Interview with Glenn Catley by Paul Zanon. See more Hannibal Boxing interviews >>
Drama, controversy, and a “have passport, will travel” mentality pretty much sum up Glenn Catley’s time in world championship boxing.
The Duke: The Life and Lies of Tommy Morrison
But how was the “Catman” first enticed to step into the prize ring? “This is going to sound really big headed and I don’t want it to come across that way, but I’ve always been naturally very strong from a young age. Whether it be lifting weights, grappling, arm wrestling—I was good at it. Being strong meant that I was naturally good at fighting. Even when I was at primary school and a gang fight would break out, people would want me in their team, because I could take out two or three people.
“In terms of my interest in boxing, the fight I remember watching that stood out for me was in 1980, when Alan Minter fought Marvin Hagler. I probably remember part of the fight for the wrong reasons because of the rioting that night [at Wembley Arena], but either way, that fight got me interested in boxing. Between that and my natural strength, I kind of knew one day I might start boxing.”
It would take three years before his window of opportunity opened. “I was eleven at the time. One day, my dad was in conversation with one of his work colleagues, Graham Gapper, and expressed my interest in boxing. Graham, who’s sadly no longer with us, said to my dad, ‘If you want, I’ll come along, pick him up and take him to the gym with my son Richard’, which he did. He used to pick me up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and take us to the local amateur boxing gym in Bristol called ‘The Empire.’ I took to it like a duck to water. It was a proper spit and sawdust gym, a great place to learn the game and cut my teeth on—but also my eyes, my nose, my lips and everything else!”
Catley would go on to have fifty amateur fights, losing only eight. The closest he got to national honors was at the ABA (Amateur Boxing Association) light-middleweight final on 6 May 1992 at the iconic Royal Albert Hall. His opponent that day went on to become one of British boxing’s all-time greats. Catley recalled the contest. “One thing about Joe Calzaghe, even throughout his professional career, what he always brought to the table was incredible stamina. Whatever pace you set, Joe could match you and some. He had incredibly fast hands, but I wouldn’t say he was the biggest puncher I’ve ever shared the ring with, far from it in fact. However, if you hit him with one, he’d hit you with six. In my opinion, he’s the best boxer the UK has ever produced.
“In our fight, I got stopped seconds from the final bell on a nose bleed. I was gutted. Listen, make no mistake whatsoever, if it had gone the extra few seconds, Joe was no doubt well ahead on points and would have got the decision anyway, but I was really frustrated after this six-month tournament, to have got stopped seconds before the final bell.”
The Calzaghe fight signified the end of Catley’s amateur career. “When I got beaten by Joe at the Albert Hall, I was twenty-one years old at the time, had just come to the end of my electrical apprenticeship and thought, ‘Catley, you’re twenty-one years of age, you’ve come as far as you can as an amateur, it’s obvious the England squad has no interest in you. Time to earn a few quid and turn professional.’ So I turned pro with Chris Sanigar.”
Catley made his debut on May 27, 1993, losing only once in his first twenty-one outings, but bouncing back from that sole defeat to stop the likes of Kirkland Laing, a veteran who had once beaten Roberto Duran. In his twenty-second fight, on January 21, 1997, he stopped Benin’s Georges Bocco in four rounds to become the WBC International middleweight champion and was made mandatory challenger for the coveted British title. Catley expressed his nostalgic excitement. “I can remember a good friend of mine and stablemate, Ross Hale, boxing Andy Holligan for the British and Commonwealth light welterweight titles. This was May 25, 1994, and I was fighting on the undercard against Chris Davies. I watched the fight and Ross stopped Andy in three rounds. Everything I experienced that night with Ross becoming the champion, the adulation, the jubilation, the celebration, the congratulations—let me tell you—I had never in my entire life experienced or witnessed anything like that. I remember thinking, ‘I want some of that. I want to be the next British champion.’ That was my first dream, my first mission as a pro.”
The opportunity to fight British champion Neville Brown didn’t happen overnight, and it was suggested in the interim that Catley fight the Hungarian middleweight champion Andras Galfi on June 5, 1997, putting his WBC International strap on the line. Unfortunately, preparations didn’t go as planned. “I’d started taking creatine monohydrate, and a week before the fight, I was struggling to lose weight, living on lettuce leaves and water. I was nine pounds over the weight on the day of the fight and had to lose it, otherwise, I’d lose everything.
