TWENTY-year-old welterweight Finlay James from Chadwell St Mary kicked off his professional career with a shutout points win recently at the York Hall.
Trained by Mark Tibbs at his Rainham-based Origin Gym, the former West Ham Amateur Boxing Club captain put on a clinical display of boxing skills over four rounds on Armistice Day (Saturday, 11 November) to defeat experienced journeyman, Rustem Fatkhullin (9-73, 3KO).
Just a few days later, the former amateur champion reflected on his pro debut appearance and to reveal what’s next for him.
“The training camp took about two years long!” he said after having his last amateur bout in 2020, the year that he won the England Boxing National Youth Championships.
“We done a good six weeks leading into the fight night. When I came out, I hadn’t fought in a few years so I was hyped up to the nines. I was excited, I could feel in the ringwalk that I was up for this, and I got into the ring and I thought ‘Right, I gotta calm myself down cos I’m getting carried away here!’
“I took a couple of deep breaths before the first round. All I really wanted to do was to keep the pace of my footwork high, but my hands not as high, and I was just trying to work out the distance and see how he was reacting to me stepping left, stepping right, stepping back, stepping forward, just trying to gauge them reactions.
“As the first round went on and I started to gauge what he was bringing and I just started getting him back a little bit and onto the ropes, making the ring a little bit smaller, cutting him in. But I didn’t want to get carried away when I was pinning him into those corners because he’s a grown journeyman and experienced, they’re not silly fellas, so I know if I take the piss and stay in there too long and get a bit greedy, then the performance may not look as good.
“So I wanted to keep it classy, smart but safe at the same time. I’m quite flamboyant and a bit flary when I’m in there so I’ve got my hands quite low, I’m exposing my chin a little bit but I’m trying to bring him onto something so I can counter off it. And there were some good points, getting him onto the ropes and putting my combinations together, but it was just trying to stay safe, stay calm and not get carried away and be messy.
“A war isn’t something to be too proud of; a war, to me, is quite lazy, because anyone can just stand there and have it. It takes good quality to be able to hit you in the face and not get hit back.”
James exacted his game plan to the letter, winning all four rounds against the 82-fight veteran from Russia, but listed a few things he believes he could have done better, being the consummate professional he is.
“Sometimes when I was pushing him back, I was throwing at the same time; in hindsight I should have made the feint, made a step or something first before the shot just to get that half an inch closer.
“I was getting really into it, literally the week before I done eight rounds with Thomas Galbraith [3-0 from Hackney], so my lungs still felt good and I still felt full of energy. Six rounds or eight rounds, I could have kept going but you’ve got to do your fours, learn it, then do your sixes and eights and move on.”
The Thurrock man then revealed what his short-term plans are and when his next fight will be, saying: “I’d like to do a few more at four rounds. That fight was my first fight without a headguard ever. I’m still young, 20-years-old, so I wouldn’t want to rush anything because once you go forward you can’t go back again.
“Activity for me isn’t a priority, if I’m out four times in a year, that’s enough or me. I have a job, so I don’t box to make loads of money; I box to make it a long-term career.
“I’d like to think I’m going to be out around February time; that gives me two months to rest then come back towards the beginning of January to hard, intense training and then about mid-Feb I reckon I’ll be back [in the ring].”
As an amateur, Finlay was a multi-national champion, winning around 40 from 50 bouts for various clubs, but mostly while training at West Ham ABC.
He revealed exactly how and why he started boxing, “I was just fighting with the boys at school and when they said to me you can go to this place and they let you fight without getting in trouble and they’ll teach you how to do it, I was like, ‘Yeah I’m up for that!’
“I started out at Billericay and Wickford, and I done three schoolboy championships and a junior championships and medalled at every one, then I moved to West Ham and was there for four or five years. My second ever amateur fight was in the schoolboys, and I think I got to the semi-finals that year.
“I won one Youth ABA title, and every other national championships before that I medalled either second or third. I won six Box Cups – a couple of International and couple in England and Ireland. I think we finished up on 50 fights with about 10 losses.”
The youngster took time to give thanks to all the influences he had when fighting in a vest, saying: “Jimmy Head from Billericay; Scott and Cindy from Chadwell St Mary, they really helped me get on the ladder to start my amateur career. When I was at West Ham there was Chris Penny, Jason Ball, Russell Gerard, and Terry Abbot was the main man down West Ham, he gave me a lot of knowledge.”
James made the decision to choose boxing over another sport he was excelling at, adding “I played football to a good level, for Orsett Park Royals and was looking to go up a level.
“I got to the schoolboys final and I pulled my coach up and said: ‘I won’t be able to come because I’m playing football’, then he kind of explained to me that if I win this next bout then I’m the best in the country. I spoke to my dad about it and focused on boxing full time after that.”
Despite not growing up as a huge boxing fan, he did have a few influences. “I liked the southpaws, like your James DeGales and George Groves. I liked them slick, smart southpaws; they didn’t win every fight, so I’ve seen them lose and I’ve seen them win, but I always enjoyed watching them.”
Trained by Mark Tibbs in the Origin Gym, James is in good company with the likes of Johnny Fisher and John Hedges in his stable.
He listed the full roster of his work colleagues, saying “I spar with Joel Bartell, then there’s Johnny Fisher, Tommy Fletcher, John Hedges, Elle Brooke, Alfie Gaskin.”
Co-managed by Richard Maynard from Strike Sports and Mark Tibbs, James concluded the interview with his long-term ambitions for his pro career.”I always want to enjoy the sport, that has to be my main goal. I’m not too driven on belts; I enjoy competition and I enjoy winning, so I’m going to try and win every time I get in that ring.
“I want to make sure I put on the best performance and have fun every time I get into the ring, that’s the main goal.”