Elephant Sport’s Dan Kelly caught up with reigning British middleweight champion, Tommy Langford ahead of his WBO interim world title fight against Avtandil Khurtsidze.
The formidable Georgian will fight in the UK for the first time in his career on April 22nd and the 37 year-old brings with him a list of 21 names he has previously KO’d.
But ‘Baggies Bomber’ Langford tells us why he is confident that he will have more than Khurtsidze can handle when they step into the ring at Leicester Arena.
Birmingham-based Langford, promoted by Frank Warren, also gives us an update on the training regime that he feels will give him the edge over the ‘mini-Mike Tyson’, as well as providing an insight into what Warren’s landmark deal with BT Sport means for his own ambitions, as well as the sport of boxing.
It was five weeks later than scheduled, but finally on November 26th in Cardiff, Tommy Langford’s arm was raised as the new British middleweight champion.
A spilt decision victory over southpaw Sam Sheedy the reward for an uncertain and tiresome few months in the Langford camp.
The North Devon fighter’s original British title tilt had been scheduled for October 22nd against the then-champion Chris Eubank Jr.
When Eubank pulled out of the fight in mid-September, it was Sheedy who stepped up to challenge for the vacated belt. However due to injuries sustained by fighters elsewhere on the card, the fight was further delayed, resulting in an extended training regime for Langford and the risk of burn-out prior to the big night.
Yet the 27-year-old, signed to Frank Warren, is made of sterner stuff and took his professional record to 18-0 by beating Sheedy. Already holder of the Commonwealth and WBO intercontinental belts, the British title proved to be worth the wait for Langford.
“I don’t really think I’ve realised what I’ve accomplished yet. I don’t think it will set in until I finish boxing,” said the Birmingham-based fighter.
“As a fighter you always look to the next thing, but it is phenomenal. I’m very very proud, I know what I’ve done is quite special and I’ve done it in the right way. I’ve not called anybody out, I’ve just gone about my business.
“It’s just really nice to be recognised as the British champion and to have done what I always believed I was capable of.
“I’ve done very well in winning the British and Commonwealth titles and I’m very pleased at how I’ve finished the year 18-0. But I think what I’m more proud of is that I’ve done that with a year of hiccups really.
“My first fight for the Commonwealth was supposed to be in February; it got put back a month. I had an extended training camp and then got cut in training and had three or four weeks prior to that fight with no sparring.
“But I still managed to get across the line and become the Commonwealth champion.
“And then obviously having to deal with the whole Eubank scenario, them pulling out, a new fighter coming in and then the date being pushed back and still becoming British champion.
“To be honest, if you put it all together that in itself says more about the year than the wins. I think the fashion in how I’ve gone about my business despite having all those setbacks and still managed to churn out the results, I think says a lot for me.”
Whilst Langford has shown his resilience by churning out results, the ‘Baggies Bomber’ felt as though he out-boxed Sheedy at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena and puts that down to his team’s tactical approach to the fight.
“I felt in complete control really. I was quite surprised at how comfortable the first six rounds were; I thought I’d find it more awkward to catch him.
“We always had the plan to be very patient and not over-chase or over-throw, because his tactic was to frustrate me and make me jump in so he could counter-punch.
“That was his sole tactic and that’s why he did all the antics of showboating and his corner talking to me throughout the fight trying to wind me up. I just knew I had to stick to my guns.”
Despite being unbeaten in his professional career, Langford still knows the importance of analysing each performance in order to continue to improve – including his British title success.
“The first six rounds I stuck to what I was doing and I put them in the bag comfortably. And when you’re six rounds up going into the second half of the fight, you’re one round off winning it.
“The second half, watching it back, didn’t go how it should have. I did switch off a little bit because I’ve not been in that position before where I’ve been so far ahead.
“I didn’t feel at any point threatened that he was going to win the fight.
“The way I’ve fought in the past I throw a lot of punches, I’m busy and always on the front foot taking the initiative, which is great and it makes for a lot of excitement. But in that fight I didn’t need that style because I was at risk of being caught and counter-punched.
“And when you’re up against those slippery southpaws who just pick and run off, if they catch you with one they’ll settle for 1-0. So I had to be clever.”
For all of boxing’s history and status within British sport, a contemporary criticism is that the often staged drama and controversy that preludes a big fight have begun to take a sport in a direction that lacks class and social awareness.
