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Stafford taking States by storm; Seconds Out.


AFTER dropping a second consecutive ABA final decision in 2003, Mike Stafford couldn't wait to hand in his amateur vest. The Kirkby heavyweight had enough of the amateur code and its politics, while he was also shrewd enough to know that his rolling power-punching style was much more suited to the pro game.

However, with a UK scene seriously lacking shows and opportunity, Stafford struggled to find a promoter and trainer capable of looking past his failures and capturing his enthusiasm to make it to the top.

Unperturbed, the Southport native saved his pennies and took a chance by travelling to the USA and visiting as many gyms as he could during a two-week break.

It was there he met trainer Gus Curren at his gym in Vero 3each, Florida. He was so impressed by Stafford's style and approach to his craft that he put him in touch with Hall of Fame legend Lou Duva.

Duva, now 86, has had a huge influence on the careers of champions like Joey Giar-dello, Mike McCallum, Pernell Whitaker and Evander Holy-field - but perhaps most importantly he was famously very close friends with 'The Rock', Rocky Marciano.

After a few days watching Stafford in the gym, veteran coach Duva - who had promised not to take on any more fighters - snapped the Mersey sider up.

Stafford says: "I was at a low point in my fight career after my two ABA final defeats and I know I was being overlooked by the England selectors because of politics and my size.

"So to then go out to the States and be appreciated by a man like Lou Duva meant the world to me. He gave me the confidence I was crying out for, and now I am part of something special, working with world champions every day in Florida."

Of his amateur days he added: "I'm very happy now, or at least I will be when I get back to the States. I've put my amateur days behind me.

"All I was ever told by the national coaches was that I was too small to be a heavyweight and that I should boil down to light-heavy and crap like that. But there was never a pick on me.

"Ironically, Lou is determined for me to bulk up into a heavyweight in the States - but I have my eye on making my mark in the cruiser division first."

Stafford made his professional debut on May 18 in Huntington, New York - enjoying a first round stoppage victory over Florida novice Jorge Montana.

Then, in his second outing - this time on a quality world title eliminator show at Bally's Casino in Atlantic City - he dropped Jimmy Suarez in the first round and, with him unable to defend himself, his corner threw in the towel one minute 12 seconds into the second. Stafford adds: "Gus Curren is one hell of a trainer and the gym in Vero Beach has got a real buzz about it. It's giving me the confidence to go out there and make an impact on the game."

As one respected fight magazine stated last month: "The apparently unstoppable winning machine that is Gus Curren's "Hit Squad" includes heavyweights Mike Marrone, Grant Cudjoe, Sherman Williams, and Al Gazdacko, as well as cruiserweight Mike Stafford, super-middleweight Jameson Bostic and lightweight legend Stevie Johnston. All of these men just seem to be getting tougher and are setting their sights on big things in 2007."

And with a third outing pencilled in for Philadelphia in April, Stafford is keen to get his next working visa through in time to get back over to the States.

He finished: "I will get the ball rolling for citizenship when I go back this time and hopefully that will all go through smoothly as part of a five year plan to become a successful world champion.

"It's my dream and I am living it, but I have to thank my family - especially my father, my idol - for their incredible support plus, also, the support of my girlfriend Samantha, who is giving up everything to come with me."

Link-up with Duva paying off for Mike


SCHOOLING: Mike Stafford was quick to thank the support he received from coaches at Kirkby ABC
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 17, 2007
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