EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: DANNY DARKO – BACK FROM THE BRINK

There comes a time when breathing fresh air becomes important to a man. The freedom to carry out simple tasks like, going for a walk, becomes imperative.

When freedom is limited, we tend to view it as an experiment. Let’s see how long we can last. We can do without things. We’ll get by, just fine, proving how tough we are.

The irony of proving how tough we are, led to the lack of freedom experienced by Daniel Egbunike (2-0, 2KOs). It wasn’t lost on me as we spoke on a leisurely Thursday morning.

“I hear a lot of boxers saying ‘Oh I was bad when I was young!’ But I was… well, I was really doing it. Doing bad shit out there.”

“Basically, when I was young I’d always kinda liked boxing anyway but, I’ll be honest with you, yeah? I used to be getting in quite a bit of trouble. I used to go to the gym here and there, but never took it serious. And then, I ended up doing quite a bit of time in jail.”

I’m sure there’s general guidance or a handbook on what not to ask people about jail. I haven’t read it. Thankfully, Danny Darko as he is known in the ring, was open and honest about his experiences and allowed me some insight into his stimulus for change.

“I got four years and I done two. It wasn’t the first time I’d been to jail, you know? I’d been a few times before and on that sentence I decided that when I come out, I’m gonna push this boxing thing. Literally the day I came out, I went to the boxing gym near my house. Here we are, four years later I’m in this position now!”

Egbunike’s amateur pedigree is fascinating. He went unbeaten, winning eighteen fights and capturing both the novice and the elite ABA’s as a newcomer. Natural ability, coupled with a hunger carried carefully since his days in the streets of Kingston have allowed him to excel in every contest thus far. I was ringside at his debut on an MTK London show in Brentwood to witness him working at only a bead of sweat’s distance. Or blood.

I was keen to delve deeper, uncovering his journey through unavoidable adolescent pressures and the struggles of a single-parent household. Danny gave a montrous amount of praise to his Mother, a woman who was at times his only remaining pillar in a seemingly crumbling plot. She stood by him, her maternal instinct, unwavering.

“When I was growing up, in school, I was a bit of a naughty kid. I believe I had ‘Little Man Syndrome’! I was tiny in school but I never, ever used to get bullied. I always used to do my thing and I had a lot of friends around me.”

“At first it was just me and my Mum. I had a good childhood! Obviously, growing up, I tried to be good but I got caught up in the wrong crowd. Very, very young. I have been in and out of trouble for a long time and boxing got me out of all that.”

Boxing comes naturally to Danny. Many people involved in the sport will tell you that hard work makes champions and that natural ability is a myth. Boxers themselves, especially. Kal Yafai, current super-flyweight World champion, told me if anyone had seen his first twenty amateur contests they would have bet their mortgage on him failing at any decent level. However, to take up the sport seriously at the ripe old age of twenty-four, I couldn’t shrug the notion that there must be something in the Kingston man’s blood.

In the buzzing junior-welterweight division, Egbunike is desperate to make his mark. A small fish in a big pond, he fancies hunting sharks sooner, rather than later. Names such as Kay Prospere, Harlem Eubank, Tyrone McKenna were thrown into our conversation. They were met with zero hesitation, yet balanced with plenty of respect.

“As I said, if certain names might pop up that would put me on a higher level, we’re gonna go for it. I’m willing to take risks. we don’t wanna rush anything but we don’t wanna go too slow either. My first fight, he didn’t come to fight that day, innit? I don’t need that. I’m not nineteen. I don’t wanna get my numbers up.”

“I’m gonna make an impact. You know what it is, I’m twenty-eight right now. I’ve got a short amount of time to make a big impact. I’ve got that hunger. It’s not even close to dying out. We was’ meant to fight in a six-rounder in that fight (December 2nd). By the end of next year, I’m trying to be fighting eight-rounders. If any chance comes up next year for any kinda title… we’re taking it. We’re going for it. I’ve been training my bollocks off since the day I came outta jail, so, I’m ready to go!”

