Joe Mullender

Joe Mullender isn’t a man for hyperbole and rhetoric.  If he was then he has the perfect opportunity to cash in on it right now as he has signed up for a fight that not only has the makings of a classic but also has the back story to go with it as well as taking place on one of the biggest potential boxing platforms of 2016.  It’s the perfect storm, but Mullender isn’t one for hype.

On May 21st he will clash with Lee ‘Banjo’ Markham for the English middleweight title at the O2 in London as the main support for former world heavyweight title holder David Haye as he makes his second return to the ring as part of his comeback trail.  ‘Clash’ is an appropriate term for the two London lads; expect no backwards step to be taken as they both bring their come forwards style to the ring.  It is the styles that they are both familiar with, as Joe tells me they go back a long way.

“Me and my trainer are obviously working on breaking the fight up a bit but me and Lee know each other really well, we were at 5 Star Boxing Club as amateurs together.  We're half mates, there's no bad blood between us and we both know tactics will probably go out of the window by round three!  It's going to be a war, that's why everyone wants to see this fight.  I'll try and stick to a game plan, I'm sure he will try and stick to whatever game plan he has but it will end up just a war!”

The idea of going to war comes up frequently in our conversation.  For some boxers they may stay away from the thought of engaging in a battle of attrition but for Mullender it is what he thrives on.  “I get jealous watching Gatti Ward fights because I want to be in them!” he laughs, reminiscing of the famous trilogy of fights that saw the two boxers mark their names in history.  Joe is expecting similar come May 21st.  “He thinks he ain't going anywhere, I think I ain't going anywhere, it will be a bloodbath.  I can't wait!” says Mullender. 

It may sound threatening or intimidating but that isn’t Joe Mullender.  You couldn’t speak to a friendlier person; he’s laid back and relaxed as well as being a family man out of the ring.  “I've got a little boy and my fiancee.  I'm just a normal geezer, I'm not out on the piss every weekend, I'm at home with my boy and my family.  But I want to give my kids the best chance, take them on holiday.  That all costs money.  I'm not built for a normal job and never have been, boxing is the way I earn it” he says. 

With the fight being at the O2, quickly becoming the home of bigtime boxing, and potentially being in front of 20,000 people, does Mullender feel any extra nerves approaching fight night?  “The nerves for me are what's riding on it, not getting in the ring in front of 20,000 people.  I like getting hit, I enjoy the fight” he tells me.  “It doesn't bother me or spur me on.  Wherever you are, a ring's a ring.  If you want to look out the ring and shit yourself that's up to you.  One thing I am is mentally strong, whether it's at York Hall, the O2 or the back of a car park it's just me and Lee punching holes in each other and that's what it's about, not where it is.  It's a bonus that it's there, we're getting paid more money because it's there and I'm happy with the exposure.  People have always spoken about me and Lee fighting and wanted to see it because of what a fight it could be so that fight deserves to be on a big show as it will be a fight worthy of it.  It will make no difference though if it was at the O2 or York Hall.  If you fight at York Hall and it's packed that's still intimidating if you haven't done that before.  I'm just hoping it gets to the end and people ask 'wow, who are these two?' - I want people to be stood up applauding at the end of every round and that I win.  That's what I want  I want fights like that, I don't want to be in fights where you're bowling over someone in ten seconds and everyone think you're fighting a bum.” 

There are two things that are riding on this fight for Mullender; the English title and hometown pride.  They shared an amateur club and until recent years shared a promoter in Goodwin Promotions.  They have overlapping circles of friends.  There is a lot of personal pride riding on this as much as the belt that comes with victory.  So does that make the fight itself personal and do bragging rights take precedence over titles?  “It's a job.  To be honest I like Lee and have nothing bad to say about him.  Some fighters give it all, feel they have to hate someone and build the fight up.  Everyone who knows me and Lee know that we will give each other a kiss and a cuddle before, go out and punch the lights out of each other, then have a cuddle after.  Obviously I'd love to win the belt.  To say you've won the English middleweight title is an achievement.  I don't really let myself think of that.  If I was fighting someone I didn't know, it would maybe feel more like I had to win it for the title.  Where I know Lee and we know the same sort of crowd, that's more on my radar!  It's bragging rights.  I don't want to lose to Lee and I'm sure Lee doesn't want to lose to me.  People down the 5 Star where we were both amateurs, Lee is the golden boy there and will be thinking Lee is too strong for Joe.  My camp will all be saying Joe is too strong for Lee.  So with all that, the English title is a bonus!  If I lost to Lee and he was the better man on the night I'd shake his hand and congratulate him and his team, I'm not a sore loser.  But I don't lose, it ain't happening.”

