Dirty Derry aiming to clean up in Liverpool
By Richard Hubbard
As fitting stages and occasions for milestone contests go, Derry Mathews has probably hit the jackpot when it comes to marking his 50th professional fight.
Even if it required even more patience for this particular dream date to become a reality.
In March and then April of last year Mathews was set to challenge for WBA honours, only for the elusive Richar Abril to twice fail to make the trip to the docklands of Liverpool. The consolation prize of the governing body’s interim title was duly won after a hard-fought slug against Tony Luis – after original opponent Ismael Barroso was unable to travel – and the promise of a punch-off for the full version was supposedly set in stone.
The draw secured by former foe Anthony Crolla against upgraded champion Darleys Perez threw a major spanner in the works for the Liverpool lightweight. The WBA mandated a rematch, while nominating Barroso for a mandatory challenge for Mathews’ interim title.
Bearing in mind he had been out of the ring since his clinching of that belt in April, it was a further delay to his passage to the promised land that he was not prepared to stomach.
Step forward WBO champion Terry Flanagan.
There was strong potential for a December duel in Manchester, but Flanagan wanted some time out after back-to-back camps in winning and defending his belt – against Jose Zepeda and Diego Magdaleno respectively – which in turn provides Mathews with a home fixture at the Liverpool Echo Arena on February 13 on a show titled ‘A tale of two cities’.
It is a perfect storm for the likeable Scouser . A world title tilt to mark his half century of bouts in his home city – and against a Manc to boot.
“I’m feeling young, fresh and most probably in the peak of my career, everything that’s getting asked of me I’m doing and I’m feeling good,” said Mathews ahead of his 50th bash. “I’m feeling confident too, which is the main thing – I just can’t wait to fight now.
“It is landmark and it is a dream come true, one I’ve had since being a kid on the Everton housing estate. We had nothing growing up and now I’m fighting for a world title.”
Mathews, naturally, is supremely confident of marking the occasion with a home win but, aside from a few customary digs at last week’s conference, he does respect the achievement of his opponent in winning and retaining the coveted WBO strap,
“Terry is doing very well and is a great champion,” stated the 32-year-old with the stage name ‘Dirty Derry’. “His two fights, from the one where he won when the kid dislocated his shoulder, to the second when he set the record straight and went out fast. We heard that the second opponent wasn’t living his life right away from boxing and he exposed him and credit to him for two great wins.
“Now he is coming to Liverpool, coming to my city, fighting a true professional who loves the game and is hungry for a world title. So he is in for a bit of a shock.”
Of course this dust-up could already have been settled before the festive period, but the saying ‘everything comes to those who wait’ certainly applies to Mathews when it comes to home advantage and the multi-titled challenger paid tribute to his promoter for delivering his post-Christmas gift.
“You’d have been talking to a world champion now if it was that time, I believe that. Listen, Terry is a good fighter, I know I can beat him, I know I will beat him – the right Derry Mathews beats anyone in the world. I believe on February 13 the right Derry Mathews will turn up and he would also have turned up on December 18 too.
“It doesn’t get better than this though and whatever Frank (Warren) said he is going to deliver he has delivered. He told me that I would fight for a world title in my fifth fight with him and I am doing it for him. It is on my 50th, I pinch myself and thank him for it, when I am on the road I think about how Frank has believed and trusted in me – and now he is delivering for me,” added Mathews, who went on to recall a time when his promoter backed him to the hilt while at his lowest ebb.
“I remember getting beat by Stephen Ormond when I didn’t do the weight right and did everything wrong. Frank came into the changing room and said that wasn’t the Derry Mathews he knew, so he would like to restart my contract with him again. As a fighter you couldn’t ask for more than that.
“Frank, in my eyes, is the best promoter out there for me. He pays the best money, gets you the best fights and, not only that, he gets you them in your home city and doesn’t send you away to America.”
While the devout Liverpudlian will enjoy home comforts on the night, what he does not do is flaunt his footballing persuasions on fight nights. Not for him the Liverbird on his shorts as he draws his support from across the fight city and has no desire to alienate Everton fans, particularly as many of them are a little too close to his own doorstep.
“That is why I won’t come out with Liverpool stuff on or come out to a Liverpool song,” he explained. “My whole family are blues, every single one of them, and I’d say out of 30 of my close mates, 29 of them are Everton fans.
“I couldn’t do what Tony Bellew or David Price does, no way in the world. I think that is why I’ve got a good fan base, I haven’t picked sides and want both teams to do well. I am a massive Liverpool fan, by the way, a season ticket holder and I go to the game week in, week out. I have a bit of banter with the Everton fans on Twitter, but I wouldn’t come out to a Liverpool or Everton song, it is not in me.”
