Outside of the ropes: Jamie Sheldon on hand-wrapping
Photo of Jamie Sheldon and Tony Bellew (below left) by Mark Robinson
In the first of a new series examining key and often unheralded figures from behind the scenes in boxing, Ezio Prapotnich talks to hand-wrapper and cut-man Jamie Sheldon about his art, working with Tony Bellew and much more!
All the eyes are on the two men in the ring but, as Muhammad Ali once said: “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses - behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”
Well, sometimes fights are won or lost in the changing room too.
According to the great Emmanuel Steward, Tommy Hearns broke his hand in his legendary fight with Marvin Hagler because he was not able to finish wrapping the 'Hitman's hands as he had to sedate a fight between Tommy’s brother and security. Furthermore, the fact that Gerald McClellan had to wrap his own hands was seen as an ominous sign by Benn’s camp before their tragic bout.
Working behind the scenes, there are many men whose contribution to the fight game might be obscure to the casual fans but is essential for the boxers themselves.
One such men is self taught hand-wrapper/ cut-man Jamie Sheldon who explained to Boxing Monthly some of the tricks and magic of his art...
BM: What is your background and, most importantly, how did you end up becoming a cut-man/hand-wrapper?
JS: I was born in a little town named Rotherham in south Yorkshire. I had a normal childhood, did ok in school but was not too bothered about it. I liked my sports and stuff like that. There is no particular reason why I ended up doing what I do, it just happened. My grandmother used to be a cleaner in a gym where pro boxers trained and introduced me to them, so I started watching boxing and the seed was planted. The late 80s/early 90s were great years for British boxing and I got the bug. As I got older, some friends became amateurs and then pro, others were Thai boxers, and then MMA got into play. I was into any form of combat sports training first then working. Actually it was MMA that did it, as in boxing the trainer usually wraps his fighter’s hands, while in Mixed Martial Arts it is a specific role covered by one person, who might also be the cut-man. Not many people were doing it at the time. I fell into that role and it absolutely snowballed from there.
BM: Who did you learn from?
JS: Nobody, it was trial and error. These days you have courses and there is also a lot of didactical material on the internet - back then we had nothing. And I think that learning purely from experience did me good to be honest. That’s how I made a reputation for myself and it led me where I am today.
BM: Is it necessary or at least helpful to have a fighting background in order to do what you do?
JS: It’s not mandatory, but… Courses give a technical insight of the job and that’s great, but having been backstage, having been around fighters and seeing how they act and react is a totally different type of learning than sitting in a classroom. When you wrap a kid during a course he is relaxed. Take that same kid on fight night, may be fighting for a title with his career on the line, and he might be scared, nervous, shaking and unable to stay still. There is a psychological element that plays an important part in the job: a fighter needs to trust you. I don’t do hand-wrapping unless I have a good human relationship with the fighter in the first place. I would suggest to anybody taking a course to spend some time shadowing an experienced wrapper and just observe what he does.
BM: Can you explain the purpose of hand-wrapping in boxing. Is it just for safety or can it actually impact performance?
JS: The way you wrap his hands is not going to make a fighter hit harder, if that’s what you mean. Again, there is a psychological factor: if a fighter knows his hands are safe and feels secure he can throw his punches, all he needs to focus on is his game plan. If he feels it’s a terrible hand-wrap, it’s going to be in the back of his mind and might affect the performance.
BM: Are there differences in the wrappings between amateurs and pros?
JS: There used to be due to amateurs wearing headguards and having different rules, but the game is evolving now with the World Series. Also, the number of amateurs moving to the pros already sporting hand injuries is scary. More and more tournaments are implementing the pro hand-wrapping, and this can only be beneficial if the people doing it have pro experience. We’re not there yet but we are moving in that direction, which is good.
BM: What are the tools required for the job?
JS: Bandage, tape and scissors. Personally, I carry a towel to put on the back of the fighter’s chair. There are two sets of scissors: the razor-blade type used to remove the bandage, which can cut through thick pieces, and a smaller type with curved blades, the Metzenbaum [scissors], normally part of medical equipment, which is used for finer cuts when doing wrapping.
BM: Describe your routine on fight night. Is it a standard procedure that gets repeated or is it different according to the specific fighter you are working with?
JS: It depends with whom and, most importantly, where I am working. If we’re fighting away and staying in a hotel, I usually travel to the venue with the fighter, but as much as possible I try to get there early, study my way around and examine the changing room. I like to be there before everybody else and the first thing I do is to rearrange the furniture, putting everything against the walls to create a spacious environment for the boxer. Then I create my own station. We need to meet the Board's officials if it’s a championship fight as I need to be inspected while I wrap and a time must be agreed in advance. Once my job is done, I stay away from coach and fighter as they might need time on their own. Also because I become a nightmare when I have nothing to do. I ask if there is any running around to be done, anything they need me to get them. I will try to keep busy as they pay me and I don’t like to sit around. Worst case scenario, I will just go to watch the other fights until it’s time for the entrance. Then we put the gloves on and off we go.
BM: Who is the biggest name you have worked with and what can you tell us about him or her?
JS: Tony Bellew. There are a million and one things I could say about Tony but I won’t, even if they’re all good. He gets and gives a lot of stick, but if people could see the real him their opinion would change because he really is a nice, genuine and fun bloke. I started with him when he won the European title and he is still the same person today. The only time I saw him nervous was when he fought for the WBC Cruiserweight title, otherwise he is very easy to work with.
BM: If you could pick up a champion from any era to work with, who would it be and why?
JS: Mike Tyson, without a doubt. He was an absolute animal. I grew up during the 80s while he was at his best. I would have liked to keep him on the straight and narrow, advise him and see what he could have become if he did not listen to the wrong people and realized his full potential.
BM: Are there within your field any other hand-wrappers whose work has been influential on the profession overall and/or on the way you work specifically?
JS: I like to watch all other hand-wrappers, whether they just started or have been doing it for years because you can learn something from everybody. When you think there is nothing more to learn it’s actually when you should better be packing. But if I have to name someone, then it would be Bob Plant. I named him 'uncle Bob' because whenever I am not sure about something I just phone him and it is guaranteed he will pick up the phone and answer the question at any time of day or night. He is the person I respect the most in this industry by far.
BM: Is there anything else you would like to add or share?
JS: I’d like to thank Empire Protape, with whom I have been working for a couple of years now. We have even more things in the pipeline so watch this space. Also, I want to thank LOVE HEMP/CBD OIL UK products, for whom I am an ambassador and look after me.
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