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JJ METCALF: “I’D NOT BE DOING THIS IF I DIDN’T HAVE WORLD TITLE AMBITIONS.”

Posted on: 13 Jul 2017

JJ Metcalf

Expectations are understandably high when an aspiring young fighter follows their champion father into the prize ring.

Back in the late 90s, Liverpool’s Shea Neary, AKA ‘The Shamrock Express’, was an aggressive and hard hitting fan favourite who reigned on the WBU light-welter throne between 1996-2000.

His eldest son, JJ (James) Metcalf has already eclipsed ‘the ald fella’ by snaring a senior ABA title and England vest in the amateur code. However, despite racking up 15 straight wins and sporting a pedigree bloodline, the 28 year old super-welter had largely slipped beneath the radar, prior to signing a promotional deal with Frank Warren earlier this year.

Glynn Evans finds out more about the mysterious ‘Kid Shamrock’.  

You were still at primary school when your dad was terrorising the globe’s top 10st talent. What are your abiding memories of his career?

Dad used me for his training. He’d get me to throw shots at him all the time so he could work on his defence.

He never let me go to his fights but I was allowed to watch them on the tele. I always remember them being nerve wrecking, more than anything. The ‘Nark in the Park’ with Andy Holligan, two Liverpool lads, always stood out (Shea won by thrilling stoppage in round six).

I’m a Blue (Everton FC fan), still go to the match about eight times a year. So a favourite memory of me dad’s career was walking onto the Goodison Park pitch with his (WBU) belt at half-time of the Mersey derby, just after he stopped Holligan. Andy was a Red!

Was it always your intention to trail Dad’s footsteps?

Not really. Though I had one fight, one defeat (!), from the Golden Gloves gym when I was 11, I always enjoyed me footy more. I played for Liverpool schoolboys but returned to the boxing when I failed to make it into the Liverpool Academy.

From about 16 onwards, I trained and sparred, just to keep fit, at Dad’s ‘Shamrock’ Gym. I must have sparred the old fella about 200 times. We only stopped two or three years ago. He always kept himself extremely fit after retiring and done lots of grappling and wrestling so it got very competitive!

Shortly after, I joined the Salisbury club and entered the National Novices where I lost a close one to (leading trainer) Shane McGuigan. The year after that, I won those Novices.

The following year (2011), I won the Senior ABAs beating Tom Baker (now an unbeaten pro light-heavy) in the final and got my England vest (winning on points against Ireland at Crystal Palace). I only had 25 amateur bouts before joining the pros. I used the name Metcalf to avoid constant comparisons to my dad. I had to do it myself.

For those who’ve not seen you perform live, what can you tell us about your style and attributes? In what ways do you resemble Shea and in what ways do you differ?

Style wise, I guess we’re pretty similar. Lots make the mistake of categorising me as just a fighter but I’m a good boxer with a good job. I feel comfortable in any position. If my opponent’s very strong, I can go back foot. I seem to have his power. Genetics!

I’m fortunate in that I’ve absorbed most my dad knows and added to it through my own amateur experience and the knowledge of my coaches. Georgie Vaughan has so much knowledge to tap into, whereas Derry Mathews and Joe McNally are really ambitious.

You entered the pros almost six years ago yet have started only 15 times. Just three opponents entered with winning records. When will you be ready to push for the relevant titles?

I’ve been ready for ages, I’ve just had terrible luck. Initially, I turned pro with Frank Maloney but he retired after David Price got beat. Then I picked up a shoulder injury. More recently, I’ve been ready to fight about four times but shows were called off.

But I’ve done loads of sparring with ‘Beefy’ (ex WBO super-welter boss Liam Smith), loads of sparring with the likes of Joey Selkirk and Brian Rose. When you spar hard in that company, it’s remarkable how ‘open’ your opponents seem on fight night.

How do you envisage signing a deal with Hall of Fame promoter Frank Warren is going to advance your career?

I grew up watching Frank Warren’s big promotions so this is surreal.

I’m banking on Frank getting me the biggest fights. I’d not be doing this if I didn’t have world title ambitions. The British title is likely to become vacant shortly. Once I come through on Saturday, there’s noise of an eliminator with Damon Jones in September or early October and hopefully a British title fight shortly after that. Then I’ll be on my way.

On Saturday you make your second start of 2017, in a scheduled eight rounder against Konstantinos Alexandrov at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens. What would represent a good night’s work.

I really can’t wait. If it’s a good quality opponent, I’ll be happy to get eight good rounds under my belt. If they’re not the best, I’ll be getting rid of them early!

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