The heavyweight edition of the Ultimate Boxxer tournament takes place at the Planet Ice Arena in Manchester on Friday night. Eight professional fighters contest this one-night tournament, formatted across four quarter-finals of 3x3 minute rounds, followed by two semi-finals and then the final. One of the eight, heavyweight prospect Nick Webb, spoke to ESBR’s Elliott Grigg on the eve of fight week.
It’s been a long time out of the professional prize fighting ring for Nick Webb. In a career which would be expected to peak somewhere between 30-34, losing an entire year when you are already aged 31 and only turned professional at 27 could be described as halting at best and terminal at worst. Yet that is the predicament faced by Webb, who prior to this-coming-Friday was last seen on the 15th December 2018, where two left hooks from Poland’s Kamil Sokolowski (8-15-2) rendered him recumbent, supine and stopped in the third round.
But Webb’s yearlong absence has not been through avoidance, nor disillusionment. Instead, administrative inefficiencies and financial hindrances have resulted in the cancellation of three proposed fights.
“I did try and fight in this time. I had three fights that got cancelled. Last year [since I got beaten by Kamil], I’ve been trying to fight on local shows and they either couldn’t get an opponent in time, or the opponent pulled out, and things like that.”
It is easy for repetitive disappointments to exact a chastening and demoralising effect on anyone within any profession. Boxers, training in exacting preparation towards a specific focus, to then repeatedly have this focus revoked for reasons beyond their control, would be forgiven for slipping into dispiritedness, for subconsciously losing motivation or for slacking in the intensity of successive preparations. ‘Going through the motions’ to use the proper coinage, rather than fully engaging or using their time to steel themselves to the maximum of both their physical and mental potential.
However, contrarily, Nick Webb may have in fact benefitted from his enforced competitive time off. His power, like that quoted in Corinthians (2 Cor. 12:9), now made perfect from a position of previous weakness.
“For the whole year, I’ve been in the gym working on my weaknesses. My defence especially. The positioning of my hands in defence is a lot better. My footwork I feel is a lot better. I think my boxing brain, to predict and read stuff has improved to become a lot better. I’m working on a lot more things. Five months before the Dave Allen fight, I had a major shoulder operation. I never recovered from it. It took me a lot of time to build that strength back up in that arm, but now I’m firing on all cylinders.”
The Dave Allen (17-5-2) fight took place in July 2018 at the o2 Arena on the undercard of Dillian Whyte vs Joseph Parker. Going into the fight, Nick was undefeated. A British title eliminator, it was the biggest challenge of his professional career and one that, despite the portentous medical advice given by those treating him and still being relatively hampered by the incapacitating effects of major injury-treating-shoulder-surgery, he felt he could win.
“Yeh, the hospital and the doctors advised me not to come back that early, but I was raring to go. We wanted to take a lot less of a fight than Dave Allen, but we got a deal that was too good to refuse so it was a risk to take, but I believed in myself. I thought I might not be carrying the power that I normally do in my arm, but I thought I could outbox him, which you know I was, but it wasn’t really my style and that combined with a long lay out and 2 weeks’ notice and what with the injuries I had, it was a big risk. But we took it and it didn’t pay off and that’s that.”
The defeat to Allen was unexpected and arrestingly concussive. Webb had been using his jab to good effect, controlling both the pace and distance of the fight. As predicted, he was competently outboxing Allen. As the Doncaster fighter characteristically pushed forward, Nick started to land bigger shots – hooks and uppercuts finding Allen’s durable chin with eye-catching regularity – but in the fourth round, two lapses of concentration and two looping overhand Allen rights caught him, the first not sufficiently enough to do anything other than act as cautionary precursor; the second collapsing Nick to between the third and fourth rope, before, following a valiant and dizzying attempt to reclaim a perpendicular position, his perfidious legs and overwhelmed brain finally yielded, betraying him to a horizontal position facing upwards toward the o2 ceiling.
As in the parable, the sticks and stones had definitely hurt him, but it was something invisible to the eyes of the outside world which caused enduring damage. The loss of confidence that defeat begats would affect Nick throughout his next two fights: a second-round TKO victory over Dorian Darch (12-11-1) and the aforementioned third-round TKO defeat to fellow Ultimate Boxxer contender Kamil Sokolowski.