“I put myself in the sauna and on the exercise bike, and after two hours I poured nine pounds out of my body. Crazy, stupid thing to do. Out of ignorance for not checking about this creatine stuff, although I looked a million dollars, it made losing weight unbelievably tough.” Catley was stopped in seven rounds and was now seen as cannon fodder for the sturdy Brown. Coming off a loss and stepping up in competition, Catley knew he had his work cut out for him. “Everyone was saying about how Brown hadn’t been beaten by a British fighter in seven years and I’d just got spanked by a complete nobody from Hungary. Then three months after losing to Galfi, the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC) made their decision for me to fight Brown. Let me tell you, in those three months, Glenn Catley was not in a particularly good place. I thought my career was done and was concerned that my mandatory position had also gone. I was embarrassed and humiliated in the way that I got beat by Galfi and didn’t want to see my friends or family.
“Then I got that call from the BBBofC and they said, ‘You got beat by Galfi, but he’s not British. Therefore you’re still mandatory challenger to fight Neville Brown.’ Well, that was it. That was all the news I needed. When the fight was announced, the writers and critics wrote me off. Nobody gave me a chance to beat Neville Brown, which you could understand after Galfi. Back then, I was Steve Collins’s sparring partner for when he fought against Brown and also his fights against Eubank and Benn. Steve was undergoing hypnosis and from sparring with him on a day-to-day basis, I could see the difference. He was quicker, sharper, stronger and was almost impenetrable.
“So here I was after a loss and now fighting Brown to redeem and resurrect myself. I picked up the ‘Yellow Pages’ and there were loads and loads of hypnotherapists, and I literally put my finger on the middle of the page and it landed on the name of David Newton, from Bristol. Ironically, he’s now one of the best practitioners in the world.
“I phoned him up and explained I was a local boxer, my confidence was shot because I’d got beaten in my last fight, the reasons why, and that I had the biggest fight of my life for the British title coming up. I’d explained how I thought hypnotherapy seemed to be working for Steve and wondered if it could the same for me. The following week I went round, had our initial consultation and went to work on the British title fight straightaway. Not in the gym, not on the road, but on the couch.
“When I walked out to meet Neville Brown in January 1998, this is no word of a lie, you could have put three Mike Tysons in front of me and someway, somehow, I felt like I would have smashed all three of them. The confidence I had that night, especially after everyone had written me off, is something I can never fully put into words. I often say to people now when I’m taking a hypnotherapy session (Catley is a fully-qualified hypnotherapist and NLP practitioner), ‘How confident are you that you’ll wake up tomorrow morning?’ and they always say, ‘Of course.’ That’s how confident I was of beating Neville Brown that night.
“Confidence is something you need for success. You can’t give it or take it. It has to come from within. I knew I wasn’t a gifted or talented fighter. I was a short, squat, powerful come-forward fighter, who was limited with what he could do. I knew that I couldn’t outbox Brown, because he’d play with me, so I jumped on him and made a fight without giving him the space. I took control of the fight from the very first round. Hypnotherapy gave me that confidence, and that’s why I did so well that night.” Brown retired in the eighth round.
After Brown, Catley was faced with a period of inactivity. Thankfully the light at the end of the tunnel proved to be bright. “I beat Neville Brown, the biggest fight of my life. I’m now the British middleweight champion. I got paid £7,000 to fight Brown and cleared about £3,000. I had to borrow money to feed the wife and kids for that fight, but as British champion, I’m thinking, ‘Surely things can only get better?’ Sadly, that wasn’t the case. For the next nine months, I didn’t get a chance to defend the belt. Instead, I was working in a sweet shop [candy store] as a security guard, on the outskirts of Bristol, in a place called Long Ashton, kicking out kids for nicking Mars bars and cans of Tango. Once again I was at a low point in my career. So low in fact, I picked up the phone to Chris Sanigar to tell him that I was retiring because boxing was a joke and I was returning to my job as an electrician. He never answered.
“The weekend went by, and on the Monday, Sanigar phoned me and said, ‘I’ve got a big fight for you!’ I replied, ‘Listen Chris. I’m retiring. I’m skint and on my ass. I’m sick of being a security guard, and I’ve got bills to pay.’ He then said, ‘It’s against Richie Woodhall for the WBC super-middleweight world title.’ I’ve said, ‘What?’ I’ve let that set in for a few seconds and then said, ‘When’s the fight?’ and he says, ‘Eleven days’ time.’ I then asked Chris, ‘What do you think?’
