Normally, an unbeaten heavyweight prospect with knockout power and the gift of the gab would be locked up in golden handcuffs.
Fabio Wardley (17-0, 16 KO’s) finds himself in a unique situation.
The unbeaten 29-year-old from Ipswich is the reigning British and Commonwealth champion and also holds a WBO regional strap but the title which is currently allowing him to pursue the most interesting and lucrative options available is one which can’t be worn around his waist; free agent.
Last April, Wardley boxed Michael Coffie on a Matchroom show on DAZN. He then took the opportunity to work with Queensberry and successfully defended his British and Commonwealth titles against David Adeleye, stopping the Londoner on the undercard of the massive TNT Pay-Per-View headlined by Tyson Fury’s battle with MMA superstar Francis Ngannou. Now, he has agreed a one fight deal to box 2020 Olympic bronze medallist Frazer Clarke on Sky Sports. The fight has been given a showcase slot on the Sunday night before a Bank Holiday.
The morning after the fight, Wardley will once again wake up as a free agent. If the British and Commonwealth titles are still in his possession he will find himself at the center of another tug of war between the sport’s leading promoters and this time the powers that be will more than likely dig their heels in a little deeper, pull a little harder and make a determined effort to secure the services of one of the division’s hottest prospects
If nothing grabs his attention, he will still have the belts, reputation and ranking to seek out his next challenge.
Wardley has built too big a profile to be banished to no-man’s land if he loses but his options would be restricted. In exchange for a route back into contention, promoters would likely demand a little bit of security and a longer term deal. The numbers on the contract would also be much smaller.
Wardley would like to see other fighters follow his lead but accepts that his course might not suit everybody.
“I hope so because it means that we’ll get a lot of big and fights and the fights that we want to see without all the fuss in the middle,” Wardley told BoxingScene.com. “It’s something I’ve chosen to do because I always want to back myself. Some people might not want to take that risk, other people will.
“Don’t get me wrong, I understand the negatives to it. If I lose, I haven’t got any safe long-term contract where I can keep money coming in and keep fighting, I have to graft my way back. I’m willing to do that but I think as long as you have hard fights at a good level and prove yourself then people will always have a place for you on their show. They’ll always want to see you.”
For years, Wardley was regularly described as the former white-collar fighter living out a dream but although Clarke made a point of highlighting the differences in their unpaid pedigrees when their fight was officially announced last week, Wardley forever shed the white-collar tag when he stopped Nathan Gorman to win the British title in November 2022.
He has grown in the role. Technically he seems to improve with every outing whilst he has grasped the importance of staying relevant away from the ring. Given his humble beginnings, Wardley is determined to enjoy the circus that the big heavyweight events attract these days.
“It has its moments where it’s tiring and sometimes I do want to just focus on my boxing,” he said. “Also, I appreciate where I am and where I’ve got to. In a certain amount of time I’ll look back on my life and think, ‘Mental. Wow, remember that?’ and – not in an arrogant way – remember when the whole thing was about me and the big fights and big occasions I was involved in. I do my best to be present and enjoy the moment.”