April 1, 2014

KO Digest Interview: Joey McCreedy - "This is my dream come true"

April Fools
If you ask Joey McCreedy, he’ll proudly proclaim he’s fighting for the WBC light heavyweight championship. And he’s not wrong.

McCreedy’s matchup with Top Rank's undefeated Irish Seanie Monaghan (20-0, 13 KOs) on April 12 in Las Vegas is set for the WBC Continental Americas light heavyweight title. But in Joey’s world, this fight is for more than just a minor version of a major title. This pay-per-view undercard bout, seen by much of the boxing world as a mere precursor to the next big Manny Pacquiao fight, is his Rocky moment, the type of rare opportunity that only comes once and has the ability to change far more than his win-loss record. For McCreedy (15-6-2, 6 KOs), this title fight is about pride. Fighting out of gritty Lowell, Massachusetts, McCreedy has fought his entire life to be recognized, even in the early days when life was centered on football instead of boxing.

Anyone from the Greater Lowell area associates the town with amateur boxing (and Micky Ward) but Joey McCreedy is still somewhat of an unknown commodity outside of local boxing circles. Trained now by Ward and fellow Lowell fighter Sean Eklund, McCreedy’s shot against Monaghan is not unlike Micky’s 1997 HBO PPV shot in the dark against the undefeated Alfonso Sanchez, a come-from-behind victory against steep odds that shaped the remainder of his now storied career. McCreedy is his own person, but listen to him talk for long enough (we listened for over an hour) and he even begins to sound like Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund, the latter of whom will not be in his corner come April 12.

"Dicky is going through some injuries. He can’t really be on his feet a lot or bounce on his legs," claims McCreedy. 

Paid vacation in Vegas  
Fittingly, this fight is about second chances—or, perhaps more aptly, tenth or eleventh chances at this point. McCreedy’s hard knocks began outside the ring, when a high school football career disappeared due to low grades and a lack of academic ambition that slipped potential scholarships off the table. The Army National Guard also proved to be out of reach, and six different losses in his professional career have bumped him down a peg or two on the ladder of competition. Yet, no matter the strength of the blow, McCreedy stands back up and keeps on charging, making the man in the Japanese proverb sound bush-league. Sure, the man in the proverb stood up eight times, but were any of the seven times he fell due to an obliterated jaw against Andre Hemphill or a literal back stabbing in the form of attempted murder? Spend enough time on the streets of Lowell and you’ll see some things you can’t un-see, and as much as McCreedy identifies with his hometown, he’d like for his family to have the chance to see the world from outside the city limits, a chance he never got. Until he started boxing.

"I've fought in Canada and Florida. You meet so many different people. It’s fun to travel like Micky did. It’s like a free vacation to see other places, what they’re like, to see things differently. It’s good to get out there."

On his 29th birthday (February 19) McCreedy got the greatest gift of his career in the form of an opportunity, but the job is far from complete. This gift is like boxing’s version of “some assembly required.” The gift box is glamorous, but without the hard work and dedication to assemble it, it sits on the shelf as a tale of what might've been. For McCreedy, this isn’t just about a title, a payday, or an HBO spotlight. It’s about much more than that. This fight against Monaghan is McCreedy's everything. KO Digest caught up with The Champ of Lowell by telephone on St. Patrick's Day 2014 during a break from his training with Wardthe reigning Pride of Lowell. Were that a WBC title, it would surely be Emeritus.

KO Digest's Joel Sebastianelli: How did you first get started in boxing?

Joey McCreedy: When I was about 12 years old, my dad brought me down to the West End Gym and I did it just to stay in shape for football, because that was my main goal: to become a pro football player. Being a pro boxer wasn’t what I wanted to do. I was seven years old when I started playing football. I did boxing just for conditioning, speed, and for the footwork. I was introduced to Dicky Eklund, who grew up with my father and trained Micky Ward. Football got put on the backburner after high school. I was getting recruited as a running back by a few colleges, but got denied because of my grades. I was the captain of the football team and let it get to my head. I didn’t go to class and I did stupid things, getting away with things and not taking school seriously and in the end, it bit me in the ass. I got denied going to college and my back was against the wall. I was still messing around with boxing, but lost in the Golden Gloves one year and didn’t want to do it anymore. I gave up and went to go join the National Guard like my father, but I failed the test and picked up boxing aside from my construction job to pay bills over the summer. By then, I took it seriously and won the Golden Gloves and made a name in boxing. I watched Micky Ward beat Emmanuel Burton and Arturo Gatti, and that’s when I fell in love with it. I won a few amateur fights, and Dicky suggested that I go pro and my style was a pro style.

