Commonwealth welterweight king Denton Vassell is known as ‘The Quiet Storm’ but he has designs on causing serious carnage when he puts his belt on the line in a title unifier with British champion Frankie Gavin at Liverpool Olympia on Friday night.
It promises to be one of the best domestic match-ups of the year, a classical boxer versus banger who both have their eyes cast on the major international belts further down the line.
Seemingly sculpted from black marble, ex ABA champ Vassell has won 20 straight bouts as a pro, with ten opponents ruined before the final bell. A banker by profession, there is little cerebral about his ring manner; he comes to seek and destroy!
Prior to the big clash, boxing writer Glynn Evans hooked up with humble Mancunian to examine his career and analyse the big showdown.
Q What do you recall of your early years, growing up on The notorious Miles Platting estate in Manchester? To what extent was boxing responsible for keeping you straight?
DV I was one of 19 children, mostly guys. My mum is Brazilian and my late dad, who was Jamaican, was a very respected guy locally. He was a fantastic cook and I’ve always been brought up on natural foods. I seldom bother with supplements or stuff like that.
Miles Platting and Ancoats is a very tough area and I could certainly have gone a bad path. There’s many different ways people make their livings around here and not all of them are legal! There were a lot of drugs and robberies going down and several of my mates went that way. It was tempting; quick, easy money and I got into trouble with the police a few times myself.
Eventually, around the age of 15, I discovered boxing. That was really helpful but my mum and dad also deserve a lot of credit for ensuring that I didn’t stray too far from the right path. I realised that I had a skill that could offer me an alternative route. A very wise person once told me: ‘With great sacrifice, comes great reward.’ I opted to follow my dream in the ring.
Q Despite your late start, in 2006 you were crowned senior English ABA welterweight champion in just your 19th fight. What qualities enabled you to be so successful, so quickly as an amateur?
DV I’d put it down to the intense way that I trained and my sheer will to win. From the start, I embraced the old school training methods, just like Marciano and Ali trained.
I was a very active kid, naturally athletic. I always dreamt of being a p.e teacher or an actor in action films. I was always running and previously I’d done a lot of weight and fitness training. I just started the boxing to loosen myself up a bit. So I was already pretty powerful and had good speed and stamina.
I’d also had loads of ‘tear ups’ on the cobbles as a teenager before I started the boxing and, though I’d not developed the skills, I was a natural street fighter. I always had loads of heart and learnt I could take a dig. I enjoyed the adrenalin of street fights yet could always maintain my composure. I’m very stubborn and a very sore loser; horribly competitive.
In the amateurs, from quite early on, I was matched against guys with 60, 80, 100 bouts and they really should’ve ‘done me in’ but I only lost two of my 21 bouts. I always viewed it that opponents only had two arms and two legs, same as me, and that my will and fitness would exceed theirs. I really trained like an animal. My philosophy was ‘Kill or be killed’. I’d give my last breath to win a fight.
Q The 2008 Beijing Olympics were still two years away. Were you not tempted to hang around and shoot for a medal?
VV Not really, no. The amateurs were never my thing. At the Olympics, they had the computer scoring and that was never going to suit. I always had more of a pro style.
QAway from boxing, you also work as a banker with HSBC. Does that compliment or hinder your ring career?
DVCompliment, I think. My parents always encouraged me to do well at school and I ended up with eight or nine GCSEs including A Star grades in Art and PE. Occasionally, the banking can drain you mentally but you exert no physical energy sat behind a desk, opening and closing accounts. By the time the bank closes, I’m fresh for the gym.
HSBC only sponsor teams rather than individuals but they’ve been very supportive. I usually get three weeks unpaid leave before a fight. If bigger fights surface in future I may have to go part-time or knock it on the head altogether but it’s working well at the minute.
QYou’ve been trained throughout your professional career by the vastly underrated Bob Shannon. What are his qualities?
DVI swear the man is an absolute legend, in my eyes. He’s hugely experienced, having been in the game since he was an amateur boxer himself. Plus his dad before him was a top trainer so there’s great knowledge passed through the family.
We’re best friends and have been out for meals together. Bob’s always there for me. Since my dad died, he’s become my father figure. My dad didn’t like boxing but hugely respected Bob. I also have to give some thanks to Jimmy and Lee, my amateur trainers at the Fox ABC, for getting me started.
Physically, everybody knows that Bob’s regime is very, very intense. But he also inbreeds a tough strong mind and the heart of a champion. He gets into your soul, puts incredible belief into his fighters.
And Bob can adapt his teaching to all styles. In addition to steering me to my Commonwealth title, he took Prince Arron to the Prizefighter trophy and British light-middle title. He took Matty Hatton to the European crown and a world title challenge. You couldn’t find three more contrasting fighters than me, Hatton and Arron. The guy’s a legend. Full stop.
