Derry Mathews still fighting to stay in the game

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

From international rejection and teetering on the verge of retirement to widespread recognition and world title challenges, Derry Mathews has experienced his fair share of highs and lows. Now aged 31 and ready for a shot at the WBA lightweight title, Mathews tells ESPN's Inside Boxing what prompted his rise.

Most British visitors are drawn to Marbella by the promise of sunny beaches and vibrant nightlife, but for Derry Mathews the party city on the Spanish south coast is where he goes for a quiet life dedicated to training.

He has been relocating there for training camps for just over a year and the change of scenery has seen him transform his career from being one of mixed success on the domestic scene to that of a world title contender.

The Liverpool boxer, who returns to his home city between training camps, has thrived after switching to Macklin's Gym Marbella (MGM), a gym complex established by three-time world middleweight title challenger Matt Macklin.

But Mathews' career as whole has ebbed and flowed. More than once he has looked finished after suffering defeats at domestic level only to then bounce back and claim impressive victories against opponents such as Anthony Crolla, Martin Gethin and Tommy Coyle. Mathews now finds himself in the enviable position of challenging for his world title at the age of 31 in front of his home fans on April 18.

WBA lightweight champion Richard Abril, a Cuban based in Florida, will defend his belt at the Echo Arena after a fight against Briton Crolla in Manchester scheduled for January had to be postponed because Crolla was injured stopping a burglary.

Mathews admits there have been times he thought his 48-fight career, which has included nine defeats and two draws, was finished but after winning his last three fights, Mathews feels confident he can pull off a shock against Abril.

"There were times I thought it was over," Mathews says. "But I love boxing, I love the discipline of the sport and the sacrifices I've had to make to over the last couple of years have been worth it.

"I've moved away from my wife Michelle and little boy Derry to live and train out here in Spain to prepare. I know if I prepare like this I will win. Me and my trainer Danny Vaughan have team up with the MGM and it has really made a difference to my career.

"I've been away since early January and it's a killer to be away from my family for that long but it's part and parcel of the job.

"I've been written off most of my career. Even when I was 18 and winning as an amateur, I never got to the Commonwealth Games in 2002 because people didn't believe in me.

"After the Emiliano Marsili fight in January 2012 [Mathews was stopped in seven rounds for the fringe IBO title] I thought I was going to chuck it in. I told everyone in the changing room afterwards that was what I was going to do. I'd had some ups and downs and I thought it was time to walk away.

"Then, Monday morning, Ricky Hatton rings me up and said do I want to fight Crolla. I went back to Danny Vaughan and I trained up in Scotland and beat Anthony in six rounds. I lost a couple after that, but it was still a turning point in my career.

"I'm more mature now than I was before 2012 and I know how to prepare properly. I've got a nutritionist over here and I'm still hungry and humble.

"I've kept coming back from setbacks because I've got a lot of heart. Every fighter has got heart to get through the ropes, but I've got balls. Whether it's winning on the running track or on the bags and pads, I have to win."

Mathews became known as 'Dirty Derry' after having points deducted in a fight against British rival John Simpson in 2007 but he insists the nickname is not a fair description of him today.

"It's stuck and referee Mickey Vann said I'm one of the dirtiest fighters he has refereed, but I'm not a dirty fighter now," says Mathews.

"I was just a rough fighter at that time, now I box more.

"When I first started my boxing career people said I was a great boxer because I kept everything long and won on scoring shots. But then I started knocking people out with my power and then I wanted a fighter with everyone and ended up getting cuts and getting stopped.

"In the last 12 or 18 months I've gone back to my boxing like I did against Adam Dingsdale. In the fight against Gethin for the British title I boxed him for 12 rounds [Mathews won both on points]. I'm being more clever about it whereas a few years ago I wanted to always have a war and ended up with cuts, but if you are winning after eight rounds why change it?"

Mathews may be nearing the end of his career but he still has targets and Crolla is on his wishlist if he is victorious against Abril.

"I've always said I wanted to get to 50 fights, and I will see where I go from there," Mathews says.

"I've got two to get there. After this one, a first defence against Crolla would make it 50. I want to go to maybe 54 or 55 fights and get a few quid in the bank to make sure my son can buy a house.

"I've told Anthony that I will beat Abril and then give him a shot in my first defence. We will get it on for a third time. I've won one, and there was a draw so it's right there should be a third fight.

"It was terrible what happened to Anthony, thankfully he's OK. I've got a lot of respect for his coaches and team and the north west wants the fight. We've had two great fights and a third would also be great."