Boxing saved Joey from the streets
KOD: Of all of these life experiences you've had—many of them very negative—have these setback actually helped you as a fighter somehow?

JM: Definitely. Every experience I went through, whether it’s football, people doubting me, or having my back against the ropes and not knowing what to do with my life, made me realize that if you want something out of life, you’re going to have to work hard for it. I didn’t want to be a person struggling in life living paycheck to paycheck and not knowing what I’m going to eat at the end of the week or if my bills are going to be paid. I want to be comfortable and live a great life, and the only way I’m going to do that is if I put in the hard work. I live in a bad neighborhood around crack houses, where at night you hear gunshots. It makes me even stronger because I don’t want to see my little brothers grow up the way I grew up. If my Mom and Dad didn’t put me through sports, I would be dead, in jail, or in a gang, because that’s basically how Lowell is. A lot of people don’t make it as a professional athlete from Lowell because there are a lot of distractions. I’m thankful they kept me out of that.

KOD: You were born and raised as a product of Lowell, a famous fight town with plenty of gritty history. How has Lowell shaped you as a fighter and a person? What does it mean to you when you tell somebody you’re from Lowell?

JM: It means everything to me. I can get out of Lowell, and hopefully one day I do, but it’s like the saying goes: you can take the kid out of Lowell, but you can’t take Lowell out of the kid. My family grew up here, so something about Lowell always makes me come back. It’s a city where everyone is tough to survive. In any sport, if someone says “you’re facing someone from Lowell,” you know you’re going to have to train because these kids come from nothing. I come from nothing. Everybody had to fight to get to where they are. I fight for my fans, my family, my friends, and for the whole town. At the end of the day, we’re all one big family, and without their support, I would be nothing.

Trainer Dicky Eklund and fighter Joey McCreedy
KOD: How has Lowell’s boxing legacy influenced your career?

JM: Lowell is an amateur town, not a professional town. When you hear Lowell in boxing, you think about the Lowell Golden Gloves. Everybody came here to fight—if you do your history report, every legit fighter fought at a time in their life in the Golden Gloves in Lowell. West End Gym was the gym where everybody started out. Larry Carney, the Christakos Brothers. It’s a mill city, a fighting town. I’m proud to be from Lowell. I love Lowell.

KOD: It hasn’t been easy for you inside or outside the ring, filled with plenty of ups and downs and experiences that shaped you. How have you stayed so resilient through all the setbacks?

JM: God, believing in myself, and not giving up. The support of my friends. I wanted to give up plenty of times in high school, when people said I was too small and never going to make it. I was told I was an awesome kid and tough as nails, but I was too small. I never believed it. I wanted to believe in myself even in boxing when people said I was never going to make it. It made me so tough being an underdog since I was a kid. I was always a great athlete, but I wasn’t an A+ anything. I was a C+, but it’s OK to be that because that’s who I am, and it makes me train so much harder to prove those people wrong. When I got my jaw broken, the doctors didn’t want me to fight. My mother and father didn’t want me to fight anymore. My friends didn’t want me to fight anymore. People didn’t want to see me get hurt again and go through what I went through. It was a rough time and a life changing experience where I had to ask, “is this for me? Is this what I want to do?” I went through an eight week period of having my mouth wired shut. I don’t wish this on any fighter or any person in the entire world. I can’t describe the pain. All I can describe is what I went through—addiction, depression, pills, basically anything to stop the pain. It was an eight hour surgery with my right and left sides of my jaw broken. I had to eat baby food, and I couldn’t even walk because I was so tired. I was crying every day. I was a prisoner locked up in my house, taking liquid Percocet, liquid morphine, anything they gave me I took. Waking up every day knowing I couldn’t talk made me feel like I was in jail with my life taken away from me.

KOD: How did you get over the hump and decide that life and your career would go on after the Hemphill fight?

