Liverpool ace John Gillies is a fighting man to the core. Expelled from football for punching a barracking fan, the 32 year old cruiserweight has dabbled in the unlicensed and ‘bare-knuckle’ scenes, fought for pay on the MMA and K1 circuits and had more than his share of ‘cobble’ fights for nothing more than honour.
A hugely popular, larger than life character, ‘Big John’ promises to bring plenty of colour and excitement to the pro boxing arena when he debuts at the York Hall on Friday 17thJuly.
Glynn Evans caught up with him to discuss his life in the ‘scrap’ business.Tickets are available from www.ticketmaster.co.uk
When did you first get the urge to fight?
Outside the ring, I’ve always been fighting, always been wild. I still am!
Previously, I was a professional goalkeeper on the books of Everton (FC), then Tranmere Rovers but, whilst playing semi-pro for Southport in the Conference, I got banned for three years for punching a fan! After that, I never played again.
My first ‘organised’ fight came when I went to watch a ‘bareknuckle’ event with friends. Someone didn’t show, I stepped in for them, and knocked the opponent out.
After that, I’ve had quite a few fights on the unlicensed scene, a mixture of gloves plus some bare knuckle with a ‘stake’ involved, on the traveller sites.
Which other fighting arts have you dabbled in?
Before boxing, I tried pretty much everything. I had 18 Muay Thai fights and lost just four.
I got beaten just three times in 22 fights on the K1 circuit, where I fought all over……Romania, Bulgaria, Holland, Belgium, Greece.
I had nine MMA fights in the Octogan but won just four cos I’d be forced to tap out against the Jujitsu guys and I went 8-0 as a full contact kick-boxer.
How did you finally get into boxing?
Quite a few of my mates were boxers so, about four years ago, I finally gave it a go at the Everton Red Triangle Gym. I’ve no regrets really about not trying it sooner. I was always more into me footie.
When I first started out, sparring (ex 2000 Olympian) Courtney Fry, it was a real eye opener. I always rated myself as a good fighter but Courtney was a very good boxer. He just jabbed my head off. It’s different now. I’ve learnt a lot off him. I’m still not really a jabber. I prefer to walk forward and throw leather.
How important have the Stevenson brothers been at the ERT gym in accelerating your transition to conventional boxing?
Massive. I’m very lucky that in Paul and Mick I’ve got two of the best up and coming coaches in the country. With them, everything has got to be perfect. And they promote a real good spirit within the gym. Everybody gets treated the same; no egos.
There’s some quality kids at this gym that I can study and learn off like Jazza Dickens, Ryan Farrag, Kevin Satchell, Ste Lewis and Courtney Fry.
But the boxers learn off me too. I’m able to teach them sly moves about working on the ‘inside’, tying opponents up and putting them where you want them to be. We all bounce off each other.
How do the physical demands of boxing compare to the other disciplines you’ve tried?
I wouldn’t say boxing is any harder than the other fighting arts I’ve tried. In fact, I’d say the training for K1, MMA and Muay Thai are all more demanding on the body. Kicking takes more out of you than punching does and getting hit with knees, elbows and shins to the head hurts more.
Of all the fighting arts I’ve tried, boxing and K1 are my favourites. I loved the ‘tear ups’ in K1, but there’s more to learn in boxing than any of the others. I also enjoy the discipline (of boxing).
In what ways could competing at a high level in other fighting arts help fast track your boxing career?
Performing at a high level will certainly help me when it comes to competing before an audience. I fought before K1 crowds of 6-8,000 in Romania and the MMA shows attracted over 3,000 so I’ll not be fazed by that. I’ve never really suffered from nerves. I wish I did!
You’re already 32. What gives you confidence that you can advance to a high level in boxing?
I’ve been in the ring with the likes of Enzo Maccarinelli and Matty Askin. They’re top fighters and we have hard spars but I’ve never walked away thinking: ‘I can’t do this.’ I’d not bother if I didn’t think I could get to their level. I’d not waste my time and I’d certainly not waste Paul and Mick’s. I’ve too much respect for them.
After a few hiccups, you’re now scheduled to debut at the York Hall, east London on 17th July. What are your goals as you set out on a career in pro boxing?
I had a K1 fight scheduled for last November but stumbled doing my running which snapped my Achilles and broke my ankle. That put me back.
I’m always fit so I want to fight as much as possible. Looking at the other cruisers about I think it’s very realistic to aim for the British title.
I just want to excite. I’ve loads of friends in both Liverpool and London and, if I fight in either of those cities, I should be able to shift 3-400 tickets easily.
Lots of good people have told me I can punch and I can take a punch. Hopefully I’ll be in entertaining fights and I’ll try to knock out as many opponents as possible.
Coach Paul Stevenson adds: ‘John might never have boxed but he’s been fighting his whole life!
Because of all the training he’s done in other combat sports, he’s acquired many transferable skills. He’s very stoic, strong and quite powerful. Already he’s very good on the inside. Psychologically, he’s unflappable, like a fighting James Bond!
We’re not in that mad a rush with him. He’s got zero mileage and there’s plenty of time. He’s a great character who’ll sell bundles of tickets. I’m looking forward to the journey with him. I guarantee he’ll have a right good go at it.’