THIS Cinderella Man story begins in a Nottingham pub around Christmas time where Shane McPhilbin is knocking back a few pints with his pals.
“I didn’t have any fights coming up and it was a Friday night,” said McPhilbin, “so I thought I would go out for a couple of beers. [Manager] Carl [Greaves] rang me while I was there and said I had the chance to fight for the British title in three weeks. I said ‘Yes’ straightaway and we had a few more beers to celebrate the news. But the next day at about six in the morning I rang Carl back to check it was true. I thought I had dreamt it.”
It wasn’t a dream.
Tony Conquest had pulled out with shingles and three weeks after that call from Greaves, McPhilbin was walking to the ring at Bethnal Green’s York Hall to the tune of Mr Blobby – it could have been Cigarettes & Alcohol – to challenge Leon Williams for the British cruiserweight championship.
“We thought it was a six-round fight,” admitted McPhilbin. “[In that] win or lose, it would be over in six rounds.
I went out in the first round, landed a few and thought, ‘This is going to be alright.’ The next thing I knew, the referee was counting: ‘Five, six, seven…’
“I just battled it out.”
McPhilbin took another count in the sixth and after he was docked a point in the 10th for holding, commentator John Rawling reckoned the Midlander needed “a wonder punch” in the last to win the title.
“I was hurting, tired and my head was all over the place,” remembered McPhilbin, a father to girls Demi and Shaney Leigh. “Carl gave me one of the best talks I’ve ever heard and pulled me together. He said: ‘I’m so proud of you, Shane, and so are your family and all your friends. We never thought you would get this far and now you’re here, give it everything in these last three minutes. Really go for it. This is your chance to be British champion.’
“It really fired me up.”
McPhilbin, who often fought with all the finesse of someone settling a score in a pub car park, went out and clobbered Williams to his knees with a right-hand wallop. Williams got up looking clear-eyed, but he struggled to control his legs, and everywhere he wobbled, McPhilbin followed, throwing punches.
He sent Williams crashing into the ropes and down for a second time with a flurry. Again the Londoner got up, but he was stiff-legged, and McPhilbin kept biffing away until the referee jumped in. The new British cruiserweight champion sobbed and swore his way through the post-fight interview – then headed to the pub.
“I went to bed at about nine in the morning,” he said, “and I was back down the pub in Nottingham a few hours later.”
He was still there when Steve Bunce rang him for an interview on Monday night – 72 hours after the fight.
“I was celebrating my birthday, Christmas, New Year and winning the British title,” said McPhilbin. “Everywhere I went there was a party – and I didn’t buy a drink.”
McPhilbin always was fond of a drink.
“I went out on my birthday once,” he remembered, “and didn’t come home for a week. My family were putting posts on Facebook, asking: ‘Has anyone seen Shane McPhilbin?’
“People were replying: ‘He was in the Moon and Stars a few hours ago and I think he’s at another pub now!’”
McPhilbin was Nottingham’s answer to Tony “Two Ton” Galento – the cigar-smoking, beer-swilling slugger who got under the unflappable Joe Louis’ skin – except Shane never threatened to “moider” anyone. He remembered: “I walked into this changing room before one of my amateur fights and my opponent was staring at me, giving me dog eyes, trying to get in my head.
“So I said: ‘How are you doing mate? Good to see you, what you up to this weekend?’ You could see him thinking: ‘What’s all this about?’ He tried to get in my head – so I got in his. I did it a few times after that. It was all part of the mind games.”
McPhilbin isn’t just a big daft lad, then. He is smart, tough, and during his 46-bout amateur career, he fought Tyson Fury three times.
“The first time we boxed,” said McPhilbin, “I walked into the changing room, saw this huge lad standing there and said: ‘You must be Tyson.’ He shook his head, pointed at someone even bigger and said: ‘No, that’s Tyson.’ I thought: ‘F**k, I’m in trouble here.’”
Fury towered over McPhilbin by nine inches, but in their three bouts, the Midlander was stopped only once, in the dying seconds of their ABA semi-final in 2008.
“Tyson knew how to use his size,” said McPhilbin. “He was hard to get to.”
Like Fury, McPhilbin comes from a fighting family. Late father Mick fought as a pro as Mickey Walker, a nod to one of his fighting heroes, and on his insistence, his four sons also boxed. Mick Jnr had a couple of pro fights, Daniel was considered the most talented but never turned pro, and then there was Clinton and the youngest, Shane.
“We were always scrapping when we were kids,” recalled Shane. “Dad used to say: ‘If you’re not fighting, you’re not eating.’”
McPhilbin has always appeared well fed.
He scaled a hefty 266lbs during his amateur career, turned pro at heavyweight with ambitions of “hopefully fighting for the Midlands title”, and got down to cruiserweight after a run to the semi-finals of the heavyweight Prizefighter tournament, where he was outpointed by Michael Sprott.
“That convinced me I was too small to be a heavyweight,” said McPhilbin. “I knew that if I wanted to do anything, I had to get down to cruiserweight. I was too sluggish when I was 15-and-a-half stone [217lbs] and over.”
At cruiserweight, he claimed the vacant Midlands Area title with an upset stoppage of Rhys Davies.
“People thought he would box my head off,” said Shane, “but I always thought that if I landed cleanly, I had a chance of knocking anyone out.”
McPhilbin made his first British title defence against the revered Welsh gunslinger at Wolverhampton Civic Hall in March 2012.
“Carl said he was going to turn the fight down, but I used to love watching Enzo and for me, it was a chance to test myself against one of my favourite fighters,” explained McPhilbin. “If I lost to Enzo Maccarinelli, big deal, he’s a great fighter, but if I beat him, I would go on to bigger things.”
Had it not been for the timekeeper’s error, McPhilbin may well have beaten Maccarinelli – after puffing on a cigarette a few minutes before the fight.
“I was dying for a fag,” he recalled.
Bizarrely, the bell to end the opening round came 47 seconds early with Maccarinelli dazed and close to defeat after being dropped.
“The plan was to do him early,” said McPhilbin, “and if I had those extra seconds, I’m sure I would have finished him in the first round.”
McPhilbin had Maccarinelli over again in the third, but couldn’t finish him, faded and was beaten on points. McPhilbin would rather not get into the controversy surrounding the premature end to the opening round, instead saying: “I had a bad training camp going into the Maccarinelli fight.
“We had to bury [amateur coach] Paul Singleton, who was like a second dad to me, and I had a chest infection. After the fifth, I had to dig in and battle it out. It was my heart that got me through fights.”
The Board ordered a rematch that was then shelved after Maccarinelli tested positive for a banned dietary supplement, methylhexaneamine. Greaves argued McPhilbin should be reinstated as British champion, but the Board instead paired him with Jon-Lewis Dickinson for the vacant belt.
“I was fit for the Dickinson fight, fitter than I had ever been,” said McPhilbin. “But the fire in the belly wasn’t there anymore and that’s what used to win me fights.”
McPhilbin was soundly outboxed and went without a win in his next six fights (one draw), and hasn’t fought since losing a messy, bad-tempered fight with Paul Butlin for the vacant Midlands Area title in May 2014.
The priority now is his Team Block Boxing Academy, but McPhilbin hasn’t ruled out making a comeback, and according to Greaves, there’s no telling what Shane might do next.
“Every fight I expected Shane to lose, he won,” said Greaves, who talks of McPhilbin with a mixture of admiration and exasperation. “Shane has always surprised me.”