McCreedy refuses to give up in boxing
JM: A lot of people told me to give up, but I sat back and contemplated all the hard work and setbacks I’ve been through. I decided that I’m not the type of person who gives up. I want to prove to everybody I can come back stronger than ever and be a world champ, to make a run after this. I even thought that if I break my jaw again, I’ll hang ‘em up and go to work like a normal person. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened. I took it day by day and trained so hard because I knew what everyone would think of me when I came back. The fighters I face might think I have a glass jaw, but my jaw is actually a hundred times stronger. I have titanium plates in my bones in my jaw—like a bicycle chain. When I came back in 2006, I fought Chris Traietti, a National Champion amateur, an undefeated fighter. It’s like being in jail and picking the biggest person and knocking him out so nobody messes with you—that’s what I did. Then right after I fought Vladine Biosse in 2008 on ESPN, I went into the Smokehouse in Lowell. I came out of the bathroom and got hit in the back of the head with something and blacked out after hitting my head on the floor. I awoke in the middle of the hall. I was stabbed six times. I almost died. They missed my kidney by about two inches. The doctors told me I was lucky to be alive. Of course, I was out of boxing for a little bit after that, but I came back. If you hit me, I’m going to get back up.

KOD: Now you’ve got the biggest fight of your career ahead of you against WBC Continental Americas light heavyweight champion Seanie Monaghan on April 12 in Las Vegas on the Pacquiao-Bradley II HBO PPV. How did you get this fight, and how emotional was the potential breakthrough for you?

McCreedy will have Micky and Sean in his corner - no Dicky
JM: This is my dream and I’m not going to stop, I don’t care what it takes. I was getting ready to fight for CES after I re-signed my contract with Jimmy Burchfield. I was just back in the swing of things after winning four fights in a row (Editor's Note: actually it's two in a row and it would be five had McCreedy beaten Shujaa El Amin in Lowell in 2012. Instead, McCreedy lost a ten round decision) but I was miserable in training and can't go out for my birthday, just killing myself in the gym. But, I got the phone call about fighting Monaghan, and I ran it by everybody. I’m not getting any younger. I’m only 29, but that’s still old in boxing, so I took the fight. This is a great opportunity. I’m training the hardest I’ve ever trained with Micky Ward. He’s the best trainer to have in my corner for this fight. I’m not with Dicky Eklund right now because he’s going through some injuries on his leg. He can’t really be on his feet a lot or bounce on his legs, so for a fight like this, I need somebody there to be one hundred percent by my side and healthy to be in the right mindset. Dicky is a great trainer. I love him. He started me out, he taught me everything I know in boxing, and if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be anywhere close to where I am now. I owe him everything but right now I'm with Micky for this fight and everything has been going great. Micky has been through everything and he knows what it takes to go ten rounds strong. Micky is waking me up at 5:30 in the morning every day running four to six miles. We’re going more than ten rounds in the gym every day sparring, doing things I never did in my career. My body is like, what are you doing to me?

KOD: So you believe this is not only the biggest fight of your career, but the toughest fight as well?

Ward turned his boxing life around against Sanchez in 97
JM: Oh my God yes, this is the toughest fight, a life changing experience, a dream come true for me. This is my Rocky. This is the biggest payday, it’s about 90 percent bigger than any other fight payday I’ve had. It’s a great opportunity that I’ve dreamed of. This is like a Rocky story, like how he got an opportunity for the heavyweight championship of the world, or like what happened to Micky with the Sanchez fight when everybody doubted him. I’m getting a lot of good feedback from Lowell, people coming to Vegas to see me fight and rooting for me. This is something that I can look back on when I’m 60 years old, telling them I fought for the WBC light heavyweight championship on a Manny Pacquiao pay-per-view card. I can look back and say “I got my shot.”

KOD: How has Sean Eklund been an asset to your camp?

JM: He does all my conditioning work with me every morning and really pushes me. We’re good friends and we’ve been through a lot together, so he knows what to say to push me. He even knows how to piss me off in a good way so I get the most out of training. He’s an excellent teacher. I owe a lot to him for getting me into great shape, and we still have a few weeks to get ready for this fight. I’m only six or seven pounds away from my weight limit because I’m eating right, I’m running a lot, and I’m focusing with no distractions. My Beast Squad Family is my team, people I cannot live without.

KOD: You said this fight is your “Rocky moment,” but when I was thinking about this fight, the boxing movie that came to mind for me was “THE FIGHTER,” especially because of the connection to Irish Micky Ward. 
Do you see any parallels between yourself and Micky in terms of this upcoming title fight?

