New Faces: David Brophy
“Boxing is a funny sport. One day you can get the biggest boot in the balls and the next you get a phone call asking if you want a title shot.” – Billy Nelson, trainer of Commonwealth super middleweight champion David Brophy
It is one of the most frustrating moments a boxer can ever encounter. The body shot that sends them to the canvas has sucked the air from the lungs and the pain feels infinite. Conversely the count goes by quicker than what feels reasonable … 8, 9, 10 – it’s over.
Scottish super middleweight David Brophy (19-1-1, 3 knockouts) went through that very experience in April of last year, when he lost by fourth-round knockout to former three-time world title challenger George Groves. It was Brophy’s first real opportunity to shine on a big stage and the trapdoor was pulled from under him.
Two victories and 11 months later, Brophy found himself in Victoria, Australia, across the ring from the unbeaten Zac Dunn. The Scotsman was fighting outside the U.K. for the first time in his career, he was in against an authentic knockout artist and he was a 10-1 underdog. Brophy had been cherry picked and a second-professional loss looked assured.
At least that’s what Team Dunn, along with a plethora of so-called experts, had assumed.
Brophy, a fistic curveball that travelled almost 10,000 miles, battered Dunn from pillar to post and scored a stunning seventh-round stoppage to lift the Commonwealth super middleweight title. It was a mic-drop moment that the gutsy 26-year-old will remember forever. He puts it down to lessons learned the hard way.
“The Groves loss is the best thing that ever happened to me,” Brophy told RingTV.com. “I didn’t do myself justice with that performance and I’m better than that. It was a lonely shower afterwards and I promised myself that I would pour everything into every fight from then on.
“My first loss is the reason I’m in this position today. I’ve never taken the easy route and I’ve worked hard for what I’ve got. The main thing I’ve taken from the Groves fight is to never feel that disappointed and disheartened again. That loss was either going to break me or force me to get (a move on).”
Acclaimed coach Billy Nelson has been with Brophy since he entered the paid ranks six years ago. Nelson guided the former professional soccer player through the small hall circuit, layering his skills and arranging top class sparring with the best middleweights and super middleweights in the U.K.
Following Brophy’s first loss, Nelson was aware that his fighter had the mental strength to come back but significant changes were required.
“We sat down after the Groves fight and decided to tweak a few things,” said Nelson, who took Ricky Burns to two of three divisional world titles. “We made the decision to put a bit more meat behind the shots because we weren’t coming close to scoring stoppages.
“In 19 fights David only stopped two guys. That was my fault because I was more concerned about him getting rounds under his belt in the first 10 or 12 fights. I never asked him to commit himself as much as he has since Groves. David has dropped many people in sparring, but the time had come to take more calculated risks in fights.”
That’s OK in theory but it had to be put into practice. Dunn had scored 18 knockouts in 23 straight wins and, with home advantage, held all the aces. The two victories Brophy posted following the Groves setback had come against moderate opposition and this was a step up in class. None of that fazed fighter and trainer, who agreed to take the Dunn fight immediately.
“I’d heard about how strong, ferocious and feared Dunn was, but he was there to be hit,” Brophy said. “I couldn’t believe the likes of Max Bursak, who just fought for the WBO title (against Gilberto Ramirez), didn’t pick him off better.
“Dunn likes to dictate the pace and, in the fights I seen, was putting people on the ropes and pummeling them. I said beforehand that if I was going to lose, then I was going out on my shield. The plan was to not take a step back and not let my back touch the ropes. In the first round when he was put on the back foot, you could see that he hated it. I said that to Billy and he agreed with me.”
Brophy broke through to the body in the third, smashed Dunn with serious power shots in the sixth, floored the stricken fighter in the seventh and the subsequent follow-up forced Dunn’s corner to throw in the towel.
“I thought I would get to his body in the second half but he was so square on,” explained Brophy when asked about his decision to target the mid-section early. “He started putting his head down, with his guard in tight every time he went on the back foot. I was like, ‘What is this guy doing?’ I just feinted a right uppercut and brought in the left hook to the body. You could see by the look on his face that things had gone sour.
“Dunn’s team underestimated me. They figured that they would take me out like Groves did and that just makes the win even sweeter. Brian Amatruda, the promoter, was great but Dunn’s team were assholes. We had to find gyms over there ourselves and they gave us no respect. I wouldn’t treat someone like that, whether they were an opponent or not. And if I see them again, I’ll tell them that to their face. F__k you, that’s what you get. I hope it brought them down a level and I hope Dunn wants a rematch because he’ll get the same again.”
From experience, I’ve always found Brophy to be a modest and accommodating professional. Get on his bad side, however, and he won’t miss you and hit the wall. Dunn’s team not providing training options, a common professional courtesy when a fighter arrives on foreign soil, will not be forgotten in a hurry.
“Let’s just say they got their comeuppance,” said Nelson. “To be fair, none of it bothered David, though. If that had been (former featherweight world titleholder) Scott Harrison (who Nelson once co-trained), he would have been majorly pissed off. That was just Scott’s mentality but David was cool, calm and collected. There was a gym 10 minutes from our apartment and it was fantastic.”
Ultimately, everything fell into place and this has been a remarkable turnaround for Brophy. The Scotsman is now ranked in the Top 15 at 168 pounds by all four recognized governing bodies and has plenty of options. The super middleweight scene is stacked at home and abroad, and MTK (formerly MGM) management will seek to put their fighter in the best position possible.
Justifiably proud of this accomplishment, the new Commonwealth champion was the first to admit that he’s had a lot of help during his journey.
“Billy has put in so much hard work,” Brophy said. “We have a laugh but we know when it’s business. You need to understand what Billy had in me when I started boxing. I wasn’t much to look at and I wasn’t a great amateur boxer. I was also coming back from a lot of bad injuries, which I sustained playing football.
“We got this title through my own hard work and through Billy’s perseverance and hard work. I also need to mention (former stablemate) Ricky (Burns), who made me understand what it’s like to train for a 12-round fight. I don’t think there’s anybody in the country who’s going to be fitter, more ready, or more physically strong than I am. I put a lot of that down to watching Ricky in training.”
Expect Brophy to make the first defense of his Commonwealth title in the summer.
Tom Gray is a UK Correspondent/ Editor for RingTV.com and a member of THE RING ratings panel. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing
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