“Chris replies, ‘Listen Catley. There’s £30,000 on the table. You might not win, but you won’t get hurt because Woodhall’s not a big puncher.’ I was skint and of course took the fight. I put the phone down, and the first person I called was my hypnotherapist. I went round and saw him straightaway. There was only so much I could do to get myself physically fit in eleven days, and with this being at super-middle I was only about seven or eight pounds over at the time. I was never a natural super-middleweight fighter. I’m only five foot eight and a half, but I stepped up because that’s where my opportunities would consequently lie.
“I went up to Telford to fight Richie, as confident as I was against Neville Brown. I was a massive underdog, but I went in there and started winning rounds. I remember at the end of the eleventh round Saingar said, ‘Go out there and continue what you’re doing for the final round and you’re going to come back world champion.’
“I did pretty well in the final few minutes, and when the bell went, Richie walks over, who’s about six foot two inches, bent down and whispered in my ear, ‘Well done, kid. You’re the new world champion.’ Remember, eleven days before I was kicking kids out for nicking Mars bars and here I was now being told I was WBC super-middleweight champion of the world. I’d been given the opportunity, prevailed and done it.
“I’m celebrating in the ring with my family and friends and then suddenly we hear rumors circulating that they were giving it to Richie. I thought, ‘You must be joking.’ Then the rest is history.” Woodhall was awarded a majority decision and retained his title. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be the last time the Bristol favorite would be on the rough end of a bad decision.
Only five weeks later, Catley avenged his loss to Andras Galfi, picking up the WBO super-middleweight Intercontinental title for his trouble; then, a mere six weeks later, he beat Andy Flute for the IBF version. He may have lost against Woodhall, but his global stock had risen rapidly in the following three months, with his next fight launching him back into title contention. “We’d parted company with Frank Warren and went to fight Eric Lucas in his backyard as a final eliminator for the WBC world title. The fight took place at the Molson Centre, Montreal, Canada, which was their national ice hockey stadium. It was a very partisan crowd with predominantly French-speaking fans. Lucas had never been stopped in his thirty-seven fights at that point and, of his three losses, two were challenging for world titles, one against Roy Jones Jr. [the other Fabrice Tiozzo]. Of course, once again, I was written off by the media.
“Like with Richie Woodhall and Neville Brown, the intention was to jump on Lucas, which wasn’t going to be hard because I knew he’d come for me. I was hurting him with shots, then in the twelfth round I caught him with a good right-hand-left-hook and really rocked him bad. The referee stepped in, looked him in the eyes and waved it off.
“I totally lost control and was celebrating like a lunatic. There was only two fans in the crowd there for me, my brother and my therapist. That was it! I dropped onto my knees and shouted, ‘Show me the money!’ because I knew my next fight was going to be for the world title and a half-decent payday.”
Catley’s second crack at the WBC world super-middleweight crown was set for May 6, 2000, against the Markus Beyer, who boasted an undefeated record of 18-0 at the time. Catley shared his memories of the encounter. “After Beyer beat Richie Woodhall [October 23, 1999], we went to see him in his first defense [against Leif Keiski] and he bashed the guy from pillar to post, stopping him in the seventh. He was a very awkward southpaw puncher who was precise and punched very hard with both hands. After that fight, he had to fight the mandatory, and that was me.
“When Beyer hit his opponents, they knew all about it. Very hard puncher. I told my therapist that and said, if I get wobbled, I need to be prepared, put my hands up and make out like everything is okay.
“Thank God I did that, because the moment Beyer hit me in the second round around the temple, it was so hard it rocked me down to my boots. I had double vision for about three rounds. Beyer must have thought, ‘Take that ya bald bugger,’ when he landed that shot but must have thought straight after, ‘Christ, he’s alright.’ In reality, I wasn’t; I was gone. If he knew that, he would have jumped on me with a flurry of shots and finished the show soon after. But he didn’t, because my hypnotherapy allowed me to prepare for the scenario and continue until I’d recovered.
“The whole fight was a bit tit-for-tat because we both knew we could take each other out with one punch. I came back at the end of the eleventh round, sitting on my stool in front of Sanigar and he said, ‘It’s dead even on the judges’ scorecards. We’re fighting in Germany and we ain’t gonna get any favors from the judges. If you want to win this fight, if you want to become a world champion, go out there, forget your boxing and have a fight, like you’re on the street. Don’t stop throwing punches!’
“I remember looking at Beyer and thinking, ‘I’m going to have to be carried out of this ring, either because I get knocked out trying or because I knock him out.’ I caught him with the best right hand I ever threw and he went down. He got up, but I could tell he was on co-pilot. I jumped on him, didn’t let him recover and that was it. I remember thinking, ‘Catley. You are now the WBC champion of the world.’
