Australia’s best featherweight boxer says he is ready to compete for a world title, despite dealing with the heartache of his long-time coach being terminally ill with cancer.
Nathaniel ‘Cheeky’ May, 22, is celebrating a recent victory in the ring which crowned him the WBO Asia Pacific featherweight champion.
May believes that title — and his outstanding record of 19 wins and just one loss — proves he can beat Welsh IBF world featherweight champion, Lee Selby.
But away from the lights and cameras of professional boxing, May is privately pursuing a fight of another kind.
His coach of almost 10 years, Peter Stokes, is battling an aggressive B-cell lymphoma cancer that has spread throughout his bones.
Stokes, 45, hopes intensive radiotherapy will keep him alive long enough to witness his young prodigy become the world champion.
“It’s really hard seeing my coach — he’s like my second dad — go through this. It’s just tough,” May said.
“He’s a tough man, probably the most tough guy I’ve ever seen.
“He’s the real fighter in our camp.”
‘We’re pushing for the same goal’
Stokes said he had no plans to throw in the towel.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’ve got world titles to win,” he said.
“Cheeks and I, we don’t really talk too much about it. It’s always about what’s the next step, when’s the next fight, who are you going to beat next — that takes priority really.
“I suppose mentally it keeps us both strong and pushing towards the same goal.
“Cheeky knows when it’s time that I can’t do it anymore, that’s when I’ll make the announcement.”
Like father and son, inside and outside the ring
Stokes said he recognised May’s talents early on, after the boxer arrived at his famed Bunbury gym as a skinny 13-year-old boy.
“I just knew then there was something special about him,” he said.
“You’ll always have a few that walk in the gym that are exceptional, but there will only be one or two that are beyond that point.
“We’ve had our times where we’ve wanted to kill each other — kind of like Homer and Bart [Simpson] — but that’s part and parcel of a trainer and a fighter being so close.
“I’ve sacrificed a lot for him and he’s sacrificed a lot as a young athlete to get where he’s got.”
May said he planned to have a serious tilt at a world title match midway through 2018, with his trainer by his side.
“I’m hoping he’s there — I know he’s going to be there,” he said.
May said he had never expected boxing to turn into a full-time career.
“I was expecting to fight for a couple years and do something different after that,” he said.
“Now it’s my life, and I put 100 per cent trust into Stokesy with whatever he does with me.
“We train hard and he pushes me hard — some days I can’t stand him — but it’s always a good time with him.”