Borders boxer John relishing real-life ‘Rocky’ bout

Ring-rusty Borders boxer John McCallum has been handed the biggest challenge of his career to date.

By Ralph Mellon
Thursday, 22nd October 2020, 10:25 pm
John, right, has learned a good deal from his sparring partner, Ultimate Boxer heavyweight winner Nick Webb. At 6' 5'', Webb is the same height as John's opponent next month, Russian Evgeny Tishchenko.
John, right, has learned a good deal from his sparring partner, Ultimate Boxer heavyweight winner Nick Webb. At 6' 5'', Webb is the same height as John's opponent next month, Russian Evgeny Tishchenko.

The former international is facing his own real-life ‘Rocky’ remake with a match against Evgeny Tishchenko, a 6’5’’ Russian southpaw heavyweight.

As an amateur, Tishchenko, 29, was a two-time Olympic gold medallist, twice European champion and two-time world champion.

He has won all seven of his professional fights to date, five by knockout.

The contest is for the WBO Cruiserweight championship of the world and could lead to a shot at the WBO Inter-Continental title.

It takes place in Yekaterinburg, Russia, on November 7 and will be John’s first fight in 20 months.

The finance graduate with links to Melrose and Galashiels knows he hasn’t much time left to get into peak shape – but he is determined to try his best.

His aim is to knock Tischenko out, although he is giving away five inches in height and, as he admits himself, technical ability.

But John, 32, knows there’s a chance he could spring a shock and his principal goal is to be Scotland’s next world champion.

“I am very, very happy that I have been given the chance,” he said. “I’ve always asked to fight the best.

“I’ve never really wanted easy fights against journeymen. I want to fight the best – and this could not have been harder.

“The guy is unbelievable.He is a great fighter, a natural heavyweight, and I respect him. It would be an honour to share the ring with him but, at the same time, I am going there to really try my best.

“Technically, he is a brilliant boxer, a better boxer than I am – technically. He’s Olympic class. But I have my own tactics on how I think I can get round it and adapt and how I can beat him.

“It’s a case of really taking it to him and putting him under pressure. He still has that amateur style, although he’s a very good boxer. He has reach and height advantage – everything is against me here.”

John was aware he had a massive opportunity and the fact Tishchenko held all the aces meant he was in a win-win situation.

“I am going to be right up against it and I am not expected to beat this guy.

“But if I do, poeple will really have to take note and realise I am world class.

“Regardless of the outcome, I will give him 110 per cent and, if this man beats me, I will shake his hand as the better man.

“I am good sportsman and I am going there to do the best for myself and my country.”

John said he “tried to keep optimistic” during lockdown. “I’m 32 now and only have a few years left in boxing, so I want to make these years count. I have boxed my whole life so I’m ready to roll the dice and really go for the best.”

After defeating Northern Irishman Casey Blair for the unofficial Celtic title in February 2019, John based himself in Surrey and signed a new three-year deal with London promoter Mo Prior, as well as finding sponsors and high-quality sparring partners. He had a fight lined up in April which was then felled by the covid virus – along with much of his regular training routine, until recently.

“I’m doing it old ‘Rocky’ style,” he said. “Fighting a massive Russian, in Russia, an Olympic champion. I am hitting the roads and just getting as much sparring in as possible.”

The thought that he might pull off a sensational win despite all the odds was inspirational and he added: “I feel nervous but good.”