The Journeymen: Casey Blair and Jamesie Gorman- hard as rock in the school of hard knocks
‘Seconds out, round one…'
Between them Casey Blair and his prizefighting mucker Jamesie Gorman have heard the first bell 66 times in the past two years. Jamesie has lost 34 on-the-trot, Casey has one win out of 32.
But it’s not about winning.
Casey and Jamesie are journeymen fighters, they’re not supposed to get their hand raised, they’re supposed to be durable and tough which is exactly what they are.
Andy Watters met two of boxing’s nice guys, genuine hardmen who play their part in the school of hard knocks.
Andy Watters: I’ll start with the obvious question: Why would anyone be a journeyman boxer?
Jamesie Gorman: It’s good, it keeps you fit.
Casey Blair: It can be a tough night’s work but if you’re not scared of hard knocks and you enjoy the buzz, the journeyman route is the way to go.
So how do you become a journeyman?
CB: You have two routes to go down in boxing. If you’re going to chase titles you need to keep an unbeaten record intact and in order to do that you need to have a good way about you and be able to sell 100+ tickets every time you go out.
Most people could do that for their debut, but once you get down to your third or fourth fight it’s only loyal followers who are going to stump up the price of the ticket to come out and watch you but you hope you get up to 12-0 and then cash in on all your hard work by winning a British title.
The other route is the one I took. I came into the sport late, at 33, and won my first three fights but I knew I didn’t have the pedigree to produce the goods should I even get a title shot. So I asked myself ‘Why go through the heartache of trying to sell tickets?’
I decided to get on the road and be a journeyman.
Your flights are paid for, your hotel is paid for and you get paid. It keeps you in the sport and you’re getting up to fight in front of big crowds albeit to fight an up-and-coming guy who is chasing titles.
What’s the shortest notice you’ve have ever taken a fight?
JG: I was training with Casey one Saturday at about 12 o’clock and the phone rang. An opponent had pulled out for some unbeaten kid who was fighting in the York Hall that night.
They asked me: ‘Do you want to come over to London?’
CB: He stopped training, packed his bag and was away.
JG: I went to the international, flew over, on to the underground, got to Bethnal Green, walked up to York Hall, weighed in, got a bite to eat and then got in and had the fight.
The kid was coming in to knock me out too. He was Kay Prospere, a big prospect, a big banger and people in the dressingroom were going: ‘aye, this won’t take long’.
CB: He looked like he’d been chiselled out of granite, but Jamsie did the six rounds.
You don’t have any time to check out your opponents on YouTube then?
CB: (Laughs) No. We always ask Alio (manager Alan Wilton) one very important question: What colour are his eyes?
JG: I always ask ‘what colour is his hair?’
CB: We’d look at those things more than their stats because you can be up against a fighter making his debut and he can give you the hardest night’s work you’ve ever had or you can be up against a kid who’s 16-0 and once you’re in you realise he can’t punch. Records mean nothing.
All I need to know is if they’re left or right handed and how tall they are.
If Jamesie asks me about somebody I fought I always tell him: ‘Ah Jamesie, you want to see the glitter on his shorts’. Anyone who can afford flashy shorts means trouble.
Does it pay well?
JG: It varies from opponent to opponent, but I’m not in it for money. I like training and it’s the buzz of getting into the ring knowing you’re going in to fight.
CB: Most hobbies cost you money, but we get paid for this. I had seven fights in eight weeks before Christmas last year and that was Christmas sorted out for me.
JG: Whatever you get, you have to put in the work as well. You’re training twice a day and you have very little family life – you have to keep your weight and watch your weight.
I take the kids to McDonald’s and I have a cup of coffee and they’re all sitting eating burgers!
You’re not expected to win fights, but you have to be durable and you have to tough. When you are taking punishment how much is enough?
CB: You’ve got the choice at any stage to go down and stay down and you can gesture to the referee that you’ve had enough. Usually if you were going to pull out you would do it at the end of a round and just not get back up off your stool.
But the majority of journeymen would never quit on their stool.
JG: It’s all about pride. You don’t think about getting stopped and you don’t think of quitting. You know when somebody is coming on and if they’re very powerful and very strong but a journeyman does what a journeyman does – you’re there to fight.
CB: I have copped some serious beatings in the ring but it’s never been my choice to pull out. Sometimes the ref will step in and say ‘look you’re taking too much’. You always want to see it through the distance.
You’re both family men. When you go back home with bumps and bruises it must be tough viewing for your wife and kids?
JG: It’s part and parcel of the job. You’re not going to get in the ring and not get hit or marked up so you prepare yourself for that.
CB: The shock and horror subsides after a few fights. At the start you come home with a black eye and a big nose and the missus is a bit freaked out. You get to 20 fights and it’s just another night’s work – she might tell you not to collect the kids from school though!
