The Boxing Booth Uncut: Part I
Every so often, we enter a clearing - the moment when we break through the undergrowth of daily choices and are faced with the realisation that we have the time and space to make a life decision that will take us in a new direction. These clearings can be purposefully crafted or forced upon us by destiny.
Adam Booth found himself in this position after breaking his leg during a game of football in 1991, just as he was about to turn professional under Mickey Duff following an amateur career that saw him win 30 out of 36 amateur fights.
Sadly, the break robbed him of that dream. Instead, it set him on a path that eventually led to December’s WBO middleweight title triumph with Ireland’s Andy Lee, who beat Matt Korobov by sixth-round TKO to upset the odds in Las Vegas. Booth also guided Curtis Woodhouse to an upset British light-welterweight title win over Darren Hamilton last February.
“It was a bad break, nerve damage,” Booth told Boxing Monthly. “I was 21, I didn’t know anything else but sport and didn’t know what I wanted to do apart from boxing - I didn’t have any other plans. I had a talent for sports, not just boxing, so it was hard, but our paths are our paths - I wouldn’t change the journey I took because it brought me to where I am.”
“I would change the pain, though!” added Booth. “I couldn’t walk properly for the best part of a year. By the time I could run my natural fitness levels had dropped off, so everything became really hard.”
Booth admitted that there were “dark days” during those years. “I was down to work as a chef one day,” he said. “I didn’t have a car so had to walk to work, which was three or four miles. It was a Sunday. I remember walking past these football pitches. I could hear people playing football - that happy Sunday morning football sound - and I hadn’t trained, boxed or played football for over two years, which is all I thought I was going to do. I sat down on the side of the road and broke down.
“At the end of each week - after paying the bills and expenses of having a baby daughter - my partner and I had £7.50 each spending money. All these things were going through my head. I couldn’t believe I wasn’t going to be what I thought I was going to be.
“I started researching courses when I got home that night. I’ll never forget that day. I started studying Personal Training and Sports Massage Therapy. Then I did some injury rehab training. I was going to a few different gyms to do pads with people.”
Booth is philosophical about the injury that changed his life, arguing that, in the greater scheme of things, there are worse things that can happen as we make our way through the world. Whatever the path, striving for success requires not just hard work, destiny also plays a part.
“I’ve known so many talented individuals who never achieved their potential, probably less than 5% fulfil it: injury, illness, circumstances, work, whatever it is, life gets in the way. Success isn’t just about if you’re good enough, it’s about breaks and circumstances.
“But there’s people who have genuine suffering, not just the loss of a dream they don’t have water to drink or food to eat, so looking at it in that context I think: ‘I’m so lucky.’ If you’ve got food in your belly, a roof over your head, food in the fridge and a smile on your face then that’s all you need to start the day.”
Booth came back to boxing in 1996, lecturing by day then going to the Fitzroy Lodge at night to help out. He started working with a talented youngster called David Haye, who became a big name on the amateur scene before eventually embarking on a professional career that took him all the way to the top.
“Boxing was always a passion. While I was in the gyms, other fighters would want to do pads with me - it all started from there. For any pro in London, there was a handful of trainers you’d go to and that was pretty much it, I was shunned by a few gyms and people. I was only doing it because I loved it. I hadn’t intended to become a trainer or manager, it just happened.”
Some people within the trade view academic success with suspicion while others respect it - maybe due to the fact it takes hard work and dedication. Booth came back to the sport with a qualification, which can spark a degree of doubt, and the determination to forge ahead whilst being his own man. Some members of the London boxing fraternity were sceptical about the newcomer. Booth didn’t care.
“The only reaction I got was from the guys I was working with in the gym, who seemed to enjoy the pads,” he said, before mentioning that long-time friend Wayne Alexander showed him plenty of support.
“I’d known Wayne for a long time, since we boxed for Croydon, so we had a lot of time for each other. Back then, I wasn’t getting too much praise or support from those in boxing, but I loved the stuff in the gym. I didn’t see any praise, but didn’t see any criticism, either, as just got on with what I was doing.”
