At home with Jamie: Speight's bid to be the 'people's champ'
THINGS you didn't know that you didn't know about Jamie Speight: He has an obsession with shoes.
There are at least 20 pairs of them lined up by the door of his flat near the town centre in Newton Abbot, providing an immediate talking point in our interview.
"It's the only addiction I've got – apart from boxing," he says. "When I'm out shopping, I just can't help myself when it comes to shoes."
I'm here because of Speight's forthcoming Southern Area super bantamweight title fight against Jon Fernandes in Southampton. That, and the feeling I've got that there's more to Speight than meets the eye. The collection of shoes is a sign that I might be right.
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This Friday's title fight is the culmination of months of preparation for Speight, who has dropped more than a stone in weight to box three divisions lower than his last fight, which was at lightweight.
Speight's heaviest pre-fight weight was 9st 13lb, which was recorded in February last year, before his ill-fated outing against Nigel Wright in Liverpool.
The fifth-round stoppage was the first and only blemish on his record until last October, when he took on Kevin Hooper. With the contest broadcast on YouTube, Speight turned his ankle midway through the fight and effectively became a sitting duck. He boxed on anyway and still made life difficult for Hooper, who only won on points.
Speight fought back and won the Southern Area super featherweight title against Scott Moises in March – making history as the first fighter from the old Western Area to do so.
But once again came a cropper when he took on Ben Jones for the IBO International lightweight title little more than a month later.
Several cancelled fights later, Speight took the bold decision to drop to the super bantamweight threshold of 8st 10lb, opening up a new range of possibilities.
Sitting opposite him in his living room, it certainly sounds like Speight has made the right decision. He stands up and lifts one side of his T-shirt to grab hold of an inch of flesh. It's the place where most of us have what are kindly called 'love handles' – but there's not much for Speight to grab anymore.
"When I first started my diet I could grab here and there was a thickness, but now I'm shredded," he grins.
"Every morning I go out running – I was doing 10 miles but I've been cutting it down as we get closer to the fight. I'm down to about five miles now, so I'm getting a bit more back in my legs."
Yet there's been more than running to Speight's weight-loss regime.
Before he began, he recognised that in order for the move to be effective he would have to maintain his strength and punching power, and he has sought advice from nutritionists to maximise his output.
He talks about meals not just in terms of content but also their gram weight.
"There's a lot that goes into it," he says. "I feel great. I thought at the start that I would feel lacklustre, and I've dropped the weight quickly too. I've dropped over a stone in a little over four weeks.
He added: "I've felt the difference in the gym – Lee Haskins has made a comment about me, saying that I've never hit him so hard. And all my pad men are saying that I'm really punching.
"I certainly feel strong but it's not just the weight loss, it's also the road work. Everything is driven from the floor and when you've got strong legs to drive with, it makes a difference."
Speight will at the very least be hoping to stay injury-free during and after Friday's fight. His last outing, against Jones, saw the fight stopped in the six round, after he'd taken a shot directly on the hip – suffering a suspected dislocation.
"The Jones injury was the worst, and the worst short term," says Speight.
"The following two weeks after that I could barely walk more than 20 steps without having to stop because of the pain. It was unbearable.
"When I was in the ring I thought I was going to pass out because of the pain."
Yet instances such as these have turned Speight from a promising young boxer into an experienced and weathered opponent.
He could certainly not be accused of dodging difficult fights, with his last three outings all being for titles. And it is two years – and six fights – since he last boxed on his 'home' turf, which was a 10-round rematch against Ibrar Riyaz at the Riviera Centre.
"You look at these lads like at Matchroom who are fighting every three weeks. They give them opponents that are easily beatable – they're padding their records really," he says.
"But down here I've got no chance of doing that – from here on in it's hard fights only – but I wouldn't want it any other way."
The only high-profile professional contests to have taken place in Devon since have been at the Guildhall in Plymouth. It has added up to a feeling from Speight and his camp of not being particularly well supported in and around South Devon. It might merely be down to a lack of opportunity for fans to express their support, but Speight is genuine about a desire to be the 'people's champion'.
He explains: "I just think that there's not enough supporters in the area and that people don't get behind boxing at all. Should I win this title it makes me a three-time winner in three different weight divisions.
"When I turned pro it was a regular thing to fight in Torquay, and it built an interest.
"The first three times were ordinary fights, and they built up to my first title fight – and I had 300 tickets on my own, which was massive.
"The venue in Torquay is a lovely little venue. But when Keith Mayo decided to stop promoting there, it just sort of went away."
Speight's longer-for outcome is for what he calls 'big time boxing' to return to South Devon. And his sponsor Steve Horn of Tees Events could be key. Horn is in the process of gaining a promoter's licence in order to put on his own shows – which could include Torquay.
Horn's idea, according to Speight, is to bring some razzamatazz back to the sport, with a light and sound show added in to make it feel like a genuine spectacle.
"He wants to challenge the likes of Matchroom and has gone into it with pyrotechnics. So I'm waiting for him to get his promoter's licence and get the ball rolling."
Speight's own view is that lengthy fight cards mean more boxers to pay, which has made ticket prices unaffordable for the general public.
"Some people come to boxing shows because they love the sport, but most come because they want to support an individual. People go to amateur shows that have 10 fights on the card and they're bored. Unless you love the sport you won't sit through 11 bouts.
"As a promoter I would put on five bouts – then you would only have 10 fighters to pay and you would keep people interested."
For now though, Speight's only focus is on getting past Fernandes at Southampton's Guildhall tomorrow night.
Speight actually has the Southern Area super bantamweight belt already – the SA board sent it to him to take to Southampton, with a space where the winner's name will be.
Whether it is a harbinger of an impending victory remains to be seen, but Speight believes he may have the upper hand in terms of experience.
Not least in Speight's mind are comments made by Fernandes in the build-up to the fight, where the Southampton boxer described the bout as a 'stepping stone'.
Speight said: "The thing with me is that I will never overlook an opponent. I will go there the best Jamie Speight I can on the night, but I think Jon Fernandes has completely overlooked me, and that's fine. I'm happy with that.
"In his head he's already beaten me and he's moving on to British honours. But unfortunately this stepping stone might have a bit of moss on it, and might be more slippery than he realises."
Don't miss next week's paper for the report, quotes and pictures of the bout