YOU would struggle to find an area of boxing Dave Coldwell has not been involved in. Whether it be in a large or small capacity, the cheery Sheffield man has experience in almost every level of the sport. He has been a fighter, both amateur and professional, a cornerman, manager, promoter and head trainer.
The latter role is arguably the one he has most experience in, having started training youngsters and amateurs in 1996 alongside his own development as a professional fighter. Honing his skills at Brendan Ingle’s famed Wincobank gym, Coldwell committed to training professional fighters following his retirement as one in the year 2000.
Since, he has helped develop the likes of George Groves, David Haye, Kell Brook and Ryan Rhodes into champions. In recent years he moved into management and promotion, setting up Coldwell Boxing alongside businessman and friend Spencer Fearn, a venture which saw his workload rapidly increase and, as such, led to his decision to stop coaching fighters full-time.
“I was managing and training so many fighters, and I didn’t get in ‘til late at night, especially when my son [Theo] was born, and I wasn’t seeing him,” he told Boxing News from his gym in Rotherham.
“For me, it’s really tough because I’m really family-orientated. I missed tucking my kids into bed and things like that.”
In order to enjoy more time with his wife, Louise, daughter Brooke, 11, and Theo, now five, Coldwell stuck predominantly to managing and promoting after Rhodes retired in 2012. Two years later however an old friend gave him a call and lured him back into the corner.
“I blame Tony Bellew,” he deadpanned.
Coldwell had no intention of returning to full-time training until Bellew invited him to his home in Liverpool after being stopped in six rounds by WBC light-heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson.
“He asked me to have a chat, I went to his house, sat in his kitchen. We spoke and he asked me if I’d train him. I said, ‘Yes.’
“I know what he’s like, so I love working with him. He is the most driven, dedicated fighter I’ve ever worked with. He always wants to improve.
“I like that, because he wants to be perfect. I don’t think you can ever be perfect, but if you chase perfection, you’ll get the best out of yourself. We’re very similar in that respect.”
Coldwell claims his unrelenting desire for progression comes from life experience.
“I suppose it goes back to being told I would never do anything when I was a kid,” he opined.
“I had that all the time as a kid, ‘You’ll never do this, you’ll never do that’ and when I started boxing, ‘What’s he boxing for? He’ll only last two minutes’ and then as a trainer, ‘What does he know? Who’s he gonna train?’
“I’ve always had people telling me I can’t do it, and I like that, don’t get me wrong, I would hate it if everybody were patting me on the back and telling me I’m doing well, that doesn’t interest me.”
The collaboration with Bellew was vindicated when Tony achieved a lifelong dream and lifted the WBC world cruiserweight title on Sunday night, having just wrecked Ilunga Makabu in three rounds.
That ‘The Bomber’s’ career best performance came in front of a vociferous home crowd at Goodison Park, stronghold of his beloved Everton FC, made the win that bit more special.
“When he did end it, I just felt like a lunatic. When things go wrong in a fight, I’m quite calm. But when they win like Tony, I just lose my s***. I’m quite an emotional person and Tony, first and foremost, is my mate. I know what it means to him,” Coldwell continued.
“You can’t manufacture it, you can’t put a lid on it. It’s either there or it isn’t, if it’s just business you act a different way, if it’s personal you can’t control how you act. You should never bottle passion – how many moments in life like that are you gonna get? It’s without doubt the best thing I’ve ever experienced.”
The night didn’t go completely to plan, however, and Coldwell had to draw on the side of boxing training most eyes don’t see. A few hours before he was set to walk to the ring, 6’ 3’’, 199lb Tony Bellew was in tears deep in the bowels of Goodison. He had wandered outside to get a taste of the atmosphere, and locked eyes with his 11-year-old son Corey.
“His attitude and demeanour all day was fantastic, everything was good, relaxed. Then he went out at about 7pm, he came back in the changing room, and he was just right down,” Coldwell recalled.
“I asked him what was wrong and he told me, ‘I’ve just seen me son.’ He just shook his head, and his face was red. I thought, ‘f***ing hell.’
“I went over to him, put my hand on his back and told him not to worry and to get his head back into it. I looked down and saw drops of water hitting the floor, it was his tears. He got really emotional, I know he’s emotional but I’ve never seen him like that, crying like that. I’ll be honest, I was worried.”
In cases like Coldwell and Bellew, the trainer-fighter bond goes way beyond a financial agreement and a shared desire to succeed. They care about each other, and in that moment Coldwell knew he had to calm the storm of emotion swelling inside his friend.
“We spoke to him, we got his head back on it really. Credit to him, he switched on. It was like that for a while and I almost had someone take Corey out the arena, but then I said to him that he can use it, if it gets hard then I could say to him ‘your boy’s watching’ and he could dig in.
“He did adapt to it, he got over it. In hindsight, having his little boy in the ring after the fight just added to the occasion – I’m so glad we didn’t kick him out!”
Last year, Coldwell got a phone call from one of the fighters he manages, WBA ‘world’ bantamweight champion Jamie McDonnell, who needed Dave to step in as head trainer for his title defence against the formidable Tomoki Kameda in Texas.
Coldwell agreed, and Jamie won a thrilling contest. Once they returned to England, Coldwell by chance ended up training Jamie’s twin brother, Gavin.
“Jamie then started coming along with Gavin and to this day he hasn’t actually asked me to be his trainer! He just kept coming to the gym,” he noted.
After a while Coldwell and McDonnell sat down and ironed out the details, and before he knew it, Dave was once again a full-time trainer – he has since added returning heavyweight David Price to his impressive stable.
