Despite his disappointment at not returning from Ukraine with a European medal, Edinburgh boxer Lee McGregor insists he is now ready to take on the world.
The Scottish and British 56kg champion exited the European Championships at the quarter-final stage in Kharkiv last week, an unanimous defeat to home favourite Mykola Butsenko ending his hopes of adding to the gold he won at the Belgrade Winners Tournament in April.
His conqueror would go on to contest the final but had to settle for silver after defeat to McGregor’s GB team-mate, Peter McGrail, of England.
That said, an impressive second-round victory over 2015 European Games gold medallist Bakhtovar Nazirov of Russia ensured the Meadowbank amateur’s qualification for the World Championships in Hamburg in August.
“A world medal is far bigger than a European one isn’t it?” quipped McGregor, who spoke to the Evening News from Marmaris in Turkey where he is on a ten-day break with girlfriend Amber.
“I had two cracking wins out in Ukraine. That’s me boxed Omar El-Hag (first-round opponent) twice now in just a couple of months after I beat him in the final in Belgrade and they’ve both been up there as two of the toughest fights of my career. He’s just relentless and doesn’t stop coming forward. Then, having to defeat the 2015 European Games gold medallist, that was a massive scalp so I can’t be too hard on myself. I also knew beforehand that a win over the Russian (Nazirov) would see me qualify for the World Championships so I handled that pressure well.”
McGregor believes the decision to raise the eventual runner-up’s hand in his next bout was contentious to say the least. The Scot was deducted a point in the second round for lowering his head but received no warning prior to being penalised by the referee.
“The referee had no reason to take a point off me in the second round,” the 20-year-old explained. “I had no previous indication from her whatsoever so I knew I had a mountain to climb from then on. I had actually sparred him out there before the competition started so I knew what I was up against. Butsenko also won a bronze medal at the World Championships in 2013 and he’s beaten the Olympic champion too. But I was confident going into the fight and I knew the crowd would play their part, I just hoped the judges would be fair. Looking at it now, it wasn’t as if it was a bad decision. It was a close fight.
“I gave it my all in round three but it wasn’t enough, even though I thought I’d won the first round. But there are a lot of positives to take as much as it was sore at the time. Of course, I wanted to come back with a medal but now all my focus is on the World Championships. I would rather that happened to me now so I can learn from it. I’m picking up experience of how to deal with referees, how to deal with judges and what kind of boxer they like. I’m adapting but I believe the judges like my style.”
McGregor has done remarkably well to be anywhere near a boxing ring given he lost his mother, Elizabeth, to cancer little more than six weeks ago – the same evening he successfully defended his British title in Cardiff.
“I suppose it’s going to affect me at some point,” he said. “I don’t think I was 100 per cent out in Ukraine so I could have been in a better place. Maybe things happen for a reason and it just wasn’t my time but it might be in Hamburg in August.
“I’d been away for nearly a month as we’d been on a training camp before the European Championships so it’s good to come over to Turkey and chill out with Amber. I’ll maybe do a couple of runs whilst I’m here but I need to try and rest because that’s a crucial part of the sport as well. I’ll get right back into training once I’m back and get ready for Hamburg.”