An Interview With Jeff Ofori
By Oliver McManus
Having captured the Southern Area Lightweight Championship with a gutsy performance against Jumaane Camero, Jeff Ofori is the man of the moment at 135lbs. The Tottenham fighter, who improved to 8 and 0 with that win in October, was scheduled to defend his title against Lucas Ballingall on February 16th until his challenger opted for a different path.
I caught up with Ofori ahead of his tick-over contest on the card – against Jordan Ellison – and we started off by reminiscing about that night in October.
“I feel like I just did what I had to do, to be honest, I knew he was going to be taller and want to box comfortably. It was on me to bring the pressure and make it hard for him so I stuck to that game plan and it paid off in the end. He was a tough guy because I thought I could have got him out of there but I’m learning as I go so that’s something to work on. The first few minutes I was testing the range to see just how long and awkward a fighter Jumaane was, if I stood off you could tell he would have made it hard”.
Throughout the last calendar year, Ofori had repeatedly stated he was chasing the Southern Area belt. Now that it is finally around his waist, I wondered aloud if the Tottenham man had come to terms with his success,
“As we speak now, yes. It took a little while, if I’m honest. For the first month after the fight I was still buzzing, everywhere I went I was just smiling. It’s a beautiful feeling, I’m eager for it to continue. I knew I was going to win it but I was blown away when I won the Southern Area but it was a dream come true how everything glued together. Now I’ve got it I want to look at other titles, I’ll get the English and see where I go from there”.
Talk of that English title brought us nicely round to Ballingall – who was mandated to face, belt holder, Myron Mills. Ofori, forever humble, was reflective when I asked him what this could mean for his fortunes.
“This boxing business is mad, Ollie, you can be mandated but just with Lucas he jumped up for the WBO European title and Mills just took a loss (to Gavin Gwynne in a British title eliminator) so I’m not sure if he’ll be ready to defend it within our timeframe – you can’t make him so we might have to look elsewhere. There’s no fear with me. On my behalf, I’m a professional, I take this sport professionally so I understand I’ve got to keep everything open”.
A move down to super featherweight was planned in the early stages of last year – resulting in a third round TKO over Aleksandrs Birkenbergs – but Ofori has looked altogether more explosive over the last year, regardless of weight. The 28-year-old told me that any move in weight would be about opening as many doors as possible,
“As you know we were going for the Southern Area at super-feather but there was a bit of a hold up, so I took the fight at lightweight and it paid off. I can make super feather easily, if the opportunity comes to further my career at that weight then I’m all hands in.
One of my favourite guys that I like reading about was Homicide Hanks, Henry Armstrong, and he won titles at featherweight, lightweight and welterweight. He’s gone down in the history books and no-one will ever forget. A tough guy.”
I interrupted only to mention that Armstrong possesed 181 professional fights under his belt.
“I don’t think I’ll be having that many, Ollie! These guys were fighting every week, a completely different sport.”
Attention quickly turned to February 16th and a contest that, Ofori told me, he feels more prepared than ever for.
“I’ve just come from a spar, sparred 10 rounds yesterday. I’ve been in camp for a title fight, let’s remember, and at first it was hard to take when I was told Lucas had pulled out. On the day I was told I was completely gutted, I found out at work, and my workmates were keeping me motivated. In hindsight I can’t criticise him because he didn’t just withdraw, he had a bigger opportunity. It’s a business and I can’t blame him. I’m going into the 16th having prepared as though this was another title fight and I’m not looking back”.
What, then, comes after the 16th?
“Ideally I want to be knocking on the doors of the British title by the end of the year and get myself into the Top 10 domestic rankings. I saw Boxing News had me at 25th in their end of the year magazine. I’m like a dark horse, I know what I’m capable of and, if anything, it’s just more motivation to get to where I know I should be.”
Talking of ever-increasing media attention – Ofori will be featured by BN ahead of his next fight – it would have been remiss of me not to mention the fact Big Write Hook awarded him ‘fight of the year’ for his contest with Camero.
“I appreciate that, I know it might not be big to everyone in boxing but I was showing everyone I work with. I don’t know what it is, maybe where I’m coming from, but I appreciate the love and support from everyone around me. I’m putting in the work, now, to ensure I won’t need a second chance on the bigger stages.”
Jeff Ofori fights on British Warriors’ February 16th card headlined by Jez Smith vs Samuel Antwi.
Tickets are available from myfighttickets.com.