Undefeated Aussie Ben McCullough talks to Livefight
Livefight interview: Ben “The Juicer” McCullough on being a 30-year-old prospect, devout Christian, a former vegan and where that nickname comes from...
By Michael J Jones
Livefight recently got the chance to speak to Australian prospect Ben “The Juicer” McCullough ahead of his next contest on August 10th. Now 30-years-old and undefeated at 9-0 (6), Ben has endured a very frustrating time in his four-year pro career. The former amateur star moved away from his family to set up camp and even started eating meat after nine years to give himself the best possible chance of success (after previously being a vegan).
The young fighter thought his chance had come the year after turning pro when he was selected to star in the 2009 Australian Contender series. After impressing all boxing experts in the early stages, Ben was forced to pull out of the show with a neck injury before featuring in his first bout (eventual winner of the tournament was Garth Wood who would fight Anthony Mundine on two occasions).
McCullough, who enjoys reading philosophy in his spare time, regrouped but suffered hand injuries in two subsequent bouts further delaying his progress. The gifted fighter, a devout Christian, seems to have gained some momentum since joining new trainer Tony Del Vecchio and has won two fights this year already by knock-out. The talented fighter has also benefited through extensive sparring with current IBF world champion Daniel Geale (who fights Felix Sturm in a unification bout on September 1st).
Now residing in New South Wales and looking to make his mark this year, here’s what “The Juicer” had to say-
LF) So Ben can you tell me a little about your amateur career?
BM) I had 40 fights and won 35. I represented Australia on a number of occasions against European competition.
LF) Who comprises your team at the moment?
BM) Tony Del Vecchio is my trainer, Gary Mason is my manager (not to be confused with the deceased British heavyweight contender of the same name) and Leigh Webber works as my cut-man.
LF) How would you describe your fighting style?
BM) I’m a counter-puncher but also have knock-out power in either hand.
LF) You were briefly on the Australian Contender series in 2009 before having to leave due to injury. What experience did you manage to pick up from that short-lived television adventure?
BM) The experience in the Contender show was great for me in learning how to handle the media, filming daily, adjusting to what artists want in their clips and photo shoots etc. For me to also see how some of the more experienced fighters with 30+ fights prepare in training, dieting and mentally deal with looming fights was also useful. The downside was adjusting to the boredom of doing very little outside of training and filming, and finally leaving the house through injury without getting to fight; extremely frustrating!
LF) How would you summarise your pro career so far; you’ve had much to contend with in your four-years in the paid ranks with various injuries but still remain unbeaten?
BM) My professional career has been interesting and trying at times from debuting in 2008. Breaking my left hand’s fourth and fifth metacarpals twice was difficult to deal with. The injuries happened in two different fights, first in June 2010 in the fourth round against Omar Shaick. I went on to win by decision over the current Australian super middleweight champion (cutting and dropping Shaick along the way to win by split-decision). A year later in April 2011, during the second round, the same thing happened against Mark Flanagan but I still went on to win via unanimous decision against the current Queensland light-heavyweight champion.
LF) You are now 30-years-old, an advanced age for a prospect; what do you still hope to achieve in your boxing career?
BM) My goals are specific in becoming a reigning world champion who brings exciting fights to Australia. I want to compete against the best fighters in the world and become a role model to people in living a good life and realising your own potential through self belief and hard work. They are the two things that will take me to become a world champion in boxing alongside my pronounced natural talent.
LF) Your fighting weight has ranged from 156lbs to 179lbs during your career so far; what is the weight that you plan to continue competing in?
BM) My ideal weight now as a man is super middleweight 76.2 kgs (168lbs). This is (the weight) where I aim to make my mark in boxing.
LF) Where does your unusual nickname derive from?
BM) I made “The Juicer” up when I was a dedicated vegan and the only famous domestic fighters were Danny 'The Green Machine' Green and Anthony 'The Man' Mundine. I thought most of the other nicknames going around were lame. I want to fight similar to Bernard Hopkins, one of my all-time favourite fighters. He usually wins fights by wearing opponents down, out-slicking them, tiring them and finally beating them up; like squeezing the life (juice) out of them. Hence........”JUUUUIIIIIICER”!
