‘Judge me but please get it right!
By Richard Hubbard
In the aftermath of his exit at the quarter-final stage of the London 2012 Olympics, Tom Stalker took to Twitter to convey his dismay over the decision awarded against him. ‘Absolutely heartbroken… Them judges have wrecked my life!’
After his last two fights in the pro ranks Stalker could be forgiven for suspecting the men in white shirts might still have it in for him.
Albeit without the sizzle of a world title being at stake, last time out at the Manchester Arena in support of Terry Flanagan and Liam Smith retaining and winning world belts, Stalker and Craig Evans produced a captivating contest that in the eyes of many observers was undisputed fight of the night.
It was real hammer and tongs stuff from start to finish with nigh on everyone – Evans included – acknowledging the arm of Stalker alone should have been held aloft by referee Steve Gray. As it turned out, the punch counters had a different take on events and the result was declared a split draw.
The expression on Stalker’s face on hearing the verdict told its own story, utter desolation over recent history quickly repeating itself. Three months earlier at the Manchester Velodrome, Stalker shared the spoils with fellow Scouser Tommy Carus in what was a slightly less contentious draw.
To his great credit, Evans conceded in the post-fight interview that he thought the vacant WBO European lightweight belt should have been buckled around the waist of Stalker, although predictably he has changed his stance since the rematch was confirmed for the Xmas Cracker bill back in Manchester on December 19.
“I think everyone who understands boxing and is honest has said the same thing,” reflected Stalker. “It is one of them, I have watched the fight like 50 times now studying it and I don’t know how Dave Parris gave it to him by three rounds – it was crazy. It is what it is though and I am just made up that the fight is on again and the fans will get a great fight again.
“I thought it was a good fight and, credit to Craig Evans, who is a top fighter and I’ve got a lot of respect for him. Craig said afterwards that he thought I won, but then watched it back and thought he won. I don’t know how he can see that, I think he is kidding himself if he thinks he won.
“It’s irrelevant now really, that has gone now and it was a draw, it will always be a draw and it is just about moving on now and me getting my first belt for Christmas.
“Fair play to him for being honest at the time. As a fighter you know yourself if you have won or lost and I think he had the feeling that he didn’t win. It doesn’t really bother me because I felt like I’d won – when I watched it back even more so. There were quite a few close rounds, the first four were close – maybe one each and two a draw – and that’s me being a bit generous. I’d give him the eighth round and wouldn’t give him any other. The fight is on again though and we are going to be going at it again for another ten rounds – it is going to be exciting!”
At the Velodrome in July, Stalker was last on against Carus in the wake of the commotion following the retirement of Jose Zepeda with a dislocated shoulder against Terry Flanagan. It was getting late and the draw, Stalker agrees, did appear a convenient decision for the referee to make at the end of the long night.
“I don’t know if the judges don’t like my style or what they are seeing, but against Carus I thought I won that but obviously it was closer than the Evans fight,” he reasoned. “I feel like I haven’t been getting the rub of the green but in life and in boxing it goes like that. You can’t give up and have to take the bad with the good.
“Every time he threw a punch his corner were very vocal and, with the referee scoring the contest, I don’t know if that influenced the fight. I think you are 100 per cent right on that, I think it was a lazy ‘we’ll give it as a draw’.
“In my head, over my last two fights, I do think I have boxed a lot better and even though I have had two draws, in my head I have won both of them. Hopefully my luck will change, I will box well and get the win on the 19th.”
Not getting the luck of the draw perhaps sums up the turbulent nature of Stalker’s early exchanges in the pro ranks. The success rate of the highly decorated amateur did not instantly transfer itself to the professional game, leading the now 31-year-old to doubt himself, particularly after a defeat to then fellow unbeaten tyro Jack Catterall in his 10th fight.
His positive nature saw to it that he stuck at it and hopes the rewards will follow once draws are converted into victories.
“That is the way I have looked at it and I have got to be thankful to (promoter) Frank Warren. Since I signed with him he has been fantastic to me, paying me top money and, when I got beaten by Catterall, he had me out again straight away. He has done a lot for me, him and my manager Daniel (Kinahan, of MGM Marbella).
“Sometimes when you lose a fight you don’t get another for a while, so I am glad that he has stuck with me because I do think I am becoming a better pro now. It has taken me a little longer, but I am finally getting there.
“You can’t keep having bad luck so I think my luck will change. I look at Anthony Crolla and he is now world champion so what you have got to do is keep going, keep training and keep having that hunger.
“You’ve got to be positive and I’ve got a positive team around me at MGM. To have them with me and supporting me is basically the difference. I am so lucky to have what I’ve got over in Spain and I am very thankful to Daniel, him and Frank, they are straight people you are dealing with. It is a great combination and I couldn’t be happier.”
Rightly or wrongly for someone with only one pro defeat on his card, Stalker is pretty harsh in his assessment of his paid career to date, even suggesting in an interview prior to the Evans match that he was fighting for his future appearing on big promotions.
He explains that his critical self-assessment has much to do with his amateur pedigree, where the GB 2012 captain regularly enjoyed the experience of having medals hung around his neck.
“I was on the amateur team and, before the Olympic Games, I was the most successful amateur on the squad – me and Luke Campbell. I didn’t medal in the Olympics and then turned pro.
“From being someone who was winning all the time, I just wasn’t doing it. Then going on Twitter and people basically saying I was shite, it did affect me at first. I was thinking I’d gone from, at one point, the world No.1 amateur, to turning pro and it not working out for me.
“In life, the way I look at it, I think you’ve got to set realistic goals. A lot of fighters say they want to be world champion, but if I won a British title and climbed my way up to fight for a world title, that would be amazing, but I know how hard the professional game is.
“It is only when you’re in it you realise, it is not three rounds when you can hit and move, it is a tough sport.
“I’ve to get the win against Evans on the 19th and, if I do, it will push me up there and I know one win can change everything. Look at it like this, after the last fight everyone was saying I was good and can do it at lightweight – it is mad how one fight can change opinions of you.”
The switch down to lightweight could well prove pivotal to the fortunes of Stalker if he can get himself in the Brit-mix of Flanagan, Crolla and co, not to mention his Marbella mate Derry Mathews.
The decision to shed some poundage and become a big, strong lightweight has not proved the hardship he might have imagined, while inside the ring he is actually heavier than ever.
“It was crazy, when I used to fight at 10st I didn’t really diet, I used to make the weight and get in the ring at 10st 5lbs. When I trained to make 9st 9lbs I was on an eight-week diet, then when I left the hotel to go to the venue I weighed 10st 9lbs – I’d put a full stone on and felt strong and good!
“So now I am a lightweight and will hopefully get some good fights, do well in my next fight and the judges start seeing my work a bit more!”
Roll on December 19 then, for if it is anything like last time, this one will be a Xmas Cracker