The last thing any fighter needs when approaching the biggest challenge of their professional career is negativity. That is why, ahead of an unexpected but welcome tilt at two of the major world super-welterweight titles, Tividale’s endearingly unassuming Jason Welborn is wisely eschewing the majority of social media. Nor is Welborn keen in listening to the disrespectful tone of his December 1 opponent, Jarrett Hurd, and his team.
The Marylander holds both the WBA Super and IBF titles at 154lbs, is unbeaten in 22 fights entering their clash on the Deontay Wilder vs Tyson Fury show at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles and has undermined his rival by claiming he deserves an opportunity to test out his shoulder following rotator cuff surgery in June – the implication being that this objective is made feasible by the perceived inferiority of the Midlander. The few negative nuggets that filtered their way through to Welborn, until recently the British champion at middleweight, have only added fuel to the fire for a man who has nothing whatsoever to lose.
"The better the opponent is, it brings the best out of me,” he affirms enthusiastically over the telephone. Wife Rachel and daughters Daisy-May (eight) Demi-Rose (two), the triumvirate for whom he toils so hard, can be heard in the background. Close to Christmas, the chatter of this tight-knit clan really underlines the significance of this opportunity for the 32-year-old. “So does being the underdog and proving people wrong. I’ve tried to keep off Twitter and what he’s saying, but he probably does want to test the water coming off an injury. I’m grateful his team picked me but I ain’t nobody’s puppet. I was ranked in the IBF top 10 and it was the European title my eyes were set on, obviously at middleweight, but they picked me and they have underestimated me. He’s a big name, he’s been on big bills, he’s got three belts [including the IBO]. If his arm ain’t ready, it ain’t, I’m going there to win. If I win it it’ll change my life. I had a choice - fight Mark Heffron in Manchester, defending the British title or go to LA and fight Jarrett Hurd where I’ve got it all to gain. It’s my first time boxing out the country but it’s in LA and on the Wilder vs Fury bill – the biggest heavyweight fight at the minute – it’s amazing.”
Following his second successive win over former domestic ruler Tommy Langford in September, a defence against mandatory contender Heffron was hastily announced for the December 22 show topped by Josh Warrington against Carl Frampton. A month later, with the Manchester contract as-yet unsigned and the deadline to do so imminent, the initial whispers regarding a Hurd fight had grown in volume. In the best form of his career, busier and better paid than he had ever been, Welborn took a calculated risk and relinquished the coveted Lonsdale Belt – and the guarantee of Board-mandated contests - with his dream match still unconfirmed.
“We were in talks for the Mark Heffron fight, we was gonna negotiate that and it was in my mindset,” Welborn recalls. “My management team was over in Poland so there was not much communication, then I got a phone call saying the Hurd fight was in the pipeline but ‘You can’t say nothing’; it was out of my blue. Giving the title up made sense, I didn’t want to mess Heffron about, so I vacated it and hoped the second contract from Hurd’s team did come through. I vacated thinking, ‘Is it gonna happen? What if it doesn’t now?’ But it’s all confirmed now, so happy days.”
It’s hard not to like Welborn, a humble and conscientious family man with the ambition and strength of character to leap up several levels on December 1. He understands why some observers have labelled his audacious gambit a mismatch but genuinely believes he can cause the upset on Showtime pay-per-view stateside and BT Sport Box Office here. I suggest he can enhance his profile and generate further opportunities just by giving a good account of himself, but Jason will not hear of it.
Welborn insists he has improved after each of his six career defeats, but four of these have come at super-welter, a weight he abandoned almost two years ago following back-to-back losses. He has since won five straight up at 160lbs, captured and retained the British title, so why does he possess such confidence he can overcome the odds back in the division which caused him such pain in the past?
“The [Matthew] Macklin fight [a tight points setback at super-welter in 2015] was the first time I had a camp and I was big and strong at that weight,” he explains. “Against Liam Smith [a six-round KO reverse in 2014] I had two weeks’ notice. I’m training twice a day now, I’m off work, I’m a full-time boxer. My last four fights at middle I’ve not been working, yes, I’m strong at that weight, but world title fights are about pushing your body to the limits.
“The bigger the fight and opportunity, the harder I’ll train and the weight’s coming off me nice; I’ve never trained so hard. For Langford I was in the gym once a day and running at night, this fight I’m in the gym twice a day. Weight shouldn’t be an issue. Against Langford I was probably only 165lbs going into the ring, so the IBF check-weigh – at 10am the day of the fight – where I can weigh 164lbs shouldn’t be a problem.”
Having recovered from a right hand injury suffered in the first Langford fight and exacerbated in the return, and riding the finest form of his near-13-year career, Welborn has reasons to be optimistic regarding his chances, albeit against a truly formidable title-holder in the American, who has beaten highly respected world champions Erislandy Lara and Austin Trout, among others, and will enjoy a two-and-a-half-inch height advantage at a daunting 6ft 1in. Welborn believes he is hitting his physical peak under head trainer Errol Johnson (also his manager) and the Black Country Boxing team and sees some flaws in his imminent adversary.
“He can keep it at range so I’ve got to be really fit and keep the pressure on him, be a bit smarter and more technical,” he points out. “From what I’ve seen of him he’s there to be hit, he likes to come in, he’s very open at times when he’s throwing his shots. He’s very big at the weight and a bit of a bully, but I’m bit of a bully myself and we’ll see who’s gonna man it out on that night. I’m expecting to be getting in with the likes of a Floyd Mayweather and that’s what I’m training for.
“I’m a big light-middleweight, the nutrition side we’ve got that to a tee, got the rehydration on par. I’m enjoying it, it’s hard, some days I’m tired, but it’s all worth it in the long run. I thought I was in prime years ago but experience – not just in boxing but out of the ring as well – even in the gym I’m a man, I’ve grown into a light-middle, middle. I was always strong as a kid but now I’ve got man strength and I think I’m peaking now.”
It’s far too easy to rain on an underdog’s parade, rather than celebrate their daring. With a young family to support, mortgage to pay off and a burgeoning business in the works, Welborn is an everyman who the majority of us can surely empathise with, instead finding pleasure in writing him off. It would be arguably the most unlikely triumph of 2018, but certainly one of the more life-affirming.
I’ve already begun intermittently crossing my fingers.