LF) What can you tell me about your family, you had to leave them to start your boxing career I believe?
BM) I moved down here (Bondi Beach) specifically and solely for boxing seven years ago in 2005. I grew up in Coffs Harbour where my parents and dog still live. My sister, who I’m extremely close to, moved to Sydney recently. She was in my corner for my last fight. I try to fly and drive to Coffs Harbour as often as possible. I love my parents more than anything and owe them everything. I’m single...if you know anyone (laughs)?
I’m a faithful Christian, I love God and am grateful and amazed by the marvels of life everyday God has made in the variety and beauty of people, animals, and places on the planet.
LF) You fight next on August 10; what are your plans after that fight, do you have anyone in mind as your next opponent?
BM) Although I’d love to fight a few of the bigger, more established names in Australian boxing, it is difficult to get fights with them so my primary focus is on big fights in 2013 which take me into a top ten world ranking and make my progress through the top-ranked contenders then fight and win world titles.
Ben’s next contest takes place on August 10 at the Croatian club, Punchbowl in New South Wales against Amir Hossein Ranjdar. Livefight would like to thank Ben for his time and also training partner Virgil Kalakoda for arranging the interview.
'Jazza' Dickens - Great Expectations
'Jazza' Dickens is building himself quite a reputation. The talented super bantamweight from Liverpool admits he has noticed a sharp increase in interest since starring alongside Olympians Natasha Jonas and Thomas Stalker in a recent documentary which highlighted his likeable personality but, for boxing insiders, it is the 21 year old southpaw’s combination of aggression, dedication and skill which has long held their attention.
Yes, the tales you may have heard about Dickens are all true. He does do his roadwork whilst the majority of the country are fast asleep, he did build a boxing ring in his mother's flat out of Tesco carrier bags and chipboard and he does spend a great deal of his spare time helping out at a local homeless shelter. But, whilst all those idiosyncrasies add to the intrigue surrounding the scouser, they shouldn't overshadow the most important part of any professional boxers make up; James 'Jazza' Dickens can really fight.
Since turning professional eighteen months ago, Dickens has chalked up ten successive victories with four of those wins coming early. The unbeaten record shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. Any up and coming boxer would be expected to beat the opponents that the talented Liverpudlian has so far faced. What marks Dickens out as one to watch is the manner in which he goes about beating them. From first bell until last, there is no sense of Dickens going through the motions or coasting. His attacks are varied, relentless and Dickens appears to relish every single second he spends in the ring. One of the most striking aspects of Dickens’ game is his sense of distance and timing. At times, he seems to float effortlessly in and out of range. The 2010 ABA champion also seems to have acquired the extremely useful knack of performing to his best when given his toughest tests. Tough Scot James Ancliff retired after two rounds whilst, in what I consider his best performance to date, Yuriy Voronin was stopped in the fourth.
When you add his undoubted raw talent and enthusiasm to the invaluable experience gained from being a member of the Great Britain amateur setup, incredible self discipline and an unshakeable desire to do both himself and his supporters proud it creates a potentially potent mix.
Obviously, we are only at the start of Dickens' career and the big tests are yet to come. There will come a time when skill and enthusiasm alone won't get the job done and Dickens will need to reach down inside and find that something extra but as it seems certain that we will be hearing a lot more about 'Jazza' in the coming years, it is the perfect time to catch up with Dickens himself, his trainer Paul Stevenson, manager Steve Wood and BBC Merseyside's boxing summariser and sports author Gary Shaw to find out more about the man himself and gauge opinion on just how far he can go.
The Fighter – James ‘Jazza’ Dickens 10-0 (4)
“I’ve definitely noticed a big increase in attention recently. Since the documentary went out, it’s gone wild with people messaging me and adding me on twitter. I don’t know how to cope with it really but I’ve been trying to message everybody back. It’s madness but I’m enjoying it. I’ve also noticed more interest on the boxing front. I’m learning all the time and I’m getting a lot more recognition and support off people. My fan base is building with every fight. I get a good feeling when I win but don’t really celebrate because it’s my duty really.
