The Boxing Booth Uncut: Part II

Terry Dooley
22/05/2015 10:46am

By the summer of 2009, Adam Booth and David Haye were caught up in the fallout caused by Haye’s decision to withdraw from a world title challenge to Wladimir Klitschko due to a back injury. Setanta, their broadcast partner, folded around the same time; conspiracy theories reigned. Some fans still refuse to believe that Haye was genuinely injured. Booth said that the injury was ‘an insidious thing’ during an interview with Kevin Mitchell of The Guardian on June 5th, 2009.

“If I did use the word ‘insidious’ it’s because he’d herniated a disc in his back - it built up over time insidiously,” explained Booth  to Boxing Monthly. “You don’t know about it until the moment it breaks down. At the time, we were on the floor - it was the worst thing that could have happened - but everything worked out okay in the end. It was part of the journey.”

“He wouldn’t have been able to fight,” he said when asked about the conspiracy theories. “When people are in high-profile events that don’t pan out the way they should do, people have to say something. There was lots of stuff going around, but there was nothing we could do about it as he had to stop training.

“We asked the Klitschkos to delay it for six weeks, which isn’t that long when you look at the history of fights. Delaying it would have been okay for us, but they didn’t want to wait so went ahead with [a fight against Ruslan] Chagaev.”

During the Klitschko saga, Booth seemed jaded, promoting and managing perhaps casting a shadow over his main role of trainer. “I might have just been tired,” he said.

“There was a lot to do and just me doing it. I was bouncing from one role to the other, but I wouldn’t change it for anything, as I wouldn’t trust anyone with the job I had to do. We did alright from the business side of it. I was just tired. It dragged on and on, they’re very specific in negotiations.”

Haye fought and lost to Kiltschko in 2011 (L UD 12). Then there was a comeback win over Dereck Chisora (TKO 5 in 2012). Booth had success with George Groves in the interim period to remind people that he is a world-class trainer first and foremost.

One positive aspect of the often-bitter build-up to Klitschko-Haye was the respect Booth showed towards Emanuel Steward, Klitschko’s trainer, who had guided Ireland’s Andy Lee from his debut onwards.

Lee joined Booth in November 2012 following the death of his mentor. Layer upon layer of irony was piled on as the [WBO middleweight title fight against Matt] Korobov bout loomed; it was not lost on Booth when he stood at his hotel suite’s window after arriving in Las Vegas for the bout.

He said: “I had watched [Sugar Ray] Leonard against [Thomas] Hearns from Las Vegas’s Caesars Palace on closed circuit at London’s Odeon Cinema in 1981. There I was at the Cosmopolitan with a former Steward fighter who was about to fight for the world middleweight championship and my hotel suite overlooked Cesar’s Palace. There were so many ironies.

“On fight night itself, Emanuel’s wife came over to us. She had flown in to watch the fight [a sixth-round TKO win for Lee, who also earned a split draw against Peter Qullin in April]. Afterwards, we all went back to my hotel suite to celebrate. There I am overlooking Caesar’s again with Andy and Emanuel’s wife. It was a sweet irony and experience.”

Booth described it as the crowning achievement of his career. Does he stand by this statement? “Yes, it was an emotional and instinctive response, but I’ve thought about it, and my success as a coach has been with David, George, with Curtis [Woodhouse] in one fight [a decision win over Darren Hamilton for the British light-welterweight title] and Andy,” he said.

“Everyone expected David to be successful, if he wasn’t it would have been seen as my fault. If he was successful then it was because he’s David Haye - I couldn’t win.

“I knew Curtis from the Setanta days, I knew his story and I admire his attitude to life - he’s a doer - so I asked if there was anything I could do to help (when the British title fight against Hamilton was announced). Straight away, Curtis asked if he could and train with me.

“He came down for seven-weeks, we worked on specific things for that fight. What Curtis did with Darren and what Andy did with Korobov is very similar - they both had complete belief, it’s like they were in a trance.

“The situation with Andy was that he’d had 35 fights, lost two, lost a world title fight two years before [a WBC loss to Julio Cesar Chavez Junior] and hadn’t really impressed or had a significant win other than coming back to beat Brian Vera [who handed Lee his first loss in 2008] - he’d been written off in every sense.