There seems to be a general acceptance that Dereck Chisora-type outbursts are as much a part of the sport as the punches thrown inside the ring.
So is it important to Langford that he stays away from these practices as his career continues to take an upward curve?
“Not really,he says thoughtfully. “If I get to the stage in my career where I need big fights and the only way of getting them is to call people out, then that’s what you have to do.
“I’m fortunate enough that my boxing has carried me through, my performances and wins have spoken for themselves and I’ve not had to do it in that way.
“I mean, it is important to me in the person that I am, I’m not that sort of a person.
“It is a sport and a business and that’s the way it should be conducted, you don’t need to be doing that sort of thing. If you fight you fight to win, and you win and then you move on.
“There’s no need to do the dramas in and around it, in my eyes it’s all about the fight; do the fight, win the fight and carry on. And that’s the way I feel sport and business should be conducted.”
Business, as well as sport, has also taken off for Langford in recent times, something he cites Warren as having a major effect on.
“It gives you a lot of confidence when you’ve got somebody like Frank Warren backing you and putting you in for fights that he believes you can win”
“He’s been massively beneficial,” Langford enthused. “I’ve been with Frank for three years now and it’s been massive for me. It has given me the exposure that I needed in terms of being on Box Nation and being out there so people can see me on TV.
“I started off on the smaller circuit and it was very hard. I was an England international and won national titles at amateur.
“So you turn professional with the opinion, whether it be right or not, that you’re entitled to a certain amount of limelight and you feel that you deserve better than what you’re getting.
“The exposure’s not there, you’re not known and you’re doing your job in the ring but you’re not being talked about, promoted or thrust into the public eye.
“We spoke to Frank before I first turned professional and his then match-maker, Dean Powell, who sadly passed away a few years ago. They were very interested at the start but we were in the pit of the recession at that time, the money in any business, not just boxing, wasn’t really there and it was taking a long time.
“So I said to myself ‘I’m just going to turn pro, get myself started and we’ll approach it again when the time’s right’. I got to 6-0 I think, or 5-0 and then it was the right time.
“It’s been a big change in my career and it gives you a lot of confidence when you’ve got somebody like Frank Warren backing you and putting you in for fights that he believes you can win. It gives you a lot of confidence in yourself and it’s nice to know somebody is putting weight behind you.”
Warren is not the only major backer in Langford’s corner. A life-long West Bromwich Albion fan, the Commonwealth title-holder has established a solid link between himself, the club and his fellow Albion supporters.
With regular home crowds of over 20,000 the exposure provided by West Brom has enabled Langford to further enhance his reputation and support, something for which he is especially grateful.
“Since I’ve managed to get a link with West Brom it has done me masses of good. It’s very important in boxing to have a good fan base and have people travel to support you.
“Ticket sales ultimately pay your purse so it’s a sport that can’t go on without fans. It’s been huge to have them behind me and it has put me into a different realm of fighter in the sense that, regardless of what I’m fighting for, I bring huge amounts of fans to the venues. I can top bills and fill venues with my fans.
“The fact that West Brom promote me and support me through social media, on their website or by getting me on the pitch or in the fan zone, it makes the connection even tighter.
“If you look at some of the best-supported fighters in recent history, they’ve all had football teams behind them. It’s a great thing really and I’m really happy that it has taken off the way it has done.”
“I was there for the [Manchester] United game, I was on the pitch as the fans’ champion which was brilliant. It was a packed house and I just thought walking out onto there, imagine if I was walking out fighting for a world title. It would be unbelievable.
“I think it can happen, West Brom are talking like they’d be happy to do it, it’s just a case of getting the right fight that sells it. Frank’s done shows at West Ham before, he likes a football stadium show. But if you get the right show there, yea, definitely I’d be well happy to do it.
“There are a few venues that are open to me and it is simply down to how well I’m supported. [The fans] all jump on board and they love it and I love it as well.
“Everything I win it isn’t just mine. People can say they’ve been there and watched it and supported me all the way through so this title is for the fans as well.”
Perhaps more important than where Langford will next fight; the question is who he will next fight?
With an 18-0 record and three belts to his name, there will be plenty of fighters out there that want to avoid him.
But after finishing a troubled, yet highly successful 2016 with November’s victory in the Welsh capital, Langford has his sights set on challenges on a grander scale in 2017.
“I’m confident I can mix it with the best at world level, so if those opportunities are offered then I’m taking them”
Outlining his plans he said: “Obviously, being the British champion if I want to own the Lonsdale belt I have to defend it three times.
