“My ambition absolutely is to be the biggest promoter in the world. To be the ginger Don King.”
It’s a surprise to hear Mickey Helliet make such a declaration. He manages a wide roster of boxers, from journeymen to prospects, and is known more as a small hall promoter. “I don’t expect it to happen overnight,” he counters. “I’m very happy for it to happen slowly but surely. Every year we get slightly bigger, we get slightly more exciting deals.”
The gym we meet in is itself a declaration of intent. Helliet sits in a glass-walled office looking out over a modern facility that has spared no expense, the recently opened Limehouse Marina Elite. From an array of different punchbags and training tools on the main floor, there is more high tech equipment still. The boxing ring is even contained within an altitude chamber, plus there’s a screen to instantly play back a recorded training session.
Foreign boxers visiting the UK can arrange to use it and Helliet’s fighters will be able to train there free of charge, if they agree to wear his branding. “It’s about giving the guys the very best conditions that we can for them to train,” Mickey said. “From the point of view of a boxing trainer or boxing manager you want to give your guys every single advantage you can.”
Alongside the boxing facility is an expensive health club for the public. (The door between them is locked with a fingerprint scanner.) But Helliet plans to bring an amateur club into the boxing gym so it won’t only be the preserve of professionals. “We will have different projects that we’ve got in the pipeline. We will have an amateur club. We’re going to have open days for kids that maybe have a vague interest in boxing. They might not want to do it competitively but they might like the idea of learning about it,” Mickey explained. “Through boxing, whether you like it or not, you learn the values of hard work, of dedicating yourself to achieving a goal and not stopping working until you’ve achieved it. And then realizing, ‘Actually I can achieve higher than what I ever thought I could. I can become something.’ That then I think spreads into other areas of your life.
“The amount of kids I’ve seen transformed through the confidence it gives them. If they stop boxing later, they might take the confidence with them and the belief in themselves that they can do things that they didn’t think they could in the beginning. That’s invaluable. That’s why the BBC absolutely should back boxing. It should be in their constitution that they back boxing because the benefit it has to society at large is enormous.”
Helliet trained amateurs, after his own boxing career ended, before moving into management himself. He took a dim of view of what he was seeing. “It’s impossible to get a Premiership side that’s managed by someone that knows absolutely nothing about football, whose knowledge of football is below basic. In boxing it’s not only possible but it happens all the time,” Helliet said. “If someone’s telling you, ‘I’m going to make sure you are rich and you are famous,’ whether they can deliver or not it doesn’t matter, if they’re selling that dream to them, that’s half the job done. Then you see the boxer either stagnating in his career or go backwards or miss out on opportunities that should have been there for him or not be developed. That’s a big thing for me, developing fighters.
“I don’t want to over-protect them to the point where they don’t progress but at the same time I believe in giving them time to learn and develop rather than taking the risk too early and stunting their development. A guy gets beat in his second or third fight, he’s not going to grow into that fighter you want him to become.”
But Helliet has to admit he made mistakes himself. “The first guys I signed up I messed their careers up. We should have taken a different path and we didn’t, partly due to my inexperience. I have to take that. I’m quite open to them about it,” he said. “I always did what I felt was right at the time. When I first started off I had a boxer’s mentality to it. A boxer’s mentality has to be fearless, it has to be meeting things head on.
“As a manager that’s what had to change. Because it’s a business it had to be thought out in a business-like way. You’ve got to develop fighters in a way that’s going to bring them on.”
His next step was to move into promoting. “I’ve got more boxers than anybody else. I’ve got opponents, I’ve got journeymen, I’ve got novices, I’ve got everything. Then I thought by promoting my own shows I can control more aspects of what happens. It’s a lot easier for me to control what weight the guy is [to prevent fighters coming in too heavy]. Boxing to me, it still does to a degree, it seemed like the wild west. Everyone did what they wanted. If they didn’t stick to their word, that was almost part of it. You just had to deal with it. I had to structure things and organise them in a way that favoured me in every circumstance that I could and the only way I could do that was to promote my own shows.”
The risk however that follows from that is if his role as manager comes into conflict with his position as promoter. “I really hope I stick to what I was at the beginning and what I’ve always wanted is to develop boxers, to bring boxers through, to give them the best opportunity that they can have to achieve the highest level that they can,” he said. “I hope that I don’t ever fall into the position where I choose what’s right for the promotion ahead of what’s right for fighters that we’re bringing through.”
As for his ambition, to grow his promotional stable, he insists he’ll keep calm and carry on. That’s a lesson from his own days as a boxer. “I actually remember being in the corner, it was all quite grey, almost like fog. It started clearing. Then I’d get hit again and the fog would come back again,” he recalled. “I was thinking this is what it’s like when you get knocked out. Just as I was getting to the point where this is not good, I caught him with one shot. After that, in life, I just thought always it doesn’t matter how bad it is, panicking doesn’t help you. I’ve taken that into so many situations. Panicking doesn’t help you.
“You’ve just got to stay calm and stick to what you think is right and persevere and work and make it happen for you.”
Whether he can fight his way through the murky world of the boxing business, we’ll have to wait and see.