I WAS still at school when I first started boxing – primary school I think. Some of my friends were going to the gym, so I just tagged along. I played football and ice hockey at the time as well, but I preferred the boxing training and the discipline of it. As time went on, my friends who I first went to the gym with started to fall away, but I carried on and kept training.
I had around 200 bouts as an amateur. I boxed for Springside ABC at first, then I moved on to Croy Miners ABC. Croy produced fighters like Wilson Docherty, Drew Docherty, Pat Clinton and Joe McCluskey – guys who went on to represent their country and win titles. I knew the Croy guys from the national team, so when Springside was going through a bit of a difficult time and I had to find another club, it made sense to join Croy.
As an amateur I boxed at light-flyweight. I was Scottish champion in 1989, 1990 and 1991. I was also the runner-up in the 1990 ABAs. Internationally I boxed at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in New Zealand, as well as the 1989 European Championships in Greece. I lost to Ivailo Marinov from Bulgaria at the Europeans in ‘89. He was the reigning Olympic champion and he’d previously won the Worlds.
At the 1991 Europeans in Sweden, I managed to win a bronze medal. The Italian, Luigi Castiglione, beat me in the semi-final. Marinov ended up winning that tournament, just as he did in ‘89. I also boxed at the 1990 World Cup in India and the 1991 World Championships in Australia. I fought in a lot of international tournaments against the likes of America, Canada, Ireland and East Germany. I fought guys from all over the world. Fighting at the major tournaments, you’d get to see all of the top fighters and share a stage with them – guys like Kostya Tszyu, Istvan Kovacs, Dariusz Michalczewski, Sean Fletcher and Wayne McCullough.
I remember there were two rings in the arena when I boxed at the Worlds in ‘91. The fight going on in the other ring next to mine was Oscar De La Hoya against Marco Rudolph. Although Rudolph beat De La Hoya that day and went on to win the gold, the following year they fought again in the final of the 1992 Olympics, and De La Hoya won that one.
When I fought at the 1990 World Cup in Bombay, I beat Thailand’s Pramuansak Phosuwan, then I fought the Indian, Zoram Thanga, in the quarter-final. We were doing five two-minute rounds and in my opinion I beat the kid, even though they gave him the decision. We put an appeal in but the result wasn’t overturned. It was all political. I’d been through the same thing a number of times before at tournaments, so in the end I just got fed up with it. That’s why I decided to turn professional with Tommy Gilmour in 1992.
In the pros, I had my sights set on boxing for a world strawweight title, but as the lightest division in Britain was flyweight, I couldn’t gradually work my way up from domestic level – I had to jump straight into a world title fight in only my sixth pro bout. My amateur experience was vital in this sense. In fact, I didn’t find it difficult going from a handful of six and eight-rounders into a 12-round world title fight. I felt comfortable because my amateur grounding prepared me for it, plus I’d already mixed with a lot of world champions in sparring, and I felt the pro game suited me better.
I fought for the vacant WBO strawweight title against Fernando Martinez only a year after making my pro debut. I didn’t panic when I suffered a flash knockdown in the opening round. He was a southpaw and I was off balance. I was annoyed with myself for getting caught, but I felt OK and I remained composed, which allowed me to come back and win on a cuts stoppage.
I made the weight very comfortably when I fought Martinez, but later on in the year when I defended my title against Lindi Memani, I failed on the scales at the first attempt, albeit by next to nothing. I was 26 and my body was growing and maturing, so after beating Memani on points I then decided to move up a division in early 1994.
I challenged Josue Camacho for the WBO light-flyweight title and I thought I deserved the decision, but boxing’s obviously subjective and the judges gave it to him. We put an appeal in and there was a guarantee that I was going to get a rematch, but Camacho then lost the title to Michael Carbajal. Prior to that I’d signed a contract to fight the winner of Camacho-Carbajal, but Carbajal opted to go in another direction, which left the title vacant. That allowed me to fight Paul Oulden for the title at the end of 1994.
When I beat Oulden on points to become Scotland’s first-ever two-weight world champion, it took a while for it all to sink in. Looking back now, it was a good achievement, although it’s since been surpassed by Ricky Burns, who went one better and won world titles at three weights!
