Doncaster favourite Stefy Bull on his career
Livefight speaks to Stefy Bull about his long career in boxing as fighter, trainer, manager and promoter
“I lived on ice-cubes for a week before taking on Amir Khan” Stefy Bull
By Michael J Jones
Lightfight recently had the pleasure of talking to Doncaster’s Stefy Bull about his lengthy career in boxing. After his own successful pro career as a lightweight contender who once fought Amir Khan and contested several titles, Bull turned his attention to managing, training and promoting boxers of his own. The busy former fighter, full name Andrew Stefan Bull, started by guiding Jamie McDonnell from prospect to world-ranked British, Commonwealth and European champion. McDonnell, 19-2-1 (8), is currently waiting on news of his next fight but is the number one contender for the Japanese champion Shinsuke Yamanaka’s WBC title.
The vastly-improving McDonnell won a domestic dust-up last September with rival Stuart Hall and knocked out experienced Ivan Pozo in a March European title defence in his last bout.
Now with 21 boxers under his banner, Stefy Bull is a rising promoter who uses his vast experience in the fight game to develop his growing stable of boxers alongside co-trainer Dave Hulley. Apart from McDonnell, Stefy guides a range of solid contenders and exciting young prospects.
Now 35-years-old, Stefy finished his own pro career with a fine 29-7-1 (7) record. The Doncaster southpaw, nick-named “Supersonic” after the Oasis song, hung his gloves up after a cross-roads bout with former football player Curtis Woodhouse two years ago. After a typically gutsy display, Bull was pulled out in the ninth session. The bout was on the undercard of Jamie McDonnell’s European title defence vs Rodrigo Bracco, meaning both trainer and pupil fought on the same bill.
Married to Dawn and with two daughters, twelve-year-old Cameron and ten-year-old Anais, here is what the proud former two-time Central Area champion had to say-
LF) So Stefy lets start at the beginning of your career. You turned pro after a decent amateur career at the age of eighteen?
SB) Yes I was actually only seventeen when I turned pro. I turned seventeen in the May and made my pro debut in the June. I was the youngest pro in Britain at the time. I fought Andy Roberts on the undercard of Jon Jo Irwin’s WBO Inter-continental title fight with Manuel Calvo at the Doncaster Dome.
LF) You raced to 9-0-1 (2) and picked up the Central Area featherweight title but probably your first big fight was against Dean Pithie on the big “Full Monty” show in October 1997. You took the fight at late notice but dropped Pithie with a left hook and gave him a tough fight before being stopped in the eleventh round. What do you recall about that night?
SB) Well it was crazy the day before that fight. I took the fight at a day’s notice and was only 19-years-old at the time. The night before, I was actually in my local pub on my third pint celebrating my best friend’s engagement when my manager Johnny Rushton rushed in, walked me to the front of the pub and proudly announced “I’ve just got this kid a world title fight.....for tomorrow!”
We’d already sold 100 tickets as my training partner Jon Jo Irwin was already boxing on the bill (against Paul Ingle) but the rest of the build-up was just absolutely mad. I got told I was fighting at 8pm, at 11pm I was in a sweat suit doing last-minute training. I was a few pounds over the limit and I needed to get them off. I never slept a wink that night, then in the morning I had the medical and passed out during the HIV test. I did that quite often as I didn’t like needles.
I look back at that fight as one of the proudest moments in my life; I was 19-years-old on a huge bill featuring Joe Calzaghe, Chris Eubank, Johnny Nelson and all these other great fighters. Dean Pithie was a top prospect who was the last man who had ever beaten Naseem Hamed, and on late notice, but I turned up, fought hard and gave a good account of myself. I dropped him and I thought it was a bit of a long count but fair play to him he came back to beat me.
LF) Do you ever think with more notice you could have won that fight?
SB) Sometimes I think that, it’s easy to say “with more notice I could have won” but then, with more time, would I have let the occasion get to me more? I don’t regret taking the fight; it was a title fight for good money so I’d have never have turned it down.
LF) You surprisingly lost two of your next three, getting stopped by Alex Moon and Jason Dee respectfully. You never fought for four years after the Dee loss, what happened?
SB) I’d broken both my hands in the Dean Pithie fight and they never really got better. I’d go training, start to feel ok and then my hands would start really hurting. Jon Jo Irwin was the guy in the gym I looked up to and followed, I wanted to get back to my best but I couldn’t because of my hands. Around that time my then-girlfriend also left to university and that put me on a downer too.
The two losses I just took for the money, my heart just wasn’t in the fights and I barely even tried. In between those two losses, I got into good shape and stopped a guy called Chris Lyons. He was a tough journeyman that no-one stopped, so that was a good performance, but overall my heart had left boxing.
LF) What eventually persuaded you to make a return to the ring?
SB) During my layoff, one of my daughters was born and also, I was spending a lot of time training a top amateur named Dean Booth. Johnny Rushton started putting on shows again in Doncaster. I went to one and just got the old urge to box again. I sat down with my family and told them I wanted to comeback and they all supported me in my decision. My second career went far better than my first; I was unbeaten for a long time, sold out the Doncaster Dome several times and won the Central Area and British Masters titles.
