Sunday, 29 September 2013

Rocky Fielding talks Smith, Harrison and lifting the Commonwealth title as an 11-year-old

ROCKY FIELDING has a dilemma on his hands. It is a few weeks before his September 21 assignment at the Liverpool Olympia, but the rising super-middleweight may struggle to meet the demands of his growing fanbase.

“I’ve only been given 350 tickets,” he sighs.

Indeed, Fielding has already developed a profile as an archetypal crowd-pleaser, and when he loads up on left-right combinations, plants his feet and asserts his authority, his Olympia faithful create a din more reminiscent of a stadium fight rather than a small hall tussle. What will the English champion do to appease his supporters?

“I’ve been asking around for a few more tickets,” Fielding tells Boxing News. “But my fans will always find a way - they even come through the fire exits sometimes! I’ll occasionally see them at ringside or the free bar and I’ll say: “You lot only got the £40 tickets, how did you get in here?” They’ll reply: “Ah, don’t worry about it, we find a way.”

Granted, Fielding knows all about getting into events on the snip. In the late 1990s, he befriended the revered trainer John Smith, and attended fights for free in exchange for holding spit-bucket duties in the corner. “Smithy still takes me to events today!” the Scouser laughs.

But one moment stands out from Fielding’s time shadowing the pros. As a wide-eyed 11-year-old, he was photographed with Alex Moon’s Commonwealth super-featherweight title after rushing into the ring during a post-fight scramble. Fielding now has his own chance for Commonwealth gold when he tackles the crafty Ghanaian Mohammed Akrong.

“I visited my mum’s recently to pick up the photo of Moon’s belt,” says the 26-year-old. “I placed it on the mantelpiece and every time I look at it, it reminds me of my years following Smith around the pros. I always thought to myself, I’d love to fight for one of those belts one day. It’s amazing to think that now I’ve finally got that chance.”

Along with his waves of local support, another man hoping for a Commonwealth scalp is Fielding’s trainer Oliver Harrison. The 52-year-old already counts Jamie Moore, Amir Khan, Tony Dodson and Martin Murray as past and present alumni, and began coaching Fielding in 2010, shortly after he decided to turn pro. Although the pair initially struggled with communication – “I listened to the crowd more than instructions” – they have nevertheless blossomed into a unique partnership.

With Harrison’s methodical approach and Fielding’s gun-slinging enthusiasm, the Liverpool prospect has already won the Prizefighter tournament, as well as a host of English title clashes against Carl Dilks and Wayne Reed. In that case it is no surprise Fielding has generated such a following. Why, though, did he choose the arduous, daily commute to Salford in order to work with Harrison?

“I just wanted to train away from Liverpool. When you stay in Liverpool, because everyone knows everyone, if you have a bad spar or if you get cut, it spreads all over town in no time. There were a lot of good coaches around, but they all had big stables, so I wanted to find a coach who would look after me properly.”

As an amateur Fielding enjoyed stints at the Salisbury ABC, the Stockbridge ABC and the Rotunda base in Kirkdale, and continues: “When I turned pro I travelled around to a few gyms to see how I’d feel, but once I stepped into Oliver’s ABC I just remember seeing how busy it was. I looked around the gym and saw photos of all these great fighters with their titles – Khan, Moore, Murray...

“I remember during my first spar I did about a round and 30 seconds until Oliver called me over to stop. I had no idea what was going on. I didn’t know how I’d be received. I just remember glancing over at Derry [Mathews], who simply shrugged his shoulders at me. Thankfully, once Oliver sat me down he told me he was really impressed. He’s a coach I trust and I’m really happy with him.”

Fielding, who also fought for England in the unpaid ranks, paints Harrison as a relentless workaholic. Come sunrise, the trainer is already in the gym, setting up equipment, tidying up, and jotting down training plans for his stable. After all, Harrison has always been known as a master tactician and, in April, he and Murray almost upset WBC middleweight king Sergio Martinez.

“The tactics were spot on,” Fielding attests. “Oliver’s idea was to rough Sergio up, get him reeling and force him to retire on the stool. I thought Murray just nicked it. I’ve always monitored Oliver’s fighters, and I hope what he’s done for Murray can rub off on me. He really studies boxing and to be honest the gym’s never shut - I don’t think he even goes on holiday. Sometimes he does send his missus and kids away though!”

The starlet vows to stay with his current cornerman for the rest of his career, proclaiming: “After my family, Oliver is the person I trust the most and someone who wants the best for me. We’re so close, we’re together every day in the gym, and aside from that we’re always talking on the phone and texting. He hasn’t rushed me into anything and always does what’s right.”

Promoter Eddie Hearn has also played his part. “He always said we could fight for the Commonwealth title,” reveals Fielding. Hearn pulled off another trick when he placed his fighter at ringside in June, as Liverpool’s Paul Smith tore into Dodson in six bloody rounds to take the British title. 

Unsurprisingly, talk is rife of a derby showdown between Smith and Fielding. “I’d like the fight but I say let Paul defend his belt a few times or maybe go for the European title. He’s had 30-odd fights and been around the block a bit, so he deserves it.”

But Fielding turns up the heat when asked about the Sky Sports pundits, Johnny Nelson and Glenn McCrory, who argued that the Smith fight is a bridge too far at this moment in time. “On Sky Sports they only see me in fights where the other guy isn’t fighting back. If they’d seen me at all before Prizefighter, they’d say: “Yeah, you’re sound, you’re ready.” Even on the night I won the tournament, all three of my opponents came to knock me out and they all came to win - that’s when I perform to my best. Maybe after this fight, then we’ll see whether they think I’m ready for Smith or not.”

First of all, Fielding will need to deal with Akrong, a defensively gifted fighter with a highly slung guard and a mean right cross. The African, 19-5 (15), made his debut in 2003 - seven years before his next opponent - but has campaigned for the most part against journeymen with losing records. Harrison will need to be on top form regardless.

“He’ll [Harrison] tell me what to do and we’ll establish how to win the fight,” Fielding stresses. “I’m sure Oliver will give me the correct tactics because he studies the game so closely. We plan on working to the body, getting his hands down and then taking him out. I think Akrong’s there for the taking. I want to make my dreams a reality and win this Commonwealth title. The next year or so is going to be exciting.”

Still, it is always exciting when Fielding is around. The softly spoken Liverpool man is already crafting a reputation for his knack of loading up on combinations, as well as his ability to finish off a wounded opponent. If Akrong suffers a similar fate, you can guarantee Hearn, Harrison and the Liverpool public will tear the roof off of the old Olympia, whether the fans snuck in through the fire exits or not. 

By Alistair Hendrie

From Boxing News (September 2013)

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