21st Oct, 2019

INTERVIEW: Michael Cole catches the eye of boxing greats after Conor Benn 02 showdown in London

Shaun Reynolds 3rd Jul, 2017 Updated: 3rd Jul, 2017

BOXING: NAPTON-based boxer Michael Cole made a name for himself at the weekend after accepting to fight promising youngster Conor Benn at the 02 Arena in London live on Sky Sports, just 24 hours after being told he was needed in the ring.

Cole was enjoying his usual Friday morning at work when his brother rushed into the workroom with Edwin Cleary – founder of Leamington-based Clearys Boxing Gym – on the phone.

The 29-year-old was asked by the management team to Conor Benn – son of legendary fighter Nigel Benn – to fight in front of thousands of boxing fans in the capital to a global audience on TV.

Despite being busy welding the top of a boat at work, Cole accepted the challenge and travelled down to London with just over 24 hours to prepare for the biggest fight of his boxing career.

Cole lasted three rounds before he was knocked down to the canvas by Benn, but his efforts in the ring caught the attention of boxing fans from across the world – and his story was the eighth most talked about topic on twitter that night globally.

Speaking to The Observer after the fight, Cole said it took him a while to realise the scale of the opportunity that had been handed to him.

He said: “I was at work welding the top of a boat when my brother told me Edwin was on the phone for me.

“We’re always busy at work and it gets tiring working ten hours a day and then a further two hours in the gym at night.

“Edwin said there’s no one to fight Conor Benn at the 02 tomorrow – I thought ‘great thanks Edwin’ and never really clicked on what he meant.

“I went back to work before Edwin called back and said the fight is on.

“I had to pack all my stuff and quickly dashed home.”

Although he only had 24 hours to prepare it was too good an opportunity to miss out on.

As part of the deal to fight on Saturday, Cole will be handed the chance to fight live on Sky Sports two further times – once before the end of the year and another after Christmas.

He said: “It would’ve been nice to train for the event but to be honest there wouldn’t have been a lot we could do.

“Conor was polished and I believe one day he will be world champion.

“To go to the 02 to watch boxing is impressive let alone fight – and I had the best seat in the house, on the canvas.

“I was nervous in the first round but the second round I was relaxed and by the third I remember doubling up my jabs.

“Before I knew it I had to pick myself up off the floor though.

“I hit him hard but he came back, it was a good fight for me and Conor boxed very well.”

After the fight, Cole was praised by some of boxing’s two modern greats – Tony Bellew and Anthony Joshua.

Bellew admitted he would need 12 weeks to prepare for a fight with Conor Benn, while Joshua heaped praise on the Clearys fighter after the contest while acting as a pundit on television.

Despite fighting on the global stage, Cole was devastated to miss out on his home show in Leamington – which he must miss due to the 28-day rule imposed by boxing which denies any fighter competing within 28 days of being knocked out.

The Clearys regular said: “The praise I received from others was amazing.

“One thing I am majorly disappointed about though is losing my Leamington show.

“I want to box in my town, it’s a big opportunity for me and everyone in my home village of Napton and the surrounding areas have been so supportive.

“It’s been a little overwhelming.”

Coach Edwin Cleary said: “He gave it a go.

“To receive compliments from a man like Tony Bellew speaks for itself.

“He now has a profile and character which he can use to his advantage.”

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