An Interview With Unbeaten Light Heavyweight Prospect Shakan Pitters
By Chris Akers
“I chose to do it as I enjoyed the physical challenge. I’ve never been one of those into not pushing myself in anything in life, in anything I do. Boxing is a very intense sport. Only certain people do that sport. It takes a strong willed and strong minded person to do it.
“I enjoy that bit about boxing and I enjoy the physical task of knowing that I could fight against someone, we get a fight date set, you coming at your best shape and the best man wins on the day. He’s trained harder, he’s been more focused, he’s more skilled. I just love the whole physical challenge of boxing.”
It is often said that people go into boxing as a means of escaping the hard realities of the environment they reside in. That in many cases it is the only method by which to move beyond their surroundings.
For British light heavyweight Shakan Pitters, as the above quote suggest, he competes in the sport because he loves it. While a fan of the sport from a young age, it was not the only means of improving his life that he had. Bright academically as well as a talented athlete, Pitters always had an affinity for the gym.
Meeting him in a café in his home town of Birmingham, he comes across as humble and happy about being in the profession he is in. Entering a boxing gym for the first time at six years old, he was always surrounded by people who had an investment in the sport.
“My dad was a professional boxer at the time at middleweight [Colin Pitters]. Took me and my brothers into the gym cos my brothers, Anwar and Andre, were boxing at the time, so I was always in the gym then. He dad later became a trainer at Small Heath ABC. Naturally my dad drag us there at that time and Small Heath was where I later started.”
His dad trained a certain local middleweight when he first came through the gym door at a young age.
“He trained Matthew Macklin from when he walked into a gym and started out at the amateurs. He developed Macklin who won numerous amateur titles. Then Matt turn over to the professional ranks and went with someone else.”
Though taken to the gym by his father, football was the sport at which he initially shown a talent for. So much so that he played for West Bromwich Albion’s youth team. He also did well academically, studying and passing law at college, though there were certain barriers that prevented him from pursuing that avenue further.
“I could have gone on and do the courses that I wanted to do. But in the end I didn’t want to get into any form of debt. I know I would have to pay for a legal practice course and it would have cost quite a bit. So it was something where I decided to skip that, go into the working life.”
It was also at this time that Pitters broke his toe aged 17, ending his aspirations of a footballing career. He set about getting his head down and worked regular jobs for a few years.
“It was about two years that I was working. I had a job for Yellow Pages. I had one of those door knocking jobs from when I was 18 to about 20. So I was knocking on doors, commission based only but I was good at it.
“It took a lot of my time up. I’d start about eight in the morning and finish at nine at night. It would be the same the next day. I was earning good money, I was on commission. I was representing the British Red Cross, the National Deaf Society. I left there after two years and went into other means of work.”
Though earning good money, this did not satisfy Pitters at it was at this point that he decided to go back to what he liked as a child.
“About three years later I thought I’ve got to do something else. I’ve got to do something with myself, as I was just working. I’m honestly not used to just working. So I thought what else do I enjoy at which point I decided to give boxing a try. It was a good way of a stress release, as at the time, I lot of frustration was build up from being released by West Brom. I just needed a sport to take the stress off.”
Returning to a gym at aged 22, Pitters started to very quickly and naturally pick the sport back up.
“My amateur coach at the time, Paddy Farrell, said to me ‘Look man, you need to generally use your talent, put what you’ve got to good use’. That’s all I needed and I was on it.”
Starring amateur with the aforementioned Paddy Farrell at Second City, midway through his amateur career Pitters moved to Eastside Gym and had two years amateur there.
Fighting as a light heavyweight as an amateur, Pitters won the Midland title two or three times, then got to the ABA quarters, followed by the semi finals the year after. Throughout his amateur career, there is only one person who he blames for his defeats.
“I lost to myself as I didn’t take the amateurs as seriously as I should have. All the times I’ve genuinely lost, it’s been me at fault, as when an amateur, I didn’t train as hard as I should have. I wasn’t as discipline as I am now. If I was doing the things I’m doing now, they wouldn’t have happened. I was too focused doing what the boys do.
“I didn’t have a meal plan, I didn’t have a strength and conditioning coach. I was too busy doing other things like been around my friends, not knowing the balance. I genuinely think I threw it away myself as I didn’t take it seriously. It’s that simple.”
