The atmosphere in the gym is built on disbelief. People looking, staring almost, at the action inside the ring. Crisp, sharp, explosive.
In a gym which houses boxing royalty such as David Haye, Jorge Linares and renowned Cuban coach Ismael Salas this may not come as a surprise. You’d expect two multiple-weight World champions to bring a room to its knees. Yet, neither are here today. Instead, an 18-year old from the tiny Scottish town of Carstairs, Lanarkshire prowls the ring. It is his home, with spectators watching almost mouths agape.
Willy Hutchinson is Scotland’s only World amateur champion and was their first European amateur champion. That achievement in itself is astounding for a young man raised in an area as remote as Carstairs. “I don’t sound Scottish though, do I?” Willy laughs. The accent is hard to place. A result of two English parents he explains. He has recently turned professional with David Haye and Richard Schaefer’s ‘Hayemaker Ringstar’ promotion, basing himself for camp here in Vauxhall, London.
“(London?) It’s the busiest place I’ve ever been in my life. It’s like ants, I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s unbelievable. To be honest, wherever I go, I fit in. I came here one day and I was pals with everyone. I’m the easiest person to get on with! Scottish people isn’t it?” Again he laughs, infectiously. It’s hard to comprehend the pressure that an 18-year old man from a small town could be feeling.
I’d been aware of Hutchinson for about a year, since his historic win in Saint-Petersburg at the World Youth Amateur championships in 2016. He hadn’t gained much press at the time, other than the odd local newspaper and boxing forum post. I wondered, what had been most difficult for him to deal with?
“I got a trophy and a handshake. A World champion… I got a trophy and a handshake. But I’ve got a lot of respect for a lot of coaches there.”
Hutchinson deserved more from Scottish boxing. He went on to tell me of his reception when presented with his plaque,
“By the way, the day I got my trophy, infact it took them six months to give me the trophy, anyway we’ll pass that… I got it six months later. Then, I go to the Scottish championships and I get sent in the middle of the ring and no-one even clapped! To be the first ever World champion – I got nothing for it. I got, literally, zero. Although, that’s where this man (manager Mirko Wolf) seen me!”
As Wolf sits on the ring apron, an imposing physical specimen with a warm nature, it’s clear he shares the excitement surrounding the Hutchinson camp. He was working with the AIBA at the World championships in Saint-Petersburg where Willy truly rose to prominence. Mirko Wolf himself was an undefeated fighter, winning eleven fights before moving into coaching nationally in Germany and forming bonds with Richard Schaefer and the Hayemaker team. He had lived boxing and was now breathing life back into the sport. Bluntly, I asked if he had seen anyone with Willy’s talent before?
“No. Never. The answer is no. I have come across some very talented people, I used to train with Roy Jones in his camp for several months but (Willy) is one of a kind. You don’t see this kind of talent. It’s hard to find words for it. What Mozart is to music, he can be to boxing. So gifted.”
Mirko hadn’t spoken to any other fighters regarding management at the tournament. His eyes were fixed on the young Scotsman. As Willy reminds us, “He had the whole world, and he chose me!” It is clear to see the bond between the pair. We share laughs sitting by the ring, exchanging stories about Willy’s family Sunday roasts back home as Mirko confesses he had never heard of such a meal! The conversation flows easily. Deceptively jovial, Hutchinson knows when to turn it on and switch from friendly talent to raw predator.
First impressions are key. I’d heard the day before from a friend of mine and professional head trainer Noel Callan that ‘the Scottish boy looked very, very good!’. Noel had been down for sparring with his fighter European #7 Hannah Rankin. She had worked with Savannah Marshall but whilst in the gym, Callan observed Hutchinson on the pads with Salas and was impressed.
Add that to the whispers on boxing message boards and forums following his signing with Hayemaker Ringstar. Phrases such as ‘this kid is the real star’, ‘he will be the best of the bunch’ and ‘future World champ – no doubt’ can be seen from a variety of sources. But why now? Why at aged 18 with the Commonwealth games around the corner?
“The whole reason for it, to be honest with you, I’m not being cheeky but I feel like I had accomplished everything I had wanted to accomplish as an amateur. Plus, the Olympics, I can still qualify for the Olympics as a professional under the new rules.”
The gym is nearly empty as we speak. The heavy bags are still, for the first time that day. Calm. The ring is empty, still worn with the trackmarks of shoes danced in by fighters like Hutchinson, Ashfaq and Joyce. As a writer, it’s surreal enough conducting an interview whilst Ismael Salas is behind us relaxing on a massage table to conclude his day. It is difficult to imagine how teenager Willy Hutchinson must feel every time he steps through the unmarked, almost secretive door to the Hayemaker gym.
“It’s unbelievable but, to be honest with you, they’re just normal people. You know? I look at them how they look at me. They’re just people. David Haye, my pals are saying ‘Get a picture!’ but he’s just a normal person. We’re all normal. You hit the top – just stay normal man!”
Staying grounded will be a key part of the former Springhill ABC fighters development. He knows how talented he is. He’s confident, but not Ohara Davies. He’s funny, but not Dave Allen. He strikes a balance quite startling for a young man so fresh in the paid ranks. Hutchinson mentions various times his old amateur coach Frank Delaney and the influence Delaney had in sculpting his career. “As an amateur, if it wasn’t for my coach Frank Delaney back at home, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today.” Delaney and Hutchinson forged an almost family-like connection. “I grew an attachment with Frank from day one. With my man Frank Delaney. He’s still there. Still there and going strong!” Loyalty in this sport, a commendable rareity.
I began asking Willy how it felt to take home the gold at the Worlds. He interrupted with a cheeky smile, “…and the Europeans. Let’s just throw that in there!” I followed up by asking if it was a shock to him personally that he managed to secure both medals? “To be honest with you, a year before the World Championships, God is looking down on me now this is no lie… I told three people in my life (I would do it), my Dad, my Granny and my amateur coach – a year later and I won it.”
Mirko looks on, smiling. He knows this kid is something special. They are eyeing up a potential October debut, while nothing has been confirmed the signs so far are positive. “They say to me when he is doing pads… that is not normal. The gym will actually come to a stand still. The gym was full and everyone stops just looking at him.”
I asked Coach Salas on my way out, how good did he think Willy Hutchinson was? He puffed out his chest and lifted his hand as a measuring stick. He may not be the tallest of men, but the indication was clear. Near the top of the tree. With such a long, tricky road ahead it will be fascinating to see how ‘Braveheart’ progresses. Mirko closed by telling me that Willy claims to be posessed. Either in a fight or during training. A synesthaesia-type blackout. I’m fascinated, probing for details.
“It’s like I’m posessed. I feel posessed. I hit the pads with Salas and I swear to God something happens. I don’t know what it is but something changes. It’s just a good mind, isn’t it? I don’t know what I’m doing in there, it just happens without me even thinking about it. It’s just a good mind.”
The first steps on the road to a long, succesful career have been taken. We wait. Wait on the professional debut. Wait on the feedback. Wait on exclusive sponsorships. Most significantly, we wait to see whether Scotland’s finest amateur has the ‘Mozart’ effect.
Written by Craig Scott