Long considered one of the nation’s brightest young prospects by the cognoscenti, unbeaten Guisborough super-lightweight Josh Leather hopes to announce himself to the broader British boxing public this weekend, writes Glynn Evans.
After 11 mock exams, the former ABA champion and England amateur captain departs the rank and file to confront Dublin destroyer Philip Sutcliffe Jr for the Vacant IBF European strap at the First Direct Arena in Leeds, in a crossroads collision that his fans salivating on both sides of the Irish Sea.
‘I’ve served my apprenticeship. Now I’m moving into the deep end,’ says the classy, high octane 25 year old who has stopped five and registered five ‘shutouts’ since debuting in September 2013.
‘I always knew I was talented enough. It was just a matter of getting the strength, fitness and experience. Now I’m ready to mix with the big names.
‘Longer fights and better quality opposition will definitely suit me. It takes me a couple of rounds for the nerves to come out. Though I’ve beaten five inside the distance, the stoppages tend to come later on. It takes me a while to get into fights but I just get stronger as they go on.’
Six of the first seven men that joltin’ Josh met in a pro ring made it through to the cards – most notably Liverpool southpaw Tommy Carus (6-1) and Newark’s Fergus Taylor (7-0-1). However, over the ensuing 18 months the talented Tyke has transformed domination into demolitions. His last four were obliterated in 13 rounds combined.
‘Starting out as a pro, I didn’t really expect to score knockouts but now my strength and power are really coming,’ explains the former three time national junior champion who has been boxing since the age of nine.
‘(Reigning WBO Lightweight champion) Terry Flanagan taught me a few tips when I went up to spar him and I’m developing my instinct to finish opponents off. No more overtime! I’m getting nastier in the ring and becoming more confident with every fight.
‘My last opponent (Hungary’s Gyorgy Miszei Jr) had been eight rounds with Terry Flanagan, six rounds with Anthony Crolla and lasted 12 rounds for the European title. He’d also been in with decent lads like Scott Harrison, Tom Stalker, Bradley Saunders and Derry Mathews but I stopped him quicker than any of them did.’
Ex roofer Leather has emerged as the standard bearer for one of Britain’s brightest emerging fight factories – the Stockton Boxing Academy fronted by the amiable and able Imran Naeem.
‘No one had heard of Imran when we started out together in the pros but we’re going to go all the way together,’ claims Josh.
‘Now he’s also got (two weight ABA finalist) Joe Maphosa, (2010 Commonwealth Games gold medallist) Simon Vallily and my (twin) brother Kalam. We all push each other in the gym. Imran’s learning new stuff all the time and passing it on. He’s always here for us and always gives us 100%. We believe in each other. This gym is going places.’
Leather knows that a convincing victory in his appetising Anglo-Irish altercation with proven puncher Sutcliffe – just one loss in 14 – will cast him as a credible domestic contender in a division presently inhabited by talents such as Tyrone Nurse, Jack Catterall, Josh Taylor, Ohara Davies and Robbie Davies Jr.
‘This’ll get my name firmly established in the British top ten and, hopefully the IBF top 15,’ concludes Josh.
‘It largely depends on what route Frank (Warren, his Hall of Fame promoter) intends to take me but, if I can win this belt and get the experience of doing 12 rounds, I’ll be ready for any of them. I’ve sparred Tyrone (Nurse, the British champion), a good boxer and a good lad but I know what he’s about. I’ll fight anyone who gets in my path.’
Tomorrow: Leather assesses opponent Sutcliffe.
Remaining tickets for Saturday’s show are available from Eventim at www.eventim.co.uk and 0844 249 1000.