Gallagher's recipe for success
In September 2001, Joe Gallagher led Stephen Foster Junior to the ring at the MEN Arena for the youngster’s winning professional debut. Gallagher was turning pro, too, after a successful stint as an amateur coach.
The Manchester boxing scene was starting to blossom and bloom back then and, as is always the case with spring and summer, it felt like the season of success would last forever. Boxing is cyclical, though, so it came as no surprise when the city’s fortunes dipped a little following the Ricky Hatton era.
Sure, fighters such as John Murray and Salford’s Jamie Moore kept the scene vibrant with a series of FOTY candidates; however, Liverpool was on the rise, the MEN was used for concerts and shows with boxing only sporadically on display at the Arena.
Now, though, the wheel has turned full circle again. Manchester is booming, and the proud 47-year-old Mancunian and his Bolton-based stable of fighters are regular features at what is now known as the Manchester Arena.
“I am very proud that we’ve got top boxing back at the Arena after a few quiet years and times when boxers from outside were headlining, like we saw with [Carl] Froch against [George] Groves and [David] Haye’s fights,” said Gallagher when speaking to Boxing Monthly.
“There was no Manchester fighter around to headline, but you had [Anthony] Crolla and [Scott] Quigg on undercards, and they headlined last year against [Darleys] Perez and Kiko [Martinez]. It benefits the next generation - I’m very proud to be a part of that rebirth.”
Indeed, Gallagher always fervently hoped that he and his fighters would become regular fixtures at the Arena. “I’ve always been highly motivated,” he stated. “I wanted to be the best, mix with the best and get to that level. I had my debut there that night and dreamed of being back there for the types of nights we have had recently.”
The nature of boxing is such that it throws up bittersweet moments and nights. Gallagher’s name was linked with Murray’s for a long time before an acrimonious split in 2011 followed by a brief reconciliation and a final parting in 2012.
He remained on better terms with Foster, but fate threw him fights against both men as he sought to guide Crolla into world title contention. “Million Dollar” scored a six-round retirement win over Foster in November 2013; he stopped Murray in 10 in April 2014 - both fights were back-to-back and took place at the Arena.
“I didn’t want to go against Steve Foster as we had a very successful career together in the amateurs. I didn’t want to be part of the downfall of him, but he wanted it,” revealed Gallagher.
“It was a bittersweet win, I was happy for Anthony yet it was nothing to boast about, and neither was the John Murray fight. Those wins stood him in good stead for the first Perez fight, which I felt he won [the official scorecards produced a draw].
“It is ironic that in the rematch he ended it with a left hook to the body, the type that Ricky Hatton used to throw. It was a very proud moment.”
People who work with schoolchildren or students see a new cohort come and go every few years or so. Trainers are in a similar position; both Murray and Foster are now retired, drawing the line under one generation. When the youngsters in his current stable move on another one will have come and gone.
You see and feel the passage of time in those professions, remaining a constant in a world of variables - it forces you to constantly acknowledge the aging process. Does this cycle prompt someone like Gallagher to plan out a series of five-to-six year cycles of development before making plans for retirement after his final cohort passes through?
“I just take it on a yearly basis myself, but also have a three or four-year programme for the fighters,” he answered. “It worked for Anthony and [WBO light-middleweight holder] Liam [Smith], as they both are world champions now, and it’s working for Callum Smith and Stephen Smith.”
Another aspect of the coaching profession is the level of responsibility that one has to shoulder. Fighters and coaches are the people who lose fights. Promoters feel it, too, but they generally move on quite quickly and do not get blamed for what happens once the bell goes. The fighter stands alone; a minute with the trainer between rounds is their only respite.
As Gallagher said, fighters and trainers lose as one and fight as one. He applies that to his whole team. You also have the added responsibility of the hopes of the fighter’s parents, family and fans.
“I’ve always had that since I was an amateur coach,” recalled Gallagher. “The kids go for titles and the parents attend, grandparents too, and they also have other family and friends. I’ve had it all through my career. I’m never blasé. I never cut corners or shirk when it comes to studying, sparring and training.
“Sometimes in my quieter moments I get worked up over the fact that I really want this kid to win a certain fight for what it means to him, his family and fans - for example, Crolla-Perez.
“They go through setbacks, defeats, illnesses and the rest, but the families stick with them and it means so much for them to bring home titles. It means they can financially set up their families - that’s what spurs me on. I just want them to be the best they can be.”
