Monday, May 29, 2023  |


For John Thain, the journey is the destination

Fighters Network

“You should always play to enjoy yourself.”

It’s advice John Thain used to hear from his late father when he played soccer as a child in Edinburgh, Scotland. Now, as an adult, his father’s words continue to ring pertinent amid the twists and turns of his pro boxing career.

Thain, 28, had fallen in love with the sport at age 13 after he begged his father to allow him to accompany his friends to the gym. He grew up watching Rocky movies, and was enamored with the whack of the speedbags and the clacking of the jump ropes from day one. Yet like all relationships, there are hills and valleys, and Thain had found himself on the rocks with the sport he loves.

“It kind of broke my heart,” Thain said of his first defeat, a one-point decision loss to Ronnie Heffron in 2014. Instead of taking time to think it over and give his mind and body a rest, Thain went against his best instincts and remained in the gym. Later that year he suffered a second loss, costing him his deal with promoter Frank Warren.

It was a dark period where he lost perspective of why he fought.

“I forgot why I do boxing,” said Thain (15-2, 1 knockout). “I think I lost that love for it. Everything I did when I boxed, it became sort of mechanical as opposed to actually enjoying it and trying to be a skillful boxer.”

After taking 9 months off – his first substantial break from the sport – Thain returned to the ring in 2015 and has since won four straight against limited competition heading into Saturday night, when he faces Liverpool’s Nathan Brough (13-1, 2 KOs) in a 12-round elimination bout for the British welterweight title at the Bellahouston Leisure Centre in Glasgow, Scotland.

The fight will be part of the BoxNation card which begins broadcasting at 7 p.m. and will write the next chapter in this fighter’s love affair with the sport.

Half Filipino, half Scottish, all boxer

“She lives in Edinburgh; I always go there a couple of nights a week for some adobo. We always try to eat lots of rice every day.”

Thain is speaking of his mother, a Filipina born in the Mindanao region but whose family now resides in Cebu, the boxing capital of the Philippines. Thain’s thick Scottish accent (think Jim Watt’s commentary on Sky Sports) gives a surreal vibe to him professing his love for Filipino food. His father, John, was a sailor in the merchant navy and met Thain’s mother in the Philippines. They married in 1985 and moved back to Scotland together, where Thain was born in 1987. His father died when Thain was a teenager.

Photo: Twitter @john_thain

Photo: Twitter @john_thain

Thain estimates that he had 60 amateur fights and says he lost about 20 of his first 30 bouts at the youth level but won about 20 of his next 30 bouts. His highlight was winning the Scottish Championships in 2008 at 141 pounds after losing the previous year by a point at 132.

“It was everything to me to win the Scottish Championships because I kept gunning for it but never quite making it through,” said Thain.

After graduating high school from Leith Academy, Thain enrolled in Telford College and picked accounting as a major. He was still training as a fighter and working part-time to support himself. He lasted just two months in the program.

“I kind of just picked the first course I saw when I was 18. I didn’t have the mind for that,” Thain says, looking back.

At least boxing was still there. In 2010 Thain turned pro on a card highlighted by former and future champs Enzo Maccarinelli, Tony Bellew, Liam Smith and Kell Brook. Thain would win his first 11 bouts before experiencing his first loss.

“I think taking a break would have made me realize it was a good performance and I wasn’t to beat myself up about it, and I didn’t have to change that much, I’d just have to have a rest and come back again,” said Thain.

50-50 fight

Now Thain has a shot against a fighter in a similar situation to himself with an opportunity to move back up the ladder with a win. The 32-year-old Brough has fought once since taking off 2015 following his lone career defeat, a second-round knockout against Jack Catterall.

“I’ve seen a bit of him before. He’s a good boxer. I’m really looking forward to the fight if I’m being honest because I know it’ll be a good one,” Thain says. “It’s also a real challenge as opposed to a fight that I’m expected to win. It takes a bit of pressure off. I know there’s a prize at the end of it.”


Like Thain, Brough has not shown much power in his career (neither has scored a KO since their first half dozen of fights), though Thain says he’s hitting harder now as his body matures and he moves down to welterweight after fighting mostly as a middleweight and junior middleweight.

“I feel my body never quite matured the same as everyone else’s. I always felt like I never really had that man strength until recently. For me it was a case of taking my time as a pro, actually throwing punches correctly as opposed to throwing a lot of them. I definitely feel like I’m hitting harder now and hopefully it’s going to bring better results for me,” said Thain.

Six years after turning professional, Thain insists he’s at a better place in his career. He’s still with trainer Terry McCormack, who has been with him since his pro debut, and is being looked after by promoter MGM Scotland. He’s currently studying to be a taxi driver in Edinburgh as a backup plan after having worked as a private hire driver before.

He’s still committed to his Plan A for the time being, however.

“I’d love to be a champion. I’d love to bring back belts, at least to look back and say I was a champion and I won titles. So for me that’s definitely the dream for me, to be on big shows. I want to be a star and definitely get all the good things that come from it,” said Thain, holding back none of his enthusiasm.

“I don’t think it would change me. I think it would make things a lot better for me. I wouldn’t have to worry so much and I think it’s definitely for me, being a champion and everything that comes around it. A champion’s life seems a lot better from the outside than being someone who’s fighting away on small shows.”

And if he doesn’t become champion? He’s sure he’ll be able to look back fondly on his life in boxing. After all, he gets to do what he loves.

“It’s about the journey as opposed to the destination,” said Thain. “I’m enjoying it more than ever. I’m a happy fighter for the first time in a long time. There’s always that saying, success is not the key to happiness but happiness is the key to success. For me it’s about being happy and loving what you’re doing.”

Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to THE RING magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.