Boxing was back on the BBC at this point, albeit briefly, so Booth and Haye decided to work with the terrestrial broadcaster for the time being once Haye turned pro whilst maintaining their independence, something they had vowed not to let go of no matter how tough things got over the negotiating table.
“We were able to negotiate a deal with the BBC early on. That initial deal enabled us to control the early part of his career. Audley [Harrison], who brought the BBC back into boxing, opened up the opportunity and it enabled David to manage his career. It was thanks to Audley - we followed in his wake.
“The BBC basically said to us: ‘Whichever promoter you choose to work with will get dates from the BBC’, so we knew we had a good position there. Each promoter we worked with had a TV contract as long as David was under their promotional wing, and some tried to use that to their advantage for their own ongoing thing. Parallel to that, you had the development of Carl Froch under Mick Hennessy.
“There’s an irony there. The BBC came and went relatively quickly. I think they felt they had their fingers burned by a couple of scenarios. Basically, they had three fighters that they were building their strategy around: Audley followed by David and Carl. The BBC had those young careers.
“Now, two of those three went on to become significant world champions and pay-per-view stars. It’s ironic that the BBC had them, but, for whatever reason, threw the baby out with the bathwater.”
It wasn’t all chitlins and gravy, though. Haye lost to Carl 'The Cat' Thompson in 2004 by fifth-round TKO; the naysayers nodded their heads and wrote Haye and Booth off. After Haye’s fast start, his trainer noticed that he had slowed down by the end of round two and regretted not pulling him out of the fray. With the benefit of hindsight, however, Booth believes that the defeat was a great learning experience for both men.
“It was a really bad night, certainly,” admitted Booth. “For a period of time after, I didn’t want to know anything about boxing. Plus a lot of the establishment had been waiting for us to fail so they could go: ‘You fucking upstarts’. Articles went out criticizing us and directly blaming me, but David and I both knew why that loss happened. He didn’t make those mistakes again.
“Without the Thompson loss, I really question whether David would have become a world champion. It taught him a valuable and painful lesson. The six months after that fight were a big turning point in his career.”
Haye recovered picking up the WBA, WBC and WBO cruiserweight titles courtesy of wins over Jean Marc Mormeck and Enzo Maccarinelli (TKO 7 and 2 respectively) and the WBA heavyweight title via a decision over Nikolay Valuev in 2009.
Haye and Booth used their success to create Hayemaker Promotions in a bid to maintain and strengthen their autonomy. The man who hadn’t expected to be either a trainer or a manager was now a promoter, but did the strain of that aspect of the game diminish his love of the sport?
“There are a lot of other responsibilities and stresses involved,” answered Booth. “It is very easy to criticise promoters because they’re businessmen, but they’re essential - someone’s got to take a risk when you put on a show.
“There’s no guarantee that you’ll make money without a TV contract, either. Someone like [Steve] Goodwin’s out there without TV, he is very honourable and has brought on fighters that he’s had to let go when other promoters come in for them.
“It is business, everyone’s trying to get everything they can for themselves, so you all fight tooth-and-nail, but, over time, you learn that that’s the nature of the business. The process of learning it leaves you, as you say, feeling jaded, worn out and you’re mapping out something you don’t quite understand yet.”
Liverpool’s Echo Arena has become a regular venue for boxing. This wasn’t the case in 2009 Hayemaker Promotions changed this by securing the venue for their first show.
“We put on a few shows,” recalled Booth. “If I’m honest, I thought we did very good on the promotions we did. Tony Dodson against [Tony] Quigley [L TKO 12 for the British 168lb belt] was a really good British title fight.
“They (the people who manage the arena) were very nervous and excited at the same time. Nervous about working with a boxing promoter, and wary as they didn’t know that world, but that ended up being a very successful show and one that was good to promote.”
David Price turned over on the undercard. The big Liverpudlian told the Liverpool Daily Echo that Booth was his first option: “[T]he financial package made sense too, but it was the training package that was the big draw. I couldn't be happier.”
The union didn’t last long for reasons we will explore in the next installment, however the Olympic bronze medalist’s decision to turn over with a newly minted company was a feather in Hayemaker’s cap and a promising early sign.
In part II, Booth talks Klitschko-Haye and much more.