Dean Booth had to pack boxing in as he was injured, which is a shame, but we are still the best of friends. I was even the best man at his wedding last month.
LF) You went unbeaten for three years and thirteen fights. A year after you came back you scored a great wins to lift the Central Area belt from Daniel Thorpe. Thorpe was on a good run at the time when you beat him?
SB) Yeah I think he’d won his last five or something (actually four of his last five), and he’d won the belt impressively against Mally McIver, who was a good fighter. You may think guys like Daniel are journeymen but give them time to train and put a title on the line and they’re tough kids who really raise their game. It was a 50/50 fight, we both sold a lot of tickets and it was a terrific contest. I think I dropped him three or four times, yet only won by a point or two.
Around that time I also beat Baz Carey, he was a fighter people said never got knocked-down but I dropped him on the way to a points win.
LF) In the fights I’ve seen you in, you’ve seemed a decent puncher, yet your final record shows just seven stoppages in 37 bouts. Was it the problem with your hands that stopped you scoring more stoppage victories?
SB) My hands were a telling factor yes. Nearly every fight I hurt my hands and I definitely had better power than my record suggests. I dropped many durable fighters like Baz Carey and Jimmy Beach so the power was there but in many fights, I was so concerned with my hands breaking, I just tip-tapped my way through contests.
LF) Your good form was halted in an English title bout with Scott Lawton in June 2006. He stopped you in eight rounds, which must have been disappointing at the time?
SB) I just think the occasion got to me a bit. Scott Lawton is a decent fighter, he broke my nose in the third round. I’d never had an injury like that before and it did effect me after it happened. The early rounds were close and competitive but after I got injured, he just became more and more dominant in the fight until the stoppage.
LF) Ten months after that loss you faced a future world champion in Amir Khan. You seemed strangely subdued in that fight, like you may have ‘crashed’ the weight; were there any weight-making difficulties before that contest?
SB) That fight was just insane. I’d hardly been in the gym for the previous six months and had just gotten married. I’d been busy with my wife planning the wedding and going on the honeymoon. I was already going to the show to watch Joe Calzaghe, I’d bought tickets to see him box. Johnny Rushton came to see me and said “I’ve got you the fight you have always wanted.” He asked me what I weighed and I said 10st 7lbs. The fight was made at 9st 12lbs so he thought the weight wasn’t a problem but I lied, I was actually over 11st! The things I did to make weight in those few of weeks were just terrible. I was getting up every morning and running eight miles in a sweat suit, running again a few miles just a few hours later at lunch time. I was training in the gym in the evening and then after everyone had left, there was a weights gym next-door, and I was going in there to use the sauna. It was just so dangerous, I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing, I was living on ice-cubes the week of the fight, I never ate any solids at all.
I got the fight and the payday, but by fight-time I had absolutely nothing left. I was being sick after every round and even when the fight was over, I couldn’t make it to the centre of the ring because I was vomiting so much. After the fight I had to go straight to Cardiff hospital. I was on a drip for dehydration but afterwards, because I hadn’t eaten solids for a week, I couldn’t eat any solids. I discharged myself after a day as I was depressed and wanted to be with my family.
It was stupid to go through with the fight and things like this I use as experience with the fighters I look after now. I’d never let any of my boys do anything like that.
LF) Your next major bout saw you take on Graeme Higginson for the British Masters title. You came off a year-long lay-off and he edged a close fight. It was quite a surprise you jumping straight into a title fight after a year out?
SB) It was just because he was the highest ranked boxer around that didn’t have a TV contract. If you look at his record he was scoring some good wins at the time. He beat Gary Reid and a few others. I asked for the fight, I’d not boxed in twelve months and it was a ten-rounder at a higher weight but there was nothing in it at the end.
LF) You won your next four bouts in style but ended your career with a defeat to former footballer Curtis Woodhouse. You gave him a good fight before being stopped in the ninth round. It seemed a fitting way of going out after a typically gutsy performance?
SB) After the Higginson bout I signed with Carl Greaves who is one of my best friends in boxing. Carl is a very good friend of mine and the hardest worker in pro boxing. I carried on and scored a great win over Dean Hickman. I knocked Hickman clean out in the second it was a great knockout. I took the Curtis Woodhouse fight, he was a welterweight coming down and I was a lightweight coming up so I was always at a disadvantage really. My mind wasn’t totally on the fight beforehand; I was training myself in the morning and then straight away training Jamie McDonnell, who was top of the bill. It’s partly why I took the fight; it’s a good story a fighter and his trainer on the same bill. I was 33-years-old and it was a cracking fight. Curtis is a proven fighter and I was proud of my performance against him.
LF) That was two years ago now, are you going to stay retired?
SB) Yes definitely. I’m finished for good now, I’m about 12st now; I don’t even spar with any of my fighters. I’m so busy managing, training and promoting I never even think about having another go.
