By Oliver McManus @OliverGMcManus
The dust from Ultimate Boxxer III appears to have settled from what was an on-the-night euphoric triumph for Derrick Osaze. Having booked a short break in Hungary, prior to the fight date being switched, the 25 year old found himself contemplating in serenity away from the boxing world. He gave me a ring when his, delayed, flight touched down to discuss his route to victory.
“We’ve said it before that I don’t normally get nervous – as you get more experienced you can deal with the nerves more – but going into (the Tey Lynn-Jones fight) it I was ridiculously calm. I started to question myself because I wasn’t getting that usual buzz: on paper I looked a routine fight for him so I think they underestimated me. I watched it back and noticed I was sticking my tongue out a lot at him; I knew I would be too much for him.”
Having dropped his opening opponent in the second round there was a moment where you felt Osaze would swarm his man with a barrage of shots but he elected to remain patient, cautious of the fights to follow.
“My coaches weren’t happy with that, really, because on the scorecards it was 29-27 including the knockdown. I was always confident but once I got the knockdown I knew I had it in the bag so from then on I was just cruising until the end of the contest. In my mind, when I dropped him I knew I was in the semi-final just because I’d already had the first round in the bank and a 10-8 in the second, he’s not coming back from that.”
Having dispatched of a former Southern Area champion, the semi-final saw him face the pre-tournament betting favourite in Kieron Conway. A fiercely contested bout saw Osaze emerge victorious via split decision but the 7/2 underdog was disappointed he couldn’t drop Conway.
“I could have boxed a bit better but the game plan was working and Kieron Conway is a very good opponent, let’s be honest. I could see his confidence diminishing with each round and I knew it would be a good, tough fight. I won the first and the last round but he did come back into it during the second round, I probably started a bit too fast in that, but I never fought I lost the fight (when waiting for the scorecards). It’s the only fight I’d want to do again over 10 rounds and I can see it happening down the line. A lot of people would tell you Conway is suited to the longer distance but I’m happy to prove them wrong a second time.”
The man standing in the way of being crowned ‘Ultimate Boxxer’, pocketing £16,000 and taking home the Golden Robe was Grant Dennis. On paper he had the better pedigree and was out to prove wrong those who labelled him as ‘just’ a championship fighter: if that is even a bad thing. A ferocious fight with Sean Phillips saw Dennis dropped but Osaze insisted he didn’t let that play into his mindset.
“People tried to get me distracted by that but I’m good friends with Sean Phillips, I’ve sparred with him before, and he was in the same changing room with me so they were obviously feeding back after the semi-final and saying ‘his legs are gone, you have to win’. I couldn’t let that bother me, though, and I had to listen to my coaches (Barrington Brown and Mark Howell, both former professional boxers) who said ‘you’ve not been throwing many uppercuts today’: you watch, the uppercut was the shot that dropped Grant. I knew he would start fast because he needed to get the finish, realistically, so I made sure he was landing on the gloves and the arms for that first round.”
Before the tournament you’d have pinpointed Lynn-Jones, Conway and Dennis as the three trickiest opponents for anyone to face but paper counts for nothing, especially not in this tournament, and Osaze beat them all relatively convincingly.
“I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way, if you speak to my missus she’ll tell you that I had a dream a couple weeks back. I knew who I was going to fight, I told her it would be those three and I was laughing when the draw was made because I could see it all falling into place. There’s no ifs, buts or maybes and you can’t put this down as a fluke – I beat all those guys.”
The secret to his success, then, stood in his training techniques that he entrusted to Barrington Brown and Mark Howell.
“I sparred nine rounds straight with a different person in each minute of each round to replicate the stamina required because you underestimate how much your body can go to sleep when you’re doing the same thing each round. I only sparred amateur fighters, as well, I turned down a last-minute opportunity to spar Billy Joe Saunders but that was completely down to how similar the formats are.
I hated it, I hated sparring them. I remember as an amateur how easy it was to hit pro’s over the first two-three rounds of sparring but I also remember how easy it was to get hit afterwards. There were some interesting spars, we’ll put it like that, and it was perfect preparation for the tournament.”
All of that grassroots graft paid off with the encapsulating storyline of an underdog preaching puncher being made to look and sound a breezy walk in the park. What of the golden robe, then?
“It’s a bit heavier than I thought, I’m going to get it framed with the gloves and the shorts for a nice bit of memorabilia. I’ve got a cool dressing gown already – one with the fabric on the inside that keeps me warm – and I don’t think the golden gown would keep me warm at night, it’s quite metallic, so that’ll be framed.”
On a more genuine note, his story is quite remarkable and reaches far wider than just your standard boxing echelons. My mum tuned in just to watch Derek win, having never been much of a boxing fan, and the 25 year old is certainly having a profound impact on those from both walks of his life – ministry and pugilism.
“I’ve spent the last few days just replying to messages from people – some who I know, some who I don’t – saying that I’ve motivated them to either take up boxing or go to Church on Sunday and both of them are wins for me. It’s helping spread positivity in the community and that’s all I could ever hope for. That’s my golden robe, Oliver, that’s my golden robe.”
A week on, then, I questioned whether the feeling of winning had fully sunk in for the Nottinghamshire fighter.
“I struggle to put it into words just how amazing it feels to have won. I had to watch it back to soak up the atmosphere because I was just so zoned out on the night and focussed on the task at hand. I sold just over 100 tickets, as you know, and I could hear them shouting my name but I couldn’t really listen, if that makes sense? It blew over my head how much support I was getting and it was only afterwards when people were commenting that I understood it all.
I refused to be beat on the night, especially in front of those guys, and it’s the usual boxing jargon – ‘will and desire’ – but I genuinely think it was my will and desire that stood me apart. I was never arrogant or cocky before the tournament but I always said I was going to win. Forget the odds, forget what people say, forget the status quo because if you believe in yourself then you can achieve it.”
For those of you have been following the Big Write Hook coverage of Derrick Osaze’s career, you may recall we had a bet with the super middleweight that if he won the tournament we would play a game of Cluedo between myself, Lewis Calvert (the head honcho here at BWH), and Ekow Essuman.
A true man of his word, it’s in the works, a date will be sorted and a live stream organized. For now, though, he can sit back in his cushty golden robe and enjoy life as the ultimate Ultimate Boxxer.