Anthony Fowler has experienced both sides of the hardest sport. But he tells John Dennen he is determined to find out how good he can really be
“HIS face was really bad. His eye was cut, his nose was cut. He weren’t bringing nothing back so I thought his corner should have saved him. But they left him in there and I was going to keep punching him.”
Anthony Fowler has seen the brutal side of boxing. He’s been on the receiving end of it, and dished it out in his last fight. His bout with Adam Harper developed into a cruel, one-sided beating. “Round four I was hurting him a lot,” Fowler said. “It’s a hard game. When you’re a non-puncher and you’re in with a puncher like myself, the corner should be a bit smarter. Live to fight another day.
“I thought he was left a little bit too long in there myself. He had no chance of winning, he was taking a lot of shots. It was an unnecessary beating towards the end. But it is what it is. It’s a brutal sport we’re in.”
“I wanted to impress so I was on it but it was a bit mad walking out to no crowd,” he added. “It was a bit weird. It was like a spar but I knew I’d switch on, I knew I had to. My life’s on the line. So I’ve got to be on the ball. I can’t afford no more setbacks again so I need to be on it and I knew I would be.”
Fowler knows what it’s like to experience a punishing loss. Losing to bitter rival Scott Fitzgerald was painful. Fitzgerald put Fowler down in the 10th and last round en route to a points win. Fowler took his first professional defeat headlining at the Echo Arena in his Liverpool hometown at the end of a lengthy war of words with Fitzgerald in the build up to it. It was humbling as well as hurtful.
“It was the worst fight I’ve had to lose, the feeling after that fight. Because in the Olympics even though I lost to a better man, I did need surgery on my shoulder,” Anthony said. “[So] you can take it on the chin. Where with Scott, I was fully injury free, I was fully confident of winning. That hurt a lot more. Especially with all the bad blood and all the rivalry and that, and obviously every f**ker I knew was there. That made it a lot worse.
“I was so convinced I was going to win. I couldn’t understand what happened. I was flying in the gym, I was sparring great. In that fight all the emotion and all the anger in me went against me. It made him perform the best he’s ever boxed, it made me perform really bad. I think I learned you can’t really fight with your heart, it’s got to be your head. All my amateur fights, I’ve always gone in with a calm head but no hatred. Whereas in that fight after three rounds I felt exhausted. I weren’t breathing, my body felt heavy and everything was forced. It was quite weird. When I watch it back I cringe at the stuff I was doing. Now I’m a lot more experienced. It’s a boxing match, not a street fight. My mindset for that fight was a street fight and that’s where I went wrong. I lost it in my head.”
But he adds, “It also made me mature as well and it’s also given me extra drive. In the rematch, I know what it feels to lose, he doesn’t. That’ll push me on a lot harder than it’ll push him on, I promise. If it comes down in the fight to who wants it more, I want it more than him one million per cent.”
Fowler had to rebuild from that defeat, repair his own confidence but learn from his errors. “Before that fight I would have bet everything I owned on me beating him. That’s how confident I was. I got a shock and I think a little bit of over-confidence can sometimes be a bad thing. You need a little bit of fear going into the ring. You need a little bit of a fear factor. All my fights since I’ve been a little bit more switched on,” he says. “Walking into that fight with Fitzgerald I wanted to knock this kid out rather than go in there with a game plan, be cool, break him down slowly, counter him. It was steaming through him. Which obviously didn’t work.”
That attitude led to mistakes, not only in the contest but also ahead of the bout. He spent the day before making sure supporters had tickets, failing to manage his own time. Minor things but ones that add up. “But in my head, he was getting knocked out in five rounds,” Anthony said. “It’s all living and learning. [In a rematch] I won’t be dropping no tickets off for no one, I won’t be walking round town and doing all the daft stuff I was doing. It’s all about being level headed and being controlled and doing everything right from weighing in to rehydrating to resting to watching videos of the fights to tactics. I had to reassess what I was doing wrong.”
