BLACKPOOL boxer Matty Askin has fired a message to British cruiserweight champ Rob Norton: “I am after your Lonsdale Belt.”
Askin is due to fight in his home town on August 19, when he appears at Blackpool Tower Circus – but long-term it is veteran Norton who is firmly on his radar.
Midlander Norton has not fought since January, 2010, and has already admitted that, before long, he would have to meet one of the up-and-coming challengers, with the undefeated Askin among the prime contenders.
Askin said: “I am rated fourth or fifth now, and that’s just after 10 fights, so I think after a couple more fights I’ll be ready for it easily.
“I think I can win it.
“Norton is a good fighter and an awkward southpaw, but he is getting on a bit now, and it’s time for someone else to take the belt off him.
“He’s not fought in 18 months and I definitely think I will be able to take the belt off him.
“To reach the state where I am now – 10 fights and 10 wins – and to have a Central Area title already under my belt, will hold me in good stead for what’s to come in the next few fights.”
Askin took up boxing quite by chance, progressing through the amateurs to win the ABA title at York Hall Bethnal Green on a memorable night.
Recalling those formative years, Askin said: “I did some boxing at an early age, but I never really stuck to it and went into football.
“Then my brother took up kick-boxing – I went with him to the gym, but thought I was no good at it.
“But the trainer said I was really good with my hands.
“I kept going just to stay fit, but I got the chance to have an amateur fight, and I thought I would give it a go.
“It was exciting and I stuck to it.”
Askin beat Ricky Newland in 2008, that was the crowning moment of his career in the amateur ranks as he took the ABA title.
Askin said: “It was a bit surreal, because I had lost in the quarter-finals to a good mate of mine, who then had to pull out (of the ABAs) with an injury.
“Then I got the call and faced one of the favourites in the semi-final and stopped him in the second.
“The final was probably the toughest fight I’ve had. Newland was really good and fairly powerful, and had stopped all his opponents going into the final, and there were a lot of nerves
“There was only mum, dad, nan and grandad that came to watch me, and Newland had hundreds there (in the crowd), but I got the decision.”
Askin was interviewed by the BBC when he left the ring in triumph, but still had the gumshield clamped between his jaws, for which he got his fair share of ribbing later!
Askin saw the funny side, but he was literally stuck with it...
“It was a new gum-shield and had only been moulded that day. My coach Andy Sumner couldn’t get it out of my mouth. It cut my gums trying to get it out, so we thought ‘stuff it’, keep it in.
“It was pretty bad, all the calls and messages I got!”
The Newland bout was his last as an amateur. Askin had been frustrated by not getting a call to represent England at international level.
“I just thought enough was enough – cruiserweight wasn’t an international weight in Great Britain, and I was only 19 and wasn’t really big enough for a heavyweight and I would never make the weight at light-heavy, so I just thought I would turn my hand at pro and see what happened from there.”
Askin has had no regrets at becoming a pro, for he believes it is tailor-made for his style.
“It suits me more because I am a patient boxer and I like to take a few rounds to get going, while I can take my skill on from the amateurs.
“Some people don’t adapt to it and are not that skilful at pacing themselves and going into the long rounds, but that suits me more.”
Askin beat Neil Dawson to win his first pro title, the Central Area belt, though preparations in the run-up to the fight were anything but ideal.
“It was one of the best feelings I’ve had so far in my career, but it was probably one of the hardest fights I’ve had.
“I’ve never fought anyone who is a lot bigger than me and naturally stronger than me, but the preparations for that fight weren’t as good as they should have been, and I only had four rounds sparring and not much pad-work.
“My head was nowhere, but I had to take the fight as I had sold the tickets.
“Luckily, I had enough in my own bag to win.”
Askin is now being trained by Bob Shannon and is part of the Ricky Hatton stable of fighters.
He has high praise for The Hitman’s input into his career. Askin explained: “He is more of a friend.
“He is always in and out of the gym, giving pointers on what we should be doing and inviting us to all these top meetings and dinner shows.
“He’s a role model.”
Askin trains in Manchester under Shannon’s supervision, along with the likes of champion boxers Prince Arron, Denton Vassell and Matthew Hatton.
The switch to the pro ranks does not mean it is an instant pathway to riches, and Askin is desperate for a sponsor.
“I have a 120-mile drive there and back to Manchester, five or six days a week.
“The money from the fights doesn’t stretch to that (cost). I haven’t got time to work either, so I have no other source of income, barring my mum and dad supporting me.
“It will be a good opportunity now for a Blackpool-based firm, because my fight in Blackpool in August is going to be on Eurosport and is shown in nine countries.
“They have estimated it’s going to bring in around 3m viewers, and I think the Circus holds about 2,000, so it would be good for the sponsors to be there with me.
“I’m excited, because I’ve only ever fought in Blackpool twice – it will be good to get the Blackpool scene buzzing again.”
n ASKIN has plenty of sporting DNA – his great-uncle was cricketer Johnny Wardle, the famed Yorkshire and England spin bowler, while his grandfather was Terry Halpin, a boxer well-known in the Yorkshire sporting arena.