Coldwell’s work with Price again displays that his role as trainer, like so many of the UK’s brilliant taskmasters, is not just limited to whipping his charges into fighting condition. Price’s three pro defeats were all upset stoppage losses, and they came to two drug cheats in Tony Thompson and Erkan Teper.
The towering Liverpudlian has given candid interviews about the demons he’s struggled with following those losses, and Coldwell has played his part in helping Price return to the ring. He did that on the undercard of Bellew’s dream win, blitzing an overmatched import in two. It was an important step on the road back.
“It’s been a process since he’s been with me, not just physical but mental,” Dave said.
“I put it across to him that it’s perfectly normal for a human to have negative thoughts, but you have to reason with yourself so that the negative thoughts don’t take over. It’s perfectly reasonable to think, ‘f***, I might get chinned here.’ But you have to remember it’s boxing, and you have to know how to handle those thoughts. If you don’t acknowledge faults, you can’t deal with them.”
Now leading the corner of four high-profile and talented boxers, Coldwell is revelling in his position. Sunday night was special for him in many ways, particularly as further encouragement of his choice to focus on coaching.
“I only came back to training fighters because of Tony. I wouldn’t have Jamie and Gavin and Pricey if Tony had never asked me to train him.
“Also, I never would have done it if he wasn’t my friend. I was happy managing fighters, I was happy not analysing opponents, sparring sessions. Now I’m getting blasted by giants like Tony and Pricey on the pads, it’s all Bellew’s fault. The point was always to come back to training with Bellew and win a world title, but then came the twins and Pricey. Him winning the world title, it makes everything seem right.”
Rather than a packed training schedule, he has plenty of time to focus on his four fighters and still enjoy time with his family. Sitting in the Coldwell Boxing gym he opened four years ago, a content smile was fixed on his lips as he discussed falling back in love with training.
“Now I’m back in it, I’m in a position where I’m choosing who I train. I haven’t got a gym full of fighters where I need the numbers to make it worthwhile,” he mused.
“I’m fortunate enough to be working with a couple of good fighters at a high level so then it makes it worthwhile doing, and I can get home in time to see the kids in the evening and that, for me, is really important.”
However, the new regime is not without its sacrifices. When he travelled with McDonnell to Texas in May, Coldwell had to cancel a holiday to Marbella he had booked with his wife.
Coldwell missed out on a family holiday in Ibiza to celebrate his father-in-law’s 60th birthday while preparing for Jamie’s rematch with Kameda in September. They may not sound like the biggest of losses, but Dave cherishes every moment with his loved ones and was visibly pained to miss out on those trips.
However, the friendship he enjoys with his fighters makes the hours spent in the sweltering gym fly by.
“Because of the people I’m working with, I’m enjoying training more than I ever did before,” the 40-year-old said.
“To train people, I have to like them. I have to care, I have to give a s***. A lot of trainers are just mercenaries, I can’t be like that. When you’re working with somebody, you know them deep and you know how much they want to win and how much pressure they’re under.
“When you’re dealing with fighters day in, day out, getting them ready for these sort of fights, you have to have an emotional connection with them.”
When probed on how that relationship compares with the manager/promoter-fighter dynamic, Coldwell needed no time to consider his response.
“The boxer-trainer bond is the closest one, without a shadow of a doubt. Management, it still means a lot to me. The fighters I manage, I’m still guiding their careers. I feel a lot of pressure with them.
“The promotional relationship, that’s difficult. That’s the job I enjoy the least because of all the pressure financially. There are fighters I’ve lost because I didn’t have a TV deal. Promoting-wise, I’ve not lost heart, but I feel like I’m banging my head against a wall.”
When he reflected on his career as a boxer, he was refreshingly honest. He retired with a record of 6-13 (2) and holds no illusions over his four-year run in the paid ranks.
“I won f*** all as a fighter, I won a [Central] Area [flyweight] title [in 1998] and my claim to fame is having a tear up for 12 rounds in Spain with a kid [Jose Antonio Lopez Bueno – l pts 12] that went on to win a world title,” he states.
“I’m not proud of my boxing career, but I’m proud that I was a kid that was terrified every time I walked to the ring, but still went and did it, and I’ve managed to go from there and turn out champions, and have a career and a life in a sport I’ve got no business being in.”
That last comment seems a little too self-deprecating for a man who served his apprenticeship under Ingle and has learnt countless lessons from trainers like Jimmy Tibbs, Kerry Kayes and Adam Booth. Coldwell heaps praise on all three, and whenever discussing his own successes – he cites winning the British light-welter title with Curtis Woodhouse in 2014, and Ryan Rhodes’ 2009 win over Jamie Moore as two other standout moments – he is always quick to credit those around him.
He confessed his main drawback as a trainer is not enjoying the moment enough, and only appreciating things upon reflection, for example his stint as Head of Boxing at Hayemaker [Booth and Haye’s promotional outfit] – “Flipping ‘eck, I dealt with Wladimir Klitschko.”
Bellew’s world title win seems to be the exception to that – Coldwell hasn’t stopped smiling since Bellew uncorked that fight-ending, career-defining left hook in the third, and he confessed he won’t come down from Cloud Nine for weeks.
So what of his career as a whole? Surely there’s some sort of milestone he can revel in if he reaches it?
“My big ambition in life is to be old enough to see my grandkids and just be around,” he revealed.
“I’ll never retire from boxing, I love it too much, it’s the only thing I want to do. When I’m old I want to be able to look back and say, ‘Yeah, I’m happy with what I did.’”
For now though, he has a job to do – and he wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.