Wayne McCullough: “Larios Must Be Dreaming!”
Interview by Sean Newman (July 5, 2005)
The Irish have a reputation of being tough, and none come tougher than former bantamweight titlist Wayne McCullough, also known as ‘The Pocket Rocket’. McCullough is coming off a highly controversial loss in his most recent title challenge against WBC super bantamweight beltholder Oscar Larios and is looking for revenge when the two get together for a rematch on the Bernard Hopkins-Jermain Taylor undercard on July 16th.
McCullough began his pro career in what seems like an eternity ago in 1993. Since then, he’s run up a 27-5 record with credible wins over Yasuei Yakushiji, Johnny Bredahl, and Juan Polo Perez. He has also faced the likes of Naseem Hamed, Erik Morales, and Scott Harrison, and has never been knocked out. On July 16th, he looks to win his second world title and make things right against Larios. In their first fight, it seemed to many observers that McCullough had done enough to win, and while Larios later claimed an injured shoulder, McCullough maintains that it won’t make a difference in the rematch.
As he prepares for this challenge, McCullough has taken the time to share his thoughts with Doghouse Boxing on a variety of topics. Read on to see what he had to say.
SN: How is everything with you, Wayne?
WM: I’m doing good. I sparred nine rounds today, so I’m ready to go. I train hard every day, about 25 rounds a day.
SN: What are your thoughts on Mayweather’s performance versus Gatti?
WM: Sensational. Absolutely sensational. I expected Mayweather to win the fight, of course, and he did exactly what I expected him to do, and that was to bust up Gatti and get a stoppage. I don’t think anyone can touch him in the 140 pound division. He’s just too quick, too smart, and I think the only time Floyd Mayweather will get beat is when his reflexes go. That’s going to be a long time.
SN: On July 16 you have a rematch with Oscar Larios, who you lost to controversially. Going back to that fight, Larios claimed he was fighting with an injured shoulder. What are your thoughts on whether he was fighting hurt, and do you think there will be a significant difference in this fight coming up if Larios is 100%?
WM: Fighters make excuses. I didn’t make any excuses after the fight. Larios said he hurt his right arm, but as far as I could see, the right hand was the main one he was throwing, and he threw right hands until the final bell. I didn’t make excuses after the fight, but I had a cortisone injection in my left hand, which is my best hand, a week before the fight, and in the second round it was gone. I wasn’t throwing my left hand with good effect. So if his right arm was sore, my left hand was sore, and that was my best hand, and I’ll be going in with two hands this time. But I don’t make excuses after a fight, I just go through with it.
SN: Many people thought you won that first fight, and everyone agreed it was close, so what do you think about the wide scorecards the judges turned in Larios’ favor?
WM: My daughter is seven years old and she sings a song about three blind mice, and called them the three blind judges. They had to be kidding. One judge didn’t give me one round in the first six, and the first six were comfortable and easy for me. I faded in the middle rounds of course, but I came on strong at the end. Not to give me one round in the first six is just a total embarrassment, really. I think it just took away from a good fight. I was facing a champion, and making a fight, and throwing thirty or forty punches more than he was every round. It’ll be different in Vegas. The judges are fair here, they’re commissioned, and I know I’ll get a fair shake in Vegas.
SN: Please give us your assessment of Larios as a fighter, and also how he stacks up against some of the other great fighters you have met in the past.
WM: I take my hat off to him because he’s the first guy to give me a rematch out of all my five losses. When you compare him with Erik Morales and Naseem Hamed, I think those fighters were in a league of their own. When I fought those guys, they were both in the top ten pound for pound ratings, and I pushed them both to the limit. Larios is a good fighter, but doesn’t have the same power as Hamed or Morales did. He thinks he does, but he doesn’t. I dropped my hands in the seventh round and let him hit me with two right hands. He didn’t even come near me, he backed off of me. When you get hit by someone like Morales, then you know you’ve been hit hard, so that’s the difference.
SN: Is there anything you can do differently to turn the result around in this fight?
WM: With twelve rounds behind me now, it will suit me because going into the first fight I had one fight in two years where I knocked the guy in two rounds. Larios was an active fighter and I still fought the best junior featherweight out there and pushed him to the limit. So I know twelve rounds will suit me. I can fight better, and I know he can’t fight any better.
SN: It is rare for a fighter in the lower weight classes to excel into his mid-thirties as you have. To what do you attribute your longevity?
WM: I pray to God every day. I’ve had 32 fights in a twelve year pro career, and that’s really not that many. When I fought Hamed and Morales, in between the fights I had long layoffs. I had problems with the British Board of Control for a couple of years. So you can’t help it if you’re out of the ring for a reason, but I never retired or stayed away from the gym, so I think that’s benefited me. When you’re in a hard fight and you have a long layoff, I think it helps to recuperate your body, instead of taking a hard fight after a hard fight. I’m the type of guy who lives clean. I’m an Irishman who doesn’t drink, which is unusual (laughs). I live clean, I’ve got my own gym at home, and I’m just a family man with my wife and daughter. I don’t abuse myself between fights. I look after myself, just like Floyd Mayweather. I know I can have a long career just like Bernard Hopkins.
