Fabio Wardley: Looking To Put Ipswich On The Boxing Map
By Cameron Temple
East Anglia isn’t particularly well known for its sporting talent, with the East Anglian derby between two teams far from the peak of English football being the most exciting event on the sporting calendar.
Although, even calling it a derby might be a stretch considering Norwich haven’t lost in over four thousand days. For full disclosure, being a Norwich fan myself, I felt it necessary to get at least one jab in.
However, one man hoping to put the quiet East Anglian town of Ipswich on the boxing map is the 25-year-old heavyweight, with a record of eight wins and no losses, seven wins coming by way of knockout, Fabio Wardley.
“I enjoyed growing up in Ipswich,” Fabio said, “I don’t have much bad to say about where I’m from. Don’t get me wrong it has its bad places and people and the area I grew up in was one of the roughest in Ipswich, but I never had an issue with it because that was all I knew.”
“l would say my career highlight was the show I did in Ipswich,” Fabio continued, “me and a different promoter I had at the time did the first boxing show in Ipswich for about 20-25 years, so I was absolutely buzzing and proud to be able to do that and headline a show in my home town where it hasn’t been for so long. Fighting at the O2 was also crazy, and that week of the build-up was absolutely mental and I was starstruck the whole time, but there’s something different about bringing it home to where it all started and to all the people who have been with you from the start.”
Fabio’s ambitions do not end there, as he still wants to do more for the town he grew up in, eventually with hopes that it will culminate in him headlining a show at Portman Road, as he revealed:
“There wasn’t really a boxing scene in Ipswich when I started getting into it. So, I want to give back because the majority of my fans are from Ipswich, but only one of my fights has ever been in Ipswich, so they’ve always been on the road with me. I’ve gone up and down the country and they’ve come with me. So, I want to repay them one day and bring it back to the home town as a thank you, by headlining a show at Portman road.”
Fabio’s first foray into the sport came on the white collar boxing scene, an aspect of the fight game that has taken a lot of criticism from the boxing purists due to its lack of regulation, but that which Fabio defends wholeheartedly:
“I never had a bad experience with white collar boxing and I was in it for a good few years. The gym I still train at now is the same gym I started at, and it was a white-collar gym, but the gym’s grown as I’ve grown. I’ve heard the stories, and I know there can be issues and there have been, but for me, I never had any particular problems with it.
“In boxing as a whole there’s always going to be something going wrong, because it is a highly volatile sport, it’s just one of those things where if something small is missed it can be a matter of life and death. Wherever I can I try to defend white collar boxing, because it gave me a platform and everything I have now, because that was the initial starting point for me. So, I’ll always be an advocate for it and try to promote it, because I want to see it grow and do better. I do believe that it needs more regulation and oversight, but I think that will come in time.”
Fabio went straight from the white-collar boxing scene to the professional ranks, missing out on an amateur career that provides most professional boxers with invaluable experience, although Fabio believes he has made up for that in other areas:
“There’s a gap in terms of the type of learning and experiences that those guys who have had hundreds of amateur fights have benefited from. Whereas I didn’t even get out of single digits in white collar, so I’m not naïve in saying that there isn’t an experience gap, because there is. I knew that from a very early stage, so I doubled down on things like sparring and everything else, just to get that knowledge and try and level out the playing field as much as I could.”
A competitive nature is one of the most important attributes to have in boxing, a trait that Fabio has in abundance, acting as one of the main reasons for his continuing boxing:
“I love competition, I love pitting myself against someone else and that’s all boxing is, pure competition. It’s probably competition at its purest form, because it’s 1 v 1, there’s no team, you can’t blame anyone else for something that’s gone wrong. It’s all down to yourself and I think that’s the bit I enjoy the most because win or lose, it’s all on me. If I win, I get all the accolades, and if I lose, there’s no pushing that blame onto anyone else, it’s for me to take on my shoulders and deal with. I’ve always been very competitive and loved competition in one form or another.”
Fabio spent the first four fights of his career managed and promoted by Mervyn Turner, of Shamrock promotions. After a series of cancelled fights and with the heavyweight’s career stalling, he signed with interim WBC heavyweight world champion, Dillian Whyte:
“I’m with the perfect person to be able to achieve my goals.” Fabio admitted, “first of all, he’s a heavyweight, and being a heavyweight functions a little differently than the lower weights in boxing, because you have to think about the way you manage your body a bit differently, because the wear and tear your body takes is a lot more. So, planning, training and sparring smartly is really important.”
