Magee has done the hard yards ahead of Kessler showdown
A sweat-soaked top allied to a white towel wiping away the rivers emanating from the top of his head every couple of seconds in the rudimentary surrounds of the St Agnes gym in Belfast leaves you in no doubt what Brian Magee has been putting himself through for the biggest fight of his career.
Magee’s path to this point could hardly contrast more starkly with the golden road trod by his challenger Mikkel Kessler — a former WBA and WBC champion — tonight in Herning, Denmark.
The 37-year-old, whose stubble reveals as much grey as brown, is aware of the “glamorous” view of boxing taken by many young professionals and those watching from outside the boxing bubble which always has a sense of madness about it.
Magee was once one of those young hopefuls dreaming of big nights at the King’s Hall and further afield with the large pay-days to go with it.
He has learned, as all fighters do at whatever level, that the professional business is unlike any other sport.
“I feel like a boxing vampire, a quarter of a century in boxing that’s a massive part of my life — it’s a long, long time. I have a love-hate relationship with boxing — love the training, love my team but there are other aspects I hate.
“Look at the internet and the way people get on, look at poor Ricky Hatton, such a hero and because of one fight people saying he’s useless…
“It’s such a cruel, cruel sport — in football you get a testimonial and in boxing you get beat up and sent home with two black eyes. That’s the nature of boxing — it is the toughest sport in the world.
“Those who go to watch the fight, they come over saying they have had such a great time… and I come back black and blue, sore, I go to my bed and sometimes you can’t sleep because of the pain — even if I’ve won.
“I’ll just be glad to come back and take my kids to see Santa.”
Though, there is no doubt that Magee has enjoyed the riches over the past two years that many fighters can only dream about and tomorrow night’s first defence of his WBA World super-middleweight title will have worldwide interest.
This is one of those nights that the majority of those Ulster boxers who have turned pro recently — and there have been many — will never see. For Magee it has arrived after many ups and downs including periods of depressing inactivity.
“Mentally I’m stronger than ever before, to get here from where I’ve been I don’t think many fighters could have done it,” added Magee.
“You see so many young fighters coming through in Belfast and you see them after one or two fights and they’re all gung ho and see their dreams of being world champion and I suppose I was like that but now I know what this business is all about.
“I do worry for all the young guys trying to make it because they all can’t make money in this sport.
“Boxing has always been seen as glamorous and I suppose watching my fight they’re thinking ‘oh this is an amazing, superstar fight’ but it’s like any fight... every day I’m in here working away, it’s the same grind, the same sweat, there’s nothing glamorous about it.
“You can’t kill the dreams of young fighters but they need to be realistic, you need people looking after you right, you can’t do it all yourself.
“And I think their trainers need to bring them along with gradual steps, wade into the water…
“The knowledge is out there for them now, the likes of myself is a template for them… there’s a time when you have to step up from four rounders and you have to be ready for every step up the ladder.
“But they have to know as well that you have to sell tickets, you need a promoter to get behind you.”
Magee is quick to offer his gratitude to co-managers Pat Magee and John Rooney who brought the Lisburn man through the wilderness of being out in the cold from the British title scene through to European and World title success.
The extra scars around his eyes are a reminder that there is not long left for Magee in the ring, even though he has never fought with more aggression or intelligence.
“I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t told this fight could be your last fight... lose this it’s your last.
“But of course if I did lose I would have to think about retirement because you start running out of chances,” Magee explained.
“You have to ask yourself how many times can you dig into the well?
“This is such a big fight that you would have to take stock, it’s not like you can go on and get a bigger fight.
“It’s not going to happen and I know how hard it is to get your hands on a world title, it’s two years work unless you have big time promoters and big TV and that is very rare.”
But Magee doesn’t plan on exiting the cruel stage just yet.
“I’m ready, this fight means everything to me and I know I couldn’t be better prepared to go and win.”