I came back from a fight recently and my son came over to the car with his mates who were asking me: ‘Well, did you win?’ Before I could even answer my son says: ‘It’s all about the money’. You’re over there to have a punch up, get a few quid and get home. Even if you win on points on the night it’s very rare for the judges to give you the win.
Losing when you should have won must be hard to accept?
JG: Not for me. Some people want to win constantly but the sport needs journeymen for young kids to progress and learn the skills. That’s how you make champions.
There must have been times you’ve been well in a fight but took a step back?
CB: We get fights at short notice and most boxers are doing 12-week training camps so the aim is to get in there, not get cut, not get stopped and get out.
There’s been very few occasions when I’ve thought ‘I’ll take my foot off the pedal here because I’m not supposed to win this one’. Most times you’re fighting someone with an unbeaten record and quite often some of them have enough sponsorship to be full-time boxers.
I’m a builder so when I’m out lifting sheets of plasterboard these kids are with their trainer doing laps at the track. It’s never going to be easy but if you’re rough and tumble, you enjoy the sport and you know why you’re there, it’s no dent in your pride when a kid has his hand raised.
Do you have to be as disciplined in your lifestyle and training as a Carl Frampton or a Ryan Burnett?
JG: They would have 12-week camps before fights and somebody like Frampton would have a dietician and different trainers. They would study their opponents’ skills and practice routines for what they will be up against.
When you take a fight at a day’s notice you can’t do any of that.
CB: Our training is different but when it comes down to making weight, we go through the same pain that they do.
Are there tricks of the trade that you learning as you get more experienced?
JG: You learn to adapt. When you’re a journeyman you know wee moves to get through the fight. Not spitting your mouthguard out or anything – not stuff like that – it’s more about pacing yourself through the fight.
CB: A kid comes out at you all guns blazing but you don’t panic.
JG: He’s going to wear himself down because nobody can keep that up.
CB: Don’t panic and think: ‘How am I going to handle six rounds of this?’ You know he might keep it up in the second round but by the third round he’ll start to slow down.
Only experience teaches you that because it would be easy to get hit and stay down given that there’s a ferocious animal up against you.
If somebody comes in and tries to blast you out in the first or second round, you know that if you’re still there by the third it’s only going to get easier.
When you’re in the ring you’re able to apply that logic but comes from experience of being under the cosh.
Your overall records are 4-36 (Casey) and 8-46-1 (Jamesie). How do you feel about having had so many losses?
JG: There’s far too many people who want to keep their records and without us it wouldn’t happen.
CB: Legacy doesn’t come into it. Records, wins, losses… You don’t attach much importance to any of it – you get a bit of praise here, you get a bit of criticism there and you treat the two imposters just the same.
Really, it’s about the love of the sport and we’re our own biggest critics.
JG: I’ll be as disappointed as a champion if I get out of the ring and I’ve underperformed. The result is always going to be set in stone but if I haven’t boxed well and I haven’t put in 100 per cent I won’t be happy.
CB: There’s pride in how you perform and you want to put on a really good, tough fight and if the kid a genuine test to step him up in level.
Alan Wilton is your manager and cornerman, who is your trainer?
CB: We train each other and if we need to spar we’ll spar each other.
JG: Aye and there’s no backdoors in it.
CB: If you came in on a Sunday morning and saw us covered in blood punching the head off each other you’d be forgiven for thinking we didn’t like each other but that’s not the case.
That’s just the way men like you show affection?
JG: Yeah and after it we go: ‘Aye that was a good oul punch–up!’
How do people react when you tell them you’re a journeyman boxer?
CB: People are very interested when you let the cat out of the bag.
JG: Then they just hope that everything goes alright and that you don’t get hurt, stuff like that.
You had a win last year Casey. What happened there?
CB: I had my boys watching that one so I wasn’t doing any favours for anybody. I knew I was going to win that one.
Are you allowed to win one? Is that not like career suicide for a journeyman?
CB: You’re there to do a job for your employer who is the promoter and it’s a bit of a slap in his face if you take his kid out.
At any stage in a fight there’s always the chance for a lucky shot that you weren’t even planning to throw. But if you have the business head on you, you know not to follow up and take the kid out by the roots.
How long will you keep this up?
JG: The main thing is not to get hurt. Once I start getting badly hurt then I’ll be out of the game.
I change my mind all the time. It’s an age thing and it’s dieting all the time, that’s what puts me off. There are things you can’t do with the family and stuff but as long as my medicals are good - brain scans and my eyesight and all that I’ll keep going.
CB: To reach 100 fights would be good. I won’t get there without getting knocked out, because I’ve been knocked out – in the first round. If I maintain the lifestyle I do at the minute there’s no reason why I couldn’t box on for another five years and I would be there.
When you get there we’ll have another chat?
CB: Yeah. I might be repeating myself and drooling at that stage, but if my motor neurone skills are holding up I’ll do it.