The stabilisers come off for unbeaten Guisborough super-lightweight Josh Leather tonight when he squares up to Irish bomber Philip Sutcliffe Jr for the vacant IBF European strap at a rammed First Direct Arena in Leeds, writes Glynn Evans.
The 2012 English ABA king has cantered to 11 straight wins since shedding his amateur singlet in September 2013 but he’ll be spotting age, experience plus natural strength and power to the potent punching ex All Ireland amateur champ.
Son of a double Olympian of the same name, Sutcliffe, two years older at 27, has ceded just once in 14 – a majority eight round decision on foreign climes to current European boss Anthony Yigit – and has blasted out eight victims early, including four in the opening session.
‘This is certainly a big step up with regard to quality of opponent,’ acknowledges the energetic 25 year old stylist.
‘I’ve studied Philip’s last few fights. He’s a strong, aggressive fighter but a pretty straight forward type. He starts fast but then seems to fade and against Chris Jenkins he didn’t seem to like the body shots.
‘I just need to do what I do best and box him, be the boss, avoid getting involved in his game. He seems to have his hands down a lot. He’ll not get away with that against me. I’m better at long range, sharper, better on my feet. If he just charges in, he’ll get countered silly!’
In addition to duelling continental king Yigit, the Dublin destroyer profited from 10 hard rounds with Swansea’s two time British title challenger Chris Jenkins last Bonfire Night (wpts10). Leather, conversely, enters his first 12 rounder without venturing past session six.
‘In my last two camps, I did train for 10 rounders only to win by stoppage,’ says the 5ft 10in ex-roofer who is coached by Imran Naeem at the Stockton Boxing Academy.
‘But (lack of) stamina won’t be an issue. For this camp I’ve totally upped my routine and I always wear a heart rate monitor so that I know I’m pushing myself to the absolute limit.
‘Several times I’ve completed 12 rounds at a fast pace in sparring with rotating sparring partners – quality guys like (12-0 lightweight) Lewis Ritson, (ex English welter king) Adil Anwar and my (twin) brother Kalam – and know I could go even longer if required.
‘And though we’re a bit isolated up here, I go all over the country to get top sparring against guys like Tyrone Nurse and Terry Flanagan. I know what top quality is all about. I’m ready.’
To help buffer the step-up in class, wise old sage Frank Warren – Leather’s Hall of Fame promoter – has negotiated home court for his ward and, for the first time as a pro, Josh gets to showcase his wares in his home county.
He says: ‘Previously as a pro, I’ve boxed all around the UK, places like London, Newcastle, Liverpool, Wolverhampton, Glasgow…….all over.
‘But Leeds is far closer to home for my fans, about a one hour 20 minute drive away and, for once, I’ll have over 200 of mine there. They’re quite a ‘lively’ bunch, lots of singing and dancing! Home support is not an advantage I normally have. It’s going to be a good night. I intend to enjoy it.’
With BT Sport and BoxNation both screening live, Leather knows his fan club could increase several fold if he manages to tan Sutcliffe and expand his unbeaten streak to a dozen.
‘This is a huge opportunity and I intend showing the all fans and TV viewers what I’m capable of. The British super-lightweight division is mustard at the minute and I want them all saying Josh Leather is good enough to be in the mix,’ he concludes.
‘Phil might give me the toughest 12 rounds I’ve ever had but, whatever he brings, I’ll be ready for it. I’ve a bigger heart and, in the last few rounds, that’ll be all that matters. I won’t give up until I’ve got that IBF title.’