Bouts 11 (11 wins, 2 KOs)
Trainer: Mark Tibbs
Baker’s dozen could put rising star Tom on a roll
Weighty issues are seemingly abound in the noble art in recent months, with catchweights of convenience becoming a trend and titles being stripped from contests due to failures at the scales.
Tom Baker is doing it the old fashioned way. His strapping 6ft 2in frame struggled to boil down to 12st, so his solution is simply to move up a division and mix it with the light-heavies.
Unbeaten in 11 bouts to date, the 23-year-old was preparing for a crack at a first title back in March when it became clear that weight was fast becoming a problem.
A much-craved for battle for the vacant Southern Area Super-middleweight title against Kevin Greenwood was one he gave some consideration towards withdrawing from as taking off the last few pounds began to take its toll.
The lure of a shot at a first professional belt proved stronger, however. The 168lbs limit was met and the arm of Baker was raised after ten rounds at the York Hall.
It was to be his last outing at super-middle and the title subsequently vacated.
“Three weeks out from the fight we did think about pulling out because of the weight and me being too big for it,” recalled Baker.
“With who I had in front of me though, I knew I was going to beat him and do a good job. That’s the reason I carried on, it was my first title fight and I wanted it.
“Moving up from 12st to 12st 7lbs suits me, I feel happier and better.”
Trainer Mark Tibbs believes shedding the last two pounds chiseled Baker’s features to the extent of leaving him looking a little gaunt and took too much out of the tank to continue campaigning at the weight.
“I got down to two or three pounds over and that was when it kicked in,” he agreed. “When I did get it down, like Mark said, I was all drawn in and I didn’t look right.
“When I was in there I felt the difference because I was 13st when I began sparring and I fought at 12st and felt it. Fitness-wise it was really good, but it took a lot of strength away from me.
“I feel so much more comfortable now. I’m not small for the weight, I’m 6ft 2in and I’m still a good seven or eight pounds over the weight walking about. It takes a lot of stress out of your head as well, if you are killing yourself to make a weight you shouldn’t be at, it is stressful.”
Switching weight categories, of course, takes some adaptation and is not just a case of making friends with the scales after a period of loathing. Bigger men and heavier punchers are the reward for avoiding the temptation exploiting the physical advantages of remaining a big super-middleweight.
“It’s not simple, but I was big for the weight at 12st and the first time I made the championship weight was in the title fight and it was hard work.
“I stuck at it after moving up from middle two years ago. I’ve just grown out of the weights, but hopefully I will now be able to stay at light-heavy. I’ve just turned 23 though, so who knows? I could be a cruiserweight one day!
“I always seem to spar with bigger boxers, for my last fight in March I was sparring with Miles Shinkwin and back then I felt the size difference. I am at their weight now, it is not a problem at all and there is no threat now – I am big enough for the weight.
“I’ve still got my power. Some get their man-strength at 16, whereas I’ve been a bit slower and it is starting to come now.”
With now not having to count the calories to quite the same extent, Baker is – for the time being at least – missing out on a fight he previously went on record as coveting – a coming together with former gym-mate Frank Buglioni.
“It got mentioned a few times, a lot of fans wanted to see the fight and we would have jumped all over it and obviously wanted to take the fight,” he reflected on what might have been.
“After trying to make that weight the first time it wasn’t worth taking the chance with anyone else at that weight. I was meant to be fighting straight after winning the title in March and it would have been me and Frank, but after doing it once it would not have been right to take any chances trying to fight at 12st again.
“We could have not fought for his titles and done a catchweight at 12st 5lbs, but Frank obviously wants to fight at 12st.
“But who knows, I feel myself that it won’t be long until he moves up because he is big at the weight as well and if he does, that will be the fight.
“He was my main sparring partner, so I know the ins and outs of him, like he does with me. Since then I have grown and come on loads more. He probably thinks he could beat me and I know I could beat him.
“Until it comes off we won’t be able to tell. Frank and I are good friends and if we could pick we wouldn’t fight each other, but it is a business and if we need to fight, we will.”
Buglioni has the more pressing date of 24 July to contend with first, when he takes on Fedor Chudinov for the WBO super-middleweight crown at Wembley. Baker considers Buglioni will be up against it when he takes on the unbeaten Russian, but is firmly in the corner of his old punching partner.
“I’d love to see Frank win, I’ve grown up with him in the boxing game and want him to do well. There are different levels though and he has got to show he is ready for the next level.
“Chudinov has only had 13 fights, but has been in there with some good men. Who knows though, boxing is a funny game and sometimes it only takes one punch.
“I wish him all the luck with that fight, I’ve watched some videos of Chudinov and it will be tough.”
You would imagine Tom needed to tough it out and punch his weight during his formative years, given that he was one of 13 children in the Baker household. He joked that his fighting prowess must have come from multiple sibling rivalries.
“Yes, seven girls and six boys. That must be where I got my boxing from because I had to hold my hands up with all those brothers and sisters!
“I loved it growing up with them, I am number nine and all my brothers knew their boxing and had a go.
“We’re all grown up now and I’m the only boxer out of my brothers. I’m doing it for the family and for my dad, who got me into the game many years ago and has been so good to me. My uncle Mark was also a good fighter and a Southern Area champion, but he didn’t live the life.
“I’m doing it and I’m going to go a couple of steps further and achieve what I want to achieve.”
Thanks to a few words to the wise from trainer Tibbs, Baker embraces the discipline required to succeed in the toughest game. The principal advice was pretty much ‘you are what you eat’.
“I live clean, when I was new to the pro game Mark told me you’ve got to eat clean. I stopped all the chocolate and junk food and did what I had to do. I realise now what Mark was saying back then and he was right because when you’ve got eight or ten rounds in front of you, you can’t afford to drink fizzy drinks or eat crap food. What you eat is often how you fight, if you eat poorly it shows when you fight.”
Baker will be testing himself out at his new weight when he tops the bill at the York Hall on 17 July against a yet to be announced opponent, who he revealed is part one of a longer-term plan devised by promoter Frank Warren and his own team.
“Mark and I have sat down with Frank and planned out our fights. We’ve got a four-fight plan, with two fights to get used to being light-heavy and by November-December I will have a title fights.”
On the subject of titles, Baker’s parting shot at the end of this interview was to state his slightly longer-term light-heavyweight ambition.
“My aim is to be British champion within two years.”
With weight no longer an issue, don’t bet against it.