The British Boxing Scene: Craig Derbyshire – Cinderella Man
There aren’t many boxers in the world who’ve had the career trajectory of Craig Derbyshire. Many start as prospects, build a padded undefeated record, face an opponent of note and lose, then subsequently fade into retirement. The opposite can be said of Derbyshire, who turned pro in 2014 to make a bit of money without any promotional backing.
The 32-year-old started in mixed martial arts, semi-professional and professional, as well as Muay-Thai. However, he preferred stand up combat. Grappling wasn’t for him. In 2014, he transitioned to boxing and began a story equal to many of the journeymen who habit the sport today. In the away corner, he amassed a record of 0-9 from his initial nine contests. But he was happy and making money.
Fighting anywhere between 113 – 128 pounds, by 2017, Derbyshire had been causing the occasional upset win over home fighters. Anthony Smith was a 6-0 super-flyweight prospect with his eyes on the Central Area title. Despite his, at the time, record of 4-20-3, Derbyshire was approved to battle Smith for the belt. He took a month off work to prepare; a decision that was justified when he knocked down Smith twice on his way to a narrow points win.
“I just took it a lot more seriously when I started fighting for titles,” Craig explained. “I’d take four weeks off work and train hard and diet properly. It just shows the difference when you train a bit more and put a bit more into it.”
Seven fights followed, all losses, including a competitive points reverse against Tommy Frank for Derbyshire’s Central Area belt. But then, in late-2018, his career kicked into overdrive.
He captured a Central Area title up at bantamweight by stoppage and followed that up with an English championship win against Nathan Reeve in 2019. He then lost that strap to Marcel Braithwaite – who is scheduled to fight for a world title in 2024 – via a close majority decision.
His run of title bouts continued with a points win against the undefeated Joe Maphosa to reclaim the English super-flyweight crown. A shot at Tommy Frank’s flyweight British title in 2022 resulted in a split draw. Many believe that Derbyshire had done enough to dethrone the champion from Sheffield. A unanimous decision loss to Conor Butler, for the Commonwealth flyweight title, appeared to usher an end to Derbyshire’s glorious run of title fights.
But then, Matt Windle, the reigning light-flyweight Commonwealth titlist came into view, as Derbyshire’s sixth title fight in a row beckoned. The humble and likeable Windle, was backed by Dennis Hobson.
“Because Matt were with Fightzone, they sort of put it on for him and got him a light-flyweight shot,” Doncaster’s finest told me. “I would never have got that opportunity, so it just happened Matt had it (the title) and I can get down to that weight.”
In the glamorous locale of the Cayman Islands, and a pound under the light-flyweight limit of 108 pounds, Derbyshire put on the performance of his career.
“I expected the full 12 (rounds),” he said. “I just felt really strong. As soon as I got in there, he hit me a few times and because I’ve been in with such heavy people, over my career in boxing, even in MMA the lowest weight (I fought at) were 57kgs, I fought at 48kgs, (they were) 20 pounds heavier than Matt were. When I get hit by a super-flyweight or bantamweight; big difference in power.”
“I hit him that hard, my hand swelled up after the fight. I still can’t punch a bag now (two weeks later). That’s how hard I hit him when I was in there.”
“I caught him and his legs stiffened. I caught him with a right hand and his whole body stiffened.”
He comprehensively battered Windle, who was pulled out by his corner at the end of round five. The Commonwealth light-flyweight title was added to Craig’s collection, live on Fightzone, and once again from the away corner, under the tutelage of ever-present trainer Carl Greaves.
“It just shows, when I did get down to it (108 pounds), how much better I was. I felt better, I felt stronger. I felt like it just clicked into place. It was definitely the right weight.”
He has finally found his best fighting weight after 42 fights, almost all of those being at two or three weight divisions higher than his peak weight class. Staggeringly, he believes he can push his 32-year-old body to an even lighter weight.
“I really do think I’d be down at 105, minimumweight, that’s where my weight would be where I’d be best at.”
Running approximately 70-80 miles a week helps him maintain his completely fat-free physique. He’s also eligible to run any major marathon in the world thanks to a time of 2:38hrs achieved in the Manchester Marathon.
“I really do think I’m a lower weight than light-flyweight, (but) there’s no-one else in Britain to fight.”
Only one fighter in Britain, according to Boxrec, is at light-fly, with none at minimumweight. In addition, the BBBofC doesn’t recognise either division. Without a big promoter to back him and fly in international opposition, it was never an option to fight below 108 or even 112 pounds. But that could change soon.
“I think, I’m not 100% sure,” he revealed, “but I think Carl and Dennis (Hobson) might be co-managing me from now. I think that was part of the deal, if I won the Commonwealth (title).”
“Hopefully that can open some doors for me and maybe even fight in the home corner for once in my life!”
With Hobson and Fightzone backing him, the sky’s the limit for a man who was lucky to even attain a BBBofC licence with zero amateur experience. Officials reportedly smirked when Derbyshire told them he wanted to win a British title as a pro. With Area, English and Commonwealth belts adorning his trophy cabinet, don’t be surprised if this fairytale culminates with a British title, or something even better amongst his collection.
He’ll no doubt have his eye on former opponent, Conor Butler, when he faces Jay Harris for the British, Commonwealth and European flyweight championships early next year.
Across the boxing spectrum, it would be scarcely believable to find a boxer who has faced 22 unbeaten opponents (minus debutants), who is 5-3-1 in title bouts and 4-26-3 in non-title fights, who is a reigning major titleholder, and who did it ALL as the away fighter.
Moreover, his legacy within British boxing will live on long after he hangs his own gloves up. His figured silhouette is on every newly-minted Central Area championship belt, such is the high regard he’s held in within that region, as well as in the UK as a whole.