Heavyweight star Wardley on Molina clash, when he'll fight at Portman Road and Fury/Joshua
- Credit: Mark Robinson
Ipswich heavyweight prospect Fabio Wardley is in the biggest fight of his career so far this weekend, when he faces two-time world title challenger Eric Molina at the Rumble on the Rock event in Gibraltar, live on Sky Sports Box Office. Mark Heath caught up with him...
It isn't meant to be like this. Boxers generally don't move onto the world level after just ten professional fights. Those that do have lengthy amateur careers behind them, where they've honed their craft.
When Ipswich heavyweight Fabio Wardley steps in with two-time world title challenger Eric Molina this weekend, it will be his 15th fight TOTAL - Molina is his 11th dust-up in the paid ranks, and he had four white collar bouts before turning pro.
It's extraordinary. But former Ipswich Town academy player Wardley, 26, already the English champion, takes it all in his stride, a trademark big grin on his face.
He won't be smiling come Saturday night, at the historic 'Rumble on the Rock' event, live on Sky Sports Box Office. Molina is 27-6 (19KO), and fought Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua for world titles.
He may be 38 now, but he's got a huge experience advantage on Suffolk's Wardley (10-0, 9KO), and has messaged to warn him that he sees this fight as his 'last stand'.
Wardley said: "He's quite a leap in experience compared to my previous opponents, definitely someone who's been around the block, been in the game for a long time and he's competed at the highest level for the last five years or so, so he's no fool.
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"He knows his way around the ring and what he's doing, and these type of events won't be nothing new to him. It won't spook him like maybe other opponents of mine would have been in the past.
"He's been there, done it and seen it all. I'm expecting a cool, calm Molina, someone composed and ready to dig in deep with me."
Wardley, remarkably, will start as the favourite. He's knocked out nine foes in a row, including highlight reel stoppages of Richard Lartey and Simon Vallily in his last two fights.
People in the Wardley business, including his manager and elite heavyweight Dillian Whyte - who rematches Alexander Povetkin in the main event in Gibraltar - are already looking ahead to more title fights this year.
So stepping in with a fighter of Molina's calibre is a big risk.
"It's massively dangerous," said Wardley, who trains and fights out of the Suffolk Punch gym under head coach Rob Hodgins. He'll have former two-weight world champion Ricky Hatton in his corner for this fight too, as a one-off.
"We've got plans as to what we want to do for the rest of the year and a loss here, if I get knocked out and he gets his way, then that derails those plans.
"It's a massive risk, and not even one that I necessarily need to take, I could have taken easier fights and easier opponents, but those are not the type of challenges that appeal to me or excite me.
"Me coming from the Dillian Whyte stable too, that's not how we do things. We take on allcomers and all fights, and we get fully stuck in."
Wardley's certainly been getting stuck in thus far in his career - those aforementioned nine straight knockouts a testament to his heavy hands, which left Lartey senseless on the floor and needing oxygen last time out.
I wonder if he's ever surprised himself with the power in his fists. His answer is chilling.
"I know it's there, and I haven't even used the most of it yet - I still haven't really sat into a punch, that's still yet to come," he warns.
"When it does, it will be interesting to see. Me and the team know it's there, we hit some of them pads and we make a joke that it sounds like gunshots going off."
This fight will be Wardley's first overseas, an experience complicated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. All the fighters, teams and staff involved in the event will be housed on a five-storey super yacht - one of the more stylish Covid-19 bubbles you'll find.
"It's going to be an experience, something very different. I'm really looking forward to it," Wardley grins.
"For some fighters I know they don't like it (being in a bubble with your opponent). I'm not too bothered. I'm just doing my job at the end of the day, and it just happens that you're the guy on the other end trying to do yours.
"There's no spite between me and Molina, we've had a few back and forths on social media, but they've been more jokey and sarcastic than anything else.
"The only time was the Simon Vallily fight at Fight Camp, where we'd just finished our heated press conference and gone our separate ways. A bit of time went by and we crossed each other in the hallway and we just stared each other down and kept on walking.
"Nothing happened, but those altercations can bubble and build towards a fight, and it's not ideal prep."
While the Rumble on the Rock will be a historic event, it's not lost on former Chantry High School pupil Wardley that he's making history with each fight.
He's one of only three fighters from Suffolk to have lifted a national title. Steve Spartacus did it at light heavyweight, while the greatest Suffolk fighter ever, super-middleweight David Starie, won the British and Commonwealth titles before meeting the legendary Joe Calzaghe for the world title, losing on points in January 2000.
