GARY CORNISH will always be The Highlander. He has the indelible ink to prove it. “I’ve got it tattooed right across my back so who I am is something that will never change,” said the 29 year-old who also has Alba Gu Brath [Scotland forever] marked out in giant letters across his chest.
It has taken a move away from his Inverness base, however, for fresh life to be administered to a heavyweight boxing career that was in danger of simply spluttering out. These are sacrifices, Cornish hopes, will prove worthwhile in the long run.
He has made extensive changes to his life both in and out of the ring in the hope of reigniting his career. He has moved to Glasgow, downed tools as a joiner to focus full-time on boxing, paired up with Billy Nelson - the man who trained Ricky Burns to world titles – and threw his lot in with management team MTK Scotland for whom he will box for the first time on Saturday night against the Georgian Revaz Karelishvili as part of the Impetus bill at Paisley’s Lagoon Leisure Centre. With a British title against Sam Sexton to follow in the coming months, there is renewed hope in the Cornish camp.
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Inverness will always be his home – he returns every weekend to visit his family – but there is an acknowledgement that this latest jump-starting of his career would not have been possible had he remained in the Highland capital.
“It’s all going very well so far,” he said of his new regime. “I’m working with world-class trainers, a new management team and am able to devote myself fully to boxing. That has made a huge difference. Being able to train longer and getting proper time to rest has been a big help. Before in Inverness I was getting up at 5:30 in the morning, going to the gym, then going to work and back to the gym afterwards. So it was a fairly tiring schedule and hard to fit everything in.
“Now I feel like I’m doing it properly and it’s made a real difference. My weight has dropped from 19st7 to 17st12 and that’s all down to hard work and good training. I’m feeling a lot fitter and I’m excited about getting back in the ring on Saturday which wasn’t always the case in the past.
“Leaving Inverness and moving to Glasgow has been a bit hard being away from my family but we talked about it and it was a sacrifice I had to make it. I don’t want to be looking back in a few years wondering “what if I had gone full time or done this or that?” So we decided to give it a big bash.”
There is a determination, though, to still give something back to Inverness, the area that has nurtured him and fully backed his clamour for stardom. Cornish has plans in place to set up coaching clinics for aspiring young pugilists, something he wishes had been around when he was a young man.
“The plan is to take boxing into schools and hopefully pass a few things on to the kids there,” he added. “It would be good to give something back. Boxing is a discipline and it got me on the right path as I was never the best-behaved kid at the school. Maybe it can do the same for others.”
Cornish is trying not to think too far beyond his bout on Saturday night but the prospect of lifting a Lounsdale Belt before the end of June is hugely appealing. Dillian Whyte’s decision to vacate his British heavyweight title has opened the door for Cornish and Sexton, with the date and venue for their fight to be set in the coming weeks.
“Every British boxer when they start out hopes of one day getting a shot at the British title and that was one of my dreams as well,” he admitted. “Having it in the background just makes me hungrier for this fight on Saturday.”
Cornish’s record is an impressive 23-1 but the solitary loss was a famous one. That came back in September 2015 under the bright lights of London’s O2 Arena when, in a fight for the vacant Commonwealth title, he was knocked out in the first round by Anthony Joshua.
Given the former Olympic champion has swept all before him on his way to the IBF world heavyweight belt, there is no shame in Cornish having become another statistic along the way. And he has no regrets.
“It wasn’t a fight I HAD to take, I took it because I thought I could win,” he added. “Losing didn’t set me back in any way – he’s a terrific fighter and a world champion – and it was a good learning curve for me with the venue, the media and walking out into that big crowd. Everyone dreams of fighting at occasions like that and hopefully that’s something I can try to get back to one day. This is a new chapter for me and hopefully there are big things ahead.”