Will Simpson: ‘I Have This Burning Desire Within Me To Fight.’
By Louis Devereux
Will ‘The Northern Monkey’ Simpson is an ambitious, happy-go-lucky boxer fighting out of Sheffield City Boxing Club, and is set to have his first professional fight later this year after his original debut was cancelled in March of 2020.
As someone who trains with Will, I can say first hand that he is a constant stream of positivity, and his upbeat attitude does not reflect how difficult the last year has been for him.
The pandemic made life more difficult for almost everyone, but it really disrupted Simpson’s transition into the pro game, and it is testament only to his resilience and hard work that he has managed to persevere through over a year of setbacks and still prepare for his (hopefully) imminent debut.
‘My life is just full steam ahead at the moment, I’m doing a bit of everything. I’ve got two jobs (one at Wagamama and one in a call centre), I coach at the boxing club Monday to Friday, and I have to fit all my own training around that. Day to day it tends to be waking up at 6, training, going to work, finishing work, coaching at the gym and then training my second session of the day. On Tuesday and Wednesday I manage to fit a bit of sparring in with some other pros which is always useful.‘
In terms of his professional debut, nothing yet is confirmed but Will remains as optimistic as usual, telling me that there are some dates he has pencilled in and that there are some shows he definitely wants to see himself on.
‘I’m meant to be speaking to my manager (Stefy Bull) this week about my debut- I think him and Ryan Rhodes are putting on two shows in September, and I’m eager to be on both of those if possible. The issue at the moment is that with the pro boxing game, you need a medical done yearly, and you’ve got to renew your license, both of which are very expensive just to get your foot in the door.
‘My debut was originally for 20th March, and I spent 2 months just in solitary training mode- it was only a week or so before the fight where I started to worry that it wouldn’t go ahead, and Stefy messaged me a couple of days before to cancel it. That really sucked, and what was just as bad was I’d bought the medical for over £500 which was a complete waste in hindsight.
‘The only shows that were on last year were the big tv shows with Hearn and Warren, and they were all very limited in terms of who was going on- if you don’t have a big social media following or you aren’t a big name, you aren’t getting on one of those shows which isn’t great but that’s how boxing works. It’s a really difficult situation- I’m 29 years old and I’ve not had my pro debut yet, but it’s nice to see a light at the end of the tunnel, and I’m just hoping I can get some momentum up and stay active.’
A professional debut is not only a huge achievement, but it is a monumental occasion and there is no doubt that Will’s whole family, most of the boxers from the gym, work colleagues, and Will’s personal friends will be there to watch. This is a lot of pressure for anyone and I asked if he expected to feel nervous on his debut, and how he would deal with that.
‘To be fair I’ve always been nervous before fights and I think that’s the same for most people. I had 83 fights as an amateur and you always get nerves kicking in, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It keeps you sharp, and it’s just part of a fighter’s mentality and over time you learn to control the nerves and you can use them to fight better.
‘For my debut (that was later cancelled) I was studying my opponent, finding out what was what, and I was nervous. It’s such a big step but I was keen and confident, and I’m still keen now to get on with it. It will be nice for everyone at the club to see that I am actually a fighter and not just someone that turns up, makes stupid jokes and tells everyone to do a million burpees!
‘My first entrance song is going to be song of 1000 dances- it’s the first song on this CD we used to play at the gym, and everyone just hated hearing it because the CD would just play on repeat. The gym is like family to me, and if those guys want to come and watch me, I just think it would be funny to wind them up with that song that they’re all so sick of already!’
It has been nearly 15 months since Simpson’s debut was cancelled. Although it’s not a ‘layoff’ in the traditional sense, it is still a long period of inactivity that he won’t be used to, and I was curious as to whether Will saw this as a good or a bad thing.
‘There are probably pros and cons to be honest. Last year was very difficult for me. For the first four of five months after my fight was cancelled, I stayed positive and kept training hard, but it got to the point where I was like ‘is this ever even going to happen?’ I was down at the middleweight limit, I was good to go and I held that weight for a solid 3 months, which was great for me.
‘As an amateur I was an 81 kilo fighter because I enjoyed my food, but from august through to December time I was down at 72. I felt fast, sharp, I was fit and I was hitting personal targets, and then the third lockdown was just so frustrating, and made me feel like all of the work was for nothing.
