Secret coach's diary part 8: business first, sport second
In the eighth part of a candid and revealing series, an anonymous ABA coach describes his experiences, offering an invaluable insight into the highs and lows of life in and around English boxing's amateur grassroots ...
One of our pros recently boxed. Whilst I am only really an amateur coach, the gym owner and the other professional coach were kind enough to allow me to take part in much of the pre- and post-fight routine, simply to give me some experience. I’ve seen plenty of pro shows, both small hall and major arena, but travelling in the car to this fight was a whole new experience in tension and anticipation.
The pro is younger than me but, in my opinion, he is a bit special. He’s like many young pros around the country, working a labouring job through the day then training his arse off at night. I was in the gym over fight week and his intensity was startling. The combination of cutting weight, the pressure of selling tickets and the mental side of preparing for your first eight-rounder was taking a toll; he was attacking his training routines with even greater ferocity than normal, and at times had to be told to slow down and relax. Fight week, according to the gym owner, was about keeping fresh and loose, not peaking too early.
The venue reminded me of something out of a film noir, almost pitch black with just the ring lights on, except the smoke swirling in the air was from Ecigs rather than old school tobacco. Our fighter was appearing slap bang in the middle of the card, which struck me as a good time, although the pro himself didn’t seem to care less.
When we arrived he almost shut down, responding to questions in monosyllables. When it came time for his final preparations to take place, I left, taking a seat at ringside. I felt more or less like a spare part and that it was wrong for me to break the mind-set that the head coach, second and the pro were carefully trying to create.
The fight was thrilling, simply because I felt so emotionally invested in it. The pro was up against one of those journeymen you see all over the country every weekend; he was referred to as a ‘good journeyman’, which only makes sense in the crazy world of boxing.
I know the pro can hit and he landed some sickening body shots, yet the journeyman unsurprisingly took it with a nod and a focused stare. I tried to take myself out of watching the contest as a fan/friend and watch it instead as a coach, and I picked up on a few things. For starters, the novice pro was using his phased attacks well, tapping away with a few shots before exposing the body. The journeyman clearly wasn’t used to taking so many flush shots and was well beaten on the cards. I decided I’d try to pass on some observations to my students at my next session, regarding movement and shot selection.
Before then, however, was the rest of the card. It was almost all prospects against journeymen. One home fighter came out to a bombastic pyrotechnic display and aggressive rap. He stalked his way round the ring, then eyeballed and got in the face of his opponent, a Latvian with one pro win. The home fighter unsurprisingly obliterated the Latvian within a round and the one-sided bout was lapped up by his fans, whilst their hero celebrated like he’d become a unified world champ.
It struck me as odd that this was the ‘main event’, yet our fighter’s tough eight-rounder against a limited yet very game opponent was almost an afterthought. But then you look at ticket sales, and the reasoning becomes very apparent.
Boxing is a business first, sport second. It’s something I need to reconcile myself to sooner rather than later.