By Anthony Cocks
World ranked featherweight Nathaniel “Cheeky” May 18-1 (10) is looking to steal the show when he faces undefeated Brazilian wrecking ball Aelio Mesquita 16-0 (14) for the IBF International title in the main support bout to Jeff Horn’s WBO welterweight world title defence against Britain’s Gary Corcoran at the Convention & Exhibition Centre in Brisbane, Queensland on 13 December.
The Duco Events promoted card will be shown locally on Main Event Pay-Per-View and carried internationally on ESPN in the USA and BoxNation in the UK.
The 22-year-old boxer-puncher from Bunbury, Western Australia has largely flown under the radar domestically with the local press ignoring him and the east coast media focusing more on own their homegrown talent. A breakout performance against the rugged Mesquita will force people to sit up and take notice on both sides of the continent.
“We’ve watched a bit of Mesquita, but we don’t know how long ago that bout was so he is still a bit of a mystery,” admitted May, who is ranked IBF #7. “But we have that confidence in our fight plan and the way we’ve trained and everything, so for the first two rounds we will suss him out, then go to work.”
May’s trainer Peter Stokes, who serves dual roles as boxing trainer and qualified strength and conditioning coach, isn’t expecting an easy night against the little known South American bruiser but believes that the class of his young charge will end up being the story of the fight.
“I think it’s a tough fight,” Stokes acknowledged. “We’ve just got to stay away from this dude’s power hand, but he’s also got a good left hook to the body and head. He’s got a bit of leverage on us, so we’ll be going in and out, taking our angles and trying to avoid him as much as possible, then set him up for it, you know.
“He’ll make one mistake and Cheeky will be onto it. He’s like that. He’ll let them take their swings and move and duck if he has to, then all of a sudden – bang! He’ll know all about it then.”
The tyranny of distance is always an issue for west coast-based boxers with 4,000-odd kilometres separating them from the more populous east coast cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane where the bulk of the fistic action in this country occurs.
Last week May and Stokes flew to Sydney to put the finishing touches on their preparation by sparring WBA #11 junior welterweight Darragh Foley and some of the other talent fighting out of the Bondi Boxing Club. It makes for a refreshing change of pace from WA where the amount of top class sparring, particularly in the lighter weight classes, can be limited.
Stokes also arranges regular trips to the United States for May were they set up camp at the world famous Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, California. It is not cheap, but Stokes views it as a vital investment in May’s future.
“It was great, I can’t ask for anything better,” said May of the most recent trip to the States. “We had great sparring with guys like Ray Beltran and Scott Quigg. We had some wicked rounds with them and it was just great to see how they train, when the train, everything. It was a privilege for us to be there in their camp to work and to watch.”
In April this year May faced the hardest test of his four year pro career when he took on Filipino tough guy Randy Braga over 12 rounds for the vacant IBF Pan Pacific featherweight title. Fighting in front of his home crowd in Bunbury, May had to dig deep to defeat the rugged 29-year-old southpaw, who had only lost twice in 23 bouts coming in to the fight.
“Braga was just… unreal,” said May, whose style has been compared to Nonito Donaire. “I’ve hit people with those shots before and they’ve gone down, so I was in a position I hadn’t been in before. After the fourth or fifth round in the corner Stokesy said ‘he’s not going anywhere, so we’re going to have to stick and move’. We went back on the back foot, walked him into punches and just cut the angles. It worked on our behalf, but it was a tough fight.”
It was also May’s first 12 round bout, an experience that will stay with him for better or for worse.
“It was good experience, my first time going twelve. But I’m not going to lie, I’m not a fan of it,” he laughed. “Waking up the next morning, taking a look at your face in the mirror and wondering if you won the fight or not!”
Boxing wasn’t the first choice sport for May, whose family background is largely in Australian Rules football. As a pup May played with Swan Districts and was part of their development squad as a 13-year-old when his father, a former boxer in his own right, suggested a trip to the boxing gym to help him maintain his fitness in the off-season.