“My management team rushed me into the fight with Dorian Darch. I’d just had a holiday and I thought fuck it I’ve got nothing to lose. So, I had the fight and won against Dorian. And then I got matched with Kamil and nothing was going right. The sort of training camp I wanted and how I wanted it to go. It just wasn’t right. And it wasn’t going mentally right either. I just wasn’t up for it. Because of the Dave Allen loss, my confidence wasn’t there. I went into that fight not in the right mind and I should never have done that.”
I ask him whether he is in a better frame of mind now; whether the year away from competition has helped him either temper or exorcise that mental anguish; and whether the reflective distance of time has allowed for the fostering of a fresh perspective, one perhaps less self-critical. His answer reveals that it has.
“Yeh 100%, you know. At the end of the day, I’ve realised I’m not invincible. This is heavyweight boxing. Anybody in heavyweight boxing can get caught in the chin by any other heavyweight and you’re gonna go down. I realised that. I had to realise that. I realised I needed to work on a few weaknesses and now I feel a lot stronger and more confident.”
Sentiments which bode very well for his chance at succeeding in this upcoming Ultimate Boxxer tournament, a format which is seen as a welcome tonic to many of those in the boxing community and representative of a sanguine opportunity for those rebuilding careers or who are hungry to further themselves, but whom are not yet at the upper echelons of marketability or ranking, and whose realities are far divorced from the gilded perceptions of the casual paying public. Touching on the unforgiving, oft-unseen and hard realities of professional boxing, Nick tells me that following his defeats and diminishing stock, shockingly he was even in positions where he was going to have to pay to fight.
“They asked us if we wanted to go in [Ultimate Boxxer] and I thought what else is around at the moment. And at the minute when you are not up there as a professional, you’ve gotta take these fights. Usually, you’ve gotta pay the opponent, gotta pay the house. I was getting to positions where I’ve gotta pay to fight. This is not how it should be, is it? But with this coming around, everything is paid for and everyone is a decent opponent, so why wouldn’t we go in it.”
And why not indeed. Of his 13 professional wins, 11 have come via KO or TKO, and all 11 of these have occurred within the first three rounds. The 3x3 minute round format would, therefore, appear to suit Nick Webb very well. He was present at the Ultimate Boxxer light heavyweight tournament and took from it the need to be explosive and entertaining.
“These fights are like going back to the amateur days really. Which you know the difference between pro and amateur is in the pro you’ve got much more time to land a shot; with being amateur you’ve got to work work work for them rounds. You’ve gotta be a bit intelligent. Everyone is gonna be rushing their work, you’ve gotta be intelligent but explosive.”
Not only an opportunity to showcase his amateur pedigree (Nick enjoyed a successful amateur career, winning 22 out of 27 fights and was an ABA finalist in 2013), ring intelligence, explosiveness, and improved defensive skill, the added intrigue and subplot is that this Ultimate Boxxer edition could also give Nick the opportunity to vanquish a previous foe and avenge his ill-prepared loss to Kamil Sokolowski. Both fighters would have to prevail in their opening quarterfinal matchups – Nick faces Chris Healey (8-6), an opponent who will be looking to avenge a third knockout loss he sustained from Webb in January 2017; Sokolowski faces Josh Sandland (4-1-1) – but it is the fight that excites him, and the one he wants above all others.
“I would like to avenge my loss to Kamil. He’d be my ultimate preferred opponent. Revenge that and get that win. Everyone else is the same sort of level, you know. It is what it is, you know.”
Such is the pitching of the tournament and the relative incestuous nature of the domestic heavyweight boxing scene, that all participants are aware of each other, many have sparred against each other and several have previously fought. It will take someone talented and special to prevail, someone fortunate to avoid cut or injury en route to the final, and someone with the conditioning, intelligence, and pedigree to successfully negotiate all the obstacles arising within an unusual, shortened and truncated knockout tournament. Nick says that he’s back and that the overall win ‘will show everyone that I’m a heavyweight force to be reckoned with.’ It will and now it’s on him to deliver it.