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Paul Fleming talks return, boxing politics, re-signing with Top Rank

Paul Fleming talks return, boxing politics, re-signing with Top Rank

UNDEFEATED former Olympian and talented super featherweight Paul Fleming took time away from boxing.

In that time, Fleming returned home to Queensland, where he started a family and focused on being a father. After a prolonged absence, he returns tomorrow night in Perth against former world title challenger Angky Angkotta.

“I’ve had about eighteen months out of the ring now,” said Fleming in an exclusive interview with Aus-Boxing. “I took on the responsibility of being a father. My partner hasn’t been the healthiest person, when she was pregnant with my second son it really knocked her around.”

“So I needed to take some time off and really be there to try and help out and support her as much I could. After my son was born and at about two months old, he got a bacterial infection that went to his blood and he nearly died.”

“They couldn’t tell us if he was going to be okay there for a while, which is a really scary thing for doctors to say to you about your child. He was really sick there for a while,”

“I had to take a step away from boxing and really make sure he was okay. So I’ve really just had to bide my time to get back in there.”

“We’ve just found out that my partner is pregnant again and due in July,” Fleming explained. “We will be moving back to Sydney and I’ll be able to be there all through he pregnancy and support her through that.”

“Boxing isn’t the only thing I have in this world. It’s a big part of my life but my family is number one. It’s above everything. Making sure they’re healthy and okay is my number one prerogative in this world.”

Fleming, 26, talks with the maturity of a fighter who clearly understands the boxing business, and in many ways, he has returned with a fire lit inside of him. Boxing is a part of his identity and Fleming wants to take care of what he sees as “unfinished business.”

“My hunger brought me back, I’m hungry. Boxing is what I do,” Fleming added. “I have unfinished business. It’s like a half eaten birthday cake. You put it in the fridge but you still want to eat it, its still there.”

“I just have that hunger. If was up to me I wouldn’t have stepped away. But certain circumstances arose. If I didn’t take the time off for my family then it would be contradicting what I’m in the sport to do,”

“I’m in the sport for them. I’m doing this for myself, to put myself in a better position for my family.”

In the time that has lapsed since Fleming has stepped away, the super featherweight division has exploded.

With the exception of Will Tomlinson, who now campaigns at lightweight, the division is now stacked, including names such as Billy Dib and Kye MacKenzie – who appear to be at the divisions front – followed by Jack Asis, Corey McConnell, Billel Dib, Valentine Borg and Nathaniel May.

Despite his inactivity, Fleming (18-0, 13 KOs) firmly believes that he is the divisions best and will look to add credence to these claims with the nineteenth win of his professional career.

“When I stepped away from the super featherweight division, it just got exciting. I’m back now,” Fleming explained. “I believe everyone out there believes I’m the best super featherweight in the country. I believe I’m the best super featherweight in the world.”

For this fight, Fleming has returned to Sydney, where he is back under the guidance of respected trainer Billy Hussein at the Bodypunch Boxing Gym, where he trains alongside former world champion Billy Dib and world rated Billel Dib, who in his eyes are the two best super featherweights in the country that aren’t named Paul Fleming.

“We have the best three super featherweights in the world in the gym. I’m lucky enough to have Billel Dib, he is a very underestimated super featherweight. We forget that he has had only two amateur fights. I rank Billel very highly; he is only going to get better.”

“We also have Billy Dib; he has been to the top and now is looking at getting back there. He wants it even more. It’s a good time for our gym.”

Despite all the positivity in his camp, Fleming is the first to admit that his comeback hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Fleming cites the lack of quality sparring on the Sunshine Coast as well as general wear and tear as issues he faced in the early days.

“I’m not going to lie, it felt like I’d been out of the ring for five years not eighteen months. I didn’t think I would be that far behind from where I was. I did some sparring with some guys up in the Sunshine Coast and the competition isn’t the same as the guys that are in my gym.”

“But when I got back in the gym it was a real eye opener for me,” Fleming noted. “It didn’t take me long to get back into a groove and I’ve had some really good sparring sessions where I felt like my old self.”

“It may take me a couple of fights to get back one hundred percent to where I once was but I was on the cusp of a title shot. In the past eighteen months I could’ve had three more fights and become the number one contender in the world and been fighting for a world title already.”

“That’s a bit disheartening. But what happened, happened, but I had to do what I had to do.”

“I think everyone wanted to see me come back. The support I have had has been overwhelming and I’m happy to be back. I’m happy to be back over here on Ty Colman’s show, Western Alliance 15. It’s been twelve times that I’ve fought over here in Perth now, it’s like a second home.”

