Early interpretations of the name Liverpool can be traced back to a far more ancient name and meaning- Lieurpul. With derivations associating the historic shipping port to muddy creeks, murky waters and humble beginnings, the city has come a long way since.
Hometown pride oozes from every street corner and every drinking or eating establishment. Every time I visit the beautiful docks, I am amazed by the passion of it’s inhabitants. Liverpool’s love affair with sport follows a similar storyline. Past stories of Red vs Blue Merseyside derbies decorate the rich sporting history of the city.
We are almost two years on from the 2016 Rio Olympics. Many of the poster boys and girls from sport’s flagship event have fallen into blurred obscurity. Novel love affairs with sports such as badminton, trap shooting and fencing quickly fade away and the favourite stars from the Games diminish to nothing more than an answer on ‘A Question of Sport’.
Boxing has been different. No surprises there.
Whilst the global interest of boxing at the 2016 Olympics very much surrounded Michael Conlan, and ‘that’ rant and subsequent beef with AIBA. On UK shores, the attention was very much focused on Team GB and the waves they were causing across all weight classes. Now professional’s in the game, the likes of Anthony Fowler, Lawrence Okolie, Joshua Buatsi, Josh Kelly and Joe Joyce are continuing to catch eyes.
Fowler was a cornerstone of the Team GB squad for over seven years. A loyal servant to his trade, the Liverpudlian wore his national colours at almost every level as an amateur. A bronze medal in the 2013 World Championships and a Gold at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games really began to turn heads towards the ever growing name of ‘The Machine’.
‘’I have had a lot of experience of training hard with Team GB, so this is nothing new to me. It’s a lot more like business now in the professional game. I was looked after a lot at GB and now I find I have to do a few more things for myself. But I’ve got a great team behind. I couldn’t ask for a better coach than Dave Coldwell. He is teaching me new things every day. He is professional as they come. Dave is in charge. What he says goes.’’
The modesty was refreshing. So often we see accomplished amateurs coming into the professional game with delusions of grandeur; unfounded assumptions that they are already the complete product and will breeze through the competition with ease (see Audley Harrison et. Al).
Not Fowler. Too much time has been spent grinding to make such an elementary mistake.
A calm, calculated mix of self-confidence and willingness to learn shone through. Anthony was calling me on his way to gym. On his way from an appointment. And had another engagement following training. The man never stops working.
‘’Yeah Dave has changed me a lot. The way that I train now is a lot different to how I used to train in the amateurs. I am a lot more conscious of not getting hit. Hit and move. Hit and move. Repeat and adapt.’’
Fowler famously made mainstream media headlines in the run up to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Strong rumours began to circulate that long time professional, Chris Eubank Jr, was considering entering his name into the hat for the Middleweight slot on Team GB’s boxing squad. Eubank had already been mixing with the likes of Billy Joe Saunders and also had a version of the WBA 160lbs title to his name, so the whisper of his intentions to apply for a place was met with raised eyebrows to say the least. In a decision that was well received all round, Team GB decided to stick with Fowler over Eubank. Despite the ABA titles, the gold medals and achievement on world platforms, the rejection of Eubank Jr may provide the most glowing testament to how well respected, talented and crucial the role of Anthony Fowler truly was in the national boxing set up.
Despite no medal in Rio, the Olympics represented the last piece of the amateur puzzle that was missing from Fowler’s arsenal. A few months later, he was unveiled as a Matchroom fighter and has since plied his trade under the bright lights of Sky Sports and watchful eye of Eddie Hearn and trainer Dave Coldwell.
‘’Dave has taught me so much. How to lean into my punches, how to punch harder, that sort of thing. I’m enjoying my boxing so much more because I am learning again. At Team GB I went abit slack. I was there for 7 years doing the same thing week in, week out. Every week the stuff I do with Dave is different. Every day I am learning and I am still not doing everything exactly how he wants but I am seeing improvements all the time. It’s going very well for me.’’
‘’I live in Rotherham Monday to Friday, then travel back to Liverpool at the weekend to spend time with my girlfriend at the weekend. I have moved to be closer to train and make it easier. Even when I am not in camp I train with Dave. I train five days a week. That’s how much faith I have in him to get me to where I need to be.’’