Gallagher does not have a number two, he only has one person to turn to on those dark nights of the soul when a fight or challenge comes crowding into your consciousness and all the possibilities burrows their way irrevocably inside your brain.
“I turn to myself, I am never one to share anything,” he admitted. “It’s in those moments when you’re studying what the opponents do and you think: ‘We’ve got to be aware of that’.
“Nerves only really come in the week before fight week because you’re worried about injuries or cuts. I never feel the nerves on fight week, the job’s done until we go in there and take care of business.”
He added: “People may laugh, but I’m a bit of a closed book who doesn’t let emotions out or talk about them, I keep it to myself.”
World titles have come, one has gone (see sidebar) yet there is one title that still fuels Gallagher’s fire. He told me that he was as elated when Hosea Burton lifted the British light-heavyweight title as he was when Crolla, Quigg and Smith won world belts.
“That’s 12 British titles in eight-years, the first one was with John. John was in the British amateur team that went into the 2000 Schoolboys. John got to the final and the youngest member of the squad was Hosea, he was 11. John won the British [lightweight title] in 2008, now Hosea has it in 2016 - it’s mad isn’t it? You just can’t beat the British title.”
And with that, one circle closes and other ones open up - that is the ecstatic nature of boxing, a sport in which past, present and future can be lived at once.
A perfect 10
Paul Smith (35-6, 20 KOs): “Very knowledgeable. Very funny. The elder Statesman of the gym. He has boxed all over so is there for the young kids like Marcus. Having someone like him helps the young kids come through. I’d loved to have trained him from the start of his career.”
Stephen Smith (23-2, 13 KOs): “The team joker, the one who’d cut holes in your socks if he was on your football team. An extremely hard worker, like Crolla, but once you get them together with Scott Cardle it becomes a three-hour gym session what with the laughing and joking.”
Liam Smith (22-0-1, 12 KOs): “A crank at times - he could be fighting for a world title and still play football a few weeks beforehand. Liam could 100% beat Miguel Cotto, we want that fight as his moment is nearly here. He has so much more to show people, and that’s what excites me.”
Callum Smith (18-0, 13 KOs): “Very laidback, nothing bothers him but he also works very hard and has real attention to detail. A great listener, very professional as a fighter and he’s about to take the next step up to world-level and will push on this year.”
Callum Johnson (13-0, 8 KOs): “A very talented prospect. He is one to watch in 2016. His father passed away recently, it has hit him hard because his dad was his chief supporter. He’ll have some time off then I expect him to win titles, as he has world-level potential.”
Scotty Cardle (19-0-1, 6 KOs): “You have quiet kids, then you have characters - Scott is a proper character. Light-hearted, but trains hard and brushes everything off his shoulders. He has had some really good wins recently, his power has also improved. He showed grit, heart, skill and determination to become British lightweight champion.”
Marcus Morrison (10-0, 7 KOs): “He was with me as an amateur then wanted to turn pro early. I advised him to get an education and career first. It is a slow process, but he is getting experience in the gym and on undercards. A very hard, hurtful puncher, definitely one to watch.”
Scott Quigg (31-1-2, 23 KOs): “One of the most dedicated and professional fighters out there. Great attention to detail. He puts money back into boxing to develop himself by buying equipment and studying fighters. He has a heart of gold, I’m privileged to know him as a person and train him.”
Anthony Crolla (30-4-3, 12 KOs): “His timekeeping kills me, he is so laidback - it takes him ages to get ready. He is a great personality to have in the gym, but also very dedicated to the sport. For him to have his setbacks and come back shows the magnitude and strength of Anthony Crolla.”
Scott Quigg’s split decision defeat to Carl Frampton for the WBA World Super and IBF super-bantamweight titles respectively was a rare setback for Gallagher’s Gym. However, Gallagher believes that the level of criticism levelled at him and Quigg via social media is disproportionate to the result.
“All the lads are banned from the forums, not banned by me but they don't use them - the same Village Idiots are on Twitter now anyway,” he said. “Me and the lads avoid them, we get enough grief on Twitter as it is.”
“People talk about the first few rounds and a slow start, Frampton started slowly as well - all world-class fights start tentatively, look at Mayweather’s fights,” argued Gallagher when analysing those tentative early rounds.
“Scott rolled under shots and there was that common feeling the way in process that is common when you get two world champions. Scott can take great confidence in his performance, the way he adapted with a broken jaw and he still has options on the table, two of them world title fights. He will be back as a world champion, but we want Frampton.”