Diamonds in the Dirt: The Rise of Black Flash Promotions
It is 16 months since I sat with Chris Maylett at a boxing event and discussed what exactly we would like to see at a small hall show. We grimaced as the deafening ‘crunk’ that nowadays passes for hip hop blared between rounds and Maylett described what he and his partner in the new Black Flash Promotions - former British and European light welterweight champion Pat Barrett - had planned.
Things have gone well and, on Friday night, Black Flash hold their fifth show. Promotional activities for the evening kicked off in slightly unusual fashion. Twelve hours after the Manchester Arena kicked out the stragglers and shut its doors on Scott Quigg and Anthony Crolla’s world title fights, I found myself stood in the lobby of the Tesco superstore in Middleton, North Manchester, where Maylett had arranged an open workout featuring the fighters from the Collyhurst and Moston Gym which acts as the Black Flash headquarters.
Once the stand housing the panic station birthday and anniversary flowers had been moved to one side and a small ring fashioned, the repetitive drone of “unexpected item in the bagging area” was temporarily drowned out by the whipping of skipping ropes and the crack of well-timed pad work. No other sport provides as many surreal situations as the world of professional boxing but the sight of Barrett going through a body bag routine with a Cameroonian cruiserweight just yards from the bags of charcoal and easy light fire starters will stay with me for a long time.
Hungover teens resisted the call of Rustler microwave burgers and cans of coke for a few extra minutes to stand and watch. Retired Saturday night hardmen - who built their reputations in long gone pubs like The Nowster but are now resigned to picking up bits for the Sunday roast - stopped to turn back time and clumsily shadow box with their kids. Pensioners momentarily stopped complaining about the foyer being too busy to catch a glimpse of Michael Gomez Jnr skipping. Hundreds of people passed by and every single one of them will have left the supermarket with the name Black Flash Promotions tucked away with their groceries.
Barrett is carrying at least 25lbs of solid muscle more than he did in his fighting prime and the no nonsense trainer [An important distinction. Don’t ever call Pat a promoter] cuts an imposing figure until you actually speak to him. ‘The Black Flash’ himself is all business and knows that coming out of your comfort zone plays an important part in attracting fans.
“We’re a new promotion doing new things with new kids so why not try everything?” Barrett told BM. “One day I’ll probably laugh about this with the lads because every single one of these is a potential champion, be it British, European or world. It’s not about me. I’ll put my own pride and ego to one side and concentrate on what I’ve got coming through.
“This is what you call building lads up. You can’t say no to anything and you have to try everything because if it doesn’t work, you can at least say you’ve tried it. That’s how you go through life. By gathering experiences. Once you make mistakes and blunders, you can say you did it the wrong way. The biggest thing with me is that my whole life has been a mistake. My whole career and everything. I’m not young but I’m not old and when I talk to these young fighters they listen to me. They know I’ve experienced every side of life. The positive side, the dark side, the bright side and the dull side. Whatever side of life you can think of, I’ve seen it. I’ve achieved things and lost things. When I say ‘Don’t do it this way,’ they listen. I’ve definitely got the words of wisdom for them.
“The thing about me and Chris and Black Flash Promotions is that we’re not scared to try different things. If somebody puts something in front of me, I’ll say lets do it. Fortunately, we’ve got good lads. We’ve got Blaze Mendouo who’s a Commonwealth Games bronze medallist. He was a super-heavyweight and I’ve got him down to cruiserweight. I’ve got young Michael Gomez Jnr who’s another hot prospect who career hasn’t taken off. It’ll take off with me. I’ve got Zelfa Barrett who’s very talented and skilful. I’ve got Sean Ben Mulligan who’s a good prospect and Matthew Ryan, the first one to turn professional with us. In the next year or two, he’ll fight for the British title.
“The idea for me is to build them up. Get them the experience and let them learn the game. I wanna teach them to think in the ring so that when we reach the top we don’t have anything to fear. We’ll win titles and move on to the next one. I honestly believe that with these guys [that] whatever opportunity comes along, I’ll take. I know that they’re already beyond average. I like how things are going. I’m happy with it.”
The Tesco training session is typical of the unique way Black Flash have approached the business. Fight week begins with a press conference at the Grosvenor Casino and the shows are streamed live across the internet. A big screen displays the footage in the arena and Boxing Monthly’s own Terry Dooley conducts live interviews after each fight. At the last show, guests were entertained by singers and a strangely erotic - intentionally or not - burlesque performer. There is a big time feel to this particular small hall outfit.
Unbeaten super-featherweight, Zelfa Barrett has been a mainstay of the shows and has shown enough star quality to suggest that he may be destined for big things. ‘The Brown Flash’ should prove to be far more than a pale imitation of his Uncle Pat and the 22-year-old was one of Anthony Crolla’s main sparring partners for his world title fight with Darleys Perez. A BoxNation film crew recently stopped by to interview the fighters at the Collyhurst and Moston gym and Zelfa feels that things could be about to take off. In a few years, Manchester residents may open the newspapers and recognise that face they once saw hitting pads that Sunday lunchtime they called by
“It’s all part of the sport,” Zelfa said when asked how it felt in Tesco. “Chris [Maylett] is the man. He’s the man behind the gloves. He’s really good at what he does.
“Sparring with the likes of Crolla, Tyrone Nurse, Josh Warrington and Gary Sykes really puts me right on what level I’m at right now and lets me know how far I can go. There’s a massive difference in sparring the likes of Crolla to other people. He's very clever in what he does so when I’m sparring others - I wouldn’t say it’s easy - but I’m more open-minded in what I do. It’s brought me on as a fighter sparring what are supposed to be better opposition.
“All I do is concentrate on me. When I’m sparring them, it’s not just about them, it’s about me as well. When I’m in the ring I’m executing things I need to do. Don’t get me wrong, I’m helping them but I’m helping myself too. I’m not a sparring partner. I’m a prospect and I wanna be great.
“I just wanna get as much experience as I can. You can’t buy experience. I wanna get into six rounds, eight rounds and ten so that when I come to big fights, I can deal with it and won’t be getting put into waters that I don’t know how to swim in. I wanna be put in predicaments that I know I’ve already been put in in sparring. I’ve been doing eight rounds with Crolla and I’ve never done eight rounds before. Now I know how to deal with that.
“It’s like I woke up one morning and everything just clicked. Diamonds in the dirt, man. You can’t hide talent, it’s gonna show. We’re doing it the hard way but no matter what, we’re gonna shine through.”
If somebody had told me I’d have left Tesco with words of wisdom and a new set of diamond analogies I would have assumed I’d had a momentary brainstorm and picked up the “Teach Yourself Philosophy” book from the three for £10 section but no. Black Flash Promotions may be all about self-help but, for them, actions speak louder than words.