Mansfield boxer Nico Leivars closer to Stags dream after turning professional
Mansfield boxer Nico Leivars has moved one step closer his dream of becoming world champion and contesting a big fight on the pitch of his beloved Mansfield Town Football Club after turning professional for 2022.
The 22-year-old bantamweight has always said he would one day fight before his home crowd at the One Call Stadium and now feels he will prove any doubters wrong sooner than later after signing for legendary management team MTK Global, who look after the likes of Tyson Fury.
It does mean he will never win the Olympic gold he wanted, but he said: “I think it is the right decision at the right time.
“Covid did what it did and I have had a good amateur career, but I thought now was the time to take it on to the pros.
“The dream for me has always to be a world champion professionally.
“And my other dream has always been to fight on the pitch at a packed out Field Mill. Now is the time to start working towards that dream.
“I have had that ambition since I started watching the Stags when I was 12. I have always told everyone I am going to fight on that pitch one day.
“I have always had that in my head and it is a personal goal for me.
“It may not seem a lot to other people. But it would be huge for me to fight in my hometown and hear all my fans cheering my name – that would be a dream come true for me.
“Growing up and going to the Mill every weekend it is literally a part of my life, and every time I go and watch Stags I imagine there being a ring on that pitch and me walking out that tunnel and it gives me goosebumps.
“Now I know I am one step closer and I have worked hard all these years thinking in my head I will be on that pitch one day.
“I told everyone. They may not have believed me at first but now they will as it will happen in a few years – I can guarantee that.”
On turning professional after a trophy-laden, 90-fight amateur career, Nico said: “Me and my dad had always said 22/23 was the right age to turn over, but you can't rush into things.
“You have to make sure you are physically and mentally developed and have the right experience behind you.
“We thought we had done everything we thought we needed to do in the amateurs. It was definitely the right time.”
He also believes he has gone with the right stable for his career.
“MTK were definitely top of my list,” said Nico.
“Anyone who follows boxing knows MTK are the best in the business management-wise.
“They look after their boxers and get them the fights and opportunities they want. So it's a win-win for the boxer and their management team. They are the best at what they do and I am looking forward to going on with my career and working with them.
“Before I even joined I already knew quite a few of their boxers and heard first hand just how good they are. So I knew before I turned over exactly who I wanted to manage me.
“With times as they are, I have had no date for a first fight as yet but hopefully it will be sometime soon.”
Nico, like all boxers, saw his blossoming career come to a shuddering 18-month halt when the Covid pandemic struck, but tried to turn it into a positive.
“You just have to adapt and make the most of a situation,” he said.
“We couldn't fight, we couldn't spar. But you can still make use of the time and facilities you've got to work on things technically in the gym and keep your fitness up.
“So when the time came you were ready to fight and get back to normal.
“The ones that did that are the true professionals and the one that hit the ground running.
“While others perhaps took their foot off the gas and didn't do the work, I did. I knew no matter what, as soon as that phone rang I would be ready.
“It was a mental challenge but you had to take it as a positive and consider what you could gain from that time.
“You think 'I am not fighting but I've got a lot of time I would not normally have to work on myself'.
“You always have to look for the positives and adapt to a challenge as that is what will get you far in boxing or anything in life. You always have to try to push yourself and gain something new.”
Turning pro will mean he will no longer be working towards the Paris 2024 Olympics, though there is still talk of boxing being dropped from the sports.
“It is unfortunate the way things have worked out with Covid any everything, but it is what it is,” said Nico.
“You can't look at it negatively. You just have to look ahead to your next challenge.
“The Olympic gold would have been nice, but I now have big things on the horizon I am genuinely looking forward to over the next few years.”Nico comes from an Italian/English family and said: “I was in the very fortunate position of fighting for both England and Italy, and later on as a senior for GB.
“It has been an honour and rare that two different countries both wanted you to box for them. I am very grateful for that.
“It was nice having two sides of the family and two nationalities in my bloodline to represent them both and do them proud.”
He added: “The trophy cabinet is a bit full already.
“It's been a great career – not only the medals, the wins, the trophies, but also the experiences I have had that have set me up for my career going onwards.
“Sparring and beating some of the best lads in the world and boxing all over, the training camps abroad – it develops you not only as an athlete but also as a man and that is why I think now is the right time. Everything has come together and I am ready to go on to the next step.”
Nico said he had initially started boxing as a youngster to lose weight.
“I was eight years old and I needed to lose a few pounds,” he said.
“When I couldn't get to the top of the stairs without getting out of breath I knew I needed to do something.
“I started boxing a few times a week to get the weight off and it all started from there.
“I always liked play-fighting as a kid and I always used to sit and watch boxing with my dad from an early age. So I was always around it.
“As soon as I wanted to do something to get active it was a no-brainer that it would be boxing. It was something I loved. “Doing it and losing the weight made me love it even more and it became my life.
“My dad got involved coaching me which was nice as it's been a journey for both of us – and a very successful one so far. Now we're making sure it continues that way.”Nico paid tribute to parents Julian and Maria, saying: “I wouldn't be here in my career without my dad, or my mum, for their support in and out the ring and the life lessons they have taught me.
“They told me to always work towards what I want and never give up.
“They told me to always have a positive mindset and I couldn't ask for better set of parents in and out the ring.
“For my dad to coach me the way he has done, I have been blessed with that.”
Nico's personal boxing hero and inspiration is Mexican multi-world champion Canelo Alvarez.
“He has just got better and better each fight and been a world champion for years from a young age,” he said.
“But he is still in the gym working hard, learning, adding things to his game and that is a champion's mindset.
“To be where he is and have everything yet still have that determination and drive to keep working and getting better – that is what separates him from the rest.”
Away from boxing, Nico continues to be a loyal Stags fan.
“My first match was when we lost to York City in the play-offs when we were in the Conference,” he said.
“I remember it well and people were saying 'I bet you don't come back'. But I did and next season we got promotion.
“It's been a wild ride since then but I have loved every second of it.
“Even this season I told people it would come good and I reckon we could sneak a play-off place.
“I am there every home match – away days are a bit more difficult with training times.”
Nico's main senior elite honours include being two times GB Championship gold medallist, two times National Elite champion, current England National Belt holder, four international gold medals, Haringay Cup gold medallist, King of the Ring gold medallist, Technical Boxer of the Tournament, two times Ireland Monkstown gold medallist plus numerous England and Italy vests and a part of Team GB.