I struggled making the weight for my defences against Ric Magramo and Jacob Matlala in 1995. I outpointed Magramo but lost a technical decision to Matlala. I suffered a cut from a head clash, so they had to go to the scorecards after four rounds – the fight was only just getting started. It was just one of those things. Fortunately we had a rematch clause anyway, so I got the return in 1996.
I struggled badly making the weight for the rematch with Matlala, but we still had a good fight. We fought at a high pace, and he ended up stopping me late on. He was sharp and on song that night. Jake was a very good fighter – my best opponent, certainly in the pros. I didn’t need to fight him the first time. I could’ve opted to pick someone else from the top 15, but I wanted to fight him and test myself against the best.
A year after the Matlala rematch, I moved up to flyweight and challenged Jesper Jensen for the European title in Denmark. It turned out to be the only time that I fought outside of the UK as a pro, but having to box away from home didn’t concern me, as I’d done it lots of times as an amateur. I was also already familiar with Denmark, because I used to go over there to train with Johnny Bredahl. Sometimes Jesper would be in the gym too, so we knew each other well and we’d sparred together many times.
When the opportunity to challenge Jesper came up, I was super confident that I’d be able to handle him, going off our spars. But it worked both ways, as Jesper obviously knew what he was coming up against too. He was in good form on the night – he really did perform well. His feet were fast, his hands were fast and he beat me to the punch every time. I was surprised that he stopped me, because I didn’t envisage any problems going into that fight.
My next fight was for the vacant Commonwealth title in 1998, but I lost to Alfonso Lambarda via stoppage. After that I had over two-and-a-half years away from the sport while I was setting up a wholesale business in preparation for life after boxing. I was supplying goods to nightclubs, bars, restaurants, schools and local authorities. I had business interests that I was taking care of, so I was busy with that. I returned to the ring for a couple of fights – a win and a loss – in 2000. I knew it was time to retire and walk away after that.
I sold the wholesale business but then in 2003 I was sentenced to 30 months in prison [for supplying herbal cannabis]. What happened, happened. I served the full sentence. I think it changed me a lot as a person. I came out and got involved in different businesses, but eventually, in 2009, I returned to boxing, as a trainer.
I worked with quite a few fighters. I trained Gary Young, Kris Hughes, Craig Docherty, Jason Hastie, Jon Slowey, Gary McMillan, Ally Black and Craig McEwan. But I’d say my best achievements came with Derry Mathews and John Simpson.
I was involved in Derry’s camp with Danny Vaughan, who was living up in Glasgow and was giving me a hand in the gym. I worked with Derry when he fought Anthony Crolla and Gavin Rees in 2012. The night he beat Crolla for the British lightweight title was special because Derry had been so overlooked beforehand.
Simpson was also overlooked before he fought Choi Tseveenpurev in 2013. I remember at the start of the camp I said to John, ‘You need to box and move against this guy. You can’t stand and fight with him – he’s too strong.’ On the night, John boxed and moved and got the win, so I was happy with that.
In 2015 I moved out to Dubai. I was fed up with the UK and I had some business interests in the Middle East. I’m settled here now. When I was in the UK I worked full-time with pro fighters, but since I moved to the Middle East I haven’t been involved too much with pros. My focus has been more on the personal training side. I’ve been doing personal training for a long time. I started when I was back in the UK. I do around four sessions a day with clients at the moment. I also need time to train myself, as I currently compete in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
I first got into BJJ in 2015. I was training with some guys who competed in mixed martial arts, and they said that I should try BJJ. So I went along and tried it one day and thought to myself, ‘Wow, this is unbelievable.’ Since then I’ve been hooked on BJJ. At the start, I was just doing the training because it was really getting me in shape. But every time I went to the classes I was getting battered by people, so I wanted to learn more about it, in order to improve. I spent quite a number of hours a day training and learning. When I started to understand it more, I decided that I wanted to compete.
If you win medals at the BJJ competitions then you get paid, and I’ve won a few medals. Getting to compete in big arenas with a lot of fans, and having the fights shown on TV in the Middle East, it gives me that buzz. I just like competing. I feel blessed that at the age of 53, I’m still able to compete in a combat sport.
The buzz I get from BJJ is great, but nothing beats boxing. The sport has been my whole life.