The young May gave it a shot and, in his own words, “hasn’t left the gym since”.
Stokes recalls a quick-footed kid with a good work ethic, a thirst to learn and a desire to spar almost as soon as he walked into the gym.
“He showed a bit of promised with his movement,” said Stokes of those early days. “Not so much his technique, but his footwork he really picked up quite fast. He had been pestering me from the second night he had been at the gym to start sparring, but I was like ‘nah mate, that won’t happen for a few months yet’.
“He kept pestering me, pestering me and pestering me and after about six weeks I gave in. He jumped in with a kid who had been to about six different gyms in six years—one of those sorts, you know—and I’d only just got this kid so I thought I’d test him and Nathaniel just destroyed him, gave the kid a bit of a touch up. So I thought ‘this kid has definitely got promise’.
“I think within a year-and-a-half I had him an Australian title, a Golden Gloves title and it was off to the World Championships.”
The hunger that May showed in those early days in the gym hasn’t left him. If he can get past Mesquita unscathed, he is looking forward to testing himself against some of the big guns in the always-competitive 126-pound division in 2018.
With four of the IBF’s top five ranked featherweights hailing from the United Kingdom—plus reigning world champion Lee Selby—it looks likely that a trip to Old Blighty will be in May’s immediate future.
“I’m hoping to get a world eliminator, one of the guys in the top five,” May said. “I would be happy to fight one of those guys, just get closer to that world title shot. Like you said, the ultimate goal is a “I’m world title shot, but if it doesn’t happen next year, then hopefully the year after. It would be a dream come true.
“They’re great fighters and I’m blessed to be in the top ten with them. But it’s my time to move forward and get the bigger fights.”
If May had his choice, they would go straight for former super bantamweight and featherweight world champion Carl “The Jackal” Frampton 24-1 (14).
“I’d love to fight Carl Frampton, he’s a two division world champ, who wouldn’t want to?” said May. “But we’ll see what happens. I’ll talk to my manager and my coach and if the fight happens, the fight happens.”
Stokes agrees. He sees Frampton as the weak link in the very deep 126-pound division and says IBF featherweight champion Lee Selby wouldn’t be able to match it with May either.
“I honestly believe Selby won’t be able to handle it and Frampton won’t either,” said Stokes. “Frampton is sort of on that comedown period now where he’s hit the peak and he’s coming down now, you know. A lot of people are saying he should be back at super bantamweight. He’s a tough boy, we’ve got nothing but respect for those boys, they’ve earnt their spot. But we just think we deserve to have a crack at them now. They’re working hard but we think we’re working harder now and outsmarting them, doing the hard yards and we’re ready to have a crack.”
Recently there was a rumour floating around the internet that Selby’s team were considering May as an opponent for their next title defence. The fight didn’t eventuate, but it presented a unique dilemma for Stokes.
“There was a rumour floating around from the UK that we were going to get a phone call and an offer from Selby,” said Stokes. “To be honest, I was in two minds about it. I had worked so hard to get him on the Duco show with Stuart Duncan [Duco’s matchmaker] and they’ve been fantastic to deal with and to be honest, we would love to be working with Duco in the future. That’s where we want to be at, but we want to fight the big names and I think Dean [Lonergan] is probably the guy who can help us do it.”
If May can fulfil his dream of winning a world championship at 126-pounds, he would like to eventually move up and have a crack at the 130-pound title in the future too.
“I’ll give it another year or two, a good shot,” said May. “I want to fight for that world title. Next year I might get that shot against Selby, but otherwise I’ll keep making featherweight until my body can’t make it anymore and I’ll end up moving up then.
“I am one of the bigger bodies in the featherweight division. I’m average height but my body is thick. That’s the only reason we’ve come down from super feather, but we’ll see what happens when I get older.”
There will be a lot of featherweights hoping that happens sooner rather than later.