“[However] I’ve always been of the opinion that if bigger and better opportunities come along, i.e. European or world shots, then I’m going to take them.
“I don’t know what’s next as in the immediate next fight but in terms of the future then, yeah, in 2017 I am looking at putting myself in a position for a world title shot. Whether that be the WBO against Billy-Joe [Saunders], or if other things come along so be it.
“I’m pretty open to anything really, whatever’s best for me career-wise then I’ll do it. If that means defending the British and there’s nothing else on offer, then I’ll defend the British and I’m very confident of beating anything domestically that’s offered up.
“I’m also confident I can mix it with the best at world level, so if those opportunities are offered then I’m taking them.”
New British middleweight champion Tommy Langford admits he was glad to see the back of Chris Eubank Jr in the build-up to the title fight that never was.
He had been due to compete for Eubank’s Lonsdale belt until the latter pulled out, relinquishing his title and leaving Langford with a battle to find suitable competition for the bout.
All was well that ended well for Langford, however, as he dispatched of Sam Sheedy, Eubank’s replacement, to claim the British crown for the first time.
Despite the sweetness of victory, dealing with the Eubanks – both Jr and his father Chris Sr – left a bad taste in the mouth for the 27 year-old.
“To be honest with you, I’m glad to be rid of them,” said the ‘Baggies Bomber’.
“They were really hard to deal with, they wouldn’t turn up to press conferences and didn’t conduct themselves right in my eyes in the build-up to the fight.
“So I just think I’m better off rid of them and I think that British boxing and the British public is better off not having anything to do with them.”
The Eubanks cited an elbow injury sustained in sparring as one reason for Chris Jr pulling out of the fight, however they went on to spark controversy by claiming the ‘vast chasm’ in quality between himself and other fighters would put contenders at risk of serious injury.
Many, due to the life-threatening injuries sustained by Nick Blackwell at the hands of Eubank Jr as the pair contested the British title in March, deemed this insensitive.
Blackwell has since had to retire from the sport after spending time in a coma, however Langford feels that the Eubank camp’s comments bear no relevance to his own ability to compete.
“Well, I think they’re just absolutely deluded, really,” he said.
“They know how the sparring went when I went down and sparred him, and they know I’m a very good fighter. They knew I was someone they needed to avoid.
“I’m not saying they were worried about fighting me, I know they’re hugely arrogant and believe they’ll beat everybody and every fighter needs to be confident and have a certain level of arrogance. So I’m not saying they were scared of fighting me.
“But what I do think is that I was a massive banana skin to them for their earning potential of fighting bigger fights.
“I could ruin the Eubank gravy train, if you know what I mean. I know that’s why they didn’t want the fight.
When I was signed to [promoter] Frank Warren, they said they’d fight anybody, but they didn’t want to fight me. There was a list of fighters they didn’t want to fight and I was top.
“So I know the ins and outs of it all and I know that’s the case and I just think they’re absolutely stupid.
“Eubank Sr’s comments about his son being so far above and beyond the British domestic scene is just laughable really, because now his son’s ended up moving up to super-middleweight and fighting for an IBO title against someone who has won 11 and lost 1.
“I was 17-0 when they were talking about fighting me and I’m still undefeated. And it was for a prestigious title. I’m number two in the WBO rankings so by rights that fight would have made one of us mandatory for the WBO world title.”
So after the saga of a potential fight with Eubank Jr this time around, has Langford washed his hands of his middleweight counterpart once and for all?
For the Birmingham-based British champion, big-name fights mean nothing without titles on the line.
“Names don’t matter – if you stack up the titles and stack up the wins then you’re the man”
“You never say ‘never’,” he admitted. “Ultimately, if he’s still about and he’s still doing the things he’s doing and there’s big money on the line, you don’t turn down big paydays, although they seem to have done that.
“But until that happens, no I’m not interested in them. I’m not lowering myself to fight him, I’m going after bigger and better things and I won’t bother with him.
“Ultimately now, what’s he got?” asked Devon-born Langford.
“He’s not got the British title, he’s not got the Commonwealth title, and he’s not got a European or world title.
“So he’s title-less and he’s forfeited his right to call himself a champion. I’ve got the Commonwealth, the British, number 2 in the WBO and I’m looking at European and World title shots.
“Names don’t matter – if you stack up the titles and stack up the wins then you’re the man.”