The clock is ticking, at least in Danny’s mind. Make an impact, mark your territory, state your claim. It harks back to a mentality he is all too familiar with, yet is infused with a fresh, professional enthusiasm.

We chatted for a good length of time. By that I mean; longer than Isaac but shorter than Deontay (no ‘Little Man Syndrome’ intended!). It was impactful stuff. It started off cagey and straight-down-the-line. It ended up jovial, fun and very honest. I really enjoyed chatting to Danny, not because I could relate, but because the hope that boxing had given him escaped with every syllable.

“The last guy, my second fight, he came to win. If we gave him a chance, he would have stolen that. That’s the kinda fight we need to be learning and seeing my mistakes. Now I can go back to the drawing board and attend to them! By the time I get to seven or eights fight, with another prospect, we can have a go!”

If you give a man a fish, you know the story… if you teach a man the skills it’s a different story!

“Now, I’m up in Essex, training in Basildon with Kevin Lilley, that’s my trainer. I done the ABA’s, then my amateur coach got me in touch with him so me and him just clicked from there and we’ve just been going at it since.”

It’s a tricky game, the professional game. Hundreds of fights shown per weekend, varying degrees of exposure and ultimately a varying degree of success. I find it tough to buy into debutants. I don’t know if you’re the same? Anyone can look good in an interview. Anyone can seem compelling in an audition.

I bought into ‘Danny Darko’. Whether it was the Jurassic Park effect his followers had on my stale pint of Heineken or his relentless, aggressive nature… it worked. When I noticed he was on a second bill that I couldn’t attend, I thought, ‘I need to find out how this guy gets on!’. Danny opened up on his time before signing contracts.

“That’s where I met Mark Fitch, he got me involved in this white-collar boxing. He told me, ‘It’s semi-professional boxing!’. I’m saying to everyone… Naaaaah I’ve skipped the amateurs. I sold like 300 tickets, then they go, ‘Aw, you can fight for a belt’! I go, yeah, I can do that! National semi-pro champion, right? Then, this guy called Ben Young comes in to do pads and he goes, ‘Listen, you are shit mate! You’re not good.’ I’m like – ‘Oi, I’ve got a belt you know mate!'”

We share a laugh at the state of the white-collar game. A weird, distorted version of the sport where a pensioner can fight a twenty-five year old. Dangerous, but appealing to anyone interested in the sport. Almost a combat equivelant of a WONGA loan, if you will.

“Since then, I’ve never been stopped and searched by the Police. We went to the novices, I cleaned up! He said, ‘Fuck it, let’s go elites!’. We went, we cleaned up! In the amateurs, I fought a kid that had 80 fights, stopped him! Stopped him in the first round!

“Listen bro, I look at myself now, 2-0 with two knockouts and I think wow! I know it’s early in my career, but I come from the pits! I have companies sponsoring me and this is all cos of my hands right now! My boxing pedigree was absolutely zero. My perspective in life is so different. You see when I came out of jail – I was addicted to boxing! I was sparring, then practising a punch for WEEKS until I had it mastered! People in my gym… I’ve surpassed them!”

He continued, “Craig. You know when someone says, did you ever play basketball? You tried a bit. Or tennis? You played a bit of tennis. That was me and boxing! I was footballer, but I never had the discipline to stick to it (boxing)… until I came out of jail.”

I glanced at my watch and realised we had to end our conversation. If I’d been able to foresee #LomaRigo maybe I would have kept on talking. Who knows what will come, when following the career of ‘Danny Darko’? Some big nights out. Some fiery affairs inside the Squared Circle.

I almost felt as though I’d become a friend to Egbunike. Loosely. I’ll survive if he never remembers me, but his heartfelt, warm and genuine conversation had truly aided my packing for New York! Careers, at that level, are like opinions. Everyone has them. However, only some look special… Daniel Egbunike, might take you all by surprise. Please, just don’t say I never hooked you up!

Written by Craig Scott

@craigscott209