Blackwell shines with Lockett

John Evans
21/07/2015 6:01am

It is one of boxing’s hardy cliches. The talented boxer not giving himself the best opportunity to fulfil his potential due to a kamikaze attitude outside the ring. British middleweight champion Nick Blackwell doesn’t pile on the pounds between fights. He doesn’t go AWOL from the gym for weeks on end or fight in a reckless fashion but he was in serious danger of committing career harakiri through his sheer determination to test himself.

Within 19 fights, Blackwell, 17-3-1 (7 KOs), had fought and lost to Martin Murray, Billy Joe Saunders, Max Bursak and Sergey Khomitsky and was on speed dial for a number of other seriously talented fighters who need some tough sparring. His inability to turn down a challenge was hindering the happy-go-lucky 24-year-old from Wiltshire.

Sometimes, in the pursuit of excellence you can leave the very good behind and Blackwell finally came to the realisation that he was in danger of gaining a reputation as a reliable hired hand rather than a legitimate threat. Blackwell decided to implement wholesale changes and charged Welsh trainer, Gary Lockett, with applying some method to the madness.

Just weeks into their time together, Blackwell picked up the Lonsdale belt at the third time of asking with a dramatic, come from behind stoppage of John Ryder. He makes the first defence of his title against Damon Jones in Derby this weekend. As partnerships go, Lockett and Blackwell immediately sounded as though it would work and it has been a case of so far, so good.

“Nick is the perfect kid to have around to be honest,” Lockett told Boxing Monthly. “I’ve had a couple of guys who’ve been really talented but their dedication has let them down a bit for one reason or another. I thought it might be an uphill battle with Nick because he never had any amateur experience but what he lacked there, he made up in fitness and toughness. It wasn’t that hard to be honest [taking Blackwell on]. Looking from the outside in I thought it was going to be really, really hard but this kid can box.

“In the John Ryder fight, it never quite came to fruition because he’d only been with me eight weeks and we’d try things out and they weren’t working but he sparred a couple of weeks ago at Jimmy Mac’s gym [Jim McDonnell] and he did really well. Jimmy said he couldn’t believe the improvement in him. He said that the last time he’d sparred James DeGale he’d done well but was just walking him down and taking shots on his gloves but now he was using his jab and moving his head and trying to set attacks up rather than just throwing them. To hear things like that from people like Jimmy means that people are noticing. He’s happy in camp and he loves it in Cardiff. He says he’s depressed when he has to go home! As a coach that’s what you want to see. The most pleasing thing is to see your fighter learning, progressing and listening. It’s fantastic.” 

It is easy to jump to the conclusion that all sparring is good sparring but being asked to help a talented boxer out is totally different to having fighters bought in specifically to suit your needs. The constant grind of boxing to instruction as sparring partner meant that Blackwell began to place too much emphasis on his outstanding fitness and conditioning and less on utilising his own abilities. Lockett runs a tight ship in Cardiff and Blackwell will still have plenty of opportunity to enjoy [if that is the right word] the tough cardio work he is renowned for but it is the technical work that he sees the likes of Dale Evans, Liam Williams and Alex Hughes practicing on a daily basis that he has started to soak up.

“He’s happy as the proverbial pig in s**t,” laughed Lockett. “He’s learning from everybody around him. I always maintain that a coach is a coach but I’ve got a gym of really talented fighters. I remember one of the first times Nick came in. He said he’d been watching Dale and liked the way he tucks up and comes back with counters. Now to me that was fascinating. Out of everybody here, Dale probably isn’t the most blessed technically but he’s very similar to how Nick was a while ago. What he lacks in technique he makes up in punch power and work ethic. You’ve got Liam Williams, Zack Davies, Alex Hughes and we’ve got Fred Evans the Olympic silver medallist in the gym at the moment and when you’re training around guys like those you’re always going to learn, even if your coach is no good. It’s a great place to be and everybody’s competing against each other.

“Who knows how far Nick can go? I think when people saw him beat John Ryder they thought that if he can win a title outright, brilliant. At the rate he’s improving I wouldn’t be surprised see him go further. I said to him at the very start, “You’ll learn. You’ll learn off every body around you and won’t realise it but one day you’ll be sparring and you’ll think ‘I’ve done really well then,’” and that’s what happened [at Jim McDonnell’s] a couple of weeks ago.

“Don’t get me wrong. It’s not going to work with everybody and not every trainer can work with every fighter but most of the guys that come here, we seem to have a good relationship and it seems to work well.”

It’s good to hear that Lockett is enjoying life in the gym as he was something of a reluctant warrior when he was lacing up the gloves himself. Known as 'The Rocket', Lockett made his reputation as one of a talented crop of British 154-pounders who came to prominence in the early 2000s. Takaloo and Anthony Farnell were the happy-go-lucky sluggers. Happy to share a joke outside of the ring, but deadly serious in it, Richard Williams was a cool, calm and collected natural talent and Wayne Alexander bristled with no nonsense aggression. Steve Roberts and the big-punching Lockett were the quietly spoken analysts of the group. Sadly, his big opportunity came right at the very end of his career when he travelled to Atlantic City to take on the then dominant Kelly Pavlik for the world middleweight title. Given the calm, realistic way he spoke about the business ten years ago, it is surprising that it took so long for Lockett to try his hand at teaching.

“We have such a laugh. It’s the worst kept secret in the world that I’m a grumpy git but I can’t see how,” said Lockett. “All he boys say it and it’s a running joke that they wind me up about but we’re always laughing, joking and messing about in the gym. It’s nothing but laughs.

“I never wanted to box. That’s hard to believe. I think I did pretty well and got people’s respect from being the fighter that I was and I did that without being dedicated. It’s like my dad says now. Imagine if I’d been dedicated and wanted to do it? I could have been a world champion but I know it’s shoulda, woulda, coulda.

“Even as a kid, I never wanted to box but I would hit people and they’d fall over and that happened in the pros, too. I always earned good money too. Whenever I’d get a payday I’d get half of the money and put it down as the deposit on a house. I fell out of love with the game though. I lost and got messed about a bit and fell out of love with it. I had a pretty good career but I’m enjoying the coaching a lot more. I think I’ve always had that coaching eye since I was younger. I’ve always been able to take people to one side and point things out that others couldn’t see. I’m a lot more suited to coaching I think.

“To be honest - and I tell the lads in the gym this - every person who sees you on TV mouthing off isn’t going to like you. If creates a sort of stigma and people just don’t like you. I just think it’s better to be a nice guy. Don’t get me wrong, if somebody is confident and speaks in a really confident manner that sometimes comes across as being brash, there’s nothing wrong with that but this nasty, big-headed, horrible thing, I wouldn’t have that. It’s not necessarily a rule but people know how to act in the gym. They’re all respectful of each other and respectful of everybody that comes in the gym and is around them. It’s very important to have a nice breed of guys. I’m a man of respect and a straight man but it’s always nice to be nice.”