Lockett and his rockets
There is a building in Cardiff that lies adjacent to an industrial estate. As you head through the doors and up the stairs, you will hear the rhythmic sounds of a busy boxing gym. The sound of skipping ropes sweeping across the floor, throwing dust and sweat into the air, gloves hitting bags and fighters grunting encouragement to each over as they go through their calisthenics.
This gym is home to a pack: an alpha dog, his top dogs and a bunch of eager pups snapping at their heels. They are led by Gary Lockett, a former world middleweight title challenger who retired with a 30-2 (21 KOs) record after losing to then-champion Kelly Pavlik in 2008 (TKO 3); he told Boxing Monthly that this particular pack is pushing each other towards success.
Two of his fighters hold titles - Nick Blackwell is the British middleweight champion and Liam Williams holds the British and Commonwealth light-middleweight crowns - and Enzo Maccarinelli is a former WBU and WBO cruiserweight champion, who emphatically KOed Roy Jones Jr in Russia in December.
“I say to them: ‘You will learn as much from each other as perhaps you’ll learn from me’,” said Lockett when speaking to Boxing Monthly.
“Fighters want to learn, when I was with Brian Hughes there were so many good fighters, so you’d watch each other and say: ‘Look at how he landed that body shot and uses the jab’. You constantly try to better yourself by watching good quality fighters and trying to do the things they do.
“They learn from each other and you know what, I learn from them as well. It’s a very important thing to understand, you never stop learning and don’t just learn from other trainers, you learn from your fighters, too.”
Learning requires humility, the ability to recognise and overcome mistakes; if you lack that trait it is easy to fall into hubris and stagnate.
“The day you’re not willing to admit that (you can still improve) is the day your feet have come off the ground,” Lockett told BM. “The [Jimmy] Tibbs, [Georgie] Vaughan and others in this world have forgotten more than I know. It’s good to have a little bit of humility.”
BM was catching up with the former WBU middleweight titlist for the first time since 2012; he was easing into his new profession at that point. Now he has a few more years under his belt, so I asked him if he had made, and learned from, any mistakes.
“I boxed at a very high level as an amateur and a pro, so had that experience, but I always doubt myself, which is a very good thing to have,” answered Lockett. “You can always get better.
“I probably told my fighters things years ago that I wouldn’t tell them now. I’m still a young coach. I’m always looking to learn from the trainers I look up, too. I’ve made mistakes, without mistakes there’s no way you can learn and improve.
“You can never be perfect. You can only hope to learn from mistakes you’ve made in the past. I believe in my own ability, but still have that doubt whether what you’re doing is the right thing for the right fighter.
“I used to listen to the way [Emanuel] Steward spoke to fighters. Then you’ve got other guys like Jimmy Tibbs, Adam Booth and Joe Gallagher. They’re the best around so you look at certain things they do and others you think: ‘Nah, that’s not what I’d do’. The things that make sense you try to take aspects of them onboard yourself. If you can learn from someone then why not?”
Trainers have to be all things to all their fighters: confidant, manager, taskmaster and more. You cannot adopt a “One size fits all approach” to boxers, something that Lockett recognised early on.
“I’ve got guys who are 19 with no real outgoings, so they’ve got a very clear, stress-free life. They come in, train and go home - what they do after that is their own business. Then you’ve got a 35-year-old guy with five children, one with autism, who is doing school runs, pick-ups and is busy all day. It’s the complete flipside of the coin - a stress free 19-year-old and someone older who is stressed to fuck. It’s quite a balance.
“It’s my job to have a relationship with the guys, to know what’s in their lives, as it lets me know the reason if something’s not quite right. I’ve been in that situation. I’ve got two children myself. Life’s 100 miles per hour so I’m not going to shout at someone if they’re struggling for a good reason.”
Running a gym is an exercise in management, of both time and expectations, as a trainer cannot be in two places at once. As success comes, stables grow; it becomes a balancing act between developing the younger fighters and ensuring that the established pros have the time they need to prepare for title fights.
Conversely, the established fighters may resent seeing their trainer spending time with the youngsters. One false move or a lack of judgement can create fissures between the two factions. “That’s when man management comes in,” explained Lockett.
“All the guys get one-on-one attention a few times a week. By that I mean time on the pads and teaching them things. With the likes of Enzo, Liam and Nick, they’ll get more time when title fights are coming up. The lads coming through have to understand that. I explain to them that the likes of Enzo are fighting 12 rounds, not six or four - they get it.
“Boxers can be selfish, but there’s a difference between being selfish and understanding that your trainer has to work with different types of fighters. On the other hand, why should it matter to the guys fighting for titles if I dedicate time to the fighters who aren’t quite there yet?”
