borg rang me and said, “Don’t worry about your weight”. Then, on the morning of the fight, there was a change of opponent again. There is no way you can prepare for any fighter at such short notice. So, for me, it was a chance to prove that I’m adaptable. Whoever they put me in with, regardless of their record, I’m here to win and that’s what I did.”
With the lockdown restrictions firmly in place, and the sporting world on hold, Cooksey remained focused and grasped the opportunity to continue evolving as an athlete.
“To be honest I’ve quite enjoyed lockdown, as I’ve been able to adapt my training. I enjoy running and road biking anyway, but I’ve started doing it more. I rode 120km last week! Three weeks ago, I just woke up and thought: I want to run a marathon. I’m naturally fit, and so, mentally, I wanted to push my body to a limit that I haven’t been able to take it to since boxing. It was hard, but I embraced the challenge. Of course, financially it’s been a very tough period for everyone, but I count myself as one of the lucky ones. I work full-time, so I’ve been able to work from home. I feel for the boxers who don’t have a job and have struggled.”
Thanks to Frank Warren’s Queensbury Promotions show on 7th July, boxing in Britain was able to get back underway. Cooksey, who thinks he’ll be ready to jump back into the ring towards the end of August, feels unfazed at the prospect of fighting behind closed doors.
“If someone offered me to fight at the end of August, I’d be ready. I’ve kept my weight down and I haven’t stopped training. I don’t think the changes will affect my preparations, in terms of when, where and how often I train. The biggest difference will be the testing in the lead up to the fight and the fight night itself. It might give the smaller fighters a slight advantage, who are used to fighting in smaller halls. Without spectators, it gives the fans a different insight into the sport as they can hear the coaches giving their fighters words of advice, that you ordinarily wouldn’t hear. I thought Frank Warren’s show went well and they will only get better as promoters learn how they can be run best.”
Looking back on his amateur career and eventual rise into the professional ranks, Cooksey believes that his extended amateur background has been hugely advantageous, in enabling him to learn the key boxing fundamentals and gain valuable experience along the way.
“The better amateur career you have, the more likely you will be able to succeed in the professional world. Of course, there are differences, but the mental aspect of it remains the same and I believe that to be such a huge factor. I started at a young age: I had my first amateur fight when I was eleven-years-old. It was horrendous, I wasn’t even sure that I was going to stick with boxing after that. But I returned to the gym with Lee Selby and Andrew Selby who were both amateurs at the time, so I had those boys to look up to. It gave me such inspiration being around them, and ultimately, getting beaten up by them, but learning so much from it.
I won three or four Welsh Youth Amateur titles back to back, just missing out on my first senior title aged 18. I went to the Junior Commonwealth Games and even got the chance to travel around the world. I went to places like India and Thailand, and that’s why I turned pro two years later than initially expected. Those experiences have definitely made me who I am today. I was always driven to be the best fighter that I could possibly be, but, as a youngster, my intentions were never to turn professional.
I remember when I came back from travelling, I was determined to win a senior title. Unfortunately, I just missed out twice against Zack Davies. The first fight was very close, but the second one was controversial. I beat him hands down, but he got the decision: you know what politics are like in boxing. I came back the following year more motivated than ever, and I won that senior title. After that, I was ready to turn pro.
My dad always pushed me. I think he really wants me to be a boxer. But he would never force me to go to the gym. I’ve always looked up to my Father as a man and as a boxer, and, even though he never turned pro, Tony Borg (Cooksey’s trainer), or anyone who knew my dad, would always speak highly of him. He always said my dad was like a 13-year-old man and would just knock people out for fun. My dad took me to Tony’s gym, and he was over the moon that he was going to be training me.”
The Lightweight division is filled with superstars, and consequently, is one of the most competitive divisions in the sport. However, Cooksey feels that there is one man clearly at the top of the pile. He also weighs up Luke Campbell’s chances against the young and hard-hitting, Ryan García.
“Lomachenko is the King of the lightweight division. He’s an animal and he’s beaten, everyone. I don’t think there will be a fighter like him for a long time. People are so quick to judge and say that he could be slowing down, but that’s out of jealousy really. Yes, he’s getting older, but he hasn’t shown any signs of getting worse yet.
I think Luke Campbell will beat Ryan García. García is awesome and has such a massive following on social media. I almost see him as like a YouTuber, with the effect he has on the younger generation. He has got the potential to beat Campbell, but he hasn’t been tested yet. Campbell has fought the best in the world. Yes, he has just come up short in some of those fights, but that experience, and being a former Olympic Champion, will see him win the fight, I think. Campbell will take him out of his comfort zone and it could be quite a convincing win.”
For the foreseeable future, Cooksey will now be campaigning at Super Featherweight, which he believes to be his more natural weight. Having assessed the potential pathways with his trainer, Tony Borg, it seems the correct decision – a title shot could be not too far down the line.
“I’m going to be fighting at Super Featherweight now. I want to win a Welsh, Celtic or Commonwealth title next and then go for a British title - those are my goals. Anthony Cacace is the British Champion after beating Sam Bowen, who is a tough kid – so they’re the best two in Britain.”
Being a Welshman, Cooksey, like many other young fighters growing up in Wales, was always drawn to one fighter as his primary inspiration.
“When I was young, Joe Calzaghe was in his prime. We were brought up with his name everywhere. He was a fantastic fighter; his record says it all. If he was American, he’d be a huge household name and star. Barely any fighters finish their career undefeated - he should be considered one of the best boxers ever.”
Every fighter has a different approach to their life outside of boxing that allows them to escape the tough and intense environment that surrounds them on a daily basis. For Cooksey, it is vital to separate the boxing world from his normal life.
“When I’m not boxing, I like to relax and take my mind off it. If I’m in a training camp and there is boxing on the television, I won’t watch it. Boxing is constantly on my mind so I can’t think of anything worse than watching more fights when you’ve got a fight the following week. If I’m in a training camp, I like to switch off completely and just sit down, watch Netflix and relax. If I can go out for a meal with the family, then I will.
I want to be remembered as a guy who was known for his engine, clever in the ring and outside of the ring, and who has made a successful career out of boxing. But also, someone who has made the best of his life away from boxing.”
ESBR caught up with Lance immediately after his 9th professional contest last year