Simply put though, Suffolk has never had a heavyweight talent like Wardley - and he hopes that can inspire others.
He said: "The history side is something I try to stay away from, otherwise it feeds a bit too much into dreamland and ego and 'I'm doing this and that', but the side that appeals to me is the inspirational bit.
"People saying 'well Fab did it and he only lives ten minutes down the road from me, or in the same town, we went to school together, things like that.
"They're the bits that appeal to me most and it's why I want to do well and why I want to succeed. Before, boxing in Ipswich was quiet, there was nothing, and in no way am I trying to take credit for it all, but I like that I'm able to carry that on my shoulders.
"I can say I'm going to take that on and I'm going to progress us as an area, and put boxing on my back, take us forward into the limelight and hope that we can bring a big show here one day."
That big show could well be at Portman Road. With a trend towards stadium fights in boxing, it's ever more realistic that Wardley will one day fight for a major title at the home of Ipswich Town.
And it's something he would dearly love to make happen.
"It would have to be a high level fight with a lot of attention," he said. "I would have had to have been in the limelight for a while as well to draw the attention, and some sort of title on the line - potentially a world title, but not necessarily, there are other titles that could still warrant a fight like that.
"It's going to take some time. I'm only ten fights in, I'm still building my profile, there's still a lot of people, not just across the world that don't know about me, but even in Ipswich that don't know me.
"So we can't go getting ahead of ourselves, but something like Portman Road is definitely on the list to to tick off, probably within the next two or three years."
I suggest the summer of 2023 as my prediction. "Something like that, I don't think you're far off," is the reply.
Speaking of big fights, they don't come bigger than the long-awaited, much-hyped, apparently finally signed clash between Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury, for all the heavyweight marbles.
As someone who's shared the ring with both men during sparring, Wardley is better placed than most to offer his thoughts on the biggest fight in British boxing history.
"In a nutshell I would edge it towards Tyson Fury, just because his style is so difficult not just for Joshua, but for anyone," he explains.
"It's so unorthodox, so weird, so strange. And not just that but we've known for years how well he can fight on the back foot, but he showed in that last Wilder fight, if he wants to come forward and step on you as well, a big 19-stone man, if he wants to step on the gas towards you, he can do that as well.
"But saying that, I have been really impressed with Joshua in terms of how he's adjusted his style slightly and pulled away from that big heavy, brutal KO artist style and everything with him now is a bit cleaner, a bit sharper, the punches are crisp, he's lighter on his feet and he floats a lot more.
"There's points for both sides, but if I was forced to pick, I would edge it just slightly to Fury."
And how would Wardley fancy fighting on the undercard for Fury/Joshua?
"Yeah, of course I'd take that!" he enthuses. "There's always the potential, if the right fight comes up at the right time - I think they were talking about trying to do a Top Rank versus Matchroom kind of bill - and the phone rings and it's the right opportunity, I would never say no to that.
"It's another massive experience and another milestone to tick off that list."
All of which brings us back to Molina, a fight and a win which will open more doors for the Suffolk stylist.
"I think Molina will start quick and firey, he'll want to impose his will, intimidate me and old man me, he's going to try and rough house me," Wardley says, when asked for a prediction.
"I'm cool with all that, I'll weather that for two or three rounds and slow him down, slow the pace of the fight to the pace that I want it and then once I've settled in to my nice rhythm and we're pinging those shots and moving and evading, then we're going to get him out of there.
"It won't go longer than six rounds."
And if he gets by Molina, what's next? I suggest more title belts are surely the plan.
"One of those three - British, European or Commonwealth titles - are definitely on the target list," Wardley replies.
"That's where the aim is after this, maybe not straight after, maybe another good fight inbetween - I still need experience and 12th fight might be a bit too early for something like that.
"But it's perfectly doable, and it's on the list to tick off."
Nathan Gorman for the British title is a fight which has already been mooted.
"Me and Nathan have a lot of respect for each other, I spent about a month in Manchester with him when he was getting ready for Daniel DuBois, so I know him pretty well and for the British title he's the obvious opponent," Wardley says.
"But if we don't go for that, if we look at Commonwealth or European, there's a variety of options."
He adds: "David Price is a potential, but I think I heard something about him fighting Hughie Fury.
"Kash Ali, potentially, but is he British title worthy? Not really. Nick Webb is fighting on this show, so if he comes through then potentially.
"The other one is Marco Huck, he's an interesting one that could be a potential for the European.
"Nothing is set in stone. I look for the belts, I don't look for the people. If you're the guy in the middle, it just happens to be unlucky for you."