Boxing: Ashley insists he will have Nunn on run: A two-fisted British fighter is expecting to return from Memphis with the world title

IT IS to Crawford Ashley's advantage that he possesses an abundance of self-confidence, because hardly anyone outside his immediate entourage shares his belief that a major upset will occur when he challenges the gifted American Michael Nunn for the World Boxing Association super- middleweight title in Memphis on Friday night.

The American fight fraternity has, with characteristic ruthlessness, dismissed the affair as a nonsense, a risk- free payday for the champion. Even here, submerged beneath the ballyhoo surrounding Frank Bruno's Saturday night engagement with Carl Williams, it has scarcely merited more than the raising of a quizzical eyebrow.

It is tempting to subscribe to the American belief that the fight is a grotesque, cynically made mismatch. After all, everyone knows Nunn, the former middleweight champion who rates amongst the leading dozen fighters in the world. In global terms Ashley, the British light-heavyweight title-holder, is a virtual nobody.

Nonentity or not, Ashley insists that on Friday night a 28-year-old former apprentice bricklayer from Leeds will produce the biggest upset in British boxing since another rank outsider, John H Stracey, shattered the legendary Jose Napoles to win the world welterweight crown in 1975.

'I have always known I was going to be a world champion, it was only a question of when,' he said. 'That question has been answered now. If Michael Nunn gets in the ring with me on Friday night, the title's mine.'

When you have finished laughing, consider these facts. Nunn's most productive days were when he campaigned at middleweight in the 1980s. Now 30, and with a recent whispered history of personal difficulties, his career threatened to disintegrate after losing his title in May 1991 to another unfancied underdog, James Toney.

Since then the tall, fast-moving champion has won his second title, his revival sustained against carefully selected opponents. After the Toney debacle, however, his handlers have shrewdly shielded him from heavy hitters, seeking opponents against whom his outstanding reflexes and considerable defensive skills have proved sufficient for victory.

While Nunn has moved up, Ashley is slimming down to what he insists is his natural weight for this contest and should consequently enjoy important physical advantages. He is also a genuine two-fisted puncher whose withering right hands and equally effective left hooks have accounted for 11 of his 18 victims inside three rounds. None, it must be said, have remotely approached Nunn's pedigree.

Ashley's progression from club fighter to world title aspirant has been achieved largely through his own efforts, unrefined talent combining effectively with unwavering determination. The record books reveal three losses in his first 12 outings, hardly the formline associated with a potential champion in the making.

'In the early days, I used to get kicked round a lot,' he said. 'I would go to the gym the day before a fight to be told it had been called off. Then there were times I'd not train for a few weeks, visit the gym and be told to fight in two days. The worst of it is that you want to say no, but you can't because there's a gas bill to pay. I've always been the opponent: there's hardly ever been a home-town fight, no one doing me any favours.'

After drifting through a succession of managers, Ashley joined Barney Eastwood's gym in Belfast in early 1991, a decision which marked a turning point in his career. In March, he was fighting for the vacant European light-heavyweight crown against the unbeaten Graciano Rocchigiani in Dusseldorf in what seemed at the time another piece of injudicious matchmaking.

The powerful German, a former world super-middleweight champion, was an overwhelming favourite yet, despite only having had a week's notice, Ashley looked unfortunate to be on the wrong end of a split decision. When a rematch was ordered, Rocchigiani promptly announced his retirement.

'I couldn't believe I'd been in with an undefeated world champion and he hadn't extended me,' Ashley said. 'A lot of people changed their attitude to me after that. It was as if they were saying, 'Sure, we've heard him talk, but maybe this guy really is as good as he thinks he is.'

Ashley regards the experience as the turning point in his career: he has not lost since. Eastwood's gym, with its unique chemistry of European and Latin American disciplines, has developed his natural skills, but more significantly has hardened his psychological approach. He has now left the Eastwood camp, joining forces with Frank Warren. There was no falling-out, Ashley simply tiring of the sense of isolation he felt in Belfast.

'I'm mentally very strong now,' he said. 'I've got the right attitude for this game. I'm a little stubborn, nothing's going to stop me if I want something. Being in the Eastwood gym, I learned you have to be totally professional in your outlook, fully committed to what you're doing.'

It is impossible to fault Ashley's dedication: since the new year, he has spent just seven days with his wife at the family home in Leeds, a level of abstinence rarely witnessed since the days of Marvin Hagler.

'The guy's got tunnel vision,' his trainer, Bob Pagett, said. 'I've been around a few world title fighters and although they'll always say they fancy it, you can tell when someone talks without conviction. But not this bloke. He's convinced he's going to do it.'

'It means a lot to me to be able to say I'm the best,' Ashley said during the final preparations for the trip to Tennessee. 'The money is nice for the family and to make my life a little bit easier, but what motivates me is a burning desire to be the best at what I do.' Will that intensity be sufficient to confound the odds and confirm Ashley's place in the pantheon of those who have achieved the impossible? Common sense demands that it cannot be done, but Ashley is far from alone in pointing out that logic and the fight game rarely have much in common.

(Photograph omitted)

Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower