THE BIG INTERVIEW - TOM STALKER
By Richard Hubbard
It has taken a little longer than he might have imagined, but the Captain is now earning his stripes in the professional ranks.
The former amateur maestro, by his own admission, found the transition to the working world of pay-as-you-punch hard going, but now he has happily planted his feet in the pro game and is preparing for the conclusion of a three-parter against Craig Evans at the Cardiff Motorpoint Arena on November 26.
The bumper bill is titled ‘A little less conversation’, but they probably didn’t have the snappy punching Scouser in mind when that heading was thought up. The always engaging Stalker loves a chat and is happy to talk up the trilogy with Evans after the first two encounters were declared draws.
For the occasionally beleaguered Stalker, who has admitted to allowing social media stalkers affect him in the past, winning the vacant WBO European title – his first pro prize – against Antonio Joao Bento in Liverpool back in June swapped a monkey off his back with a belt around his waist.
“One million per cent!” exclaimed the hugely affable 32-year-old. “I had a great amateur career and will be the first to admit I haven’t been the best pro. It has just been about sticking with it and, even after all the setbacks I’ve had, I’ve always been in the gym and always worked overtime.
“In life, what you put in you get out and my last fight was just reward for all the hard work I’ve been doing since I turned pro.”
The lightweight, who trains out of Marbella, concedes the doubters have dragged him down in the past and Twitter was not the place to go knocking if he was ever fishing for compliments.
He got weighed down by expectations in turning over after London 2012 and discovered the harsh reality that amateur success doesn’t automatically translate into professional stardom.
What sets Stalker apart from others who have tried and toiled in crossing the divide is that he stuck at it, rolled with the punches and has now reaped his first reward. He probably hasn’t silenced all the naysayers, but is past caring about that now.
“You know what, coming from the Olympics you get a thingy where people want more from you. With social media I have become more of a man now and I’m not really bothered what anyone says because, even if you become a world champion like Tyson Fury, people are going to slag you anyway because they’ve got nothing better to do.
“You just have to believe in yourself and the team you’ve got around you, as well as your family. That is all that really matters in life really. Boxing has been good to me and, if I packed it in tomorrow, I would have it to thank for taking me to places I’ve never seen.
“I’ve had a great career and I am looking forward to putting the Evans trilogy to bed on November 26.”
Even the 2012 golden boy Luke Campbell has had to tread a slightly more tortuous passage than many imagined in proving his pro credentials at a higher level but, as Stalker points out, you can do all the schooling you want, but you have to take an examination at some point.
It is about being given the chance to do a re-sit in the event of failing an exam that has always concerned this graduate of the Huyton school of hard knocks.
“Yeah, and look at Anthony Ogogo in his last fight when he stepped up,” he added to the Campbell theme. “When I took on Jack Catterall in my defeat it was the case that at some stage you have got to step up as you can’t keep fighting people where it is stacked in your favour.
“I was thinking about this just now when I was out on my run. Anyone can get beat, Pacquiao has lost, most people have, but it is about getting the opportunities when you do get beat to come back again.
“That is what I always fear, I am not scared of losing, I am scared of not getting the opportunity to fight on the big stage again.”
Stalker doesn’t seem to have any such problems on that front at the moment, with his first fight with Evans back in October 2015 so good they made it thrice!
With rounds in the bank – he is nearing 100 – comes maturity and knowhow. Stalker is long in the tooth enough to accept now that he is not going to blast people out with devastating combos and needs to be winning over the judges from first bell to last.
He knows only too well now that there is no point in setting off like a train if it leaves you finishing like a tugboat. He has been there and done that.
“The thing with me is, I’m not the biggest puncher and Paulie Malignaggi isn’t either, but he knows how to win fights. I know I am going to be in hard fights, for Craig Evans I have trained for a good ten round fight and that is how it will go in my head. If it comes earlier that is great, but I’ve trained for the ten.
“I know I am a distance fighter now so I am conditioned for that and have done everything right in the gym. That is what it is about. The more fights you have, you do get experience from doing it where you are not going to blow someone away and have to box more.
“It hasn’t always been the case, there was the Tommy Carus fight (the first of a hattrick of draws) where I was brilliant for the first four, but in the second four he was stepping on me. Like everything in life it is an experience, I was such a good amateur because in those three minutes of three rounds I would do everything to win the fight.
“As a professional it is a totally different sport and it is not until you are a pro that you realise. I am a lot tougher than people think, but it is not about just being tough, it is about being clever. You don’t need to stand and fight with people when you can box. I could win fights a lot easier than I actually do.
“In this next Evans fight I will do that.”
The devout Liverpool fan will be seeking to emulate his footballing favourites in having no problem winning away from home when he heads to Cardiff for Evans part three.
“It was crazy for me to have three draws in a row, but then I had the Bento fight and I’m going into this fight as champion now. I want to defend it and get better now.
“I am happy, I would rather fight him in Cardiff than I would in Liverpool. I didn’t hesitate for one moment, I will box better in Cardiff and I’ve got a little coach going down. I am not worrying about anything, trying to please anyone, I will go there and give him a boxing lesson.
“I don’t just want to win this fight, I want to win and look brilliant in it. That is why I accepted the fight, I want to look better than the first ones.
“The first two were good fights and this is the way I have looked at it, the fans want to see a good fight so let’s give it to them. I’m very confident in being victorious and doing very, very well.
“I know what I did wrong in the second fight. For the first fight I had a 10-week training camp, then the second fight got announced just seven weeks before. I thought I won the first fight by at least three rounds and was still on cloud nine and living off the first fight when the second one was made.
“In the space of that time I was in Liverpool where we had my little daughter and I let my weight slip a little bit. I was very, very hungry for the first fight and because I believe I won it, I didn’t go into the second with the same hunger.
“It is down to me to be more professional and I am as focused for this one as I was for the first one, if not more. I’ve been in the gym now for 14 weeks and prepared for whatever Craig Evans wants to bring.
“The funny thing about it is I can see us being very familiar when we get in there, but I can still see it being another great fight.”
Stalker v Evans certainly falls into the ‘must watch’ category and the champion hopes the time is right for both of them to put on a show. The card is stacked high in Cardiff and Stalker couldn’t resist giving a subtle nudge to his promoter that he isn’t looking for an early night.
“There will be some great fights on the night with the likes of Billy Joe and Terry Flanagan but, believe you me, I do hope this fight isn’t going to be on too early because it is going to be fight of the night.
“You can’t put it on too late because you have got Saunders and Flanagan, as well as Liam Williams and Tommy Langford, who do massive tickets, but it needs to be on at a good time because people will get value for money watching this fight.
“I just hope they do put it on at a later time because everyone in the building should be witnessing this fight. It is going to be better than the first and that one was a cracker.”
That being the case, this one will also go with a bang.