Mathews’ loyalties lie more with his community and, while he is indeed seeking personal glory at the Echo Arena, his wider objectives are about inspiring the youth from his own patch via his work at Derry’s Gym.
His gym uses the vehicle of boxing to inspire people to adopt a healthier lifestyle, as well as instilling the sport’s values of discipline and respect in the younger participants.
“Going back to where it all began, I’ve got my own amateur boxing club set up there and I am looking forward to walking into the gym with a new belt.
“I started with Georgie Vaughan, my trainer Danny’s dad, who had a boxing club where all the pros trained. He took two years out of the game and the gym was falling apart and was closed. I went to him, asked for the keys and I’ve turned it around.
“We’re getting 50-60 people a day – 40 of them kids – walking through the door and we’re steering them on the right path, sending them to college and schools, doing PE lessons with them. It’s good and I love helping the community out.
“What would be better than having a world champion coming from there?”
Derry’s project is not a stage-managed publicity stunt that he turns up and pays lip service to when the media come calling. He is very much hands – and gloves – on.
“Listen, I’m just a normal kid who’s been lucky enough that boxing has been my sport and I’ve done well out of it. Long may it continue, out of the ring as well. If I can change one kid’s life out of every hundred I will be a happy man and that is what I am planning on doing.
“It is a legacy, but I’m not in it for the limelight or media coverage. It is personal, as I’ve said before, I’m from nothing really, my mum as a single parent brought me and my sister up and now I’m fighting for a world title. I want to win it and make my family very proud.”
Mathews’ interim title was part of the ill-fitting jigsaw that is the WBA title set-up. The confusion has resulted in him being out of the ring since his defeat of Luis, an opponent he believes those occupying the much vaunted domestic lightweight scene should carefully consider fighting to further their ring educations.
He does suspect, however, that risky assignments and calculated gambles are stealthily swerved in order to protect carefully managed ring records.
“Let’s not forget that when Abril never made the plane again we had five days notice and got Barroso, but then his visa wouldn’t clear in time. Tony Luis was already fighting on the same night we were, but in America. They had the same manager so they jumped ships, Barroso went over to America to box – where he won in one round again – and I got Luis.
“In my eyes Tony Luis is a great fighter, one tough, tough man. I’d like to see him in with some of the lightweights in Britain, I’d like to see him test the likes of Luke Campbell, Anthony Crolla, Kevin Mitchell – Terry Flanagan even, after I’ve beat him. I want to see them fight people like him, no disrespect but Matchroom don’t really risk their fighters.
“Emiliano Marseli (who defeated Mathews for the IBO title in 2012), WBC No.2, why aren’t any of them fighting him? It’s crazy, you’re in this game to fight the best and it is about time some of the lightweights in Britain started doing that.”
Mathews himself has never shied away from risky business and his career path should serve as an example to young up-and-comers that defeats do not signal the end of the road. After 20 fights Mathews concedes he thought he was on boxing’s easy street, the WBU featherweight champion and a few trappings to go with his newly found fame and relative fortune.
He then had to roll with the punches as defeats blotted his copybook, forcing him to show the fortitude to rebuild his career, not to mention adjust his spending habits.
“It is an example because I won my first 20 fights and was going out buying cars, watches and spending a few quid on clothes, living the best life and thinking ‘this is never gonna end’. Next minute you start losing, start losing friends, your phone stops ringing…
“I’ve been lucky enough that I’ve had two goes, two bites of the cherry and this second bite hasn’t even took off properly yet. So any fighter out there with losses on their card, I think losing as well opens doors because you have opportunities and that is what I’ve been given. Massive opportunities in big fights and I’ve always won them.”
Mathews, of course, could lay claim to being a former world title holder, having won and defended the WBU featherweight title back in 2007. While he was happy with it at the time and, as he points out, in pretty good company, he does not anymore view his triumph as the real deal.
“At the time the WBU was a sanctioned title and I think I was the youngest to win it at 22,” he reflected. “Shea Neary, an idol of mine, won one, as did Peter Culshaw and David Burke – who is my idol – Colin Dunne also had one. The likes of Ricky Hatton had it and I was fighting on his undercard thinking ‘one day I’m going to have that belt, I love that’ and I got the opportunity.
“I was over the moon when I had it but, now that it’s not recognised, that’s gone, it’s like a British title or lower. Then I got the IBO shot against Marseli, which I lost, but it’s a great belt and Klitschko had it, Golovkin too, so I rate that as a full world title.”
The WBO belt he competes for on February 13, like Mathews, is the genuine article.