McCreedy hopes to write his own sequel 
JM: I’m not saying that I’m just like Micky, because nobody is like him and nobody will be. If I went through the type of fights that Micky went though, I wouldn’t be here right now. He’s not normal. Those three Gatti fights alone, I’m not sure how he’s standing! The fight for me that comes to mind is the Sanchez fight. I’m the underdog getting the chance of a lifetime. Of course, the comparison is going to come up, and that’s normal, but I’m Joey and I’m making my own future. It’s still an honor to be mentioned in that category, but there’s only one Micky Ward.

KOD: We’ve touched on your alliances with Micky and Dicky, but what about your relationship with Jimmy Burchfield? You’re back with CES promotions once again after a period away. 
How did you wind up with them again?

JM: Me and Mr. B have a connection. He’s been there for most of my career and he’s done a lot. We had a great three year contract, but I thought the grass was greener on the other side and I went with another company. I learned my lesson and I got screwed, but things happen. I kept winning again as a free agent and I wanted to expand my career and get back on top to where I was before the ESPN fight [with Biosse]. I called Jimmy, we set up a meeting, and now things are great. They got me this fight and I couldn’t ask for a better birthday present. It’s the best gift I’ve ever gotten because if everything is done right, this will change my life. I believe in God and I believe everything happens for a reason—He gave me this opportunity for a reason, put it on my lap, and said “here you go. You have to put the work in, you have to want it, and you have to do this.” They can get me the fight just like you can bring a horse to water but you can’t make him drink it. CES is behind me and I look and Jimmy like a father figure. He talks to me like a son and I love him for that. He cares for his fighters and loves them. If Mr. B thought I was going to get hurt, he would have told me not to take this fight, but Mr. B knows I can beat him if I put in my hard work and bring my A game, I can be WBC champ.

McCreedy has a message for Monaghan
KOD: Monaghan seems to think you’re an easy opponent, and his résumé of past fights is highly acclaimed. Is he is viewing you as an easy opponent, does that serve as an extra motivating factor?

JM: They’re looking at me like “OK, we’ve got two Irish fighters. It’s going to be an exciting war for five or six rounds, but our guy is going to win because he's better.” Well, he’s no Olympian and he’s no world class fighter. He’s the same person as me; he bleeds just like I do, he has two hands just like I do, and he doesn’t have a lot of amateur fights, just like me. He hasn’t been in with tough competition, but I have. If you look at my record, I’ve been in there with guys who can bang like Otis Griffin and Hemphill. They’ve been in there with tough contenders. I’m not saying I’m better, but I’m saying that they’re wrong for overlooking me. They have another thing coming because I’m so hungry and I want this more than life itself. I’m not going to Las Vegas to lose. I’m going there to take that WBC belt and bring it back home. I know that mentally, I’m focused and ready for this fight. If they think this is going to be a short night, well I’m sorry—they're in for a long night. I’m not a stepping stone for anybody. I don’t care how big he is or what his attitude is like—nothing scares me. I'm not backing down. I’ve been through everything, bigger things than him that didn’t put me down, so I’m not going to let him put me down. I’m going to fight my balls off and win, lose, or draw, I’ll give it everything I have—my heart, my soul, my blood, everything.

A happy McCreedy in Lowell with a title on his waist
KOD: A lot of fans and media are very critical and think all the title belts in boxing are worthless, but I've heard more than a few fighters discuss how important they really are. Why is having a title, even a minor one, so important to you and most fighters?

JM: It means something to the fighter. It doesn’t matter if it’s a plastic belt called the “Budweiser Belt” it’s something you’re fighting for. They say the titles don’t mean anything, but to the fighters, they do. It’s something you’re training for, and when you finally get that opportunity, it’s like working a full time job and having one month to earn a bonus. It’s just like that. When you work so hard for something, whether it’s a belt, money, or respect, it’s something you can live with for the rest of your life. You don’t have to give that belt back—it’s yours! It’s like my New England belt: Vladine won, but I fought hard for it and I was a champion at one time. I’ve got something to prove that I was. It means so much when you can actually see something you’ve fought for.

The Future of Boxing

KO Digest Interview conducted by Joel "The Future" Sebastianelli

Joel joined KO Digest in January 2013 and has been a fixture on press row in the New England area for three years. In 2012, he served as the host of “The Boxing Fix” on Leave it in the Ring Radio. Sebastianelli is the future of boxing journalism and broadcasting.

Joel can be found Tweeting on Twitter @JJSebastianelli