A tale of good Manners

James Oddy
11/04/2016 10:19am

Nick Manners has an ambition. “I want a piece of history. I boxed on the Elland Road pitch as a fighter and won. I want to go on the pitch as a trainer and win,” he told Boxing Monthly

Manners is one of the Leeds boxing scene’s most colourful and well-known figures, who debuted in 1990 and compiled a record of 11-5-1 (10 KOs). His experience led to him opening a thriving gym, Precise Accurate Training, and also becoming part of popular Leeds ticket-seller Josh Warrington’s camp.

“I started boxing when I was 20. Just come out of a situation [legal issues]. Angry, confident. Not arrogant, confident,” Manners told BM. “I went into St. Pats gymnasium [one of Leeds most well known gyms in the past] with our Colin [Manners, a former pro middleweight].

“In those days, they didn’t care if you had high heel shoes on. They’d say, have a little spar. Just put them gloves on, didn’t matter if you had a mini skirt on. Straight away I pulled [trainer] Terry [O’Neil] aside and said, ‘If you want me to come fight for you, treat me right. My idea of boxing, all comes from a Rocky film. So if you’re going to be my Mickey and I’m your Rocky, treat me right.

“He asked me to come back. I said, see those two guys in the ring you want me to spar? That one there, within two weeks of sparring me, he won't ever want to spar me again. The other one, I see something, I like that. I wouldn’t mind being number two in the gym to him. I don’t know who he is, but he’s all right. I can follow him. It was Henry Wharton. We were born on exactly the same day a year apart. So uncanny.

“The best foil I could have had was Henry Wharton. He loved Nigel Benn. I loved Chris Eubank. So you can see there was a fighter vs a thinker. We used to have some wonderful spars. To the point [promoter] Mickey Duff turned around and said, 'You two don’t spar, you’ll ruin each other!’ We had a good rapport and good sparring. 

“I turned pro with Mickey Duff. A real good experience, because I can see through a lot of the palaver now,” he continued. “I loved Mickey Duff. I remember the first time I met him, I told him I didn’t trust him. There was a real North/South divide then [in boxing]. As far as these southern [people] were concerned we had cloth caps and donkey jackets. And, as far as we were concerned, all those cockneys were robbing spivs. They thought we were thick as pig shit and we thought they were just con men.

“For me [boxing], was a fantastic experience, taking me to places I wouldn’t pay my own money to go. I was in Romania two weeks prior to the revolution. Not sure if that was owt to do with me, like! I was in East Germany, still dust falling from the wall coming down. That Mickey Duff set me up, man. Got chased by Neo Nazis in Germany. Rang him up the next day, said, ‘I got chased, where have you sent me?’ All I heard was this, ‘Ha, ha, ha, ha, character building, Nick, character building. You’ll be all right,’ then he put phone down.

“The boxing side of it, I wouldn’t change anything. The experiences I’ve had, the people I’ve met. Some of the people I’ve met are absolute dogs, but I’m glad I’ve met them. So I can recognise things for the fighters I’m involved with and keep them away. It’s a real minefield; if you’re on top it’s fantastic. If you’re on the bottom, it’s not a great place to be. But you can still have a fantastic time, if you’re proud of yourself and the things you do. But lots of people on the bottom seem to feel sorry for themselves, when you feel sorry for yourself that’s when you feel the punches.”

One of Nick’s proudest moments was winning the Central Area light-heavyweight title against Paul Mason in four rounds, which he defended once before retiring. “I don’t mean it disrespectfully, a boxer without a title is just a tough lad who has a fight. You need that word champion behind your name and I know that for a fact.”

Manners also fought Joe Calzaghe in the Welshman’s 13th fight, suffering a fourth-round TKO loss. “I lost to a better guy [Calzaghe]. How can I not have a little bit of a smile when I think I went in with a good guy, yeah I got overwhelmed, I was knackered, but I didn’t get beat up or smashed up. When we see each other we still have good respect, when he’s in Leeds always get a shout to go see him. I actually like him. He’s a nice guy, a good guy.

“I never went into boxing to be a world champion. Very, very, hard work to be a boxer. It’s an unforgiving sport. You’ll always be in debt from it because unless you’re a superstar Olympic medallist. You’ll start in debt, you do the training, then you go pay your manager then you train, then you pay again. But if done properly, if you respect yourself and respect your sport, it doesn’t have to be like that.

