Outside of the ropes: Mickey Helliet on management
In the fifth of our series examining key and often unheralded figures from behind the scenes in boxing, Ezio Prapotnich talks to Mickey Helliet about the role of a manager in boxing, and his own journey in the sport ...
“Everything that God created has a purpose. The sun has a purpose. The clouds have a purpose. Rain has a purpose. Trees have a purpose. Animals have a purpose; even the smallest insects, and fish in the sea have a purpose. Regardless of how large or small, we were all born to accomplish a certain task. It is the knowledge of that purpose that enables every soul to fulfill itself. One person with knowledge of his life's purpose is more powerful than ten thousand working without that knowledge.”- Muhammad Ali.
We thought we chose boxing till we realised that boxing chose us and our exact place in it.
We all dreamed to have our hands raised and crowds chanting our names like Ali in Zaire but most of us soon found out if we were not good, tough or healthy enough to cut it in the ring. And then we got discouraged, tried to walk away and found nothing else that could replace that passion until something that we had never planned or wished for happened and made us realise how good we actually were at coaching someone else, leading them in their careers, putting shows together or that our pens were sharper and more powerful than our jabs.
It takes a special individual to become a fighter but there is a place for everybody outside of the ropes.
Let’s state it once again lest we forget: boxing is a business. Fighters fight - just like singers sing and actors act - but there is a lot of work around it and someone has to do it.
Manager Mickey Helliet explains to Boxing Monthly the purpose and requirements of his job and, if you’re a fighter, why you should give him a call...
BM: What is your background and how did you become a boxing manager?
MH: I was born in Newcastle, grew up in Hertfordshire and moved to London in my late teens. I boxed as an amateur winning the British University title for Repton and the Novices for Watford ABC at light heavyweight. I decided to turn pro when I was 23 but failed a brain scan due to hydrocephalus [water in the brain] and had to quit. I cannot explain how big the void feels when you stop boxing, given all the time, focus and energy you give it. I was sickened. If I went to a pub and there was boxing on TV, I had to walk out. Eventually, I was drawn back to it and got a training licence. I started coaching amateurs then pros. Some of those amateurs wanted to turn pro. The managers I knew were not really good so I decided to become one to look after my people but I was hesitant initially as I did not want these guys to be my learning experiences and suffer the consequences of my trials and errors. But when I saw it wasn’t working anyway, when I kept seeing them matched against someone who turned up a lot heavier or victims of disadvantageous last minute changes of opponents, I thought I couldn’t possibly do a worse job than that. I got my licence in 2003 and built the largest stable in Britain.
BM: What is your job purpose and description?
MH: To maximize the earnings of a fighter and take care of the logistics and business aspects of his career in order to allow him to focus on the training. This involves negotiating promotional deals and contracts, finding sponsorship and providing training facilities. Tickets sales are still the boxers’ responsibility but we do the best we can to help with that too. As much as possible, I try to keep fighters independent as a multi-fight deal cannot be re-negotiated as you go on while their stock value might increase.
BM: What are the requirements to be granted a manager's licence from the British Boxing Board of Control?
MH: You must have held a BBB of C licence in another category for a minimum of two years then you can apply and have an informal interview to test your knowledge of the game. Personally, I think the bar should be raised to three years and a mandatory exam implemented. Agent and matchmaker licences, for example, do not require previous boxing experience. Some people get them and just do nothing for two years so they can apply for manager. The sport itself is hard but the business side is just as brutal. People careers and lives are at risk to get messed up by people who don’t know what to do.
BM: Are you completely self-taught?
MH: Not completely. Kellie Maloney, whom I worked with at the beginning of my career, was a big influence on me early on. She had lots of knowledge and experience but I also learned from lesser known veterans of the game. Actually, to this day I am still open to absorb new ideas.
BM: Is your fighting and coaching experience an asset in managing?
MH: I don’t interfere with trainers but always give my mind. Somehow, I apply my previous experience to business decisions. I began my managing career with journeymen and equipped them with defensive skills to make them durable and more marketable opponents, sometime even having someone expected to lose win. Then I decided to turn my skills to the offensive side and started taking on guys with ambition.
BM: Is it beneficial to have a good human relationship with your fighters?
MH: Like in any job, it is more enjoyable to work with people you like but it is primarily a business relationship. You need to draw a line and set boundaries.
BM: Do you scout for fighters and by what criteria do you decide to work with someone?
MH: Normally they are directed to me. In order to take someone on, I go mostly by gut feeling unless I already have a clear idea of which way I can steer him and generate profits.
BM: What do you consider your greatest achievement as manager so far?
MH: I had some good fights and made good earnings with former British Heavyweight champion Danny Williams. It was a very satisfying relationship on all levels. We had a good time together. He is a great friend and human being.
BM: Why should a fighter reading this article decide to pick up the phone and contact you?
MH: I don’t tell people what they want hear. Some managers sugar-coat things to get boxers to sign with them, like promising they will be able to buy a house within a year. Then, if it does not happen, people get discouraged and quit. I tell my fighters straight away that it’s not an easy business and prepare them mentally for how it’s going to be. This actually takes away the anxiety and makes it easier to deal with problems when they present while false hopes and dreams demoralize when they don’t come true.