Matt McCarthy

Josh Kennedy
Everyone loves a domestic rivalry, two local lads with a tail to tell and a story built up. March 5th is quickly turning into one, as Matt McCarthy of Essex and Sonny Upton, originally of London, meet at York Hall to battle it out potentially for the English super welterweight (light middleweight) title. Despite have almost two months to wait for the fight, tension is starting to boil as contractual issues have lead to snipes across social media. On a packed card that includes a Southern Area fight and title eliminators put on by Goodwin Promotions, it could be these two lads from the area that steal the show.

McCarthy has expressed his frustration of late about the time taken to sign the fight off and at one point there was talk of the fight being pulled from the card entirely. But with paperwork now complete and a date in the diary, what was the problem?

“I didn’t think the fight was going to happen to be honest with you" McCarthy tells me, now relieved that he has a solid date to look forward to. "Four and a half weeks it took them to sign the contract. I signed mine on the first day, I’d been out in Tenerife training before Christmas to get ready for the fight and he didn’t sign the contract. It got to the Monday and it still wasn’t signed so I said I would pull out the fight and want another opponent. Just as I’m about to pull out of the fight his contract came in, so it’s on."

It's not unheard of for fighters to take their time over paperwork, perhaps delay proceedings for their opponent and make preparation harder or training camps shorter. So for McCarthy, does he think there was any malice in the hold up? "I don’t know. We asked to fight Pauly at first, and they turned that down saying he had a bad hand. Now Pauly is fighting for the Celtic title and they gave Sonny the fight, which I don’t really care about. Sonny has lost twice and he’s going to lose again so I’m happy for that. If he loses, where can he go from here? 13th fight, three losses and 10 wins, where can he go? There’s nowhere really, the pressure’s on him not me. The reason I asked for Pauly is I think he's the best of the three of the brothers (Anton being the third), so when they said Sonny I thought they must be offering him up as a bit of meat. He's lost two already, when he loses again he ought to consider retirement because nobody will take him seriously having lost three fights from 13. His losses have come against people with losing records until he loses to me, then it's losing to someone with a winning record."

It was comments made over Facebook that seem to have riled McCarthy, the social media outlet giving Upton a platform to question the commitment of the Essex fighter to go through with their fight date. So has that given McCarthy an extra impetus going into March? "What he wrote in that Facebook stuff the other day, he's really pushed me now" he says, becoming more animated. "I said to my coach Terry the other day I didn't know if I could get up for this now, but he insisted it was going to happen. I'd trained all over Christmas, I didn't want to waste those four weeks. Then it got signed and I though 'fucking yes' then when he wrote on Facebook that McCarthy can't handle this and can't handle that; it's pushed me, given me an urge and I can't wait to get in there and prove to everyone how good I am. When Sonny was disrespectful on Facebook, I think a lot of people turned on him. I've had people, even from Manchester, message me saying they hope I knock him out, so he can't be very well liked."

Despite what seems like a personal animosity building between the two men, McCarthy insists that there is no ill malice between them and conversely, Upton is actually someone who he has a lot of time for. "I mean no disrespect to Sonny as I do respect him, I respect every person who gets in that ring. He's a nice bloke and I hope he does succeed after I beat him, but this is my time now and my time to take Sonny Upton out" says a clinical McCarthy, who is a man clearly with his opponent on his mind. 

The close proximity of the two, despite Upton now locating himself out of Manchester, means that there are paths that have crossed in social circles. To that end, McCarthy insists that some insider information has been passed his way about his opponent. "I know Sonny doesn't live the life, I know a lot of his friends. He only lives in Romford and they tell me he doesn't live the life, goes out drinking all the time. How can you live the life if you're going out doing that?" he questions. It is not something that McCarthy feels he is at risk of, having only had his last fight in December it was straight back to training with his team as he explains. "I've been in camp for four weeks now, I didn't eat any shit over Christmas. I knew there was a big fight coming. I went out to Tenerife with John Wayne Hibbert, sparring has started and I'm up to eight rounds from yesterday. Next couple of weeks it's eight rounds, then we're on to tens. I'll be fully fit and focussed for this fight and can't wait to get in there and show everyone what I can do."

