The world is built on unheralded superstars whose names we might not know, who keep things ticking over in the background for our benefit. For others, there needs to be more than clocking in and clocking out or sitting at a desk all day.
British heavyweight prospect Fabio Wardley used to work in an office. It’s where he would be now if he hadn’t heard a crowd cheer his name, have his hand raised in victory on the white-collar boxing circuit—a scene where men and women can sign up with little to no fighting experience and, in doing so, raise money for charity while taking their lumps.
“I had a fight and won by knockout, and all my friends and family were there supporting me, chanting my name, and there was that little moment afterward when I had my hand raised, and everyone was shouting for me, and I was like, this is it. There was a quiet moment with myself where I was like, there’s no way I’m escaping this now. I’m fully in,” he recalled.
Wardley always went to the gym, where he tried various workouts including weightlifting. He played football as well, but there was no sign of a boxing career in sight. He didn’t follow any particular fighter, he wasn’t a die-hard fan, but he was still interested in the sport.
The twenty-four-year-old from Ipswich first walked into a boxing gym in Brixton. He was a big lad, did one session, and then someone asked him if wanted to spar. Allowed to pick his partner, Wardley went after the biggest guy he could find. “I thought let’s see if I can do anything with him.” He learned a lesson, a hard one in getting beat up, but he loved it. “It was brilliant,” he said in a jovial manner.
Today Wardley is a professional with a record of eight wins, seven kayos, and no losses. Managed by heavyweight contender Dillian Whyte and fighting on cards promoted by Eddie Hearn, Wardley has a strong team, but he’s quietly flying under the radar, learning his trade, and going about his business with an authority that stands out as much as his name, one that is certainly rare in boxing.
Wardley may be a happy fighter, but is a dangerous one as well? Time will tell. The opportunities are there for him to demonstrate his worth in a heavyweight market where the stock continues to rise. The scale of everything in his career is larger than ever and is far from his days on the white-collar scene.
“When I was fighting white-collar, it was local to me, it was my hometown, and I had a venue I was very familiar with,” he recalled. “Everything’s very comfortable. You know everything and everyone. The people organizing the event, the people at the event, it’s just all very familiar. When you transfer into the pro ranks, you don’t know anyone, you feel like the new kid on the block. You have to get your head down and earn your stripes and get stuck in.”
Then there’s the jump from fighting in the traditionally described “small-hall venues” to the indoor arenas such as the O2 in London—a huge leap. The TV cameras, the public workouts, the press conferences: all of them can be overwhelming for any fighter new to the scene.
“Your first rodeo doing it is all a bit full-on, but you have to take it in your stride and walk around like you’re supposed to be there, like you’ve done it before, with confidence. Even though when I was at a press conference for the first time, my legs were shaking under the table, but the look on my face says I’m comfortable and done this before!”
With every win, with every TV appearance, interview, and promo, the stakes get bigger. Wardley can look to his experienced manager for advice and wisdom. Dillian Whyte’s career has been up and down, but his friendship, let alone his management style, is invaluable to his protégé.
Their relationship is more friendship than business. There’s something comfortable about it. From the outside looking in, and from speaking to Wardley, it seems there is a strong bond between the two that was in place long before any contract was signed.
“We were friends first,” Wardley says. “We got on. If you sign with someone random and they’re your little protégé, you have to force that relationship even if you don’t like them; whereas with me and Dillian we already knew each other. It was cool. We got on well. There was never any issues at all, and we knew where we stood with each other. He was always genuine and looked out for me even before he had anything to do with me.
“He was always checking in, messaging me, talking to me, speaking about my fights, and how I got on. This was years before there was even the opportunity to sign with him. Things like that gave me the inkling he’s a genuine guy, a nice person, and he definitely has my best interests at heart. And that built up a good foundation to work with him. He came from doing small-hall shows like I did, and ticket deals where you’re not making a lot of money, and he understands all that. There were so many things about him that were so genuine and real. He was a sure fit, really.”