After coming close to lifting the Commonwealth title last September, heavy-handed South Queensferry super-feather Paul Appleby jumps back into the fireline on Saturday’s big Braehead bill against Dublin’s unbeaten Stephen Ormond for the Celtic title.
Last week, boxing writer Glynn Evans caught up with the gifted former British featherweight king, still only 24, to discuss past mistakes and the changes that he hopes will see him realise his considerable potential.
Below is a Q and A with Paul Appleby
Q: Last time out, whilst challenging Cromer’s Liam Walsh for his Commonwealth belt, you seemed to have the fight in the bag, dropping Walsh heavily in round seven. But you let the title slip from grasp, retiring on your stool after round ten. Do you attribute the defeat to mistakes on your part or just an incredible show of fortitude from Walsh?
A: It was just one of those things. I should definitely have finished Liam off when he crawled back up but I just couldn’t find that one final shot and he did incredibly well. Big respect to him. When you land a bomb like the left hook that put him down you instantly assume the fight is over. People just shouldn’t rise from shots like that. Even when he stumbled up at nine, I automatically assumed the referee would stop it.
Q: Do you feel a sense of injustice that it wasn’t, and that the clear knockdown you scored in round nine wasn’t formally registered?
A: A wee bit. Many fighters have been stopped who were in a far better state than Liam was. And like you say, it was definitely a knockdown in round nine. I was absolutely exhausted at the time because the heat was unbearable in the ring but, who knows, if the ref had called it, it may have given me that crucial little bit of belief needed to spur me on to victory.
Q: Coach Billy Nelson compassionately withdrew you on your stool after round ten which appeared wise. However, if the decision was yours would you have continued?
A: I may have tried but I was ‘done’, knackered! Better to go out that way than get knocked out.
Q: It was a truly brutal battle, subsequently named British Fight of the Year for 2011. How long did it take you to recover from it, physically and psychologically?
A: My neck and body was still sore a week and a half after but, while I’ve been badly depressed from defeats before, mentally I got over that one straight away. I’ve never watched previous losses back on tape but I’ve watched the Walsh match at least five times. It’s such a brilliant, entertaining fight.
I actually gained a lot of confidence in defeat and knew I’d come back and win another title. Though I was aching, I was back in the gym the Tuesday immediately after.
Q: You were very successful very early, winning the British title and Young Boxer of the Year award before the age of 21. Looking back, might those successes have come too early, before you were fully equipped to handle the pressures?
A: Definitely. I was Scotland’s youngest ever champion and that got loads of publicity up here. I didn’t know what to do with myself and eventually the pressure took its toll. I’ve never been a boozer but I probably started to believe my hype, slacked on my training and dieting a wee bit.
That said, I’d not change anything. Winning the British title against John Simpson was still the best night of my life.
Q: Subsequently, you’ve fallen short in your last three championship contests, conceding your British featherweight title on a sixth round stoppage to Belfast’s Martin Lindsay at the Ulster Hall, dropping a split to Ghana’s Joseph Laryea in a WBO InterContinental superfeather bash, then the Walsh reverse. How do you account for each of those losses?
A: I underestimated Lindsay. I wasn’t training right, didn’t make weight right, wasn’t properly focussed. I went straight in for a knockout instead of sticking with my boxing and gradually breaking him down. Martin was a clever counterpuncher and eventually caught me on the top of the head and I ‘went’.
Also there was a really horrible atmosphere in the Ulster Hall that night. The Irish are nice people but there was some pretty vile personal chants to intimidate me. I was only 21. Losing my British title made me very down.
For Laryea, I shouldn’t have fought as I had an injured right hand and it was very sore every time I connected. Ricky (Burns, his stablemate) had the WBO superfeather belt at the time and I was pretty nailed on as his next challenger had I won. I looked past Laryea. That’ll never happen again. I’d love to fight him again so I could smash him up, show I wasn’t right.
For Walsh, I was 100% and came just a fraction short. But I was to blame for all my losses. I was young and immature. I’d never again go into the ring carrying an injury or without being totally prepared.
Q: You’ve been through your share of trainers previously but seem settled and thriving at Billy Nelson’s Fighting Scots gym in Stepps, Glasgow. What is it that makes Billy and his gym so successful?
A: In my case, Billy and his assistant John McCarron have got my boxing back together, got me focussed on technique and defence which is what I need. I was becoming a bit too fond of a war. Billy’s a great trainer and I think this will be my last change.
Sparring regularly with Ricky at Billy’s gym is a big plus. His workrate is phenomenal and he’s the best spar out there. I also do a lot with (unbeaten superfeather) Michael Roberts. Stephen Simmons (2010Commonwealth Games bronze medallist) is also at the gym. We’re always trying to outdo each other. Ricky’s King of the Gym but I’m as good as him on the circuits.
Q: Your opponent on Saturday is unbeaten Dubliner Stephen Ormond for the Celtic title. It’s a risky assignment, one you could’ve swerved but didn’t? What do you hope to get out of the fight?
A: The actual title doesn’t interest me too much, the title’s just a stepping stone. But when (matchmaker) Dean Powell phoned and offered Stephen Ormomd’s name I said: ‘Of course’. With Ricky defending his title on the same bill, we’ve both had nine or ten weeks to prepare and my weight is perfect.
I’ve watched a bit of Ormond on You Tube. He’s a come forward type but doesn’t appear a huge puncher. I’m ready. I like a war but this time I think I’ll have the better skills so I’ll need to capitalise on them. Any win will do, a knockout would be perfect.
Q: After the Laryea showing, are you apprehensive about performing before a big Scottish crowd again?
A: Not at all. I always love performing at home. They really got behind me, even when I was struggling with Laryea. This is a perfect opening to get my career back on track.
Q: And if you come through?
A: It’s the ideal fight to propel me into a British title shot, a rematch with Walsh or even a crack at Ermano Fegatilli for the European. Whenever my next title op comes, whoever it’s against, I guarantee I’ll win and hold on to the belt for a very long time.
March 7, 2012