Matt Windle: “It’s a big test for him, this is where we find out what he’s about.”

Matt Windle: “It’s a big test for him, this is where we find out what he’s about.”

By Chandler Waller

Ahead of his Commonwealth title bid on Friday night, Matt Windle is inspired by the potential of flying the flag for Birmingham boxing.

Next year, the Commonwealth Games will take place in the West Midlands city, twenty years on from the last time England hosted the Games. Windle, who has been praised as Birmingham’s laureate spoke about his motivation in an exclusive interview with Fightpost.

“For me, it’s my World title really. I’ve never been one of these boxers who walked into the gym and have natural talent, god-given power or an extraordinary height or reach. I’ve never really been talented, my talent has been working hard and listening to what I’m told by whoever my coach was at that particular moment, and trying to execute the instructions that I’m being given. 

“Of course, Birmingham has got the Commonwealth Games next year, I know the pros and amateurs are separate but for me to potentially be a Commonwealth champion and a Brummie, it potentially opens doors and avenues for life outside of the ring. I know people say, what does that really mean, but it really truly would mean everything for me.

“There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to get some form of punditry or somewhere with someone. I’d be Britain’s lightest professional champion, the first Brit to have this belt in 119 years so there’s a bit of history that comes with it as well. Because there’s not a British or European title at this weight, that’s all I can really win so it’s the same honours in my mind to be a Commonwealth champion. The British and European don’t exist, you win that and potentially big things lie ahead.”

The obstacle ahead of that Commonwealth games dream is Neil McCubbin, a 5-0 light-flyweight who won Scottish titles and joined Team GB as part of his 45 bout amateur career. Should Windle capture the Commonwealth title this weekend, it will not only be a dream come true for the Brummie, but also a significant win for his career.

“I’ve tried not to study him too hard because with lockdown, what there is of him online, I’m expecting him to be better than that and to box a little differently. I think he’ll try and start quite fast and get the early rounds, I can’t imagine him slowly warming into it and allowing me to pick up the early rounds, I think he wants to get a bit of a points lead to get me chasing him. 

“I think he fights fairly similar to myself, he was on Team GB as an amateur so I think he carries his left hand a little low, and looks for fancy shots. He likes those eye-catching shots, it’s whether he has it in his armoury to sustain that and go through phases for twelve rounds. 

“It’s a big test for him, this is where we find out what he’s about, he can either really make his mark and put his name up there as one of the top boys in the division or it’ll just be a little too soon for him. It won’t be career ending for him, he’ll certainly be able to learn and come back from it, I certainly think it’ll be one of those where they could say he’s the real deal and potentially look at World titles for him and eliminators and that sort of stuff. Or they’ll say that Matt was a bit more experienced, he’s older and physically stronger, but McCubbin will come again and he’ll learn from the experience. I think it’ll be one of those two things.”

Windle-McCubbin headlines a night of action in Sheffield Area car park on a new streaming service called Fightzone thanks to promoter Dennis Hobson, who has been looking out for the small hall fighters throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Windle, expressed his excitement to be a part of the event.

“It’s fantastic, I’m really appreciative that someone has been trying to think outside the box a little bit to give a platform for fighters that don’t always get it. There are dozens of fighters who are just as good and they fight on small hall shows every week, and they’re better than some of the fights that you see on Sky and BT. 

“It’s nice to have an occasion and to feel like a big deal, and for me to headline such a show – I don’t want to talk worst case scenarios but, I can always look back and think I did that and I was a part of it. Whenever I’m watching boxing in the future, doesn’t matter if it’s for a British or a Commonwealth title or a World title, when I see fighters make their ring walk for a twelve round fight, I can say I’ve done that. 

“Me and McCubbin should be given props really because we’re both in single figure fights, neither of us are in double figures yet. I know there aren’t many lads in our weight, so on and so forth but some fighters try to get to 15 or even 20-0 before they have a real step up and we’re in single figure fights going into a twelve rounder. I think fair play to us all really.”

Poetry is another of Windle’s passions alongside boxing, where many boxers opt for labouring, building and other honourable skilled work, the Brummie makes his bread by educating and performing in a job which has taken him all over the World. The poet Laureate also know as ‘MatMan’ in the ring, opened up on his peculiar journey.