“There is a niche market for good people. Just because you’re knocking people out doesn’t mean you’re viable, people might not like your character, might not like how you are. They might not like what you represent. But if you do your job but still have a heart and be considerate, you only have to be an animal while you’re in the ring. Then you turn off, step back into the public domain and are a good person. I'm not saying you have to be a great person because not everyone can be. But you can be fair. If you can be fair, take criticism, take it on board, you act upon it and move on.” 

This philosophy has led to Manners linking up with the tight-knit Warrington team. “Lovely kid, nice kid [Josh]. I still forget he’s a man. He’s like the little kid next door,” said Manners. “He’s not like a little kid in his actions, he’s very astute and switched on. He understands boxing. He understands to get the best out if his career, he has to put it in. I don’t back shit. I won't back shit. I like the fact he’s a respectful lad, a humble lad, a Yorkshire lad. He reminds me of Henry Wharton.

“[Josh is] humble, honest, hard-working, gets on with the job. I’m hoping Josh can fulfill his potential and, God willing, there’s more to come. He’s like a sponge. He wants to learn. We take him around sparring, the way he adapts is so good, and he is very deceptive. His next fight is very hard against a difficult and confident opponent [former world title challenger] Hisashi Amagasa [30-5-2, 20 KOs]. But we’ve got to this level now. There’s no point in taking backwards steps. He’s on the verge of [a world title]. Let’s not mess things up, let’s stay honest, stay true.

"We’ve got a little bit of an advantage of having fortress at the First Direct Arena,” he continued. “As we tell the fans, you do your job; we’ll try the best to do our job. It’s nice, it’s reassuring, it’s comforting, and it’s exhilarating to have those fans there. From a Yorkshire point of view, as long as we give 110% effort, I know they will be happy.

“You are always going to have critics. Josh is a very polite young man and can see right through a blagger. So when they come to him and he doesn’t react to what they are saying, he isn’t being ignorant, he just isn’t reacting to that rubbish. They can’t get through to him, they can't blag him. His dad [Sean O’Hagan] is a very shrewd and smart guy.

“We have a laugh. We have Frank Hopkins, a fantastic cornerman, from before I was involved. It’s a nice little team, a nice unit. Sean, Josh and Frank didn’t have to bring me in, but I am so glad they did. We have a good mix. We all have our roles to play. I have the upmost respect for Sean, because he isn’t a ‘recognised’ boxing trainer as such, but he’s been in the business a long time. He’s gone under the radar and he is responsible for where Josh is today. He’s got the brains; he’s got the plan, the experience. I love the fact it’s a father and son combo.”

Despite Nick’s position at arguably the pinnacle of his local boxing scene, his gym, decorated with images from Leeds past and present, works with many different elements of the community.

“I boxed as a way out,” he told BM. “I wasn’t steeped in anything as such. [But] I wasn’t going to get chased about by National Front; I’ll stand up and have a go. Then you get in trouble. I see what it’s done for me. Lot of kids are lost. I’m not being a saint. But they can’t go through shit; they don’t know what place it can get you into. I say, ‘Come to the gym, occupy your time, clear your head, you’ll be surprised how you think’. Half the kids in here, I don’t want them to box. It’s a hard sport, just do the training. The ones who have got a talent, if they want to carry on, then cool.

“I’ve got Yorkshire champions in here in amateurs. But I tell them, make sure you go college, if you aren’t going there, don’t come down here. Education comes first. Don’t say boxing is your life; all it takes is a bad fight and you have to play catch up with your education then. I’ve been in some rough situations, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. So I’ll try help you avoid that. There’s some good success coming out of here. Up to a certain point I can advise you, then you’re a man. They’ll do what they want. But if you influence them to have self-respect and respect for other people, it can go a long way.”

Looking ahead, Nick is unwavering in his belief of Warrington going into his 16 April showdown. “Josh is spearheading [the interest in Leeds boxing]. Josh, you have the potential to be a star. Always be clean, always be smart, be a good example. Lots of people are coming out to see you. They don’t want to see what they see in the mirror, they want to see their dreams. [But] Josh is humble, he’s very humble.”