Former pro Alex Matvienko on becoming a trainer and Martin Murray’s title bid vs Maravilla
By Michael J Jones
Former pro light-middleweight Alex Matvienko took time out of his busy schedule to talk to Livefight about his career which started as a notable amateur in Bolton. Matvienko, known as the “One Man Riot”, would then have a successful 19-bout pro career before turning his hand to training.
Just a quick chat to Alex and there’s no doubt he is perfectly suited to being a second. Trained for many years by knowledgeable coach Oliver Harrison, the Bolton fighter sparred many hours with the likes of Amir Khan, Jamie Moore and Martin Murray, building a reputation as a tough operator in the gym.
In his own pro career, Matvienko went a respectable 15-1-3 (5) and won a British Masters title before leaving the sport two years ago. Now 34-years-old, Alex insists he is content to make his name as a trainer in his Elite gym in Bolton.
A solid and well-schooled boxer-puncher at his best, Alex is an engaging and honest character, here’s what he had to say-
LF) Firstly Alex, are you definitely retired as a fighter now?
AM) I’m happy with what I’m doing so I don’t think I’ll fight again now. I tried getting into Prizefighter a few years ago; the last place was between me and Jeff Thomas. Prizefighter can be a good platform for a boxer, if you can do well in the tournament it can lead to other things. I pestered my manager and I even had guys like Tony Dodson tweeting for me to get the place but obviously it eventually went to Jeff (Robert Lloyd Taylor won the tournament).
I also lost out in getting a British title shot at (then-champion) Sam Webb. Everybody was happy with the fight, which was a voluntary defence, but Sky Sports rejected me as an opponent as I hadn’t had enough exposure on there. Sky had filmed a few of my fights but they never made the final cut as the main events always went the distance.
My coach Oliver Harrison has always looked after his fighters and he’s told me in boxing it can only take one punch in boxing and I didn’t want to end up slurring like some old fighters do. I’ve got a good thriving business here so why risk it?
LF) You didn’t turn pro until you were 27-years-old, what was the reason for the late turn-over?
AM) My old amateur coach was very against the pro game, he always called it the “meat factory”. That was the first reason but also, there were no pro gyms in Bolton at that time. The only pro we had was Nicky Boyd and Amir Khan was still an amateur then.
Eventually, what happened was I was asked to spar Mark Thompson by Humphrey Harrison (Oliver’s brother). I never realised how hard Mark hit even though he’d boxed my mate three times and stopped him twice. We sparred and it was savage in there, he wobbled my teeth and gave me a black eye but I kept going and gave it him back some. Anyway Hump’ was impressed and asked me there and then if I wanted to turn pro. I made my debut on a ‘jolly boys’ show with all the lads like Jamie Moore cheering me on. Humphrey was a good trainer and built my confidence up.
LF) The first two blemishes on your record were a pair of four-round draws with Ryan Ashworth and Martin Marshall. What do you recall about those two fights?
AM) Me and Ryan Ashworth had a great fight, a real ding-dong. It was a real fight and no boxing match. At the end Frank Maloney said to me it was “one of the best four-rounders he’d ever seen”. I said we could do it again in a rematch but Ryan said “I’m not f**king fighting you again” (laughs).
The Marshall fight, I was coming forward and he was on the back-foot. I was going to the body and he kept complaining. The ref’ only warned me once previously but took a point away on the second warning. The same ref’ also cost me in my only loss against Lee Edwards.
I think looking back I worked too hard in the gym before fights and left it there. I’ve learned now that you don’t actually need to kill yourself to get fit for a fight. I realise that now I’m a trainer myself.
Me and Marshall had a rematch over six rounds and in the second fight he didn’t run he stood with me and it was a better fight (which Matvienko won clearly on points).
LF) The year after those fights you fought Lee Edwards for Masters title and suffered your only defeat by close decision?
AM) Yeah I thought that was a scandalous decision. I head-butted him and got a point deducted but I also scored a clean knock-down and the ref’ missed it. Give Lee his dues, after the second I was loading up going for the knock-out but he came back into the fight and I lost by one point. I did used to fight with my emotions a bit in fights and it cost me a few times.