A delicate game of plate spinning for the hotly tipped amateur standout. It is no secret that boxing can often be the most physically, mentally and time consuming sport to train in professionally. And as the conversation with the former Commonwealth gold medallist developed, the sacrifices made by Fowler slowly became evident.
A strong connection to his hometown. His cousin, Robbie Fowler, donned a Liverpool jersey for years. The second name is known in the area. Now it is Anthony’s time. And he only wants to add to the legacy. Following this train of thought, I decided to ask, ‘How different is fighting in Liverpool to anywhere else, Anthony?’
‘’I wouldn’t say that it specifically helps me. Obviously it is a massive bonus. Liverpool is a thriving city that loves boxing. I am very well known in Liverpool. People push me on. We love seeing each other do well so it adds a bit of extra encouragement. But at the end of day I fight for myself. I am the only one who will help me when I step between the ropes. No one will do it for me. I train four or five hours a day. I am putting the work in, I am trying to learn. Trying to be the best version of myself.’’
Fowler is slated to make his second appearance in Liverpool in April, fighting at the Echo Arena on the undercard of Amir Khan’s long awaited return to boxing. Liverpool, Belfast, Newcastle and Sheffield have already become favourable hunting grounds for the fledgling prospect, who has wasted no time in establishing his name amongst fight fans in cities across the UK. As the 26-year-old gave his feelings regarding his second bout in Liverpool, an enormous feeling of hometown pride was evident in the young man’s voice.
‘’I am a big Amir Khan fan. I am a big boxing fan. I boxed in my first fight in Liverpool. I take it all in stride and try not to put any fights on pedestals. I try and stay the same. When I last fought in Liverpool I was trying too hard for the stoppage. This time I will be a bit more switched on and a bit more calm. It was a learning curve. You can feel 100% good in yourself but then you just think ‘I’m in Liverpool here I want to impress.’ So I will bear that in my mind. My next fight is a step up so hopefully I can show people what I am made of. I have it all my own so far this past year. I am looking forward to being tested and being in fights that are entertaining for the fans.’’
Moving fast. Ambitious as they come. Hungry for more. Nothing less is too be expected from a performance athlete. Thus, it came with no surprise when the talk of titles began as a realistic goal for 2018… Less than a year after his debut performance on the Kell Brook v Eroll Spence IBF Welterweight world title clash.
‘’Hopefully we got a little belt. Whether it’s English, British or Commonwealth, I want a little title by the end of the year. Then next year I want to really start pushing on. I feel ready now but I know patience is key. I was asking for a title after my second fight but Dave has done well to keep me grounded. I am ready whenever, I am just waiting for Dave and Eddie [Hearn] to let me off my leash!’’
‘’As long as Dave tells me I am 154lbs then that is where I fight. It is very tough to get the weight right. I boxed at 160lbs in the amateurs so I have had to come down. I got a bit of a knock last year and was injured, so put a bit of weight on there. But I am feeling good and fit at Super Welter.’’
Olympian’s as championed as the perfect role models for children across the world to aspire to equal and emulate. The social media presence and careful, professional behaviour of Anthony Fowler has lead him to the mould of inspiration and beacon of hope to many already. So as the conversation drew to an end, I was intrigued… ‘So who do role model’s use as their role model’s?’
‘’You know, I respect fighters that go out and make a name for themselves in a proper manner. Someone who is doing it right now is Anthony Joshua. He is living that life religiously. He has got the image, and everyone is behind him. He is a sponsors dream. He eats well, he looks well and he can talk and handle himself very professionally. And most importantly he performs.’’
‘’That’s what I want. I want to look the part, speak properly and fight. I want to be the whole package. There are good fighters out there… But some can’t talk, can’t handle themselves professional and do themselves no favours when trying to make a name for themselves.’’
I should’ve known. A former team mate and close friend. The stencil of professionalism and business savvy presented by Anthony Joshua provides a path that many fighters today yearn to replicate and emulate in their own fashion.
The past weekend saw fellow Rio Olympian Lawrence Okolie headline the O2 in a domestic clash against Isaac Chamberlain. The fight was marketed perfectly and the fans lapped up the storyline. With the mix of words and boxing prowess, it cannot be long until we see the exciting Anthony Fowler headlining his own shows, and further establishing himself as another warrior to emerge from the proud fighting city of Liverpool.
Follow Anthony’s story on Instagram and Twitter: @afowler06
Written by Tom Humber