His downfall drew a, perhaps expected, backlash across social media. Fowler is philosophical about that criticism. “I probably came across as arrogant because I was that overconfident and I was a bit vocal. I probably deserved it. I don’t hold no grudges to no one. Some people like you, some people don’t. Since that fight I’ve had a lot of people stand by me,” he said. “You’re always going to get people who don’t like you. That’s just the way life is. Some people are quite funny. You get the odd troll who makes you laugh. So you’ve got to give it to them.”
He knows a serious task lies ahead of him. “I can’t afford to lose again. Because I can’t be doing two more years to get back to this level again. I can’t do it. So I need to keep pushing forward,” he explained.
To that end he decided to link up with a new trainer in Shane McGuigan. He boxed twice after the Fitzgerald loss with Dave Coldwell in his corner, beating both Brian Rose and Harry Scarfe. “I boxed Harry Scarfe and it was an easy win, I controlled the fight, I won every round. But I didn’t feel myself. The old me I would have knocked Harry Scarfe out,” Fowler said. “If I want to get to where I want to get, I should be stopping the likes of Harry Scarfe. I half thought I haven’t felt myself for a while.”
“I weren’t performing how I can perform in the ring,” he insisted. So he elected to make a change and moved to McGuigan’s gym. “When I first come here I found it really hard because he wants you to consistently punch hard and correct over and over again. He’s a real perfectionist. He drills it on you and I still can’t do it to this day. But I’m trying. It’s really, really hard what he wants you to do but I feel as though it’s coming more and more. I can do the rounds easy now. I used to do six rounds and be blowing out my arse. I’ve adapted to it now,” Fowler said. “I want us to be on the same journey and I do feel a lot more confident than I used to. I’ve been in the ring with many world champions, I’ve been in the ring with [James] DeGale, [Carl] Froch, Billy Joe Saunders and I’ve never thought, ‘Woah they’re a level above.’
“So I know I can get to that stage. I know I’ve got it in me.”
However far he gets, it won’t be limited by lack of trying. Fowler beasts himself in the gym. “I just think it’s in me. I just think I’ve done it for so long I don’t know any different. I’m just programmed to just work hard. It’s like I don’t want to let myself down. I respect myself enough not to let myself down and I want to look back in a few years’ time and say to myself, ‘You know what you done your best.’ Whatever level I end up at, I might not get to the level I want to get to, but at least I’ll know in my heart that I gave it my all. That’s enough for me. As long as I can look at myself in the mirror and say you know what you done your best, that’s enough for me,” he said. “I want to be in these hard fights every fight now. Because I’m not learning nothing from boxing Adam Harper, I’m not learning nothing apart from how tough he was… I want to be in these fights where I’ve got to use my brain, use tactics and be smart and draw counters. This next fight, it’s a perfect fight for me to see where I’m at on the world scene.
“I want to see how good I am myself.”
Fowler looks ahead to his fight on March 20 and outlines his hopes
“[Jorge Fortea] has definitely got a good chin, a good engine and he’s experienced too. So at this stage of my career I think it’s a good fight.
“I’m number 10 with the WBO and number 12 with the WBA so I’m getting up there myself and just need to keep pushing on, getting experience and learning on the job.
“[His] style can make me look bad if I’m not clever so I’ve got to use my brain more this time rather just walk forward trying to blast him out. I need to be clever.
“[Ted Cheeseman and James Metcalfe,] they both want to fight me, to be fair. I think Cheeseman’s got a little thing with me and obviously Metcalfe’s a Scouser so he’ll want to fight me regardless. That could potentially be the next fight, if it all goes well really. I’d like to fight the winner of that. Me and Metcalfe would be massive in Liverpool. It would be really big. He’s a good lad James, I’ve sparred him, he’s a good fighter, his dad was a great fighter and that’ll be massive in Liverpool. I’d love that in an arena.
“[Scott] Fitzgerald’s got no belt anymore, it’s just more like a bit of ego and I want to prove I’m better than him. Eddie Hearn wants the fight because it sells.
“A bit of a bad blood, a proper fight again… If we rematch again I’m confident I’ll just box his head off. I’m confident I’ll just go in the ring nice and cool and just outbox him quite well and I hope I get the chance. But if not I’ll just keep pushing on, I don’t really care.
“It’s more for ego than an actual belt but I’m not going to lie, I do want to fight him. If I don’t fight him, life goes on.”