At lightweight only one man holds the key to the city of Liverpool, England, and that is reigning Commonwealth titleholder “Dirty” Derry Mathews. This game warrior never gets it easy, but his knack of overcoming adversity has made him one of the most compelling television fighters in the U.K.
In July, Mathews (34-8-2, 19 knockouts) entered the tenth round against countryman Tommy Coyle with a mountain to climb. He had been outworked for the majority of the contest and his opponent was heading towards a comfortable decision victory before an electrified home crowd in Hull.
Down goes Coyle from a chilling left hook to the jaw and the fight is over in an eye blink. Whether he’s the underdog, behind on points, injured, or on the verge of a stoppage loss, there is no counting out Mathews, who plays the wounded lion role to perfection.
In his most recent outing Mathews landed a booming right to the jaw of former English champion Curtis Woodhouse in Round 4. The finishing blow was terminal and could very well be a contender for knockout of the year as this non-fiction action movie continues apace.
RingTV spoke to Mathews, who will return to the ring on Dec. 7 in Liverpool, against Ireland’s Stephen Ormond.
RingTV: You boxed well against Woodhouse and the knockout was highlight-reel quality. Is that the way you expected the fight to unfold?
Derry Mathews: I told everyone I could make this my easiest fight. I was winding Curtis up at the press conferences, and on Twitter, saying it was going to be a war but I knew my boxing skills were going to play a massive part in this fight. I’ve won numerous amateur titles, including the ABA’s, represented my county and with all respect to Curtis he’s only been boxing for six years whereas I’ve been in the game for over twenty.
RTV: You’re on a terrific career upswing at the moment. To what do you attribute your recent success?
DM: Hard work, dedication and the people I’ve got around me. My coach, Danny Vaughn, is more than a trainer to me, he’s best man at my wedding and he’s like a family member. Danny forms such a massive part of my team and he should be commended for his tactics. He has been in the game for 20 years and a lot of people don’t realize that. Danny was in Paul Weir’s corner when Paul won a WBO world title (in 1993) and even though he’s only 40 years of age, he’s been around, and lives the life. He loves boxing and I’m thankful to him, my mates, my family and my wife.
RTV: Next up is a fight against Ireland’s Stephen Ormond on Dec. 7. What kind of fight do you think that will be?
DM: This fight will be an all-out war because Ormond only fights coming forward. He’s a quality operator with good people around him, like Steve Collins, and he’s very tough physically and mentally. That said I’ll be in the best condition possible because I’m expecting a very tough fight and I rate this guy a lot higher than I did Woodhouse. I have a lot of respect for Ormond because he’s a hungry fighter who comes to win and he’s taking me on in my backyard.
RTV: You’ve always been immensely popular amongst fans but your support actually appears to be growing. What does your fan base mean to you, particularly in Liverpool?
DM: Without them I wouldn’t have come up through the small hall shows and been able to sell tickets. Without the fans the boxers can’t do their job and they turn out in the hundreds and thousands to see me. I more than likely know every single one of them, because I’m the kind of boxer who is just one of the lads and likes to go out for a pint with them. That’s the way I am, just a popular lad, and my fans know that I’m not big-headed. I thank all of my support for spending their hard-earned cash to come and watch me.
RTV: In your fight against Tommy Coyle you came from behind to score a one-punch knockout. That ability to change the course of a fight is a quality that Nigel Benn, amongst others, possessed. Is that one of the reasons why the fans gravitate towards you?
DM: The fans know how hard I work and I’m never in a dull fight. I’ve been nominated for British Fight of the Year two years running, and I’m an entertainer. You never know what you’re going to get because I can fight, box, switch southpaw and punch with both hands. I told Tommy Coyle that I would knock him out with a left hook and I done it – I stick to my word. I told Curtis (Woodhouse) that if I hit him on the button then I’d knock him out and I’ve done that as well.
RTV: You’ve fought so many quality names on the domestic scene over the last ten years. Who would you say is the best fighter you’ve faced overall?
DM: I’ve got to say Gavin Rees but not the version that recently lost to Anthony Crolla. The Gavin Rees I faced was in with Adrien Broner for the world title immediately after me, so I fought him at the top of his game and I thought I was in that fight up until I got stopped. Also there was Emiliano Marsili, who is now European champion.
RTV: You’ve had an up and down career as a professional but you’ve always learned from mistakes and, when given the chance, avenged losses. Where does the determination and hunger come from?
DM: It’s just down to the people I have around me. When I had time out of the game I did a lot of coaching at schools and formed my own academy. During that time a kid came up to me and asked when I was going to fight again and, to be honest, that kid is the reason why I’m back in boxing. I told my girlfriend and my parents that I was making a comeback and my mother cried her eyes out because she thought I’d done it all and achieved everything I could. Still, look at what I’ve done since I came back into the sport. I’ve fought at every level and I’m the Commonwealth lightweight champion.
RTV: Ricky Burns, the WBO lightweight titlist, is the target for every top 135-pounder in Britain. I know you two get on really well but have you got an eye on Burns?
DM: I’m not going to sit here and call Ricky out because he’s a friend of mine, as is Billy Nelson (Burns’ trainer). Ricky just happens to be in the position that everyone else is trying to get to at the moment. Do I believe I could beat him? Yes, because if I’m on my game I believe I can beat anyone. Also, there are other fighters talking about getting the opportunity to fight Ricky that I’ve already beat. I stopped Anthony Crolla, and he doesn’t have a win over me, so why does he deserve to fight Ricky Burns? That’s frustrating but I’ll let my team decide who I should fight next. If I ever got the chance to fight Ricky then I would love for it to be in Scotland, because I have great support up there.
RTV: Kevin Mitchell was quiet after losing to Burns but he’s back in the mix at 135. Is that a fight that would interest you down the line?
DM: Kevin is an excellent fighter. I’ve shared camps with him, when we represented England, and I’ve known him for a very long time. I actually tipped Kevin to beat Ricky Burns when the two of them fought last year but Ricky showed what a champion is made of and dismantled him. I still believe Kevin is a top fighter and it would be an honor to share the ring with him but only if it’s worth it. Is it worth us fighting for the Commonwealth title? I think we’re both better than that if I’m being honest.
British fight fans can see Mathews vs. Ormund Live and Exclusive on BoxNation via Sky Channel 437 or Virgin Channel 546 from 7.00pm. Visit www.boxnation.com to subscribe.
Photos: Alex Livesey-Getty Images (Crolla fight); Paul Thomas-Getty Images (Coyle presser)
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and contributes to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing