There must be better preparation for an interview than sitting around in pants covered in recently trimmed beard hair. But here I am, slightly sweaty and thinking about the roast chicken in a bag that I'm claiming as a dinner-for-one this evening, fumbling with my phone and wondering if I've made a grave error in not coming up with enough questions. Thankfully, it's only a phone call. I'm not about to meet 25-year-old British amateur star Antony Fowler in the flesh, or over a video chat. I'm pretty sure you'd find less creepy scenarios than mine on Chat Roulette, or in a mass murderer's basement.
Even so, I make the call with a few ideas in mind. Antony answers the phone, and we hit our first hurdle: Antony has a thick Scouse accent that I know from the word go is going to be a struggle. I'm from down south, and I'm not well-equipped to make sense of the noises at the other end of the line. Nonetheless, and with Destiny's Child levels of enthusiasm, I tell myself I'm a survivor and dive right in.
Scouse notwithstanding, we quickly get to the topic of his career and the exciting year ahead of him. Antony is probably the biggest-name amateur boxer in Britain, and he has a case for saying he's the best too. Having taken up the sport at 11 years of age, and gone on to win an English schoolboy title soon after, Antony went from strength to strength as a youngster. In 2013, he really started to make a name for himself, when he picked up a bronze medal in the World Championships, but was robbed of the chance to go for more when he was ruled out of the semi-final due to a hand injury. He then proved what could have been by winning gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. These successes, plus exposure in the World Series of Boxing that included a fantastic stoppage of American Marquis Moore a few years ago, have demonstrated Antony's talent. He could go on to big things as both an amateur and a professional.
Thankfully, Antony seems like a nice lad, and he doesn't seem fazed by the babbling fool on the other end of the phone. This seems like a big part of Antony's appeal. And that's a good thing--in a world where personality is important, one where social media has become a platform for both launching and destroying careers, he instantly comes across well. He is engaging when he talks boxing, which I'm hoping to do in the next half hour or so.
He hasn't yet qualified for the Olympics, so he's thinking only of how he's going to get to Rio. He's still an amateur, as he notes when I push him to tell me where he goes post-Olympics. Qualification is all that's on his mind right now, and the World Series of Boxing is his next big chance as it rolls in to London on 18th February, when the British Lionhearts come up against the Mexico Guerreros (what a name).
Undoubtedly, there is still work to do for Antony, but he's one of the best at his weight, and he stands a good chance of medaling at the Olympics this year. He has a solid base, working from a good jab and plenty of power, and although I think he gets caught up in a scrap too often, he has shown himself to be able to counter his opponents coming forward, and when he does that he often hurts them. The more I see of Fowler, the more I think his style is well suited to the professional ranks, and I think he can make for an exciting prospect in the future, with a high ceiling and a fan-friendly style.
All of this is not lost on Antony, who acknowledges that he and his team have got to keep working to get where they want to be. He does, however, slip in that he believes he has what it takes to do well at the Olympics, and to go on and become a pro champion.
With my penchant for poor preparation and talking nonsense, and Anthony probably tiring of my inadequate interview technique, we stray to discussions of the Liverpool boxing scene, and the successes of some of his mates, such as Tony Bellew, Thomas Stalker and Derry Mathews.
We also talk about the excitement surrounding British boxing and its popularity right now, with some big fights on the horizon, a handful of former Olympians making waves in the sport, and Hearn putting bums in seats in arenas around the country. Antony highlights the popularity of numerous sports such as "baseball, basketball, and all that kind of stuff," in America as competition for boxing, whilst here boxing has less competition, other than our national sport, football, and he laughs saying that "it's lucky for the likes of myself." He might be focused on making the Olympics, but I have no doubt the thought of joining the professionals excites and motivates him.
And with that, it's over. I'm back in the room. Another interview goes reasonably well and gives me reason to believe I can get away with blagging it.
2016 is a year toward which a whole host of potential Olympians have been working for many years. For some nearly their whole lives will have led up to this summer in Rio. Antony has been boxing since the age of 11, and whilst the Olympics is not the pinnacle of Boxing, the 2016 Games represent an opportunity to catapult him into the public consciousness and to become one of the lauded prospects of the new era. And as someone that finds it impossible to disconnect the personalities from the fighters themselves, Antony is a guy I will be supporting for the foreseeable future.
For more details on Antony's rise to the top, and a look into the preparation of a young amateur boxer trying to reach the Olympics, check out Antony's blog - Road to Rio.