“I’d like to fight every week and I’m in the gym all year round either sparring or working on my fitness. I’ll take a few days off after a fight but that’s it really. I’d say I’m improving on becoming more of an all round fighter. Paul and Mick (Stevenson, trainers) are always pointing out chinks in my armour in the gym so I’m always working on them. I like to work on speed and watch fighters like Mike Tyson, Manny Pacquiao and Marvin Hagler. Fighters with good timing. I don’t know if it’s something I’ve picked up but I do know it’s a God-given talent. I like working hard and won’t let myself fall into a rut of punching slow, I’ll always punch hard and fast. Paul and Mick wouldn’t want less than 100% either. I like to give it my all because there are people paying good money to come and watch me and to not give 100% would be conning them out of that money. I feel privileged to be able to give it my all and be able to make it exciting for them.
“I just enjoy my boxing. Hopefully I’ll be where I want to be one day and I’ll fight whoever I have to fight to get there. I believe in concentrating on my own game. Good luck to them. God bless them but I’ll fight whoever to get where I want to be.
If people are talking about me it’s a good thing. I let them make up their own minds and if they want to support me then I’m really grateful. Everybody has their own opinion and you have to take the good with the bad in boxing. I’m just happy and privileged to be talked about. I need to thank my sponsors! Thanks to Avondale Payroll Services!”
The Trainer – Everton Red Triangle trainer Paul Stevenson
“Jazza’s the type of fighter you dream about training. He’s dedicated, disciplined and gives 100% effort 100% of the time. You look at him and see a cheeky smile but never be mistaken into thinking he isn’t serious. We have a good laugh in the gym but he has a lot of skill and ability.
“We’re trying to make him more of a complete fighter. He’s had a lot of time in the amateurs where certain types of tactics are required. I always believe that for good lads like him, it doesn’t matter what type of scoring system it is, they just need time to adapt to it. We’re working on different types of defensive work. Lots more head movement, rolling and slipping and countering from range and different close range stuff that’s probably more mentally demanding than physically. Jazza also does quite a lot of things that are pretty unorthodox. If you looked at a textbook you wouldn’t teach those things but you don’t knock it out of them because it’s difficult for his opponents to cope with.
“When you work with him in the gym, you get a strong sense that this fella could do something special. You don’t wanna put too much pressure on him as he’s only young and has only had ten fights. You hear a lot of talk about titles but there’s plenty of time. He’s still got to mature yet which is scary. He’s not the type who has to sit down on his punches because he throws them fast but he’s developing some real power. He weighed 8st 12lb for his last fight but who knows how he’ll grow. We’ll have to see. There are some good opportunities at super bantamweight. It’s a hot division and there are some big fights there that with the right experience and preparation he’s more than capable of winning. My old trainer used to tell me that you can’t fight nature and we won’t.
“I have a couple of little stories about the type of character Jazza is. On Christmas Day we have a big family dinner. Nobody knew what Jazza was doing so I rang him up and invited him. He says “Thanks for the invite Paul but I’m down at the homeless shelter dishing out Christmas dinners”. He gave his Christmas dinner up to help people that he doesn’t even know. He also feels a big obligation to his fans. He really wants to please them and send them away having had a good time.
“I believe you have the makings of a world champion. The road to all world title is paved with luck, both good and bad, so you need the right things to happen at the right times but he definitely has that potential.
The Manager – Steve Wood, promoter of VIP Boxing
“Jazza’s a dedicated boxer, willing to learn, willing to travel to spar good kids and he’s getting better with every fight. I feel – and I don’t want to over hype him – that he could go all the way.