Fabio went on to say:
“As well as that, it’s great having someone like Dillian there who knows the business so well. He has done the small halls and selling tickets on the door, grinding and grafting through it, and now he’s got to where he is today, so he’s the perfect model for me to style my career on. We started in similar places in terms of boxing, because we didn’t have much experience and we just jumped into it, so to see someone like him do everything that he’s done is a massive inspiration for me. He’s there for anything I need, whether I need advice or help, so there’s no excuses now, if I don’t make something of it then it’s all on me, because he’s given me all the tools.”
For the time being, Fabio believes being under the management of Dillian gives him the freedom to work with whoever he pleases, as he revealed that an offer from a major promotional company would not tempt him:
“I think times are changing slightly where you don’t need to be specifically signed to someone, especially with Eddie, I think you can have a mutual agreement and understanding that you’re going to work together and look after each other. So, at the moment I’m not looking to tie myself to any particular promotional company, the relationship that me and Dillian have is working perfectly and we get on well.
“I think being where I am now gives me a bit more freedom and independence, so it works slightly better doing things this way than it would being tied to a singular promotional company and having to only work with them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely grateful to Matchroom and Eddie Hearn, they’re a great outfit, and any boxer should be happy to be a part of them, but I just seem to be in a very convenient position right now where I almost get the best of both worlds.”
In terms of Fabio’s future in boxing, despite coming to the sport late, that has not tempered his aspirations one bit:
“I want to be a world champion one day. I don’t believe in half measures and I don’t believe in just doing it for fun or to see where it goes. I think, especially in this sport, if you’re going to get anywhere you need a clear set goal about where you want to go and what you want from it. If you don’t have that and you’re just coming in to do a little bit of this and that, then I don’t think that’s a plan for success. I’m not stupid in the sense that I think I can just do it overnight, I know it will take a lot of time and a lot of hard work, but I’m loving what I do and I’m happy to put all that effort in.”
Fabio understands that such ambitions come with a certain amount of responsibility, but that is not a prospect that daunts him:
“There is a level of responsibility that comes with being a professional boxer, but I’ve always thought I don’t want to get to a point where me being a role model dictates who I am as a person. I’ll always stay true to myself, however I act, whatever I do or say, will always be authentic to me. Whether that fits the form of what a role model should be, then maybe sometimes it won’t and sometimes it will, but I would never let that dictate me as a person. I think I just want to act more as an inspiration, in that I didn’t have much experience and I didn’t come from much, but I’ve made something out of it.”
Fabio also believes he has the right team behind him to help him achieve his lofty ambitions in the sport:
“My coaches, Robert Hodgins and Zak Askew, are the guys who are in the trenches with me, they’re next to me every day through everything. Any issue that I’ve had in my career, like injuries or whatever, on the days when I’m in the gym and I don’t want to train because I’m in a bad mood or somethings gone wrong, they’re there next to me all the time, fighting it out with me.
“They’ve been my biggest influence and whatever issue I have, whether that’s in boxing or just life in general, to know that I have people next to me that will always be there is an extra feeling of security and safety just to help you get through tough times.”
Most recently, Fabio was supposed to fight Simon Vallily for the English title, in what would have been a step up in level, but twice the bout was cancelled, firstly due to an injury and then because of coronavirus:
“Early on in my career, when I was first trying to have my debut, I think I had five or six cancelled fights. I’m almost hardened to it now, I know how it works. All in all, I’ve probably had about 10 fights cancelled, maybe more, across the span of my career, for loads of different reasons whether it’s injuries or opponents pulling out or shows cancelled, whatever the issue may be. It happens when I’ve done all the training and build up and I’ve got there and the fights not happened, so I’m numb to it now because I know the game.”
“You just have to put the blinders on and keep going,” Fabio continued, “you just have to power through. Especially, when all this coronavirus stuff started happening the big message was to stay professional and stay on your game and you wait for the phone to go. I think in this time, a lot of people will get found out who haven’t been putting the work in, so when that call does come, they’ll either miss that opportunity or they’ll throw themselves into it, but they won’t be a hundred percent. I think now in the times when everything’s been cancelled and boxing’s on pause you need to show your character and just stay on your game, that’s the same mentality that I have whenever my fights have been cancelled.”