When I speak with Mullender he has had a long day out sparring with former world title challenger Frank Buglioni.  Frank has also been sparring with Lee Markham recently so has there been any information exchanged between the parties?  “No, none at all.  Frank didn't say anything about Lee.  To be honest I don't get worried about things like that, I'd let them film the sparring!  End of the day, I'm going to sit on his chest and what's he going to do about it?  I'm telling him what I'm going to do and I'm not worried about tactics.  A fight is a fight.  If Frank's sparring Lee then brilliant, if I'm sparring Frank then so what?  I'd spar Lee before this fight!” laughs Mullender.

It raises a point though, since leaving their shared amateur club have Mullender and Markham shared a ring for sparring that would give anything away?  “I think we've only sparred once as pros.  We haven't sparred a lot since being pros.  My trainer is friendly with his trainer, we all get on away from us fighting each other.  I text Lee when the fight got announced and said to him there won't be any shit talk from my end, it is what it is.  We'll punch holes in each other and be friends after and he came back saying 'well said mate'.”

The sparring with Buglioni is top level for any fighter, he is a man who has mixed at a high level in the sport.  For Mullender, the last time he fought competitively was on October 17th of last year when he stopped Ben Davies, so is there any risk of ring rust setting in for the Essex boxer?  “Not at all.  I said to trainer, with my style it's not the sort of style I get ring rust or have to be out regularly.  Because I take a lot of punishment and abuse my body a lot it doesn't matter.  I thought I would be fighting in March against Lewis Taylor for the English title but he vacated, so this is how it's panned out.  I prefer it this way anyway as it's on a big show.  I've lived in the gym, I'm never out of it so it doesn't bother me.”
Reece Macmillan
Prior to his defeat of Ben Davies, Mullender said in the press conference that he would “sit on his chest through the fight”.  It was exactly what he did, stayed in the pocket of his opponent without allowing him a moments rest.  It is a tactic that Markham is also known to use which is one of the many reasons this fight is so fascinating.  Mullender’s promoter and manager, Steve Goodwin, is one of many who has earmarked the fight as a potential fight of the year for this reason.  Does Joe see it the same way?  “I hope so.  Everyone who speaks about it says it's potentially fight of the year.  It depends what Lee comes with, depends if someone decides to make it boring.  It won't!  Lee fights one way and I fight one way.  It depends what you like; if you like two geezers going at it for ten rounds trying to punch holes in each other you'll love the fight.  Some people don't want to watch that and want to watch two people jabbing and running around the ring, they won't like this fight.  I would say it's a fight for general blokes who want to see two geezers have a go at each other and watch a fight.  That is what it will be.  It will be toughest man wins, whoever lasts longest.”
It is a typically honest and brutal assessment from Mullender.  Two geezers having a go at each other.  Again, no need to overhype the fight or sell it as something that it isn’t when the raw ingredients are two fighters with so much to gain from winning.  As well as being seen as a potential fight of the year, many observers see it as a 50/50 tear up.  Markham has mixed at a higher level but hasn’t found the success he wished for.  Mullender is unknown at the higher standard at present.  So does he see it as a genuine 50/50 himself? 

“Genuinely I think I'm going to win.  I've improved, I know how strong I am at the weight.  I was fighting Frank today who is 14 and a half stone and I'm only a middleweight.  But I can totally see why people are saying this is a 50/50.  People can say Lee has more ring experience; he's fought Frank and people at a higher level you could say than I have.  People who know me close know why they're backing me.  For the public thought yes, it is a 50/50.  Let's have it right, it's not like me and Lee will turn up with loads of game plans and people will wonder which we will turn up with!  Nobody is running!  Me throwing a jab is me boxing!  I see the fight being who is willing to take the most and keep going.  Unless I get knocked spark out, I'll keep going.”

