A life entangled in high-level sports is difficult enough. You or I may never fully understand what it takes. The importance of a tight-knit support network whether cooking your meals, running the bath or buying the tickets should never be taken for granted. Strong characters survive the obstacles life throws at them.
Lee McGregor has done a lot of surviving.
“I’ve had, this year, it’s been horrendous for me. Earlier on, it started off I… I lost my Mum in May. That was the same night I had won the British title actually so that was in May. A couple of months later, I lost my Grandma and my Cousin both in the space of a couple of weeks in like June/July. As well actually, I’ve just found out my Grandad has been diagnosed with cancer so, it has been brutal. But he’s been holding strong and he seems to be getting better and now that I’ve got this deal it’s like things are picking up a wee bit and hopefully it can bring some happiness to the family.”
Despite a turbulent year, the young bantamweight is trying to focus on the future. He told me the sadness of losing his family members had served his as ’emotional motivation’.
A steely determination and a seemingly natural boxing pedigree have heard whispers of fast-tracking and World titles even before his debut. McGregor was a highly-touted amateur. As a two-time Scottish and British champion, his impact on the unpaid scene was surprising.
“I was two-time senior British champion, two-time senior Scottish champion and I won at the youths (British and Scottish) as well. Every year I entered it, I won it. I never lost in championships in Scotland or in Britain. I think I’d had forty-six fights and I think I lost six, but only to World class opponents. I’d competed at two World championships and two European championships. Once (as a) senior for each.”
With his sights firmly set on a trip to the Gold Coast next Summer in search of some Commonwealth titles, a chance phonecall from legend Barry McGuigan provided McGregor with an opportunity he couldn’t turn down.
McGuigan was a folk hero from his little town of Clones, gaining a following almost unrivalled in Ireland, in recent years. His new protégé has the tools and Lee told me he was excited about beginning his professional career.
“Now I am signed with them (Cyclone), it’s always something I had wanted to do. I think Cyclone is the right stable. Barry, I mean the passion that he’s got… I’ve not seen a manager as passionate as he is! It’s what I like. It all made sense.”
This Saturday, the Edinburgh debutant will look to capitalise on a passionate home support. Hundreds of tickets sold and excitement spreading throughout the boxing fraternity. I’ve been contacted by various coaches/gym members who have told me of McGregor’s potential. Words like ‘special’ and ‘incredible’ have been used. It is important to hit the ground running in a sport renowned for fickle fans, which I could tell suited him perfectly!
“It’s top people giving me praise and telling me I’m gonna go far. I’ve always had that self-belief. It is sort of like, when you hear it from Shane and Barry, guys like that, you can only believe in yourself. If you struggle after that, you must be in the wrong sport. So, I really do believe I can do something within the sport. Especially because, I’m only twenty-years-old just now! I have loads of learning to do and even Shane said that. He said ‘You are only 30% of the fighter you are going to be’. With him saying that, I think that 30% could win a British title very soon. It’s quite scary.”
Former WBO World champion Alex Arthur was the last Edinburgh-based boxer to claim a portion of the recognised belts. Josh Taylor, current Cyclone hot property and fringe World title condender also shares the beautiful Scottish Capital as a birthplace.
One thing the two had to overcome however, was a professional debut on unfamiliar soil. Arthur fought in Wythenshawe, Manchester in his opener whilst Taylor travelled to El Paso, Texas. A stamp in the passport and a knockout to boot.
Lee McGregor will step out on November 11th to a roar that only few beginners enjoy. Local-boy-did-good. He opened up on his homecoming and is looking forward to soaking up the atmosphere.
“I can’t wait. It’s unbelievable. I would be looking forward to it anywhere in the World, never mind my home City. Where I was brought up is literally a ten-fifteen minute drive to the venue, so I’ve sold a lot of tickets. Everyone is buzzing to see me make my debut and it’s gonna be unreal. I can’t believe it’s this close now!”
A thriving scene in Bonny Scotland promises a wave of future champions with McGregor just the latest to turn over. Hayemaker Promotions, Matchroom and Cyclone have thrust young Scottish talent into the limelight during what seems to be a purple patch.
Myself and Lee discussed the prime of a now-troubled Scott Harrison. We spoke about Alex Arthur and most recently Ricky Burns. These figureheads for a sport that was always in football or rugby’s shadows. It could be that the tide is turning North of the border, with young talent stealing headlines.
“I think Scottish boxing is in the best place it’s been for a long, long time. Obviously we had Scott Harrison, Alex Arthur and they guys and then it sort of died for a few years didn’t it? It’s now picking back up. Willy Hutchinson, Josh, myself, Jason (Easton), Charlie Flynn. There’s loads of guys.”
At the time of writing, we are only three days away from McGregor’s debut. The hurt, the sacrifice, the dedication and the focus would make a believer of anyone. The little bantamweight, aged just outwith his teenage years, has shouldered every bad card he was dealt. Still, moving forward.
It’s cliché, but perhaps never more appropriate. Boxing is his sanctuary. His professional journey starts on Saturday, but Lee McGregor has been clearing hurdles long before then.
“You could say boxing gives me something to work hard on. It’s basically my life now. I’ve got great motivation in the sport now, especially with what has happened. I always had great motivation. But it can’t get any better than winning a World title for my family and for my Mum looking down on me. It’s great motivation and a lot of people would have quit or taken a long, long time out with the year I’ve had. I’ve used my heartache as motivation and I am still doing that to this day.”
Written by Craig Scott