In the first feature length article in Probellum’s ‘In Their Corner’ series, we speak to leading figures in world boxing about stand-out amateur Pat McCormack as he prepares to go pro.
It would be easy to assume that, even in less than a decade as coach at the top of the sport, Ben Davison had seen it all.
This is a man, remember, who helped guide Tyson Fury back from the brink and a trainer who has been involved in some of British boxing’s most remarkable fights, working with some of the country’s best fighters.
Yet, and to borrow his own choice of words, Davison was left shocked in the gym recently. He had seen a fighter pick up and then implement a tactics “astonishingly quickly”.
Davison had witnessed something new. Something incredibly exciting. Something he had not seen before. It reinforced to him, that he was coaching a special fighter.
“At first I thought it was going to take some time for Pat to adjust but, to be honest, with the way I look at boxing and my beliefs and philosophy, Pat has picked it up quickly, astonishingly quickly,” Davison tells probellum.com.
“He shocked me. He’s not had his debut yet but he looks like a world champion in the gym already.”
Pat is, of course, Pat McCormack. One of the stand-out British amateurs of his generation who makes his professional debut in Newcastle tonight at Probellum Throwdown.
The 26-year-old welterweight won a silver medal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, he’s won gold at the Commonwealth Games, silver at the World Amateur Championships and the same at the European Championships.
McCormack was a European Games and EU Championships winner too.
But he has now ditched his vest in the pursuit of professional glory and, this evening, the journey begins when he takes on Justin Menzie over six rounds at the Utilita Arena.
“I remember watching Pat spar in Sheffield, at the Team GB camp, years ago and he caught my eye, instantly, because of how good he was,” says Sam Jones, Probellum’s Head of Talent Relations.
“He will transfer what he’s done in the amateurs and he will take it to a whole new level, he will have a massive following and I genuinely believe he will be one of the best fighters to ever come out of this country. I know that’s a big statement but I whole-heartedly believe it.”
Many share Jones’ excitement over McCormack and one of the burning questions in boxing circles is how quickly can he be moved through the levels?
McCormack’s Team GB team-mate Galal Yafai made his pro debut in a 10-round contest and those charged with guiding Pat’s career will not hesitate in matching him aggressively and with ambition.
“You will see that he should be moved quickly,” added Davison.
“He will not be rushed, but he will take the right steps at the right time and I would have no hesitation in him being ready for an eight or 10 rounder within his opening three fights as a professional.
“I’ve got no hesitation in him being right up there and taking over the domestic scene within 18 months and within two years, mixing it at the world level.”
Probellum President Richard Schaefer, who described McCormack as a “once in a generation talent”, has echoed Davison’s thoughts and this week made the same prediction about the Olympian as he did for Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez.
“There was a time, not long ago, where a fighter had to be at least 20-0 before they fought for a world title, but if Pat is ready, why do all these six and eight rounders?” he asked.
“If our match-makers feel he is ready, then let’s go for it. Take another of our fighters, the 2016 Olympian Eimantis Stanionis, he has 13 fights and 13 wins and fights for the world title in April. Lomachenko was fighting for a world title after only a couple of fights, so this is a different world we live in now.”
“Pat is good enough to fight for a world title very, very soon, he is that good,” Jones said.
“Of course, you want to build a fan-base but Pat doesn’t need to be kept on a lead for very long, we can let him – and his brother, Luke – off the lead soon.”
But for all the, understandable, hype, for Davison – and many experienced fight figures – there are some non-negotiables that McCormack must subscribe to, in order to realise his potential.
“When the boys first came to work with me, there was the idea that you go through training camps and then enjoy yourselves afterwards,” he said.
“But we had a conversation that was, basically, along the lines of: ‘There are no training camps, this is your life and if you don’t enjoy it then this isn’t right’.
“Leigh Wood is a perfect example; this is his lifestyle. Fight date or no fight date, he’s back to work. It shouldn’t be a chore. You have to love it. I want to train today, I want to be in the gym, I want to eat cleanly and, in this regard, Leigh Wood is a role model for Pat.
“But they get it. I said to the pair of them, that they have the potential to create history and be the first twins to be world champions from the UK. Both of them need to be on the ball, they haven’t got time to waste and have five or six weeks out of the gym. It has to be – fight, a bit of a rest and then back to work.”
Paul Smith, the former world title challenger who is now part of Probellum’s commentary team, backed that up, saying: “He’s got a lot of potential and for me he has to make sure he lives the life and is in the gym constantly.
“The easiest thing to do, and I’m speaking from experience, is you have a fight and then go missing.
“As long as he lives the life and stays in the gym then he will reach his potential, which is huge.
“I love his style. He’s no-nonsense.”
Inevitably, however, the conversation about McCormack always returns to his ability, and it’s why eyes light up when his name is mentioned.
“He is very, very sharp, his distance is brilliant, his movement as well,” Jones continued.
“He has fantastic shot selection and he can punch as well.
“He’s boxed the best there is and he’s tough, he’s put a lot of people over in the amateurs, he carries natural power and I know he is going to be able to hold a shot as well, he’s got a good chin. He’s got absolutely everything to get to the top.”
Davison will be in McCormack’s corner this evening and, no doubt, issuing similar words of wisdom. This is the start of a special journey, but only the first jab, the maiden right hook and the opening shot to the body.
“He’s got a bit of it all but, for me, I would say his IQ is his biggest asset,” Davison concluded.
“It’s his understanding of what we are asking him to do and why were are asking him to do it. He gets it. And if he makes a mistake, and I say ‘you need to do this’ it’s not a case of him saying: ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah’ he will go out and make that adjustment and know why we’ve asked him to make that adjustment. That is critical for a fighter’s development.”
Watch Pat McCormack’s professional debut at Probellum Throwdown in Newcastle on Friday, March 25 live in Eurosport TV, Eurosport App and discovery+