However, the moment of realization took a few hours to set in. “My wife and kids were staying at a different hotel and were exhausted, so I told them to go back, and I had a drink at the afterparty and then went back to my room about 3 a.m. My room was about eight floors up and I pulled the curtains back and opened the window to let a bit of fresh air in. I left the WBC belt behind me on the bed and was on my knees looking out the window, with my chin resting on my arm on the window ledge, breathing in the fresh air as I was gazing out into the view. I kept looking back at the belt on the bed, then looking out of the window. This went on for a few minutes. All of a sudden I said to myself, ‘Fucking hell, Catley. You’ve done it!’ When I woke up in the morning, I looked over at the belt and the first thing I thought was, ‘It’s still there. It wasn’t a dream.’ That’s when it really set in.”
Four months later, on September 1, 2000, Catley traveled to South Africa to defend his title against Dingaan Thobela. Unfortunately, he would contentiously lose the crown. Catley explained. “The first jab he hit me with, I don’t know why I compare it to this because it’s never happened to me, but it was like being hit by a big glass ashtray. Something solid. I had my therapist with me, and we’d already prepared ourselves that if anything negative came into my head to push it to one side. But as the fight went on, I became scared of being hit by his jab. I’d never felt anything like that in my life.
“I’m a come-forward fighter who’s willing to take a shot to give one, but that night was tough. I put him down in the twelfth round, but he got up. The ref didn’t give him a count and I walked straight into a punch. That was it. End of fight.
“I woke up in the morning and knew something was wrong. You’re going to get bruises fighting, but not welts. My face looked like I’d repeatedly walked into the sharp edge of a door and that’s impossible to get that from a boxing glove. I had my suspicions but had no evidence to follow through.
“About six weeks after, my uncle phoned me up and said, ‘Have you seen the fight yet?’ I said, ‘No I haven’t.’ He then said, ‘You want to see his bandages when his gloves were off. It looked like he had a mobile telephone strapped to the front of them,’ referring to the sharp edges.
“I watched the fight and that backed up my suspicions. A photograph was printed off of him in his bandages, and it blatantly showed the bandage shape was square, which is impossible to get when you take a glove off. We then employed a group of forensic experts who Scotland Yard also use, and they came back and agreed that it was impossible to make that bandage shape. It measured 3.6-centimeters-thick with a square edge. I was left unattended for forty-five minutes before the fight after the wraps had been signed, and no doubt so was Thobela. I’m sure that’s when he added something to his bandages.”
The WBC took note of Catley’s case, but Thobela was not stripped of his title. Instead, he lost it to Dave Hilton three months later, and soon after the title became vacant. Catley would have to wait ten months to have his third crack at world honors. “I was made mandatory to fight for the title again and went back to Canada to fight Eric Lucas. However, after the Thobela fight, I was never the same. The way and the manner I got beaten by Thobela, I lost the desire and the passion for the sport. Everything you need to step through those ropes for a championship fight was not there the same as it was for Markus Beyer. When I got stopped by Lucas in the seventh round of the second fight, I just didn’t care. That kind of said it all.”
Despite falling out of love with boxing, Catley fought for the European title eight months later against Danilo Haussler and once again was on the sour end of a debatable majority decision in his opponent’s backyard. “The intention was to fight for the European title, win it and the WBC would give me another crack. I went to Germany, but mentally still wasn’t the same fighter as before. I could still beat him with 70 percent of the passion I had, but my mindset had changed. After this fight, I started to get a nickname of ‘Controversial Catley’ because of all the decisions that went against me!”
Eleven months later they had a rematch and after an accidental cut, Haussler was the beneficiary of a technical decision victory. “I got robbed twice against Haussler and that was pretty much it after that.” After two domestic victories on British soil, he hung up the gloves on 24 February 2007.
Catley qualified as a hypnotherapist in 2007 and has successfully delivered sessions to individuals, schools, colleges, prisons, and companies all over the UK. Using his life as a vehicle to explain the power of confidence in life and business, he’s helped many to overcome obstacles and negativity to reach their ultimate goal of success. “I’m often asked to what extent boxing has given me the mindset to achieve my goals outside of the ring, but you can flip it the other way. To what extent has my mindset in hypnotherapy allowed me to become world champion?
“I always say this at every talk I deliver. I wasn’t the best, but with guts, dedication, desire, confidence, and a little pinch of this hypnotherapy stuff, I became WBC champion of the world. I truly believe that anything on this earth is achievable with confidence.”