He added: “Going back to what we discussed earlier about dealing with different personalities, some people need to be shouted at, some people you have to be very calm with. Some just do the work and others like the superlatives approach.
“For example, if you tell Nick he’s doing something well he’ll do it again. Be negative with him and it’s completely the opposite. You’ve got to know how to play it with different fighters.”
It’s not all just about life in the gym, either, as trainers have to a run a successful corner come fight night. Not every trainer makes for a good cornerman, and vice versa - some are better in the environs of gym than they are in the heat of the moment. BM asked Lockett what he believes makes for a good cornerman.
“One voice in the corner, keep calm and don’t bombard them with instructions. Give them 10 seconds to sit down and breathe. Let them get their thoughts together and give them two or three instructions, as they won’t be able to take in more than that.
“Give them 10 things to do and they won’t remember it all. Tell them the good things they’re doing then the things they’re not doing quite as well. Keep it clear and concise.”
For someone accused of lacking passion as a fighter, Lockett certainly has an ardent, albeit analytical, approach to his art. However, he still has a fighter’s mentality when it comes to the rigours of the sport. Maccarinelli’s fight with Roy Jones Jr led to a bit of online abuse. Lockett gave out a rocket for those who gave his charge stick.
“A prime Roy Jones is the best fighter the world’s ever seen, in my opinion,” he opined. “Guys on Twitter [were] saying it’s scandalous, someone asked Enzo if he’s ashamed to be in a fight like this. You’re not going to turn it down, are you?
“I don’t like all these haters who give fighters shit on Twitter, they don’t know how hard it is in that boxing ring, to work hard towards a fight and what you go through. If they did, they wouldn’t say the things they say.”
LOCKETT'S ROCKETS IN HIS OWN WORDS
People seem to forget that Enzo Maccarinelli was written off after the Shane McPhilbin fight (W12 after being dropped twice), they said he should never box again. Then the late, great Dean Powell asked me to work with him.
Enzo said all the right things and there wasn’t a problem in sparring, I think it was just a confidence thing. Every time he got knocked out it was against bigger men who got him bang on the chin, so people said he was chinny.
Look at the fights against Ovill McKenzie (L TKO 2 and W TKO 11 respectively), the first fight got stopped too early - it wasn’t even a proper fight because of that - then he came back and beat Ovill despite taking some massive shots. He should have got more praise for that fight.
Enzo is a throwback. He trains like a young fighter should train - he attacks the sessions. It is amazing for a man of 35; every fighter should look up to him.
Nick Blackwell is a very, very talented fighter - you’ve not seen it all yet. You can see little things coming through; he’s expressing himself a bit more. His counter-punching skills started coming out in the John Ryder fight.
His fitness is something I’ve never seen before. He never seems to get tired. I once saw him spar 16 or 17 rounds and he was ready for more, and they were tough rounds. Nick’s got talent as well as toughness. We’ll see just how good he is in the next few fights.
Liam Williams is one of the most talented lads I’ve ever worked with. He has a great jab and footwork, and he can judge the distance. Liam has really good timing, and with a bit of luck he will probably go on to become a world champion. I say that because every world champion needs that little bit of luck and the right opportunity if they are to win a world title.
With Dale Evans it has never been easy because he lives in St Clears, so it’s a long trip for him when he comes to the gym. He is a dynamite puncher. His record doesn’t suggest that because he hasn’t been as fit as he could be going into fights.
Dale is a rare breed; he doesn’t want to fight journeymen. I said he was fighting so and so, he asked about the opponent’s record and said: “Why am I fighting him?” I explained that it’s a six rounder, but he said he’d rather fight someone with a winning record.
Before he fought Sam Eggington, he asked what would come next if he won. I said we’d get him a voluntary against someone a bit down the ratings, he said: ‘Why not get me Frankie Gavin or someone like that?’ He doesn’t see the point in what he sees as easy fights, which is refreshing these days.
Super-middleweight Alex Hughes is a brilliant talent with an elusive style. He used to be a picker and poker, so we’ve got him standing his ground a bit while keeping his skills. He’s a work in progress. He’s laidback. People might see that as lazy and I give him stick for it, but he’s not doing too much wrong at the moment. He’s stopped three of his first four. We’re looking to push him forward in three or four fights time.
Zack Davies is going places. Good amateur pedigree, he was in GB Squad, and we’ll be matching him at lightweight from now on. I have high hopes for him.
I manage Former British amateur champion Jay Harris. His father is Peter Harris, a former British featherweight champion, and he trains him. It’s maybe time to push him towards a title shot in the super-flyweight division.