BOXING has a habit of spoiling even the best-laid plans.
As Saturday night draws closer, the team of reigning Australian cruiserweight titleholder Daniel Russell, led by trainer Chris McCullen, have warned Jason Whateley to not look past their fight at The Timber Yard.
“He’s got a tough task and people aren’t giving him a chance,” he told Aus-Boxing.
“It looks like Whateley’s team are looking past him. They’ve got a fight in front of them, which is dangerous.
“Daniel is in great shape and if he can come down there and take a victory, it’ll take him to the next level. We know that this is the hardest fight of Daniel’s career.”
The rise of Russell (7-1-2, 4 KOs), who captured the national crown with a decision victory over Jayden Joseph in August, surprised many given his unassuming demeanour and modest achievements thus far.
However, as McCullen notes, their humble surroundings at the Logan Boxing Club have brought their fighters all over the world, including the likes of former world title challenger Trent Broadhurst.
Having a slew of training partners at the same weight, including his brother Aaron, who also held the Australian title in 2016, has proven helpful for everyone involved.
“We’re lucky to have a lot of fighters around us who fight at the same weight,” McCullen explained.
“That’s always going to help. We do a lot of partner work and defence drills in the gym, which is good as everyone is able to focus on their individual goals. When we need to, we’ll also use other boys for sparring in the gym.
“It’s definitely a massive advantage, especially having a lot of fighters close to our area, as well. The fighters we use aren’t just cruiserweights, we’ve got small heavyweights and big light heavyweights as well. We’ve even done work with quality amateur fighters like Clay Waterman.”
There are challenges involved with managing such a big stable of fighters, but as McCullen reveals, his motivation to succeed as a trainer hasn’t changed.
“There’s a lot of juggling involved, it’s difficult, but it’s a great time,” he continued.
“What people don’t see is that as a gym, we’re taking big fights. This means that along the way we’re going to win some or lose some. We’re trying to work on things as individuals, not as a group.
“The boys are awesome, they can run the gym by themselves if they want. We’re lucky to have such a dedicated group of fighters who also have the ability to work on things individually.
“We know what we’re working with, our gym, it certainly isn’t state of the art, but we get a lot of guys who train here that love it. Even the people who come here to our tin shed in a backyard, it’s almost got that Rocky 4 aspect.
“If you’ve got the right people around you and the fighters have the ingredient, you’ll find ways around it. We’ve been all around it and it’s a credit to the boys for how far we’ve come. It’s the reason why I’m involved.
“I have a normal job and my goal was to see these guys achieve something. I want to see them either make some money, reach an Australian title, or whatever their goal is. Nearly every fighter in my gym has achieved that. From a little tin shed, there wouldn’t be many others who have done that.”
Among those fighters is the recently retired Anthony Mundine, who not only reached the pinnacle of the sport, but achieved sustained success for the best part of two decades.
Despite the initial unfamiliarity that comes with having an elite level athlete training alongside fighters who are yet to reach those heights, McCullen describes the atmosphere as no different to any other gym.
“At first it was surreal, but now it’s normal,” he said.
“We’ve had a lot of times where people have wanted to shoot footage, do interviews, or want him to go to flash gyms for media commitments, but we’ve always done it in our gym. I think everyone has seen the footage in the wheelie bin full of ice. It’s good to the boys, and I love how he’s apart of it.
“The thing people never see, it’s the small things he does that aren’t on camera. The advice he gives the boys, making sure they put in the work to get on the big stage.”
As for Russell and the challenge that looms, McCullen was quick to praise the resume of their highly credentialed opponent, but offered a piece of advice for those doubting the ability of his hard-nosed fighter.
“What Daniel has got on the inside, he’s a different breed. It reminds me a lot of another throwback fighter like Omar Shaick. They’ve got big tickers and want a challenge,” he explained.
“It’s funny, they all thought Daniel would vacate and steer away from this fight, but he wanted to give Whateley a fight. He knows that he’s going to go out there and give him a challenge. Jason is a big lad, and he’s represented Australia on the world stage.
“There aren’t many fighters that have the same mentality as Daniel. It’s unfortunate the way things have gone with the management side of things, where people try to manage their way to a belt.
“We have fighters who are world ranked that haven’t fought an Australian, or even for the Australian title. People are going to bag us for losing fights, but we’re taking the hardest fights to challenge ourselves.”
Photo: Marty Camilleri