I was a pro fighter for 15 years, I never said I was the best but I was a solid pro. I’m a realist; I know how good I was. I’m proud of my career and how I always conducted myself. I lost a few but I was never dropped by a head-shot, so I’m just very proud of my career.
LF) Even before you retired, you were training Jamie McDonnell; how did that begin?
SB) Jamie started with Johnny Rushton and was an exceptional amateur fighter so I’d always known about him and knew him well. He was training with my old trainer Wilf Swindell and to begin with but I set up my own gym and was building that up. Our gym was nearer to Jamie than the other one, so he came down to train a few times and knew we were serious about training fighters. When parted with new trainer Richard Poxon (after two fights) he came down and asked whether I wanted to train him. I knew him well already, knew what he was good at, what he needed to work on, knew when he was up or down etc.
We are best buddies me and Jamie and he’s worked hard to get to where he is now; WBC number one. Dave Hulley is a brilliant trainer, we now work as partners and train all of our lads together. We work very hard together and this shows with the success we’ve had with Jamie.
LF) Jamie lost two close decisions early in his career to Chris Edwards and then Lee Haskins. The improvement since those fights has been incredible as he’s cleaned up at domestic and European level. As McDonnell’s trainer how has he been able to raise his game so much in the last two years?
SB) Those losses were simply down to Jamie being a baby, he was very young and wasn’t the finished article but both those fights were very close. I even thought he beat Haskins. It was a Doncaster referee too (laughs), I don’t know how he gave it the other way.
When Jamie came over to train with me I sat him down and told him if he trained hard and listened, the world would be his oyster. I knew what he was capable of and we’ve worked very hard to make him the fighter he is today. Jamie’s got the best engine in British boxing and his discipline is second-to-none.
LF) The turning point for McDonnell as a fighter seemed to be the Ian Napa fight. He won a decision to lift the British bantamweight title in a fight many saw as controversial. After that bout though he was ploughing through Europe’s best?
SB) We’d not been working together that long when the Napa fight was made. After six weeks together he knocked out James Ancliff and then the Napa fight was six weeks after that. That’s only twelve weeks in total and we could only do what we could do. I still didn’t see the Ian Napa fight as controversial, it depends on what you like; Napa was bringing the work-rate but was hitting arms a lot while Jamie was landing the cleaner punches. If you watch it with the sound turned off, so the commentary doesn’t influence you, it’s not hard to score. The judges watched it and made Jamie the winner.
LF) So what’s next for Jamie McDonnell?
SB) We are just waiting to hear now, he’s WBC number one and are just waiting to hear a date and opponent.
LF) Old foe Lee Haskins recently called Jamie out again, is that a bout you would be interested in taking in the near future?
SB) Well he would call him out; Jamie’s number one in the world. Jamie’s proved he is the best in Britain by beating Stuey Hall (who takes on Haskins soon). Jamie’s looking at the world stage now but if that doesn’t work out for any reason we’d be happy to fight Lee Haskins again.
I’d put my house on Jamie beating him in a rematch. Jamie was a baby and not training right and I still thought he beat Haskins.
LF) What other fighters are presently in your growing stable?
SB) I’ve got 21 fighters now, I can’t believe it, if you’d have told me when I started training boxers that one day I’d have a large stable headed by the world number one, I’d never have believed you. I couldn’t have been more lucky I really do feel like the luckiest man alive.
My latest signing is the youngest pro in Britain Luke Crowcroft. He was a top amateur, a four-time junior champion and a medallist at the multi-nations. He’s more suited to the pro’s that’s why we’ve turned him pro so soon, I think he’s going to be a big star over here.
I’ve got Stuart Brookes who’s 13-0 and fighting Harry Matthews soon, former amateur star Adam Dingsdale who’s 3-0, Andy Townsend who’s an undefeated lightweight, Colin Hickson, a super-flyweight from Hatfield, he’s 3-0. He was a five-time junior champion who was in the European box-offs. There are others too, it’s quite exciting, there’s a lot of talent in the gym and I’m sure we’ll be seeing plenty more Jamie McDonnell’s emerging out of Doncaster yet.
LF) Have you got a show coming up in Doncaster?
SB) Yes the next show will be on the 1st September at the Doncaster Dome. There’ll be 13 fights on the bill and we’re hoping to have at least three title fights featured on the card. The card has the Stuart Brookes-Harry Matthews fight, Luke Crowcroft making his debut and also Gavin McDonnell. Gavin is Jamie’s identical twin brother, 5-0-1 as a bantamweight and boxing in a title fight on the show.
LF) Stefy many thanks for your time and best of luck for your growing stable of fighters.
SB) Thank you mate.
An extra special thanks must go to Stefy who spoke to me on the day of his friend and former trainer Wilf Swindell’s funeral. The long-time Mexborough coach passed away recently aged 64 and was a much-loved and respected local fight-figure. Condolences go to friends and family of Wilf.