“I like to think that I’ve gotta a good level of trust with Jazza. He just lets me get on with things and I think his progress has been nice and steady since he turned professional. I would like him to have had more TV dates but unfortunately the television situation hasn’t been very good recently. After Sunday, I think he’s probably outgrown my shows and he’s gonna have to look for TV dates because he’s gonna be pushing for titles over the next twelve months. I think after he’s had a couple of eight rounders and maybe a ten, he’ll be ready for the British title. The problem is Hatton Promotions probably have too many fighters and not enough dates.
“I’ve noticed in his last three performances that he’s punching harder. That was always my concern. As he’s a fast mover and always in and out on the soles of his feet, I wondered if he could generate the punching power to become a good pro. He’s settled down and adapted and is sitting down a bit on his punches. I thought he had everything except maybe the punching power but now that’s coming too.”
The Expert – BBC Merseyside Boxing summariser and author of The Mersey Fighters Vol 1 & Vol 2 Gary Shaw
“The first time I saw James ‘Jazza’ Dickens boxing for ‘The Solly’, I was impressed. Very impressed. Southpaw, fast hands, good movement. Fast feet, in and out, hardly gets caught. Tikka takka boxing.
“Whilst this impresses most observers however, it takes something special to raise an eyebrow at a Merseyside boxing show, but seasoned scouse boxing fans did just that – along with a knowing nod and appreciative smile - whenever they saw Jazza perform. And perform he did. Even before his ABA title in 2010 James was on that select, but growing local list of, ‘boxers to see’.
“As he got older and bigger, and as his punches began to both vary in style and increase in power, it became clear that, Olympic qualification aside, this was a kid who had the potential to be a great professional.
“London 2012 never quite worked out and, after turning pro in May 2011, Jazza has rattled off a series of polished and, it has to be said, exemplary, almost punch perfect performances. And there are some tough, seasoned men on his record; the likes of Barrington Brown, James Ancliff and Chuck Jones. None of these are mugs yet all were bamboozled by Jazza’s speed, skill and range of shots – double jabs, uppercuts, the rarely seen right hook to the body, all from a cunning and stunning array of angles – and then he’s gone. Only to be seen again when his arm is raised in victory at the end of the contest.
“On further inspection there is more to discover; a dedication that I personally have never seen in a boxer so young - just follow him on twitter or facebook to see the 4am runs and ‘in bed’ by 6pm posts. Then there was the half-marathon he ran the day AFTER his second pro fight – in a time most athletics’ club runners would be proud, less than one and a half hours.
“More knowledgeable boxing fans may also look at the weight Jazza has boxed at so far – and note, together with his own interviews, that to be ranked at featherweight is slightly disingenuous. This is a young man who can make super bantam comfortably. Super bantam? Where the likes of Quigg, Munroe, and the much hyped Frampton and Kid Galahad currently reside? I’d back him to beat the last two even now.”
Ricky Hatton comeback rumours continue with pics
Following Livefight's tip-off from a source close to Ricky Hatton who disclosed the 'Hitman' was indeed seeing what was left in the tank in an Italian gym, to mount a possible comeback, we are now seeing the fruits of his hard efforts in a recent picture from Hatton, who is currently working out alongside his family on the island of Tenerife.
The picture posted by Ricky of himself, sees the former light-welter king at around the 150-155lb mark, a stark difference to his bloated appearance at the turn of the year.
"Run time. From Los cristianos right down the sea front to las Americas and back." tweeted Ricky today.
Meanwhile his touted comeback opponent, Paulie Malignaggi, was equally suspicious with his public comments at the announcement of his next fight against Mexico's Pablo Cano in a non-title fight before making the first defence of his title against a "highly secret opponent".
"My fans should stay patient, there is a very big fight coming, but it's hush hush for now." said Paulie.
Hatton Comeback Comments Thread
Lucian Bute to face Denis Grachev at 175lb
Lucian Bute has been out of the public eye since his crunching defeat at the hands of Carl 'the Cobra' Froch in Nottingham back in May.
Froch took Bute's lunch as well as his titles and unbeaten record in a one-sided demolition job.
Now Bute's promoters Interbox have unveiled that Lucian will be returning back to action against NABF Light-heavy champion Denis Grachev.