‘Persevering through all of that has made me a stronger person and has made me even hungrier to get on with it which is obviously a positive, but the last year went to waste, and the whole thing was very mentally draining which isn’t ideal.’
Will was a successful amateur boxer, and after losing his first five bouts he went on to win the Yorkshire ABAs three years running, a Haringey Box Cup gold medal, and a Northern area title. He also holds a win over successful professional Dec Spelman.
As for Will’s professional career, it is clear that he has put a lot of thought into what he wants to achieve, how he wants to go about achieving it, and what sort of mark he wants to leave on the boxing world.
‘Obviously you want to look good, especially on your debut when there’s people in the crowd that you want to impress. That being said, at this stage of my career I’m not overly fussed about looking untouchable and I’m far more interested in fighting hard opponents as soon as possible.
‘There’s this thing in the pro game about building up your record with a load of journeymen, but even in those fights I’ll be looking for and expecting a tough night, so I can go head-to-head and really test my mettle. I love getting stuck in with a bit of toe-to-toe action. I do believe I’ll do very well and I do expect to win, but I won’t let it wobble me if I get taught a few lessons on the way to the top because that’s what it’s all about.
‘I really want to have an active career, that’s the main thing for me. I’m not overly bothered about making millions, but if I can make a living off boxing then that’s great. I don’t want to take any shortcuts; I’d like to fight as often as I can, beating better and better opponents making my way up the rankings. I want to become the best I can possibly be as a fighter. In terms of belts, I’d love the British title, perhaps a fight for a world title, and I’d love a crack at Canelo if he’s not busy. I’m not sure that how well that would end for me though!’
Will first went to a boxing at the age of 13, and he hasn’t left since.
‘When I was 13 I watched the Rocky Balboa film, and when I watched it, something really resonated with me. I started going to a boxing gym just for fun, and it was great for me at the time because I was really out of shape and that’s what I needed at that time. I was 2 foot shorter than I am now but 14 stone, like a little circle!
‘I just remember I was there, and one session a poster of Muhammad Ali got pointed out to me and I was intrigued. I spent hours and hours googling him and reading about him- his first world title, the Vietnam war, even the end of his career. I read about all of that and I was inspired, and from then on I decided I was going to be a professional boxer. Probably just out of stubbornness, I stuck to that and eventually got into fighting shape.
‘Muhammad Ali was a big inspiration to me because you read about what he achieved and the time period that he achieved it in- he stood up to the world when there was segregation and racism. To start off life on the back foot and then wind up being one of the most powerful and influential people in the world blows my mind, and I think what inspires me most is the fact that he fought the odds and overcame everything that got in his way. I’ve never really had a hard life so if he can overcome all that and become the greatest ever, then I can certainly get to where I want to be.’
Ali may be Will’s hero, but the saying goes to never meet your idols- let alone fight them! I asked Will who he would fight given the chance to box anyone in history, and to my surprise he did not choose Ali, but a different (and perhaps more intimidating) opponent.
‘If I had the opportunity to do so I think I’d choose Thomas Hearns. I’d definitely get knocked out in a couple of rounds but I would still love the chance. He was such a quality boxer, and a horrible chopping right hand which just put people out, and in size and build we are close enough. I’d love to say someone like George Foreman or Mike Tyson but they would both punch a hole in me or send me flying through a wall or something!’
People become boxers for a number of reasons- money, fame, glory, or sometimes just for the fun of fighting. With that being said, every fighter wants to leave a legacy behind, and as such I asked Will how he would like to be remembered, and what impression he wants to leave on the boxing world.
‘As a boxer I suppose I’d just like to be remembered as a good, honest fighter really. This sounds bad because these days everyone says ‘I am the best’ to try and get the million pound fights, but for me I’ve already overcome so much. I used to get beaten all the time and it took me years to even get the basics, so to even make it pro was an achievement. That being said, I have this burning desire within me to fight, and it’s not a malicious thing where I want to hurt people; I just want to stand opposite someone who is genuinely my equal and go toe to toe. I want to be known as an honest fighter who never took a dive, or avoided fights, just someone who fought whoever was there and did the best he could.’