LF) Your last three fights saw you win the Masters title with a decision over Jonny Musgrave before defences over Omar Gumati (draw) and Geraint Harvey (w ret’ 5)?
AM) I made a bit of a mistake with Gumati. I’d seen him box a guy called Paul Royston who I’d beaten easily and Omar really struggled with him. Then I did the weight wrong, really messed it up badly but take nothing away from Gumati who boxed out of his skin. It was like I was boxing under water in there. I just had to grit my teeth and keep going. He was winning early and then I came back into it later on. I was always a slow starter and would take a few rounds to get going.
The Harvey fight everything went great, I did the weight comfortably and had a good camp, I felt really good. I’d seen Harvey box a few times and he could definitely hit hard early-on in fights. I’d seen him catch Brian Rose and a few others with hard shots in contests. It was one of my best fights, I had Jamie Moore in my corner and I ended up breaking (Harvey’s) ribs.
I lost the Webb fight shortly after and it took a lot out of me the disappointment of that. Martin always says to me I’m stupid to retire because I’m good and can hold my own with him but if you’re not getting the breaks there’s no point just carrying on.
LF) Your long-time sparring partner Martin Murray takes on reigning middleweight champion Sergio Martinez in April. Can he pull it off?
AM) Let me say this about Martin Murray; he’s one of the most dedicated fighters in Britain. People say he’s not been active in the ring but they don’t realise he’s never out of the gym. He also has one of the best coaches in the world in Oliver Harrison. He was asked the other night on ‘Ringside’ why he feels he can beat Martinez and he answered “Oliver Harrison”. Oliver has forgotten more than some people know about boxing he’s like an Eddie Futch or a George Benton. In Martin’s fight with Felix Sturm, Oliver said how the fight would play out and it did just the way he said it would.
Martin Murray is the most improved fighter out there, I first sparred him just after he won the ABA’s and his improvement has been immense. He’s flourished under Oliver and is a good listener who takes things on board. Martin can pull the upset off, and I’m not just saying that (because he’s a friend). There’s been bigger upsets in boxing, it wouldn’t be as shocking as Randolph Turpin beating Sugar Ray or Honeyghan beating Curry.
LF) A few years ago, Amir Khan was pressured into getting an American trainer after being beaten by Breidis Prescott. Eventually he joined Freddie Roach but do you feel he may have been better off staying with a British coach?
AM) I was in Oliver’s gym when this was going on. Personally, I thought why go to America for a world class trainer when you have one in Salford in Oliver Harrison? The only thing was Oliver never got to do what Freddie Roach did and get that involvement with Amir over time. I think Oliver is every bit as good a trainer as Freddie and I even think Oliver is better at teaching defence. People think Jamie Moore was open but he only ever got caught when he ignored what Oliver was saying to him. When Jamie got dropped by Michael Jones, he came back to the corner and Oliver said “right, don’t do that again!”
LF) You sparred many great fighters over the years, what can you tell me about the guys you sparred?
AM) Amir Khan has absolutely incredible hand-speed, it was unbelievable fast. He could step in and land a flurry all in the blink of an eye.
Jamie Moore I liked sparring in a sadistic way as I knew I wouldn’t have to go looking for him. There was one time we were sparring before his Irish title fight with Ciaran Healy and he ticked me off for dropping my hands and I said “never mind me worry about yourself”. Jamie put everybody down with those body-shots but he never had me over.
Mark Thompson was the hardest sparring partner ever. He fought every round like you’d stolen his wallet! He hit so hard, I saw him knock-out unbeaten heavyweights who went in with him. He can really punch with the left hand and the right like a mule.
LF) What can you tell me about the fighters you are working with right now in Bolton?
AM) Yeah I’ve got quite a few fighters at the moment. There’s Steve Taylor who’s 1-0, Danny Watson who had a mid-life crisis and lost five stone and boxes on Sunday, then there’s the Jenkinson brothers. The Jenkinson brothers (Simon and Chris) are old school, they don’t care who they fight they just want to get stuck-in. Chris is fighting John Thain in Scotland this weekend.
I think in my boxing career, I was known as a good sparring partner and I didn’t get the breaks but I enjoyed it so much. My own career is only just starting there’s so much more to come.
LF) Thank you Alex and good look with your gym.
AM) Ok thanks.