Skeete vindicates Powell belief
When Bradley Skeete enters the ring, the memory of former manager Dean Powell is never far behind. Powell tragically took his own life in September 2013, but had always fervently championed the cause of the popular welterweight who he believed was destined for a greater role than an undercard ticket seller.
“Dean and I had a great relationship. We just clicked,” Skeete told Boxing Monthly as we sat on the ring apron at the iBox Gym in Bromley. “Dean spoke highly of me to everyone. I miss him badly. It’s hurtful. When I’m in the ring – it’s weird to say – but I know he’s there with me. The fight after he died, I was in the changing room and it just didn’t feel right. I remembered the little things he used to do, like five minutes before I was ready to fight put one of my t-shirts on. Just walking to the ring didn’t feel right. I had a good chat with my mum saying how I felt and she said, ‘Dean wouldn’t want you to feel like that’.
“A day or two before he died, Dean rang me. He knew what he was going to do,” Skeete, 20-1 (9 KOs), told BM. “But he kept on talking about his plan for me. He wanted me to fight Frankie Gavin a year before I eventually took the fight. Dean was adamant I would beat him. He respected my decision not to take the fight – I thought I had a lot more learning to do. I didn’t think anything of it. I just thought it was a phone call. Then I got the news about what happened and it threw me. It’s hard. I still speak to [Powell’s partner] Lisa and sort her out [financially].
“Obviously, Dean was my manager so I’d give him a percentage of my purse,” elaborated Skeete. “I just think it’s the right thing to do. Give Lisa a bit of money. I know money is not everything and it’s never going to bring him back. It’s just my way of helping him out. I keep doing the best I can and hopefully he’s watching down and seeing it.”
Recent performances have suggested that Powell’s belief in the rangy Skeete was more than justified. The 6ft 1ins welterweight has scored five stoppages in his last six fights and found a sudden pop in his punches as he has moved up in class. Skeete also pushed former world amateur champion Frankie Gavin to the wire in a British and Commonwealth title bid last November before losing narrowly on the scorecards.
“I got a lot of stick on social media before the Gavin fight. Afterwards, I got so much respect. A few even wrote and said sorry!” smiled the affable Skeete, who grew up on an estate in Battersea before moving to Penge in Kent with his close-knit family. “Everything seems like it’s coming together now. I’m more mature and growing into the weight. I know that probably sounds mad because I’m big for the weight. Gavin Lander is my strength and conditioner and he’s done wonders. When I started training with Gav, he said, ‘You’ve got the strength there. You just need to work on a few bits and pieces’. Every fight since, I’ve been hurting people and getting them out of there, bar the Gavin fight. And, I’m sure if you look at his face afterwards, my shots were the telling punches. So I was doing some damage.”
The Penge fighter appeared en route to an upset victory after nine rounds, but the more experienced Gavin rallied late to eke out a close decision. “I knew it was close. I thought I was doing enough, landing with the cleaner shots,” recalled Skeete. “There wasn’t a lot in it. He wasn’t doing much. He was pressing, but he wasn’t really throwing. I was going back and he was going forward. The closer rounds definitely went to the champion.
“No-one really gave me chance. Everyone was saying how he was world level and I shouldn’t be in the same ring. Even he was putting me down. I shut them all up as I had a great first round. Gavin was even shocked himself at how well I started. I believe if you put me in at that level, I will rise to it and beyond.
“It’s experience as well,” continued Skeete. “Gavin had boxed at a much higher level than me. He knew how to fiddle his way around and catch the judges’ eyes. He picked it up when he had to, but I took things from that fight.”
Even in a sport littered with gentlemen, mention Skeete’s name and boxing people’s first reaction is to reference his goodhearted reputation. Could he be ‘too nice’ to succeed in the hardest game.
“A lot of people say that!” said Skeete. “I’m just me. I love boxing, but I’ve been brought up well. But that spitefulness is there. A few years ago I would have gone 10 rounds with [Brunet] Zamora [WRTD6] and be happy to pick and poke. But I realize now that this is a business and, to get to that next level, I’ve got to close the show. The skills are there and the power is coming on.”
Skeete has a major advantage over most welterweights, a freakish 75 inch reach which enables him to demoralize opponents from range. “My jab just breaks people down. I land a jab and I can see their face, it deflates them,” Skeete told BM. “It’s powerful. The jab is my key. With the cagey opponents, I break them down with the jab. When fighters start coming at me and engage, you will see me getting them out of there a lot quicker.”
The 27-year-old stylist is noted as a prodigious ticket seller – how does he explain his popularity in Kent and South London? “I’ve just been lucky from the start. I’ve had such loyal support and it keeps growing all the time,” said Skeete, who still lives at the family home and has a 5-year-old daughter Alyssia from a previous relationship. “I can’t thank the people enough for coming out to spend their hard-earned money. It’s not a cheap night out when you go to boxing. It’s not just the ticket, it’s travel, food. Some people come down and get hotels. It’s hard for people who are working and have got families. Juggling things around just to support me. It’s so nice when I walk out and see everyone cheering and shouting my name.”
Skeete is one of the driving forces of promoter Frank Warren’s stable but their association goes back further than the Kent man’s pro career. “I grew up watching Prince Naseem [Hamed]. I loved him,” confessed Skeete, who started boxing at Earlsfield ABC, aged seven. “I had scrapbooks, used to cut out things and watch his fights. When he boxed Tom Johnson, I went to the press conference, weigh-in and the fight and met Frank Warren. I was 9 years old and remember pulling at Frank and saying, ‘I will go pro one day and hopefully be a world champion’. And he said, ‘All right, son!’ We laugh about it now. But boxing was all I knew.
“Frank believes I can reach the top,” continued Skeete, who is trained by Alan Smith, assisted by Fitzroy Lodge alumni Eddie Lam. “I would love to win the British title. The dream is to win it outright and clear up domestically. But, after my last fight, Frank was saying he wanted to move me on to bigger and better things. I’m looking forward and not behind.
“Any boxer would say they want to be a world champion. I’ve only known boxing. I didn’t do well at school. I left early. I go to bed at night and dream about winning the world title. I boxed for the British title and was unlucky not to get the decision. Stick me in with anyone and I’ll be coming away with that belt. If I keep working hard and being dedicated, with a little bit of luck, I think I can get there.”