SN: When you lost to Zaragoza, Larry Merchant had to shove a guy who was screaming you were robbed during the postfight interview with Daniel. Who was that guy and what was he doing?
WM: I didn’t know him at the time, but I met that guy about four years ago. He came up to me at one of the fights and was like “hey, I was the guy that jumped into the ring…” (laughs) But I don’t know who the guy was, he was just a fan. Larry pushed him, but if he would have touched Larry… believe me there were a lot of Irish people in that arena that night. He didn’t want to do something like that. (laughs) Larry’s a strong Irishman.
SN: Let’s turn to your writing for the Ring. How long have you been doing that now, and how did you get started?
WM: I’ve been doing it for about a year. Nigel Collins had seen some of my work on Secondsout.com, and I live in Las Vegas and they needed a Las Vegas correspondent. So I do the fight reports and stuff like that. They want me to do some features, but I haven’t gotten into that at the moment. They’ve asked me to do something like a ‘New Face’, but there haven’t been really any new faces around Vegas or California at the moment. I’ll probably do something like that when they come around, which I want to do. When I wrote for Seconds Out I would do long stories as well, but now it’s more like 500 words. As far as writing for The Ring Magazine and not being a qualified journalist, I like to talk about and write about boxing. I just try to get the fighter’s point of view across. I respect most journalists, I really do. There are a few journalists who abuse fighters, who try to destroy a fighter with pen and paper instead of getting their facts straight first. I have been criticized myself, but if the person criticizing me is wrong and I’m in the right, I’ll confront people. I’ve had stories retracted because there was something wrong. But if I’m right, I do confront people. I guess my Irish comes out. (laughs)
SN: Fighters often support the alphabet groups and their titles, because the titles represent more money to be made. The Ring has its own set of rankings and champions that many fans and experts adhere to. As both a fighter and a Ring Magazine writer, where do you stand on the issue of Ring Championships vs. Alphabet titles?
WM: I think it’s a good idea, I’d love to fight Larios with the Ring Magazine belt up for grabs. But when you fight for a WBC or WBA belt as well, those are major belts. I won the WBC belt in 1995 which is one of the most respected belts out there. I’m an old school type fighter, I like to have one champion in each division. That’s the way it should be, but it’s never going to be of course. The Ring Magazine Championship is a good idea and I support it 100%.
SN: So many European fighters never venture across the pond to fight in the U.S. because of the perceived home field advantage. By the same tokens, many American champions do not wish to go overseas to risk their titles in Europe, especially in Germany. Do you think that judges in European countries are more or less likely to favor the hometown fighter than judges in the United States?
WM: I think if you go to Germany it’s a little bit different, because you have to knock the guy out to get a draw. I went over there as an amateur and beat this guy in the Olympic qualifiers by one point, and I beat the crap out of the guy. The fight should have been stopped. I fought in Ireland and the judges are actually pretty fair. Like Kostya Tszyu in Ricky Hatton’s backyard, you know the hometown guy is going to get some favors. That’s to be expected, of course. You don’t want to disqualify the hometown guy, there’d be a riot! (laughs) You just want somebody in there who’s going to be fair. I think a lot of fighters should come to America and a lot of American fighters should go to Britain, but at the same time I think America is the place to be for any big fight. If you have to defend your belt against a mandatory it’s different, but apart from that, I think America in Las Vegas, New York, or LA are best for the big fights.
SN: Back to Larios, here’s the standard question where I ask you who you would like to fight next while acknowledging that you are not overlooking your current opponent.
WM: I never overlook my opponent, of course. He’s the one who said the other day that he was going to knock me out, so I think he’s overlooking me. When I read the report where he said that, the first thing I said to my wife was “he must have been dreaming last night, because he must have forgotten the seventh round when I dropped my hands and let him hit me and I just stood there and he didn’t do anything.” I think after this fight, having fought Morales and Hamed and Harrison and everybody, there’s only one guy left to fight and that’s Marco Antonio Barrera. I would love to, after he fights Robbie Peden, step up and fight him. I’d rather have him come down to 126 of course, but I’ll go up to 130, IF it’s financially worth it. I think Barrera is a great fighter with a big heart. I’ve got the style to come forward and I know he’s going to come forward, and it would make a great fight.
SN: Finally Wayne, what would you like your legacy as a fighter to be… how would you like to be remembered when your career in the ring is over?
WM: That I always fought the best and gave 100% win, lose, or draw. I’ve always given the fans their money’s worth and I want to continue to do that. I want to be remembered for that. The Ring recognized me for the best chin in boxing, and I certainly don’t want to be remembered for that because that means you’re getting hit. (laughs) I have a good chin, I was born with a good chin. I just want to be remembered as a guy who gave 100% in the ring.
SN: Anything you would like to add for your many fans across the globe in closing?
WM: Everywhere I have fought around the world, the Irish fans have shown up to support me. I always take my hat off to them for supporting me wherever I go, and I know when I fight Larios here in Vegas they’re going to be there screaming their head off, and I love the support I get.
Writer’s Note: I would like to thank Wayne for taking the time to speak with me, and also send a big thanks to his wife and manager Cheryl for setting up this interview. It was truly a pleasure.
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