Grachev is largely unknown, but your mind will be jogged when I tell you this is the guy who de-railed the Ismayl Sillakh hype train in glorious fashion. Grachev was largely outboxed but caught up with his man in the 8th round and clubbed him into a referee stoppage situation.
The unheralded Russian now resides in San Diego and has an unbeaten record of 12-0 (8ko) so is pretty inexperienced in comparison to Lucian Bute at 30-1 (24ko).
Grachev is a plodding pressure fighter. What he lacks in speed and movement he makes up with durability and doggedness.
He is also a former International Kickboxing Federation (IKF) Muay Thai Light Cruiserweight Championship and former International Karate Kickboxing Council champion.
The fight will likely be a 12-round affair with Bute utilising his height and range to control the action and stay out of harm's way. But I forecast Grachev could give the former Romanian a tough night if he eeks past the 8th round.
A win over Grachev at 175lb will give Bute a foothold into the Light-heavyweight rankings, were I believe he will likely remain.
His car crash experience with Froch, arguably his first elite Super Middleweight foe, will have seriously dented the likeable Bute's confidence.
Hopefully it was just an extremely bad bad day at the office for him and his career will resume from the setback. But the foray into the higher division could see him consider remaining there. Sure, he has a lucrative rematch clause with Froch - but will he take it or move on with trying to avenge the loss ?
Who knows, but we wish Bute all the best in his next contest.
Grachev stops Sillakh:
Natasha Jonas' Olympic diary
I think we find out the draw for our divisions on July 27th. The gold and silver medallists from the World Championships will get byes in the first round as will two others. The others will box.
We have to weigh in on the first day of competition so I’d assume they’ll do the draw then. We’ll also have to weigh in on the morning of every bout we have. If I go all the way then I’ll box on Sunday August 4th and then the Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. The weight has been good this time. I’m only 0.9kg over now (July 17) and I’d like to be on wait by the time I finish camp.
The Brazilian team are here at the moment. It hasn’t been toned down at all; it’s been a typical training camp for us. If we go abroad for a training camp, we’ll follow the host country's routine. The Brazilian’s are just doing their own thing but we are sparring together.
During training we’ll do general stuff but the coaches got together with the boxers and everybody had to identify who they think is the biggest threat to them and then we do an analysis on them. We always do an analysis on everybody we box but we’re looking at our threat’s weaknesses and how to capitalise on them but also how to impose our strengths on them.
My three choices were Katie (Taylor), Sophia (Ochigava) and the third was Gulsum Tatar but she didn’t qualify. Obviously you can’t go on one fight because she would have come on a lot since but I felt comfortable boxing Cheng Dong in the test event we had. I will never underestimate anybody but I didn’t feel Dong was one of my main threats. Queen Underwood from the USA is a good boxer too but I also felt comfortable against her.
Everybody on the team has a chance of a medal. Nicola (Adams) was just pipped at the World Championships and I think in front of the home crowd she can go one better. Savannah (Marshall) is world champion anyway so all she has to do is do it again. In the worlds, that was the best I’ve ever seen Savannah box. If she can replicate exactly what she did last time, she can win again. She knows she’s number one in the world and the one to beat now.
If I have to pick two to watch from the men’s team, I’ll pick Tom Stalker and Anthony Joshua. Anthony Joshua’s story is unbelievable. He came from nowhere and in the World Championships beat (Roberto) Cammarelle who’s won more world titles than Joshua’s won ABA titles!
I think there will just be one ring being used at a time and having ten thousand people cheering every punch is going to be unbelievable. It’ll be like when I fought at the Echo Arena in Liverpool to win the Great Britain championships. Even walking out there sent shivers down my spine!
Hopefully next time we speak I’ll be an Olympic gold medallist!
All @Livefight would like to wish Tasha the best of luck at the Games. I’d also like to thank Tasha and @martyf70 for their help this past 12 months. Hopefully the final part will be the monthly diary of an Olympic gold medallist! Catch Natasha's first fight on the afternoon of Sunday August 4th.
