BRANCH­ING OUT

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

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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.”

Photo: AC­TION IM­AGES

UNVESTED: Branch is pleased with his progress in 2018

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