The camp will pick up between now and March 5th and already McCarthy and his team have got top quality sparring partners in place, showing just how seriously this fight is being taken. "We've got sparring lined up with Bradley Skeete, we're going to go and spar Lenny Daws hopefully and looking to get to Blackpool to spar Brian Rose for a week" he tells me. These are impressive calibre boxers; Skeete is in preparation for his British welterweight title fight against Sam Eggington, Daws has come off the back of a controversial loss for a European title and Rose has competed at world level. Does it concern him that his opponent will be matching him for preparation? "It's a big fight and we're taking it seriously, so should Sonny. I don't want Sonny to get to the fight and be 50/50, I want 100% of him to turn up for the fight. I don't want to tell people I beat a 50% Sonny Upton I want to tell everyone I beat him at his best so I hope he is in the gym training hard and not in the pub drinking beer."

The Upton brothers recently announced a linkup with the MGM team, originally formed in Marbella but now working out of the UK. They are creating some nice headlines and pulling in a stable of fighters to create waves in British boxing, but do such news stories have any interest to McCarthy? "I don't care if he's signed with MGM. I wouldn't care if he signed with Floyd Mayweather! I'm signed with my coach and my promoter but it means nothing. What matters is how you take care of yourself. What blood pumps through you is what makes a champion and I can't wait, I'd fight this Saturday if I could, that's how up for this I am."

Promotional and managerial stories aside, March 5th will come down to two men facing off in the ring. No side stories, no social media, no management issues. So what does McCarthy make of Sonny Upton the fighter? "He sits on the ropes and gets hit by every shot. He's so open, has his hands down all the time and I can see why he gets knocked out. His brother fights the same way, Pauly. "Who has he beat? He got knocked out against someone who has won four and lost fourteen, then had a close fight with Ryan Toms who has a 50/50 record, he’s average." 

So in comparison, how does he see himself as a boxer? "I'm a strong fighter, I've put nearly all my opponents down and could have stopped 90% of them but we chose to play the game and go the rounds. I was 18 years old when I turned pro, there's no point in getting in there now and having had 14 or 15 fights having stopped them all. What progress would I have had? We chose, me and my team, to pick these people off. But with Sonny Upton I'm going to demolish him. There's no fucking about with Sonny Upton, I'm getting in there and I mean business. I'll lose limbs in there if I have to, I'm prepared to put everything on the line for this fight. He’s never been in with someone in my league with the speed, the power, the ability to switch hit. I can box, I can fight, I can go anyway I want. So for him to say that he hasn’t got a clue about boxing. I’ve had fifteen fights and lost one. He’s lost two out of twelve and if he loses again, there’s nowhere for him to go. Every time he steps up he’s lost. I’m looking forward to ten rounds of non stop action against Sonny Upton and I can’t wait!"

One thing that certainly won't be lacking for McCarthy on the night is research. He has been meticulous in looking into the way that he expects his opponent to fight, and even goes as far as to let me in on a secret. "No one knows this, but if I'm going to pick a fight I like to go and watch them" says McCarthy. "I've got someone else in mind for after this, and I've been to two of his last five fights. But with Sonny Upton I've been to his last four fights, watched them all. We came up with a gameplan ages ago to beat Sonny. He does the same shots, I know what they are. I know where he's weak and I know he can't hurt me, doesn't matter what he says. My body is like a rock, I've got a good chin and been hit by bombs. He's been knocked out by someone who has never had a stoppage before, he got floored. His chin is a weakness. He got put down against Ryan Toms with a body shot, if you watch that fight in the eighth round they said it was slip but Toms caught him. Why was Upton bent down in his corner? He was hurt to the body."

It is clear that he has looked into his opponent, applied the fine tooth comb to the man he will face and ensured that no stones are unturned in the buildup. It's not just a one man job though, as his coach Terry Coulter and strength and conditioning expert Alex Breading provide equal amounts of input and insight to the prepation. With the team having training camps abroad and Christmas training it brings a big fight feel to March 5th, so is it fair to say it's the biggest match up of McCarthy's career? "Yeah, it's the biggest fight I've had. This is the one for me. Some fights it's been hard for me to get up for, but this one I've been in camp for four weeks, I'm going to be out in Tenerife for another week at the end of my camp sparring out there. I'm so focussed on beating him, we've got our gameplan already. There's nothing he can do to beat me. He's saying he's strong but who's he actually fought? Journeymen who 90% of their losses have been stoppages, so he's not beaten anyone of any note. I'm not saying I have but I beat Zoltan Turai who Pauly Upton struggled with. I knocked him out. He's boxed nobody of any credit at all. Ryan Toms is an average fighter, I've all respect for him but that's what he is."

Normally when looking to compare two fighters you can find a mutual opponent to see how they each handled the individual but that isn't possible with these two. However again, it is an area that McCarthy has done his own research in to. "I spoke with three of four of his opponents and all of them have said that I knock Sonny Upton out, and that's people that have been in the ring with him and that says it all really. One thing I don't do is get over confident, I'm treating this like a world title fight. I could do the ten rounds this Saturday if I wanted to, I'm fully focussed and fully fit and putting everything on the line for this fight. There's no pressure on me at all, it's all on Sonny."