Warren hopes to rekindle Degale with Pavlik fight
26-year old European Super Middleweight champion James DeGale issued a statement in Jan announcing that he had parted ways from Frank Warren, who by return, issued his own statement saying the Olympian was staying put.
Since the turn of the year, all has been quiet between the two parties until an interview published online today, revealed the promoter's thoughts on the situation.
"Degale needs to pull his finger out. He’s had some good offers for fights." said Warren to WestLondSports.com
“We’ve got a dispute over our management agreement and hopefully that’s going to be resolved quite soon and then we’ll decide where we’re going to go from there.
“Kelly Pavlik, if James keeps himself well, is one of those fights I think you could look at although there’s travelling involved.”
When question about the relationship between himself, Degale and Groves, the promoter was quick to point out the need for a professional working relationship, despite the promotional triangle involving his 'nemesis' George Groves.
“Everybody has to be professional and move forward. It’s not about any favouritism.
“It shouldn’t affect things. Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank were both signed with me. So was Steve Collins. It’s not a problem.
“James is a good fighter. I just feel there are too many people around him who don’t understand boxing.”
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Enzo Maccarinelli releases statement on positive test
c/o Frank Warren Promotions:
Following my fight against Shane McPhilbin in March, I was extremely surprised and disturbed to have tested positive for a banned substance known as methylhexaneamine.
I purchased a product called Dexaprine that contained this banned substance from a combat magazine. The advert stated that it was an approved substance and I checked the ingredients which had no reference to any banned substance that I was aware of. In fact, it also stated that it was suitable for athletes.
I have since found out that this ‘fat burner’ contained a substance and consequently I failed a dope test, albeit with a very low reading.
I wish to state that this substance was in no way used to gain any advantage in the ring or enhance my performance and whilst I appreciate that it may look that way, I would certainly never cheat or cut corners in my preparation.
I have been tested over 20 times in my career and have never failed any random or post fight doping test, but on this occasion, due to my naivety, I have tested positive for a banned substance.
I was contacted by UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) and helped them with their investigations, where I gave them both the product that I had taken, the container and also the advert from which I ordered these supplements.
The explanation I gave which is reflected accurately in their formal decision is evidence that my intention was not to knowingly take a banned substance or to gain an unfair advantage in competition.
I am very conscious of my reputation within the sport of boxing and even prior to the decision, that has been released today, I promised to fully accept any punishment that was given as a result of this positive test.
Furthermore, I voluntarily vacated my British Cruiserweight Championship so to allow my opponent, Shane McPhilbin, the opportunity to rechallenge for it whilst I serve my 6 months suspension, as I could not bear the thought of holding such a prestigious championship if anyone thought that I hadn’t won it fairly.
I have volunteered to assist UKAD in any way I can to prevent other boxers or sportsmen from being put in the same situation as I currently find myself in due to the availability of what appear to be perfectly legitimate supplements and manufacturers not making it clear on their products that they contain banned substances.
UKAD have accepted my offer and I am determined to ensure, along with the British Boxing Board of Control that the awareness of such supplements is enhanced and others do not have to face the humiliation that I now have to.
I would like to thank UKAD for their understanding and support in this matter and their punishment which I hope reflects the honesty in which I approached this situation.
I would further like to thank Robert Smith of the BBBofC for his support and apologise to everyone involved in boxing for any stain on our great sport.
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David Price to fight Audley Harrison Oct 13th
Liverpool's heavyweight sensation David Price (13-0 with 11 knockouts) will defend his British & Commonwealth titles at the ECHO Arena against Audley Harrison on October the 13th.
40-year old Harrison, won the gold medal in the Sydney Olympics almost 12 years ago, whilst 6'8 Price won the Bronze at the Beijing Olympics.
The event looks set to be broadcast on Boxnation, as it's rumoured that the TV station and Price's promoter Frank Maloney have struck up a 12-month deal following the collapse of Maloney's long running relationship with Sky Sports.
Price is expected to fly out and train in Malta for the bout over the summer months.
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