The person that Mullender can thank for the fight being on such a high exposure card and at such a famous venue is manager and promoter Steve Goodwin.  Goodwin Boxing are providing the undercard for David Haye as they did on his first return fight, which provided good exposure for a number of the stable.  So was it a good confidence builder that his promoter has put his faith in Mullender to take such a high profile spot? 

“The fight sells itself, that's fact.  I've sold 30 odd grands worth of tickets already, people just want to see it who are around my area.  Steve's done a good job and it's an important fight for Steve.  He manages me as well, it's big for him and he's done well.  Haye has realised, as he's paid good money for it, it's a good fight.  In general the public and everyone who watches it will see it's good for boxing.  Me and Lee aren't the most talented fighters who run, we're good at what we do and we fight the same.  The people who will win as well are the people who will watch it.  I hope so anyway!  Steve did well to win the purse bids, I always knew what he was going to do as he kept me in the loop.  I'm grateful to him for getting me in that position and getting me and Lee well paid for it too instead of getting normal little money.  Me and Lee will take our ages up to over 50 with what we'll do to each other so it's good to get half decent money for it.  I'm over the moon it's on that card and I feel I'm ready for it now, that fight deserves to be somewhere like that.”

Mullender is known to have a passionate, loyal and vocal support that attend his fights.  Has it been easy to convince them to travel to Greenwich on May 21st?  “It's easy to sell a show like that.  You're seeing the former heavyweight champion of the world, you're seeing names you see on TV.  People will go to that anyway so it's easier to sell.  It's hard to sometimes sell when people don't know who you're fighting at York Hall where you've fought ten times before.  I've always done well and my following is unbelievable, I always sell about 300 tickets at York Hall, but a change of scenery and a big venue is huge.  People jump on the bandwagon when you're on at the O2, they see it as big time boxing.  We get paid better for it which is what we deserve.  We earn our money the hard way and you want to get paid!”

When we talk about the potential for after May 21st Mullender is philosophical about where he has come from and what his ambitions are.  “I started boxing very late, I never went to a gym and said I want to be a boxer.  I was half told this is what you're doing.  If I started boxing at 22 and won a British title in the middleweight division then that's a massive achievement.  If I won a British title that would be the ultimate goal.  Anything after that I would take with open arms.  Make no bones about it, I fight for the money.  I wouldn't do it as a hobby, you don't get punched in the head for a hobby, you play football or something!  I've always been honest with Steve with that and he's backed me, so hopefully there's some big money fights and entertaining fights that people want to see, that's all I'm interested in really.” 

The current British title holder is a certain Chris Eubank Jr, and that belt would be the logical progression if Mullender is victorious at the O2.  So is that a fight he would be interested in?  “It's a stacked division.  I spar a lot of good fighters like Conrad Cummings who are around British level.  I think Eubank will move on, I don't think he will stay at that level.  I don't even know who his promoter is at the minute or who he's working with.  I'll fight anyone.  If the phonecall comes and I'm fighting Eubank in three months for thirty grand I'll sign the paper!  It's about winning a belt, bringing it home to my family.”

That attitude sums Mullender up.  The glitz and glamour of a potential showdown with such a big name as Eubank doesn’t draw him to the fight, it is the outcomes.  Bringing home both a belt and a pay cheque.  They are the things that Mullender is in the sport for.  He knows his limitations as a boxer and instead of hiding them, highlights them and finds way around them.  It all adds up to the style that has made him so popular with both his own fans and boxing fans in general.  On May 21st he gets the opportunity to showcase that style to a potential whole new set of fans, and it is an opportunity Mullender is ready to grab with both hands.

Joe wanted to thank the sponsors who are so important in supporting his career who are London Construction Contracts Limited, Absolute Gym, LMAC Electrical and Parkstone Landscapes.