Q You made steady but unspectacular progress during your first three and a half years in the profession then announced yourself when you saw off Lee Purdy in a 12 round classic for the vacant Commonwealth belt in fight number 15.
You had to come through a few uncomfortable moments but that result seems far better since Purdy’s recent elevation to world class.
DV Maybe but the truth is I only had three weeks notice for that fight and one of those was the final ‘tone down’ week when you don’t really do any training. I still threw over 1500 punches. All the conditioning work over a number of years paid off.
I was under a lot of pressure because it was my first 12 rounder plus it was around the time when my dad wasn’t very well. That was really tough, made it harder.
In round seven, when I’d turned southpaw, I got a bit lazy and Lee caught me with big clean right hand. I felt my legs ‘go’ but I refused to go down. When I got back to the corner, I apologized to Bob then jumped straight back at Purdy from the start of round eight.
I made a lot of mistakes but in that fight I showed my will and showed I could take a dig. In the end I won very convincingly. (Unanimously by six, five and one round on the official cards).
Q That was a leading contender for 2010’s Fight of the Year. Subsequently, in the following two and a half years, you defended the belt just twice, outscoring Namibia’s unbeaten Bethuel Ushona and Australia’s Sam Colomban. Both were quality fighters but you struggled to get up for those fights and were widely accused of labouring. Fans were crying out for a rematch with Purdy, who’d bagged the British title. Why didn’t it make sense to you?
DV There was nothing for me to gain. It was basically a case of me giving Lee a second chance. I also had a few personal difficulties, most notably my dad passing away around that time. My aunt actually passed away the same morning as the Colomban defence but, out of pride, I went through with the fight. I was a true professional and still got the win despite the fact I was hurting inside.
Anyway, just because nobody in the UK really knew much about Oshuna or Colomban, it didn’t mean they weren’t good fighters. They’d beat plenty of the top guys over here and would give Lee Purdy and Frankie Gavin hard nights.
Lee’s had a few good wins since we fought but I have to say if I’d been offered a voluntary challenge at a world title Like he was against Devon Alexander, I’d have done my absolute hardest to make the weight, then rip the champion’s heart out. I tweeted Purdy ‘Good luck’ but he didn’t really throw one decent shot.
Still, his career. I guarantee when my time comes, I’ll show the Yanks what I can do. They’ll like my style.
QYou certainly clawed back a lot of lost ground last time out when you destroyed Oldham’s previously unbeaten Ronnie Heffron in six rounds at the Manchester Arena last November. Were you surprised the fight proved so easy and so short?
DV Not really. 2012 was a nightmare year for me on a personal front. Lots of things accumulated. Because of bereavements, I’d had to forfeit two holidays that I’d paid for in full. I had contractual problems and briefly my boxing licence had run out. All those things put me back.
The bookies had me down to lose. But people didn’t understand that, though I’d not fought for a year, I hadn’t been rusting. I was still in the gym every day. I’d been sparring constantly.
My natural game is to go to war and that’s personally what I’ll choose to do most times. But the best way to fight Heffron was to use my speed and box him; beat him to the punch. I then slaughtered him with uppercuts and made a big statement. I showed I can go back foot and counter punch effectively.
Q Despite that impressive showing, you’ll again enter as a 2-1 underdog for your British-Commonwealth unifier with Frankie Gavin on Friday. What’s your assessment of Gavin?
DV I’ve seen bits of Frankie. He’s just a boxer with two arms and two legs, same as me. People are saying it’ll be Frankie’s speed against my power, I say expect the unexpected!
I train to win. Us boxers all put in so much hard graft for just a 36 minute crash....or less! Bob Shannon breeds confidence and you can’t enter that ring with any doubts.
The boxing ring is my realm, my world, my house. I’m there to fight. All I will say is that Frankie can run but he can’t hide. There’ll be a fight and one will come out a winner. Me!
Q Regardless of your opponent, how important is it to you to win the Lonsdale Belt? If you win on Friday, do you see yourself hanging around at domestic level to attempt to hang onto it outright?
DV It’s a gorgeous belt no doubt and I can’t wait to see a photo of it around my waist. But it’s just one of many belts I aim to win.
This fight’s more about stepping up to greater things. Frankie Gavin is an obstacle in my way and I’m going to go through him.
It’d be nice to have it to keep but I’d vacate and go for the European or world titles if they were offered. Welterweight is probably the toughest division in both Britain and the world at the minute, littered with awesome fighters. Respect to every one of them but I definitely see myself having a career at world level. I really want to represent Britain in the US. They’ll love me over there.
The true warrior should always be ready to enter the ring with all his tools sharp. In boxing, you never know what shots are going to come your way. I absolutely love all the hard work in the gym and I’m ready 24/7 for whenever an opening presents itself.
I don’t want to sound like a bad person but I just really love to fight!
June 24, 2013