FOR a man who only took up boxing to help with his fitness for playing football, Gary “The Highlander” Cornish has made a decent fist of starting his career in the Noble Art.
Unbeaten after 14 fights, six of them won by stoppage, the giant 26-year-old from Inverness stands on the brink of making Scottish boxing history. On Friday night at The Ironworks venue in his home city, he will face England’s Paul Butlin for the International Masters Title and, if Cornish is victorious, he will become the first Scottish heavyweight in 62 years to win any sort of title and the first Scottish professional to ever hold an international heavyweight belt.
It’s a daunting step up in class for former Scottish amateur champion Cornish, who knows he is in for a battle with Butlin. But, working with his coach Laurie Redfern and personal trainer Paul Geddes, he has reached a new peak of fitness.
“I train all the year round,” said Cornish, “but, as my coaches put it, we train hard and then, for a fight, we train even harder. I know I am going to have to be on top form on the night to win.”
Paul Butlin is a more than credible opponent, having done well in the Prizefighter competition and been in the ring with the likes of Derek Chisora, who infamously chewed his ear when they fought in 2009 – view it on YouTube and be nauseated.
The heavily-tattooed 27-year-old gym owner from Melton Mowbray has a record of 14 wins and 18 losses and insists he will win the title this time after a previous attempt in 2010 failed when he was stopped by Larry Olubamiwo in Liverpool.
Cornish is respectful of his opponent but is sure he can beat him: “We have watched him a bit, and we know his record but we think I have the tools to beat him and we have not really anything special planned for him. We will just let him worry about me.
“He’s a pressure fighter, he just keeps coming forward but I am good on the back foot and the front foot, so I think I will be able to take him either way.”
Hopefully, that isn’t Highland hubris speaking but there’s no disguising Cornish’s confidence. He added: “I wouldn’t get in the ring if I wasn’t confident.
“Getting a title means I will get bigger fights, maybe get in the reckoning for the British eliminators, and, if you have a title, people always want to take it off you.
“We have always taken things slowly but surely. That has been our attitude from the start. I’m still learning and I know I’m at the bottom of the learning ladder because I didn’t have much of an amateur career. So, every day is a learning experience for me.”
Cornish travelled south last week to Hartlepool to spar with the useful Chris Burton and said: “He has actually fought and beaten Paul Butlin so it was good to be in the ring with him.”
The home support will be appreciated by Cornish. “It’s just been wild since the tickets went on sale. My phone and my Facebook page have never stopped, and even walking down the road people are stopping me and wishing me good luck,” he said.
A former pupil of Inverness High School, Cornish is a time-served joiner but would prefer to be a full-time boxer. He explained: “I took up boxing to help my football, but Laurie put me on for a spar and it went from there. I turned pro because I couldn’t get anyone to fight me after I won the Scottish title. I’ve wanted to give up joinery for a while but I have to keep paying the bills at the moment. My manager Tommy Gilmour has seen it all before and he is confident I’ll make it, so let’s hope he’s right.”
Gilmour feels his man is ready to move to the higher level. He said: “It is his first major step up. It is his first ten-rounder against a tried-and-tested opponent who has a reasonable record and, if he is going to move on, Gary has to get by the Paul Butlins of this world. I see it as the first step of the next stage of his career and, if he wins, he could legitimately expect to be included in any British title eliminators.”
Gilmour put Friday’s bout in a Scottish historical context. The last time Scotland had two heavyweights good enough to contest the Scottish Area championship was as far back as June, 1951, when Glasgow-born George Stern beat fellow Glaswegian Hugh McDonald on a disqualification at the Recreation Ground in Alloa.
Gilmour’s manager and promoter father, Tommy snr, spans many decades of Scottish boxing history and the current head of the clan would dearly like to see his protégé go one better than one of his father’s stable.
Gilmour said: “The last home-based heavyweight who got close to the chance of a British title was Ken Shaw from Dundee who was managed by my dad just after the war. He fought Freddie Mills in a final eliminator for the British title in 1948 [Shaw was stopped in the first round] and that’s the nearest any Scot has come to fighting for the British belt.
“In the sixties, my dad tried unsuccessfully to make matches between British and Commonwealth light-heavyweight champion Chic Calderwood from Craigneuk and Henry Cooper for the British heavyweight championship, but those guys were only 13 stones, while Gary is 6ft 7in and 17st plus, making him a true heavyweight.
“So, if Gary can win on Friday, he will be the first heavyweight from Scotland to win a title of any kind for more than 62 years.”
It is a tough task for Cornish, but he is a big fellow and fitter than he has been in his life. The Highlander should find that his time has come.