‘We got stuck in’ - Wardley on sparring world champ Joshua, the DuBois/Joyce debate and a British title tilt with Gorman in 2021
- Credit: Archant
Ipswich heavyweight boxer Fabio Wardley has had an impressive year, winning the English title and climbing the ranks quickly. He talks to Mark Heath about sparring world champion Anthony Joshua, potentially facing friend Nathan Gorman for the British title in 2021, and the recent Joe Joyce/Daniel DuBois dust-up.
It’s been quite the journey for Fabio Wardley.
The former Chantry High School student turned professional after just four white collar bouts, with no amateur experience, having only started boxing seriously at the age of 20.
Now, just five years later, the Suffolk stylist is 10-0 as a pro, having won nine straight fights by stoppage, and lifted the English title with a third round TKO of the much more experienced Commonwealth Games gold medallist Simon Vallily back in August.
And, sat on the ring apron at the home of GB Boxing in Sheffield this week – having just sparred iconic world champion Anthony Joshua for the first time – Wardley allowed himself a moment to reflect on his spectacular rise.
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“I had a little quiet moment after the sparring session when I was sitting on the side of the ring and Joshua was going through a few exercises, with a few other fighters doing things, and I was just looking around the room – it was quite surreal,” he explained.
“I was thinking ‘how have I managed to do this? I have these moments from time to time, but I try not to dwell on them too much because there’s so much more I want to achieve.
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“It’s nice to be able to give my team (head coach Robert Hodgins and Suffolk Punch Boxing Club gym owner Matt Brennan) something as well. They’ve been with me since day one, and it’s great to be experiencing it all together.”
The Joshua spars, in the final days of the WBO, IBF and WBA world champion’s camp before his defence against Kubrat Pulev next weekend, were the latest in series of high-level training sessions with elite heavyweights – Wardley’s now sparred both world champions in Joshua and Tyson Fury, plus former undisputed cruiserweight king Oleksandr Usyk, elite Brits Dillian Whyte and Dereck Chisora, top prospects Joe Joyce, Daniel DuBois and Filip Hrgovic, and former British champ Sam Sexton.
The 25-year-old said of Joshua: “His team just contacted my team and said we’re in need of sparring - I think they’d seen me on the show a few weeks back (a second round KO of Richard Lartey, more on that later) and they just asked me to go up to Sheffield.
“It was a good spar, and the GB Boxing facility was good too. It was a nice mix of quite technical sparring - sharp and fast – but we got stuck in at times as well!
“I was most surprised at his speed and how fast he was with his feet - I expected him to be quite a bit slower. It was very interesting to see that and experience it first hand, it was a great learning experience.”
So, what’s it like to get punched by Joshua, a man noted for the fearsome power which has carried him to 21 knockouts in 23 wins?
“It’s not the best thing in the world,” laughed Wardley. “But I’m quite used to getting punched in the head!”
It’s now a couple of weeks since the performance which earned Wardley the sparring invite, a devastating second round stoppage of big puncher Richard Lartey (now 14-4), which served as the co-main event of a Matchroom Boxing show at Wembley Arena, shown live on Sky Sports.
For the second straight fight – Vaillily being the first – Wardley was expected to be pushed and tested by a dangerous foe. But, for the second straight fight, he made light work of it – wobbling Lartey with his trademark fast jab before ending matters with a lightning quick left hook-right hook combination which left Lartey senseless on the canvas and requiring oxygen.
“It’s a difficult one because there’s not much to take from it, with it being so fast,” said Wardley, reflecting on the fight. “As nice as it is to get someone out early, it’s not ideal from the longevity side of my career because I need rounds and experience.
“It does give me a massive amount of confidence in my power though. It just gives you that extra relaxed feel that you don’t have to go hunting for the big shots - I know if I do catch you, you’re definitely going to feel it.
“I base a lot of my game on my speed and beating people to the punch – a lot of knockouts come out of the shots that you don’t see coming.”
A week after Wardley’s demolition of Lartey, two of his former sparring partners, the aforementioned unbeaten prospects DuBois and Joyce, met in a mouthwatering match-up for the British, Commonwealth and European titles.
In a fascinating, compelling fight, it was the underdog Joyce who prevailed, his ramrod jab fracturing DuBois’ orbital bone and causing nerve damage, forcing him to take a knee and get counted out in the tenth round.
In the aftermath, much of the coverage focused on DuBois ‘quitting’ – a most unwanted label in the fight game – rather than Joyce’s magnificent performance and gameplan.
“It was a good fight,” said Wardley, a very interested observer. “The ending gave it that extra bit of drama.
“I’ve had that same injury of a fractured eye socket as well (suffered while sparring Hrgovic last year) so I know the pain and fear in your head when it happens.
“If you break it down, then yeah, Daniel did quit, but I don’t begrudge him for doing it. If you’re doing it to save your career, that’s the right thing to do.”
Joyce now seems likely to surrender the British title and go in search of a world title challenge against Usyk next year, leaving Wardley to pursue the British strap - his promoter Eddie Hearn has already said he’ll fight for that crown in 2021.
And another former sparring partner, Nathan Gorman (17-1, 11KO), seems the most likely opponent.
“Me and Nathan are good pals,” Wardley, a former Ipswich Town Academy player, said. “We speak from time to time and I was privileged enough to spend two weeks in camp with him when he was getting ready for DuBois (Gorman was stopped in five rounds last July).
“It’s just our job. If that fight does come off, there’s not going to be a lot of badmouthing back and forth, we have a lot of respect for each other and we’ll be friends before and afterwards.
“It’ll be a good old-school fight between two guys who want to have a fight and progress their careers. Nathan seems like the most obvious option of all the fighters out there for the British title.”
Before that, Wardley is set to return to the ring on the undercard of his manager Whyte’s rematch with Alexander Povetkin on January 30.
And, if everything goes to plan, he’ll be staring across at a former world champion - Australian Lucas Browne (29-2, 25KO) had been due to face Wardley last month but, after a lot of trash talk, the veteran pulled out.
“We’re looking at him as a definite option,” Wardley said. “But we have some reserves in place as well so we’re not in the same situation as last time.”