Experience is key for Fitzgerald
Preston boxing star Scott Fitzgerald believes his big fight temperament will stand him in good stead on Saturday evening when he makes his professional boxing debut at the Manchester Arena.
The Commonweath Games gold medal winner is set to face Chippenham light-middleweight and former English kickboxing champion Ben Heap.
And what a night it should be for the 24-year-old as he makes his pro bow in front of more than 20,000 spectators on the undercard of the blockbuster world super bantamweight title fight between Bury’s Scott Quigg and Northern Ireland’s Carl Frampton.
Despite having never fought as a professional, Fitzgerald can call upon the experience he has gained from a stellar career in the amateur ranks when the first bell rings.
Crowned the 2013 National ABA champion after defeating Luke Saunders in the final, the former Our Lady’s High School pupil announced himself in a big way in 2014 when he became Commonwealth champion in Glasgow.
His demolition of India’ Mandeep Jangra in the gold medal bout caught the eye, but the way he battled through several tough earlier fights to get to the final was particularly impressive.
Fitzgerald was crowned champion despite suffering a severe cut above his eye after a clash of heads in his second bout which hampered him for the rest of the Games.
And unknown to many at the time, he was also nursing a hand injury which was later diagnosed as being fractured.
The former Larches and Savick Amateur Boxing Club star, who was taught his trade as a youngster by his dad Dave, has also represented his country on several occasions.
It is that big-fight mentality which he believes will help him cope with the nerves when he enters the ring as a professional for the very first time.
“Throughout my career as an amateur, I have never really got nervous until fight day,” said Fitzgerald, who is trained by Preston-based cornerman Karl Ince.
“Even when I used to wake up in the morning on fight day or even when I would be on my way to the venue, I would not feel too nervous.
“It was when I would start to warm-up that I would feel a few nerves, but I’ve obviously had a lot of amateur fights over the years and I’ve learned how to use those nerves to my advantage.
“I am able to turn the nerves into good nerves and they make me a better fighter.”
Despite his appearances on some of the biggest stages in the amateur ranks, Fitzgerald concedes the atmosphere on Saturday is going be like no other he has experienced in his life.
He added: “Is this a whole new different level to what I’ve been used to?
“It is and it isn’t, because boxing at the Commonwealth Games was massive.
“There were thousands of people watching.
“So that is a great experience for me to have been through when it comes to appearing on these big pro shows.
“I am already half used to it and know what to expect.
“But yeah...Saturday night is going to be different. There’s going to be a different feel to it.
“I just can’t wait for it now.
“I can’t wait to get in the ring and do a job.
“It’s going to be a great atmosphere and a huge night of boxing – it’s just great that I’m going to be part of it all.”
The bout has been a long-time coming for Fitzgerald after announcing his decision to turn professional in September.
Having proven his pedigree as an amateur, the Preston ace was thrilled that renowned boxing promoter Eddie Hearn decided to sign him to his Matchroom Boxing promotions company.
Primed for outings on three huge bills – including Anthony Crolla’s world title rematch victory over Darley Perez in Manchester and Anthony Joshua’s British title win over Dillian Whyte in London – at the end of last year, Fitzgerald was forced to shelve those plans after suffering an injury.
He sustained a fractured thumb while sparring with Cumbria’s Ricky Skelton, but Fitzgerald believes the injury – while frustrating at the time – may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
His enforced absence from the ring enabled the old hand injury he suffered at the Commonwealth Games to get the rest and recuperation which it needed.
“When I broke my thumb, it gave my old hand injury a chance to heal,” Fitzgerald said.
“I was in a cast for a number of weeks, but now my hand is feeling the best it has felt in a long time.
“So everything is feeling good.
“I had a few niggles getting back into training after having the time off – to be honest I was getting a different niggle every week.
“I was trying to ease my way back into it.
“The cast came off at the start of December and I had a bit of time off over Christmas because I knew I was not fighting until the end of February.
“Since the start of the year, I have been out running twice a day and sparring three times per week.
“I am over those injuries now, training has gone really well and I’m fully fit.”
Cast as the overwhelming favourite, Fitzgerald will be ensuring that he will not be underestimating his opponent Heap, who at 25 is one year older.
A former kickboxing champion, Heap has only ever fought once as a pro boxer, losing to Latvia’s Viktors Drizlionoks on points, in Swindon, in December.
Although on paper the Chippenham man looks there for the taking, he will be motivated by the fact that the fight is likely to be screened live on Sky Sports Box Office.
Heap’s trainer Richard Farnan said: “Ben is under no illusion just how tough this is going to be given Scott’s amateur pedigree.
“When I told him about this chance, he went away and thought about it and decided to do it.
“He has been training hard and this is a massive opportunity to experience a big crowd, on a big show in a big arena.
“At the moment we are not sure if the fight will be shown on the television – it could be as Matchroom Boxing are looking at making big deal out of Scott.”
Fitzgerald admitted he is hoping to get the chance to showcase his talents on TV.
“Obviously there’s some big names on the bill, but I am hoping my fight will be shown on Sky,” he said.
“Eddie Hearn is trying to build me up so hopefully I can get the job done.
“I can’t look beyond this fight, but I’m looking to get out and fight as much as possible.
“I am hoping to appear on the Callum Smith/Hadillah Mohoumadi bill next month in Liverpool. I am looking to keep winning all year and see where it takes me.”
One thing Fitzgerald will not do is get too far ahead of himself.
Winning a world title is obviously the big dream for him, but a shot at the British title is his short-term goal.
In the medium to long-term, he has eyes on competing for a Commonwealth title.
“I am looking for a title at the end of next year – to win a British title would be a dream come true for me,” he said.
“Once I do that then I will look to see what I can move on to.
“To be the Commonwealth champion, that would be nice too.
“We always said after winning the Commonwealth Games gold medal that if I could win the Commonwealth title before the next Games in 2018, I would be the double Commonwealth champion in both the professional and amateur ranks.”
Once Fitzgerald has completed his work, he is hoping to enjoy what should be an action-packed night of boxing.
“It’s going to be a great night of boxing,” He said.
“I’m hoping to get my job done and then get a ringside seat for the main event of Quigg against Frampton.”