The other member of the McCarthy team who has been pivotal already in this fight being made is promoter Steve Goodwin. The Upton brothers have made regular appearances on the Goodwin Promotions cards from York Hall in the past, but this time there will be a difference. As McCarthy's promoter, he has been able to secure an advantage that McCarthy sees as being significant. "Steve has been brilliant getting it at York Hall because I'm the home fighter now, getting the home corner and he has to come out first. I'll fight in the back garden, it doesn't bother me where I fight, but York Hall is my home, it's not his home. He's Irish, he's Manchester, he's whatever his is, but this is my home turf and I'll be bringing my home crowd."

The fans are something that the Upton brothers are known to carry in numbers. Known the the Upton Clan, they turn up in their droves to support the three family members as they fight around the country. However McCarthy is confident that come March 5th, it is another aspect that he is going to have the better of over Upton. "I've got a massive amount of fans going up there. He's not going to have it all his way like with the Upton flags all the way round York Hall. Half of that will be my flags, British flags and English flags. My lot will be bringing the horns as well, I'm not just matching him man-for-man, I'm beating him. I'll be in the home corner, he has to fight in the away corner. He's out of his comfort zone. I've got hundreds of people coming to this, coming from everywhere."

The Upton Clan are also known for hanging their Irish flags over the York Hall balcony, adorned with various 'UCB' logos and slogans. Again, there is a plan in place for McCarthy. "I'm getting my flags made at the minute, probably about 50! If he puts all the Upton flags around York Hall they'll only be getting overtook by team McCarthy flags. My fans will just put them over the top, simple as that!! York Hall will be kicking, I'm selling hundreds of tickets, I've got his fans wanting me to win because he's disrespectful. Must be doing something wrong if your own fans are saying that."

There will be a famous face in the corner for Upton on the night, Manchester son and former world champion Ricky Hatton. He has taken on the coaching duties for the three Upton brothers and is seen on fight nights in their corner issuing instructions. Does that daunt McCarthy in any way? "Just because he has Ricky Hatton in his corner it doesn't make him a good fighter. Ricky Hatton got knocked out twice so he's not the best. Just because he's trained by Ricky Hatton it doesn't make them fight like him. I can box on the front foot or the back foot, I can fight or box. Being with Ricky Hatton, it doesn't mean shit to me. He could be with Muhammad Ali, it doesn't mean anything. It's me and him in the ring, I don't care who he's trained by, who is in his team, it doesn't matter. It's just me and him March 5th"

McCarthy also raises the question about where the Upton Clan loyalties lie, either with the fighters or with the trainers? "His fans aren't his fans, they're Ricky Hatton fans. This is what people don't realise, they're not his fans and come to support Hatton, not Sonny Upton! All I want is Sonny Upton sat in his corner and me in mine. I don't care if I have one fan and he has thousands, I'll be turning up on the day one million percent focussed and one million percent fit with one thing on my mind; that is to destroy Sonny Upton. I don't just want to win on a close points decision, I want to smash him! I'm training three times a day for this, up at half four running five or six miles, I train at two o'clock on my lunch break at work, from there I go to the gym at six in the evening until nine o'clock at night. I work my bollocks off! This fight means everything and I wouldn't be doing it otherwise. All I see everyday is Sonny Upton's face and I can't wait. I'm training like I'm poor, like I have nothing to lose."

There is an insistence that this isn't personal, that McCarthy is treating the fight as any other. Whether that is correct may not be true, it is clear that he has an enhanced focus going in to March 5th that he perhaps hasn't had for fights of lesser significance. The English title isn't confirmed to be on the line as of yet, although the current holder Nav Mansouri is moving on to British title level to challenge Liam Williams. You suspect that whether a belt is on the line or not may not matter to either fighter; for both it would be a hugely symbolic win to have on their record. Bragging rights are up for grabs, two men who have seemingly started to stoke the fires over social media will be the ones fanning the flames in the ring on March 5th. "Leave the talking for the ring" signs off McCarthy. "We'll find out on March 5th who the man is and who the champion is. Not way he's going to knock me out and there's no need to be disrespectful". Hopefully respect can be held both inside and outside of the ring. But still, there's nothing wrong with a healthy local rivalry.

McCarthy wanted to thank the sponsors who support his career, Danny and Norman White of White Contractors Fabrication and Welding as well as Ricky Maidment of AEM Demoliton.