Once his amateur career ended, Pitters turned pro, initially as a cruiserweight. One person he sparred during this time was recent British Title challenger Jack Massey. Down at light heavyweight, the quality sparring has continued, as he has sparred world ranked Joshua Buatsi. Based on their sparring sessions, how does he rate Buatsi as a fighter?
“He’s good. A nice guy outside the ring as well. He deserves all the success he gets as at the end of the day he’s worked hard. He’s pushing hard. He has a dream, a family to take care of. So I think he deserves what he gets. He’s like me in sparring as well. He works on a lot of things in sparring, very technical He would probably say it itself and I will say it myself – him and myself, we probably don’t fight how we spar as we’re working on things. That’s what a good boxer will do, will always work on things that they can do better. But he’ll go far. One hundred per cent.”
Seven fights into his professional career, the opportunity to compete in Ultimate Boxxer occurred. How it came about is an interesting story in itself.
“I was on holiday with my girlfriend in the Dominican Republic. Was literally at the airport on the way back. I’ve got a good relationship with my coach, Paul Counihan. So I’ve messaged him and said that I was about to get on the plan, will be back on the gym when I get back, as I was in camp for the Amir Khan undercard [vs Samuel Vargas].
“So I didn’t have no acknowledgement of the Ultimate Boxxer. I was in camp for that. I was running in the Dominican had a good holiday with my girlfriend. When I came back, Paul was like ‘look no more holidays. You’ve been selected for Ultimate Boxer. It’s at light heavyweight’. So I’m thinking ‘light heavyweight? I haven’t made 79kg even in the amateurs.’
“So I wondered how I was gong to make it, as I’d just returned from holiday. Paul said that we’ll do it another way. So the cruiserweight I fought on the Amir Khan undercard, I knocked him out in the second round. Then we prepared then for the Ultimate Boxxer.
“It was my first time cutting the weight, so Paul kept close eyes on me. I had a good meal prep. Sponsor and person in Beetroot UK, they were supplying my with my foods. Because I don’t eat rubbish food anyway, it wasn’t hard to make the weight. But we all just wanted to make sure that I was fine doing it. My power was still there, as was displayed in Ultimate Boxxer. I knocked every opponent down. I think I scored about five knockdowns in three fights. Won them all and I felt powerful. I felt strong. Day before weigh ins I can rehydrate back up to where I want to be”.
Ultimate Boxxer has brought Eastside Gym recent success, as Drew Brown won the welterweight version of the tournament. Other fighters from that gym have been doing well the last few years. What in Pitters’ opinion is it about that gym that is creating these successful fighters?
“The gym has a very good buzz. We all get on in that gym. We’re all more of a close knit family. We’re all in there supporting each other. We’re all in there grinding away. There’s not one person in that gym who is slack, who will say anything negative. One we’re all there, we’re grinding, we’re getting the job done. If you see someone next to you going hard on the bags, naturally the fire in you make you step up and you go even harder.
“We have great trainers in there. If you see there when we’re training, you literally feel the energy. The energy is just high. The motivation in the gym’s good. Shout out to Sam [Eggington] as he definitely opened up a lot more doors to the gym with what he was doing. Sam’s young and been Commonwealth, European and British champion. He’s done a lot and this is a guy who wanted to go on the road.
“This is a guy who won the Midlands and it meant the world to him and now he has a lot of credit. So Sam doesn’t get a lot of credit as much in the media from a lot of us boxers probably. But deep down, people like myself are appreciative because without probably Sam, how he is, I maybe wouldn’t have got the opportunity as quick as I did to fight on the Khan undercard and that opened up new doors for me as well.
“Then the Ultimate Boxer brought a lot more exposure. Also my coach Paul Counihan and my manager Jon Pegg, the time they’ve put in me is amazing. I’m got a lot to thank with them as well.”
Winning Ultimate Boxxer opened doors, one of which was the chance to fight for the English title at York Hall against Dec Spelman, a man he defeated in Ultimate Boxxer. Having his first ten rounder and been victorious was not the only good thing that Pitters remembers from that night.
“It was brilliant boxing at York Hall. York Hall is a very historic arena. Many great boxers have fought there. So it’s great to be part of that history and fight there. From where I’m coming from, I never done boxing with not the intentions to go far. I knew in my head that I will go far with the right discipline and dedication. The atmosphere in York Hall was great, probably one of the best along with Ultimate Boxer.
