In the second part of our empowerment series, Man Behind The Mirror caught up with Mick Learmonth, an ambitious undefeated cruiserweight boxer from Leeds to discuss his career, ambitions and his thoughts on what it takes to succeed.
Success almost never follows a linear trajectory, and often the difference between those who win in life and those who don’t depends on how we react to the inevitable bumps in the road. Mick Learmonth is a professional athlete who has overcome not just a bump, but a major roadblock, and has come out stronger on the other side.
Mick’s sporting journey began in Rugby League, where he rose through the youth ranks at Leeds Rhinos before earning his first professional contract at Warrington Wolves. He then moved back across the Pennines to Huddersfield Giants with a view to breaking into the first team in his late teens.
As a professional athlete, Mick spent countless hours in the gym, improving cardio fitness and building up muscle mass, to increase his strength on the field. However, despite the gym being a second home, it was here that the unexpected happened and crisis hit.
At the start of a season, it was standard practice for each member of the team to do a strength-testing session with the team’s trainers. This included low-rep intensity training, which means lifting excessively heavy weights a small number of times to burn calories and build up muscle bulk.
As part of the session, ahead of the 2014-15 season, Mick was bench pressing and was onto his third and final rep when he suddenly felt his chest collapse. He didn’t know it then, but he’d suffered a pectoralis major rupture. He’d torn his pectoral muscle, and the tendons attaching his pectoral muscle to the shoulder bone.
Mick didn’t feel any initial pain but blacked out. When he awoke, he looked in the mirror and noticed he’d lost his upper chest. His pectoral muscles had bunched up and become deformed, and his arm was twitching from the nerve damage in the shoulder.
The injury Mick suffered was uncommon, indeed his surgeon had only seen two prior examples. However, the rarity does not detract from the severity. The injury was serious, potentially career threatening, and after a 5-hour operation it would take Mick 18-months to fully recover.
For some sportsmen, serious injuries have proved to be so debilitating that they have failed to recover. In football, think of Owen Hargreaves, the former Bayern Munich and England regular. In 2007 he signed for Manchester United but was simply not the same player on the pitch following a leg break the prior season. Alex Ferguson would later call him one his most disappointing signings.
For Mick, the injury proved to be a defining moment. There was simply no way that he would let the injury get the better of him. He was determined to recover as quickly as possible and resume professional sport. Within 18-months he was in better condition than at the time of the accident.
The injury also proved to be a fork in the road that triggered a change in career. Since a young age, Mick has had a passion for boxing, which he continued to enjoy as a side hobby whilst playing rugby professionally. Indeed, he once played a professional game with a black eye that he’d suffered during a friendly bout, unbeknown to the manager at the time.
The rehabilitation gave Mick plenty of thinking time, and he decided to put the rugby ball down and pick up the boxing gloves. There was rationale to the career change. In rugby league, especially in the role of prop forward, peak performance tends to occur in the mid-20s. At just 21, Mick was the right age to give boxing a shot.
The list of prolific athletes that have changed sports is not extensive. In fact, it’s few and far between. Think about Usain Bolt, the fastest man alive, the 100m and 200m record holder, and the clatter of conversation about him becoming a professional footballer after the 2016 Olympics. He was fast on his feet, but his feet were not good with a ball. His football career never took off.
Mick’s career change carried a lot of risk, especially after such a serious injury. However, he was adamant on his future direction of travel. Mick’s boxing journey began with Thai Boxing and K-1 at the Golden Team Gym in Leeds. Mick was good with his elbows and knees, as well as his fists, and it showed.
It was here that Mick got his break in boxing. Whilst training, Mick caught the eye of a couple of trainers who took him aside for some sparring. They were impressed by his power, instinct, speed and reaction times. They saw huge potential for him and his southpaw stance, but in traditional boxing rather than martial arts.
The trainers together helped launch Mick’s boxing career in the cruiserweight division which began in September 2017 with a debut fight against the Lithuanian, Imantas Davidaitis. The fight took place at Elland Road, the home of Leeds Football Club.
Mick put in a great performance and won in round 4 after the referee called a TKO. The win served as a springboard and Mick has not looked back. Nine more fights have followed to make it ten in total. Mick remains undefeated, having won them all, four on technical knockout. Nine of the ten bouts have taken place at Elland Road where Mick has made the most of home advantage.
Naturally, Mick’s success in the ring has attracted talent spotters which has allowed him to build a strong team around him. His potential in the ring has also attracted sponsorship from several firms, including QuantBet, Potters Forge Engineering, PrometUK and more, which allows for him to focus on boxing full time. Mick's now got the time and resources to build on the momentum he has achieved so far to raise his profile in the cruiserweight division.
After such an inspiring journey, the natural question to put to Mick is the source of his motivation? Mick says that he wants to make the most of his potential, and, perhaps more importantly, wants to make his family proud and look after their wellbeing.
And what gets Mick going in the ring? Some boxers need to manufacture feelings of hate or rage towards their opponent, to give them an edge when the bell rings. Mick doesn’t subscribe to that approach. Calmly he explains that he has complete respect for all his opponents. He sees each fight as a job and he’s simply motivated to win by his drive to succeed in his career and natural competitive spirit.
Mick is also a big believer in visualisation and goal setting. He sets small, medium and long-term goals that help him focus and are helpful when his motivation dips. He also uses visualisation techniques to reinforce an optimistic outlook on his future. During lockdown, where fights have been postponed and gyms closed, this mindset has seen him swap gym visits for a makeshift home gym, and keep a disciplined diet.
As for his own inspiration, Mick has a penchant for two of the most prolific and well-known boxers in the sport. He’s a big fan of Colin McGregor, the Irish UFC boxer, and Floyd Mayweather, perhaps the greatest boxer of all time. As for fights, Mick’s a big fan of the Gatti-Ward trilogy, three mesmerising fights which epitomised the intense rivalry between the two boxers.
With such talent, we ask Mick where he wants to be in the future? He believes in taking every step at a time, making the most of opportunities, as and when they present themselves. He says he heavily values the British title, the winner of which could be considered amongst the best fighters globally, with an ultimate ambition to claim the WBC belt.
The world of boxing is incredibly exciting at the moment. British boxing in particular is flourishing and many say it has never been in such good shape. Most are captivated by the potential of an all British World Heavyweight Championship Bout between Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua.
Whilst most eyes will be focused on these upcoming high-profile duels, the next generation of British boxing is emerging on the sidelines. Mick’s story and performances so far show that he's got the personality, the stamina, and the ability to match the very best. A bright future awaits.
Be sure to keep track of his progress here.
Written by Christopher Bolland for Man Behind The Mirror