To his credit, Fleming calls things as he sees it. In an era of padded records and laughable regional baubles, the Indigienous ace is happy to call people’s bluffs. Without naming names, Fleming takes a swipe at several fighters and openly acknowledges the path he will take to earn his title shot.

“I’m not here to have a big head and stroke my ego in Australia. I’m here to fight the big fights,” Fleming continued. “This is what gets on my nerves in Australian boxing; people throw around these regional titles like they have achieved something in the sport.”

“They give them away and half of the other world titles are not legitimate ones. Fighters throw them around like they just won a world title. A regional title puts you in a position where you can fight for a world title,”

“I’m not here to win a regional title and talk about it like it’s a world title. I know what its sole purpose is. It’s to put me in a position to fight for a world title,”

“That’s what I hate about all these trainers and all these fighters in Australia that talk about their world titles, they aren’t legitimate world titles,” Fleming highlighted. “They talk about their regional titles and they have fought some guy – that has half losses and half wins – and they think they are a world rated fighter, when we know that they are not.”

“I’m not here for ego. I’m not here to play the ego game with other fighters. I’m not here to play the ego game with other trainers. I’m here to what I do. I’m here to win fights.”

To his delight, Fleming was also welcomed back to the roster of promotional powerhouse Top Rank, who have continued their heavy investment into boxing in the Asia Pacific region in the last eighteen months.

“I’m with one of the biggest boxing promoters in the world,” said Fleming on continuing his relationship with promotional powerhouse. “As soon as I get myself in a position, I think I’m a stone’s throw away from a world title. I really think I’m a marketable fighter on the world stage.”

“People love my personality and they like my fighting style. Being marketable is the way to make money in this sport.”

“They were more than excited to sign me back on which was good for me. Because when you are with a powerhouse promoter like that, it makes life easy for you,” Fleming continued. “It’s less money coming put of your pocket and more opportunities to showcase your skills on the world level.”

“They have the pulling power to take you anywhere in the world. It’s better for me to be with them than without them. I’m happy they re-signed me. But they were keen to have me back even more.”

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“I’m not here for other super featherweights and their trainers in this country that keep calling everyone out. I’m not here for them to make money off me. That’s what they are trying to do. Because they know that they will make money and build their name off me.”

“The only way I’ll fight these guys is if they agree to winner takes all.”

In Angkota (27-10-1, 14 KOs), Fleming will face a fighter who has challenged for a legitimate version of a world twice, albeit at bantamweight and super bantamweight. While Fleming admits that he is fighting Angkota at a weight that is beneficial to him, he is not ruling out a campaigner as experienced as Angkota, who has fought elite level operators such as Jorge Arce and Fernando Montiel.

“He is a tough opponent and this will be his fortieth fight,” Fleming said. “He has been in there with Jorge Arce twice. He went the distance with Arce, who at that time was a ferocious fighter.”

“He has come up in weight a bit. I know he has come to fight. I’m not taking this fight lightly. I train for every fight like I’m training for a world title. I just do what I do.”

If Fleming is successful in disposing of Angkota, Fleming is looking to keep busy and remain active from this point onwards. Having fought twice internationally, with a singular appearance in both the US and Macau, Fleming is hoping to broaden his experience by fighting as much as possible.

“I fight the way I fight. This is a good first fight back. We have something planned for February. No date set yet, but we have something planned. Then mid-year we are looking at going back to Macau, that’s the plan.”

“That’s the plan we’ve got short term, but I’m focused on this fight this Friday. We don’t overlook any fight. We take each fight as it comes. When you start overlooking it can really backfire and blow up in your face.”

“So we take this fight for what it is and we trained really hard for it. So I’ll get through this and then get something locked in for February.”

In many ways, Fleming is looking to make up for lost time. Having already had a large number of fights for some of his age and experience, Fleming believes he is only a year or two away from challenging for world title honours.

“Hopefully by the end of next year I’m in a top ten position and I’m really in the mix. By the end of the following year I really hope to fight for a world title,” Fleming explains. “I’m no way in a position to call anyone out or say I’m going to do this or do that, I’m looking forward to getting back into the sport I’ve missed for eighteen months.”

With Top Rank firmly behind him, Fleming will have one eye on this weekend’s mega pay-per-view card in Macau, with the intention of fighting on the next Macau showcase card that Top Rank puts together in 2015.

“They are keen to have me back over to the Macau show, we talked about that when we re-signed. About fighting on one of the Macau shows, they really want to showcase me in the Asia-Pacific region,”

“To see their enthusiasm after eighteen months out is a real confidence boost,” said Fleming in closing. “They could’ve easily dusted their hands of me and walked away but they wanted me back and they showed enthusiasm and I’m happy about that.”

Words: Brock Ellis
Pboto: CDL Boxing Promotions



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