“With my first ten rounder, I was very comfortable. I’d been sparring ten rounds, twelve rounds. We had a good camp in Dubai. My sponsors have got a boxing gym over there called Real Boxing Only. They flew me and my team out there. They housed us and we had a solid camp out there. It was my first time out in Dubai and we trained solid. My trainer Paul was out there, as well as Louis Counihan.”
Louis Counihan is the pad man in Pitter’s team and the two of them get on well.
“Louis is a great person to the team, as he’s around my age group, so we can relate that way. But when it’s time to work, we work. But he’s a very good pad man. Very technical. Studies the game well. Both of them are in my corner even in sparring. They’ll say ‘do this’ and I’ll do it and it works as they’re good at understanding the game. If they told me what to throw, I’ll throw it.”
Th opportunity to fight for titles has presented itself to Pitters again, as he will be fighting for the vacant British light heavyweight title againat Craig ‘Spider’ Richards. How does he access his opponent?
“He’s alright as a boxer. I just believe I do everything better than him. I know that and I believe they know that. But we’ll see.
“I have nothing personal against Spider Richards. I genuinely think he’s a cool guy outside the ring. It’s just business. I’m mandatory for the British, so is he. At the end of the day, I’m doing my reasons for boxing, for my daughter, my family. I’m not in boxing to make friends. I let no one get in front of what I want to achieve. So I put that to aside and have our fight. If we’re cool after, fine. If not, I ain’t going to lose any sleep over it.”
It is clear that Pitters has a winning mentality, something he had when playing for West Bromwich Albion’s youth side. There are certain aspects of his experience of playing youth football that have stood him in good stead during his professional career.
“In those sports – football, boxing, life in general – a successful person is someone who is patient and who can take criticism. In the line where I’m at now, if you want to be perfecting things, you’ve got to be accepting criticism.
“The right criticism from my coaches my team. I’m not online listening to what anyone else says. Don’t get me wrong, fans don’t really say bad things about me. But I don’t look online searching to see who’s saying what about me. I don’t believe in that. That’s what football has brought me. That competitiveness, that fire, that hunger. As when I was putting on that Albion shirt, I was picturing myself in the Premier League. I was thinking ‘this is it now’. You want to be at that level. Football and boxing, totally different sports but with both, you’ve got to be open to criticism.”
His goals when deciding to box full time where at first financial.
“When I first got into boxing, I want to earn good money. You watching the likes of Mayweather and you’re thinking I want to earn good money, I want to get to that stage. I’m now far from earning what I what to earn, but I can only imagine now, that through my boxing I’ve been getting paid alright, but once you hit a certain level, you realise that there’s more things you can’t get, you can’t afford. So the money, it’s not the end all.”
But someone else is providing a focus and determination in Pitters to do well in the sport.
“But the reason why I got into boxing and the reason why I decided to take it seriously was when my little daughter was born. I took it upon myself to make good money and support her, not even money wise, but if I can do right by her, she can say one day ‘look, that’s my dad there. He’s a world champion.”
At this point he looked around the café we are in.
“I can do a lot for her and give her the opportunities where she ain’t going to have to be in places like this working. That will give me satisfaction as an older man knowing I set her future up. You hold your kid up and you look your kid in the eye at a hospital when they’re first born. That first interaction all sorts good through a man’s head. The fact that you and the mother is in control of that girl’s life up until her late teens. It’s a big responsibility. You don’t want to let them down.
“So I’ll be happy I can set up. I remember when I was living with my mom and I wanted to do the course to be a barrister. It cost £10,000 and my mom couldn’t afford that. I want to be in a situation where I can pay for any courses my daughter wants to do, as any uni courses cost money. They offer these kids grants an naturally when they are working, they have to pay it back. I wouldn’t want that for my daughter. I want to be able to push her to the best of what she can do. I think that’s the job of the parent, to push their kids to the best. That would give me satisfaction, that my loved ones are happy.”
Shakan Pitters has the opportunity to achieve all he wants to in the sport, starting with his British title fight on at Villa Park on 28th March, which will be televised on Channel 5 in the UK . Win that and by maintaining the determination and discipline he has shown so far, the goals he has mentioned will more than likely be achieved.