Interview: Shaun Brown

BN: After you beat Nathan Quarless in September you said in your post-fight interview with Sky Sports that you were finally “legitimate”. Is being legitimate something you were searching for?

VR: I’ve always known that I’m a legitimate fighter. It’s more having that physical piece (the English cruiserweight title) to verify that and for it not to be disputed whether I’m legitimate. All be it it’s an entry level title, it’s still something that legitimate fighters win and look to build from. When I said I’m finally legitimate it was more in a way that you can’t deny that I’ve achieved this.

BN: You face Mikael Lawal on March 31. How much of a step up is he?

VR: He’s definitely the most dangerous opponent, the most live opponent I will have fought. We’ve seen him break people’s jaws; we’ve seen him knock people out. He’s been in many experienced sparring camps as well, that’s not something to dismiss. He’s been around a long time so I know that this is the toughest fight of my professional career so far but it’s my job to prove it’s a box that will be ticked and it won’t take me using everything [I’ve got] to get it done. I want to do it in good fashion and show that there’s still potential and room to grow.

BN: Did it surprise you how the British title fight between Isaac Chamberlain and Lawal panned out?

VR: Nah, I wasn’t surprised at all. The way the fight went is how I pictured it. I thought Isaac would win by a big margin. I wasn’t surprised by the result.

BN: You’ve said in the lead-up to this that you want to do better than Chamberlain did against Lawal. Would winning on points disappoint you?

VR: No. How you win over the distance can be viewed in a better fashion. It’s how it looks on the eye and how the people feel about the fashion in which I win. As the fight grows closer it’s not something I think about as much, I know what I can do, and I’m gonna do it. And if I do what I know I can do then, automatically, it means it’ll be done in better fashion.

BN: How would you sum up your career so far?

VR: My first four fights travelling around the world and being based in the States was definitely more of an experience. Something I was very blessed and privileged to be able to do. To say I’ve fought in Mexico, Vegas, Dubai… a lot of people don’t get these opportunities. Even in my third fight being able to headline a show based on the following that I have. And then from the fifth fight onwards – since coming back to the UK – it’s been more about getting better at my craft and becoming a more complete fighter. Still gaining experience but it’s been more tailor-made to becoming the best fighter you can be. You understand you’ve got your following; you’ve had some nice experiences, but you need the skills to continue to grow. And I feel like all my fights since I’ve gone back to the UK have been in that vein and, as a result, we’re making good progress.

BN: What are some of your standout memories from being in America?

VR: Definitely fighting at the MGM Grand on the Pacquiao-Broner undercard. Being at a big Vegas fight week is crazy. A lot of people don’t get that experience. Being around the hotel, seeing the legends around, seeing all the stars around… I’m like I’m actually on the show, I’m fighting on the show. Albeit there was only five people in there when I had my fight, it still was an experience, and it was a quick knockout as well. It was good promotion for me because I made the most of what I could being on the card. It was great.

BN: What experiences from your time over there helps you now?

VR: It helped me identify what I want in the sport. Helped me grow from a boy to a man because I moved out there by myself. It was an independent decision. Of course, I had my team out there, but no family was out there. It really forced me to find out who I am and what I want. What do you want to get out of your life? Not being told or being around everyone you’re used to being around. It really makes you look in the mirror and say, “Right, what it is you wanna do”. And when I looked in the mirror I’d had enough and made the decision to come back here (laughs).

RIley in action (James Chance/Getty Images)

BN: From February 2020 until February 2022, you didn’t fight. What was that like for you?

VR: It was difficult because I wanted to fight, I wanted to get back in the ring but dealing with injuries, dealing with contracts as well, it was a rebuilding phase. I wanted to make the right decision. I know that time is very precious. I wanted to take time to heal, take time to look at what I’m doing next and get myself in a position to reach my ultimate goal which is to be a world champion. And I think with the decision that I made during that time off, and how everything’s gone in my return, it was the right decision.

BN: Since you’ve got these experiences under your belt what’s the best advice you’ve received? And what advice would you give to someone who is about to embark on a professional career?

VR: A good piece of advice is some I got from Mike Tyson. When I met him, he said, “People think the grass is greener on the other side but both sides of the grass have to be cut.” That’s a very good piece of advice. Everyone makes decisions thinking this is better, that is better, but you still have to do the work. So, when Mike said that to me I was like, you know what, Mike, you’re right, that’s something I’m never gonna forget. And to someone who is turning pro: Have a good team and don’t think you can be a one-man army. Focus on getting yourself in the market where you can be with a team who knows people, who know the game, who can help you maximise your talent. Don’t believe that just by being a great fighter that you can reach crazy heights. Prioritise the team you have to help you reach that goal.

BN: So, when it comes to fighting Mikael Lawal what are you expecting of yourself other than a win?

VR: I’m expecting a great performance. A performance like I’ve always done whenever the stakes are high and whenever there’s a time to show off. Naturally, I’m a show off, that’s just me. I’m an entertainer, that’s my personality. It’s harder for me to be motivated when I don’t see the challenge. When the challenge is there and there’s a little bit of doubt and people question what might happen that’s when I really turn the fire up. That’s what I can see on Sunday (March 31). It’s my mum’s birthday as well.