The diary of a fighter with Victor Rabei
'It's very hard to describe, the buzz is phenomenal'
There's no coincidence that boxing is the kingpin of the sports movie genre. Rocky, Creed, Raging Bull, Bleed for This, The Fighter, they're all phenomenal films with great stories, and to a large extent, every fighter has their own story to tell.
At 6-0, Victor Rabei's story is still very much developing but he's already acutely aware of where is at the moment and where he plans to go in the very near future.
"This is my third All-Irish clash so far and I think it's all going in the right direction. This is an Irish title fight and it's a great opportunity and once I win it I can be top 15 in Europe, and in the next year or two we might be able to go for a European title, and once you have that you're top 15 in the world. It's all there, I just need to put in the work."
The Moldovan-Irish super lightweight is one of Irish boxing's brightest prospects and he took us through exactly what it's like for a fighter at this stage of his career.
Q. You seem like you have a lot of this all planned out?
Victor Rabei: You have to, this is professional boxing. I look at professional boxing as a business. If you want your business to be successful you need to take these measures step-by-step. Not just in training, cause you don't want to focus all your attention just on training, you need to work outside. You need to promote yourself. You need to get sponsors on board. You need to work for them so they work for you. You need to work with the media and build yourself a profile.
Once you have a profile and a tv company on board then you have a platform of maybe a thousand, or two thousand that show up at the stadium but maybe a hundred thousand on television and you're value then starts to increase. I can say that I look into that as well as my boxing.
Q. To a certain extent your you're own media manager, you do a lot of your promo, there's a lot of things that come with boxing that are actually outside of the ring, how do you find all that?
VR: There's thousands of boxers. There's hundreds of amateurs in Ireland, there's so many talented fighters that don't make it, you need to separate yourself from the rest. If that's pushing into your social media or not, I'm very grateful to have such a strong team around me. Coming from my coach Stephen O'Rourke and my teammates. We're all there in the same goal.
Q. How do you describe training camp as opposed to out of camp?
VR: A blink really. It goes so fast. You're so engaged with what you do. Time flies by and training camp is tough. Mentally and physically.
Q. How long would a training camp last?
VR: This camp is nine to 10 weeks because it's a 10 round fight. There's things that you want to cover. Usually a training camp would last between eight or nine weeks and anything less than that and you're under pressure. A lot of people under pressure, they crack. They might not perform as well and they'd leave it up to the last few weeks and they'd fold.
Q. Are you trying to mimic pressure situations in training?
VR: Sparring is the closest thing to a fight but mentally these press conferences help when you see your opponent and how you react.
Q. In terms of like how they react to you?
VR: Yeah but pressure makes diamonds. I love pressure. The pressure is on me in this fight because Jake [Hanney] has nothing to lose and a fighter is very, very dangerous when he has nothing to lose. It means he's going to go for it but he's going to want to prove a point at the same time and try to rip your head off.
I have it all to lose but at the same time I have it all to win. There's an Irish title on the line. That gives you a confidence boost. I don't focus on that. The pressure side of it. The mental side of it. I tend to leave it all towards the end. I focus on my training. My sparring partners, my coach and I sit down and we observe our opponent and we see what he's like, what he's good at, what he's bad at and then we bring in sparring partners that would be as close to their style as possible.
Then for a 10 round fight you'd have different guys that would jump in for two rounds, two rounds, two rounds and two rounds. We bring them in for the duration of the sparring session and then we see how they are.
Q. What's fight day like for you? You feel pressure build?
VR: You know what I love it. I enjoy it. The worst part of the buildup to the fight is the weigh-in. You have to make weight, you're grumpy. You're not eating this, you're not eating that, you're not eating everything.
Q. When do you start your weight cut?
I'm okay with weight. A week out I'll start taking carbs out and make it to the weigh-ins and step on the scales. Then you start your rehydration process and then the next morning you start to feel renergised, you've ate, you're well, the hard work is behind you, training sessions are done, that's all out of the way so I can enjoy it. I love it.
I feel very relaxed when I make it to the venue. Butterflies kick in. If they don't, I think there could be something wrong with you. You go in and enjoy it. You see your mates come in, you see the ring, you get excited, you go to the change room and you sit down and you gets your hands wrapped and when you have your gloves your mind switches on.
For me, when you slide your hands into the gloves and you tighten them up, put the tape around it, you know that the next time these gloves come off, it's when the fight is finished.
Then it kind of kicks in that this is happening. It's happening right now. You've been thinking about it for 10 weeks and then it kicks in that it's happening so let's get it on.
I try to relax myself and if training camp went well there's no reason for you not to perform.
Q. You trust the process and that you've prepared well. I suppose it's the one sport that you can get found out very quickly if you haven't prepared well?
VR: You can get found out. Every fighter has a puncher's chance. Everything could go to plan in 10 rounds and then in one second it can fall to pieces. There's always the danger of that but you don't focus on that because you focus on what you've done. You believe in the process and training camp is 80% physical and 20% mental and a fight is 80% mental and 20% physical.
It's only really a 40 minute workout, it's not an easy workout, but you've done that. Trust the process. Believe in your team. Believe in your abilities. I'm not scared of a loss because as long as I know I gave it my all, and if I came short, fair enough, but credit where it's due to the opponent. But again you need to have a very solid mind frame going into it.
Q. What's the moment like when the hand is raised? Relief? Joy?
VR: It's a weird one. It's like an outer body experience. It's like you're not there almost. It only really kicks in when you're in the changing room. You're taking everything off and 'you're like hang on a second this just happened'. You get really buzzed.
After the fight you rarely see fighters that don't shake hands because there's a respect there for just having fought but when it's finished you're almost glad it's finished because this is the fruit off the tree that you've been working for.
Q. After the fight, who are the people you're celebrating with? Family? Friends?
VR: In the changing room it's my teammates and my coaches, the guys that have fought earlier. It's mainly my coach though because me and him have been there from the very start of training. He's invested in it as much as I am. We both put in the work and then after that you have your shower and then everything starts to kick in.
People want an autograph, or a photo and you're family are there crying with happy tears. It's brilliant. The whole buzz is just different. I've played team sports but it's not the same. It's great but only you know how much you put into this fight.
Mentally you might have low days, you might have high days but only you know what you've been through leading up to this fight and in this fight. It's a volcano of emotions and it explodes.
Q. The day after the fight are you just in bits?
VR: It's a weird one. The day after the fight everything is aching. Your shoulders. After my Celtic title win everything was sore. My arms were killing. My legs were dead. I was laying in bed all day just enjoying a bit of junk food. That's a celebration in it's own right. Just relaxing.
The following day I probably go out with my friends and go do things because in camp you don't get to see your friends a lot. You kind of neglect that side of your life so you're linking back up with your friends.
Training then starts back up on the Monday or Tuesday for me but it's not as intense. I'm just back in there loosening up and moving around. You can't let yourself go too much. First week after the fight, I'll probably be in the gym once a day.
Q. Are you sitting down with your coach then or your management and seeing what's next?
VR: I'd sit down with my coach and we'd see what we want to do but my management team have a plan in place where a coach knows exactly what you're capable of. It's what you want to do. You sit down with your coach, have a chat, then maybe after a week you speak to your management team and then you go from there but it's fun man. It really is.