ERNIE DRAPER has been a fixture in British boxing for over 40 years. Working as a whip behind the scenes of Frank Warren’s boxing shows, Draper has been up close and personal with most of the big-name fighters who have fought in Britain over the last 40 years. As he prepares to retire after Warren’s September shows at Limerick and Wembley, the 75-year-old shares some stories with us. It was the kind of chat that left Boxing News wanting to hear more, and preferably over a pint or three. We’ll see you down the boozer, Ernie. The first round is on us…
Tell us what your job has entailed over the years.
I go to the venue, go the dressing rooms and make sure they’re warm. You look down the list [of bouts], work out who don’t like who – and this is just a personal thing for me – and make sure they do not share a dressing room. Then you go on from there. Make sure there’s toilet rolls in the dressing rooms, give the gloves to the trainers, and as Frank [Warren] said to me when I started all those years ago: “You make sure everything is there for them.” Also at the weigh-in I get the weights, the short colours, get a list of the music, make sure they see the doctors before and after, and make sure the appropriate medical rooms are there for the doctors.
What has been your most hectic night?
Probably Frank Bruno-Oliver McCall [at Wembley Stadium, September 1995]. Those two had the main two dressing rooms where all the football teams go, you know but the undercard fighters were right at the other end of Wembley Stadium. It was a hell of walk. When I got out of bed the next day my legs would not work. They were completely stiff. But it was also my favourite event. The atmosphere was unbelievable, it really, really was.
To add to that there was Joe Calzaghe-Mikkel Kessler which was incredible. But it was hectic as well. You had Enzo [Joe’s father and trainer] asking all sorts of questions about things. All things that I’d got in hand. When you know someone, like I know Enzo, it can get on your nerves. He’d say, “What are you doing about this and that?” I’d say, “Nothing!” Someone told me it was Joe’s dad. I said, “I know who it is, I’ve got pissed with him a couple of times!”
Who are the most difficult people you’ve worked with over the years?
Some of the foreign fighters who’ve come over and made silly demands. We might be in Manchester for the weigh-in and they’ll ask for a taxi to London. I remember when [Mike] Tyson boxed [Lou Savarese] at Hampden Park and he had a big entourage. One of them said, “We need some towels”. So I told him to go back to the hotel and get some. He was a giant of a man and he told me I should go and get them. I said, “I’m too busy… and what do you actually do with Mike Tyson?” He walked away and that was that. He was just there for the ride.
Which fighter impressed you the most?
Naseem Hamed. He was unbelievable. And Johnny Tapia, when he boxed at York Hall. Wow, what a nice man. He had time for everyone. The once he said to me, ‘Why do stars pretend they’re in a hurry when fans just want an autograph?’ That has always annoyed me as well. It really, really winds me up. A boxer – who I won’t name – said ‘They’ll only sell them.’ I said ‘So what? They’re probably skint.’ But I’m a bit old school.
What was Hamed like to deal with?
[Laughs] I think he was a bit mad. You’d go into his dressing room and it was like a nightclub. The noise was unbelievable. Once I told him to turn it up a bit [the music] as a joke because I’m trying to talk to [his trainer] Brendan [Ingle]. So he turned it up even more, smiled, and said, “How’s that?”
But all fighters were different before fights. Calzaghe would lie down with his eyes closed as if he was asleep – he was just chilling out – and people around him would creep about. And Ricky Hatton had all his friends with him.
What are your memories of Hatton?
He made his debut up in Widnes [against Colin McAuley in 1997]. His trainer Billy Graham asked me what time he’d be fighting and I said 9pm. He didn’t get on until midnight and all the time Billy – as was his right – was shouting and screaming at me. We’re good friends now.
But after seeing Ricky fight I knew he was going to be a bit special. And he was. And he still is. He exceeded all expectations and more.
What will you miss the most?
My friends. People like Robert Warren, Andy Ayling and Ralph (the floor manager). It’s been fantastic working with Frank Warren. We’ve never had a cross word over the years and he deserves a lot of credit for everything he’s achieved. It’s not as if someone came to him at the beginning with a few million [pounds] and told him to go and be a promoter. He built it all from scratch. I’d like you to say that, because he really works his arse off.