“I wasn’t really attending mainstream schools anymore. I was at a pupil referral unit for the last couple years of my education. The teacher said that I had to write either a story or a poem, she said the story had to be two pages but the poem only had to be one page, so I was like cool I’m going to do a poem. I wrote this poem for my coursework and she was impressed with it, the next English lesson she put a poet Laureate application form in front of me and said ‘you should enter this.

“Long story short, I did and got into the final ten where I had to go and perform my spoken poetry. I was just in awe of it all, I just fell in love with what it was, I just really enjoyed it and I came runner up that year, people seemed to be quite impressed with me. I worked hard over the next twelve months to improve and better myself, make better poems so on and so forth. I entered again next year and then I was fortunate enough to win. 

“Ten years later I became the adult poet laureate of Birmingham, and then with similarities I think the expression, the main point that I always try and get across is that they’re both categories of art. You have photography, poetry, music, dance and you can put all that in an art bubble. For me boxing is also an art as well, it’s specified as a martial art but it still comes under a venn diagram of art and sport. It’s that positive expression that allows me to communicate and get your feelings, thoughts and emotions out there without necessarily having to verbally communicate with somebody. 

“The confidence it gives you, when you stand up on stage and talk in front of five or five thousand people, talking on radio or television across sixty eight countries, it’s that confidence that you get from knowing that you can stand up on stage and talk, entertain and inspire an audience, and of course the confidence that boxing instills. 

“When you know you can box, you walk a little differently, after your first amateur bout, you look at the ring differently. It’s like an out of body experience. The confidence, the expression, creativity behind it and of course for anything if you want to succeed in your craft, you have to be dedicated to it.

“The repetition, the dedication that comes from both art forms is something that goes hand in hand with each other. You can just touch and inspire other people, I’ll go to schools and do a performance or a workshop and the kids then say that they’ll start writing or creating ideas, the same with boxing when kids bring their little brother to watch my fights and then the next week they’ve gone to sign up at the local gym. Being able to inspire people is nice because you just want to give positivity out, you should try to make life as positive as possible.”

The unusual correlation between the two arts becomes more clear-cut when you see the similarities in the two. It’s something that Matt is particularly fond of – the rhythm that the two entities share.

“When I do my abundance of workshops that I can do in schools, I encourage them to write in a four beat rhythm, just to help them have a structure to their sentences.

“I wake up every morning, and I begin to train. My stomach is rumbling so you might hear me complain. But I run up the hill and I go to the gym, I’ve got to work hard so I can beat him.’ 

“You’ve got the four beat rhythm then, which just gives you more substance. That four beat rhythm when you get into your boxing stance, and you’re teaching the very basic fundamentals of how to move in your stance – it’s forward, it’s left, it’ back, it’s right – it’s 1,2,3,4 so the tempo may change but the actual rhythm doesn’t. I could say those lines that I just said to you and move in my boxing stance at the same time. 

“It’s that movement, rhythm and timing and everything that comes with it which helps. Timing in any sort of performance – music, stand-up comedy, poetry – timing is essential to delivering a joke, making a hard-hitting line or whatever it may be. And of course we all know the mantra or cliches in boxing that timing beats speed, precision beats power so timing is integral.”

Should Windle capture the Commonwealth title this weekend, it can be expected that a poem referencing his win will be upon us in the near future. For this Brummie, a win at the weekend would mean everything as he concludes this interview with a clear excitement.

“I’ve recently done a poem for the Commonwealth Games, I was commissioned to do an official poem so I’ve been digging up on some heroes throughout Birmingham that are doing some great things in the community and helping inspire people. I’m sure if I can tie in the two things of me winning the Commonwealth title and then celebrating Birmingham and the Commonwealth as a whole, then yeah that’s something that I will look at doing rather than just something about me.

“It’s about Birmingham and the Commonwealth as a whole. I swear to God, I will be the proudest Commonwealth champion, I’d have to get bigger loops in my trousers so I can wear it everywhere! It really would mean so much.”

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