In the fth instalment of an ongoing series, Ian Probert nds a con dent James Branch looking forward to his third professional outing this Saturday (December 15) over four rounds at the Brentwood Centre against Remigijus Ziausys
DUBOIS IS A POWERFUL, STRONG MAN. FORTUNATELY, HE DIDN’T HIT ME”
THE long hot summer is now but a memory, but even the freezing rain cannot wipe the grin off James Branch’s unmarked face. From the car park of the Peacock Gym in London’s Canning Town the two of us rush for safety indoors. Two weeks earlier, James had coasted to the second victory of his career when he won every round against an overmatched recordpadder named Kent Kauppinen in Brentwood. Life is currently as good as it can be for a young boxer
looking to make his mark in the pro ranks.
Having recently celebrated his 23rd birthday everything is currently going according to plan for the Hainault cruiserweight. Never short of anything to say, the confidence drips from him as he heads for a table in the gym’s bustling cafe and aims a good-natured but patently unprintable insult at his matchmaker, who is sitting nearby sipping tea.
“To be honest with you the person who I boxed turned out to be a big surprise,” James tells me. “He was a cage fighting champion and surprised a lot of people. He tried to give it to me. I’ve always said that my defensive style would trouble anybody and I put up a good performance. A lot better than my debut performance which had a lot of nerves, a lot of pressure with cameras and things. But this time when I came in I’d already done it and was ready to go. When I jabbed him in the face he growled at me. I’ve never known that before. I thought, ‘Here we go’.”
“What do you think you learned from your second fight?” I ask.
“Well it was just an experience thing,” says James. “It was about learning on a big public stage and hearing my name called out. I know that might sound stupid but boxing’s what I’ve grown up with. I’m used to fighting. I love fighting. You can put me in a ring anywhere in the world and I know what to do and I make my own style. You’ve got to perform as a pro. You’ve got to win and win well. People are paying their hard-earned money to see me.”
And how did the experience differ from his debut two months earlier?
“It was harder than the first fight because he was attacking me,” smiles James. “And I like being attacked. I was a lot more relaxed. Coming into the ring I felt more comfortable. When I was in the amateurs I got used to just turning up for a fight. But now there’s so many other aspects to it: you’ve got to entertain all these people who are buying your tickets. Money’s hard to get and I appreciate that.”
Two fights. Two wins. For a fighter of James’ amateur credentials this sort of return is, of course, to be wholly expected. What is already becoming conspicuous by its absence, however, is the knockout that reflects the punching power I’ve been told that he carries. “Does it worry you that you haven’t got a KO on your record yet?” I ask.
“No,” James says firmly. “It doesn’t mean a thing because the way I won the fight was clear-cut, plain as day. I was showing my class, making him miss, doing my thing.”
James is next due to fight the 20-98-5 Remigijus Ziausys on December 15, again in Brentwood, on the Daniel Dubois-razvan Cojanu undercard. This, his trainer Martin Bowers informed me when we spoke earlier in the day, is due to be his final four-rounder.
“I’ve just started doing my first six-rounders in sparring,” James tells me. “I’m preparing to move up to six-rounders. My stamina’s already getting a lot better. It’s not tiring but it’s more of a mental thing. After four rounds you think, ‘I’ve got another two to go’. But when you’re in the ring doing it it ain’t that bad.”
At this stage in his career, James is unable to afford to pay for sparring partners. Instead, he takes anybody who happens to be in the gym and
is looking for sparring themselves.
“I’ve been sparring a few different people,” he says. “The other day I was sparring a French fella. I also sparred Daniel Dubois.”
“How did that go?” I ask, as the giant figure of Dubois strolls past us. “Good,” comes James’ one-word response. “Did he manage to connect with you?” The young cruiserweight sinks into his chair, confident grin still never far from his face. “Does it look like he did?” he laughs. “He’s a powerful, strong man. You can tell by his presence and posture. Fortunately, he didn’t hit me.”
“Are you looking forward to the day when you fight an opponent who gives you something back?”
“Not really,” grins James. “I hope that every fight for the rest of my career is somebody I can easily beat!”
This is the eighth time that he and I have met up since April and already it is noticeable that James no longer cuts such an anonymous figure in the gym. As we speak we are constantly interrupted by gym members and other boxers offering highfives. ‘Are you getting more attention from the general public?” I ask.
“A lot more people are starting to recognise me now which is crazy,” replies James. “I went out with my friends the other day and someone came up to me and said, ‘Are you James Branch?’ It’s mad because I’m just James, do you know what I mean? I get random people messaging me now as well. It’s good – it’s starting to happen for me.”
UNVESTED: Branch is pleased with his progress in 2018