THERE was a time before boxing for Fabio Wardley, when his days involved the train from east Anglia to London Liverpool Street where he worked in recruitment.
Once he started punching, first as a white collar fighter and then a small hall pro, he would watch big events and dream of one day competing for a low-level title in the final contest of his career.
But now firmly ‘in the thick of it’, Wardley feels he has switched from one side of the television to the other and has set his sights firmly on world honours in a division which he believes is on the brink of huge change.
Wardley speaks ahead of this Saturday’s clash with David Adeleye, where his British and the vacant Commonwealth titles are on the line. It is the first defence of the belt he won by beating Nathan Gorman in November.
Saudi Arabia, on the undercard of Tyson Fury’s crossover fight with debutant Francis Ngannou, is a strange setting for a fight with such localised interest but given the money and exposure on offer it was a no brainer for Wardley, who has a long association with Matchroom and DAZN.
“We were flirting with the idea of a stadium show before this but to do those things you have to have the right fight at the right time,” Wardley said. “You have to build yourself, the right profile and fan base over time so that people want to come out and support you. You have to do the right things on the way, and this is another one to tick off.
“I started on small hall shows selling tickets, little obscure shows in the middle of nowhere. I used to look at big shows and think to myself ‘maybe I’ll have one big fight… I’ll have one big fight and end my career there’.
“I thought I might fight for the southern area or the English or maybe the British but it would be just one big fight, the last dance of my career. But now I’ve done it 10 times over. I just kept my head down and kept grinding and by the time I looked up I realised I’m in the thick of it.
“I feel like I’ve gone from one side of the TV to the other. I’ve gone from being someone sitting there watching it to the one in the main event. It’s a funny old world.”
Wardley, still just 28, is currently 16-0 with 15 KOs and admits his long-term goals have required a dramatic readjustment from when he first set them.
Now he senses an opportunity at the top of the division which he considers ageing and approaching a period of flux.
“The division will be wide open in a couple of years,” Wardley says. “All the big names are at the back end of their careers. They all have maybe 1-2 years left, a few big fights each and then they will say ‘I’m good’.
“That leaves the door open for me and a few others in the division to move forward. Especially in British boxing, I’m at the forefront and I’m the next one. It’s a great position for me to be in. I can have a few more learning fights, tick off some milestones and by the time those doors open I’ll be fully fledged and ready to go.
“I think the end game for me now is definitely world honours. I’m not that far off it, not that far away. The big boys are still there doing their thing but I’m not that many steps behind. It’s an interesting thought and a funny place to be – in four or five fights fighting for a world title. It’s quite a surreal moment to stop and have a look at.
“That’s where my goals are now, early on in my career I’d edge them, maybe I’ll get this or that. But now I’ve proven to myself 10 times over that every time I set a goal for myself I always smash it. I might as well set a big one and crack on toward that.”
For now, his goal is taking care of Adeleye in a fight which he expects to end well inside the 12-round distance. Before this interview started there was a request not to dwell on the red carpet fight which left Wardley with cuts on his face and the fight in real danger of being pulled.
He said: “It has been easy to play it down because ultimately it’s silly and dangerous – some of the actions from certain people at certain points. That’s not the way I carry myself and it’s not the way I act in any way, at any press conference or red carpet event I’ve done in the past. That’s not my behaviour.
“People can behave how they want but it’s not for me to attach myself to and I want to stay as far away from that type of behaviour as possible.
“I feel no different towards David Adeleye than how I felt before. There’s not much there for me to care about – there wasn’t much before all of that and maybe I care for him a bit less now.
“He’s another thing in my way to keep pushing forward and to move onto much bigger things. He’s just the latest of obstacles for me to get over.”