“Also, there were no opportunities; no one wanted to offer him one. A year ago, I was trying to make a fight for Andy and all I needed was for the promoter to put £10,000 in to get him on the show, but no one would do it so I ended up paying for it myself. No one was interested. Then the Ying and Yang lined up, [Peter] Quillin vacated, so I spoke to Frank Warren to make the Kolorov fight.

“I told Andy to be patient, trust what we were doing and he’d take over after four rounds, but it actually started to happen in the third round. The fight panned out exactly how we thought it would, just maybe a bit quicker than expected.”

As for Haye, Booth is no longer working with the former heavyweight titlist, who has been vilified in recent years due to two aborted fights with Tyson Fury and a string of injury postponements. The Londoner has exhausted the patience of all but his most ardent fans. Booth, though, pointed out that injuries can pop up at any time.

“Peoples’ memories don’t go back too far, they only remember the last fight or, when it comes to David, 2013, which was the year he had injury after injury,” argued Booth. “That’s through years of boxing, but, unfortunately for David, everything he does is high-profile, so when it went wrong it went wrong very publically.

“Don’t forget, David never fought for the British [cruiserweight] title, he was supposed to fight [Mark] Hobson, but tore his hamstring before it happened. It’s part and parcel of contact sport.”

It’s a two-way street, too, as Booth’s body has suffered over the years, which probably explains why he has a lot of sympathy for his former charge.

During the training sessions for the Nikolay Valuev fight, Booth picked up a damaged finger and ligaments, a cracked rib, a crick in his neck and damaged a nerve in his arm - he also hit his wallet hard after picking up a £250 pair of Goth boots with 7 inch heels to mimic Valuev’s height when doing pads. He told the press that the injuries picked up in that particular camp had left him “in bits”.

Indeed, a number of trainers have told me that they pick up just as much wear-and-tear as their fighters. “Yeah, it gets harder the older I get,” he stated. 

“It wasn’t a problem when I was younger. Your hands get whacked hard repeatedly over and over. When I do pads, I want more speed, more power and accuracy. I don’t do soft pads. Over time it has taken its toll - it’s part of the job.”

Booth’s boxing bildungsroman has a beginning, middle and Third Act that is common within the game: early enthusiasm and love ground down by the business followed by renewed vigour for the sport itself.

People rarely overcome their addiction to boxing, we just spend a few months, or even years, freshening ourselves up. Years after fate handed him a damaged leg and left him in a broken dream, Booth’s back to what he does best and is enjoying the process - long may it continue.

Coda:

A wise man once said: 'The strongest have their moments of fatigue'. We saw in Part One that, as a young man, Booth struggled when an injury wrecked his dream of becoming a professional fighter.

Another wise man wrote that: ‘Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.’ [Isaiah 40:30-31]

Booth’s physical and financial struggles as a young man set him on the path to where he is now, the lessons learned shaping and informing him as his career unfolded and resulting in an unshakable faith, resolution and confidence in the path he was taking.

By the time he met David Haye, Booth had already learned a lot of life lessons. Haye attended the 2001 BBC SPOTY Awards with a bus pass tucked in his pocket and was a struggling young fighter, within a few years he had earned a decent amount of money.

This financial transition can be a hard one for fighters to handle, especially if they adopt a monomaniacal mind-set, focusing solely on boxing to the extent that they don’t develop other skills or pay attention to other areas of their lives. With Booth’s help and influence, Haye avoided this pitfall and it seems he invested wisely while an active fighter.

Booth’s understanding of the struggles and temptations of youth came through when asked if fledgling fighters need help and guidance outside of the ring and gym to cope with the huge changes that they may go through. 

“Anyone who comes from a background that’s quite hand-to-mouth, and most people are one or two pay cheques away from struggling, then starts to earn money in a space of a few years will find it hard to adjust,” he said.

“There is a responsibility to anyone young, successful sportsman who comes from nothing to plenty, they should either have a head on their shoulders or someone with them who they trust. Teach them to pay their taxes, once the taxman’s had their bit they can have their bit.”