THIS year the gym was involved in 36 fights and we lost only six. It’s too easy to only focus on the losses, to keep the glass half empty. But look at the fights we lost. Liam Smith fighting Canelo Alvarez in Dallas, in front of 52,000 people was unforgettable. Six months before that he was fighting Jimmy Kelly. Did anyone make Smith the favourite? Was he expected to win? No, he wasn’t. Then we had Anthony Crolla-Jorge Linares. Twelve or 18 months ago, Crolla wasn’t in that position. He fought in a huge fight, and he’s got the rematch. Stephen Smith lost to Jose Pedraza in America and was then involved in one of the fights of the year against Jason Sosa. The lads haven’t disgraced themselves. Alright, we didn’t win them all, but we made progress.
The best fights were Hosea Burton winning the British light-heavyweight title, Callum Johnson winning the Commonwealth title and Crolla beating Ismael Barroso – a lot of people feared for Crolla in that fight. The gameplan was perfect, and we didn’t get the credit we deserved for that. People are quick to point out when we get it wrong, but not so quick to praise.
People criticise, of course. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but it’s a tough sport and there’s no bums in boxing. It takes a brave man to put his life on the line and get between those ropes. They run the risk of being knocked out, being publicly humiliated. People say I’m prolific on social media, but all I’m ever trying to do is promote my fighters and get their profile raised. Sometimes I can be a bit outspoken but I feel there’s a lot of plus points from the year. And put it into perspective: Who did my fighters lose to? Scott Quigg lost to Carl Frampton, who has since had a great win over Leo Santa Cruz and could be Fighter of the Year. Crolla – who beat Barroso this year don’t forget – lost to Linares who is a three-weight world champion. Smith lost to Canelo. Come on, these are top quality fighters. They’ve all acquitted themselves this year, and they’ve all got hunger in their belly for 2017.
But I admit both Scott and I struggled a bit after the loss to Frampton. It was hard. I think as a coach you have to go through those occasions, those pay-per-view events and situations. Afterwards, there was opinions on social media, on forums, and I always tell my fighters not to read stuff like that. But we’re all human, sometimes you can’t help it. You have to take the good and the bad, the praise and the criticism, and you have to put your hands up and say we lost to the better man on the night. But to see people like Johnny Nelson say on Sky Sports that Frampton dominated? Come on. That’s absolute rubbish. Quigg had his moments down the straight, and I’m not going to make excuses. Frampton won the fight on a split decision, it wasn’t the clear win that people make out. Now we need to get some wins, get that momentum, and try and get that fight again. We can’t call for it now, we accept it didn’t go our way and we need to rebuild. If the fight happens again, it will be another great event, we’ll shake hands and we’ll come to fight.
It was mixed emotions that night, because Burton won the British title on the undercard. That was one of the best moments of the year, he’d worked so hard to get there, and and the joy on the kid’s face when he won, the tears. It meant so much to him.
But when Burton lost the title in Manchester to Frank Buglioni, that was a low. At the end of the 10th round I thought he was in control, he’d got his second wind. I told him it was his fight to lose. And then a knockdown was scored against him in the 11th which I didn’t think was a knockdown, but from that Buglioni got encouraged. I told Hosea not to panic, not to let Frank take over. In the last round he landed a right hand on Buglioni, and then another, and then he got caught. Fair play to Frank Buglioni – he took some unbelievable punishment. But it was a great fight to be involved in. At the beginning of the year, no one knew who Hosea was. His stock has risen and he’ll come again – I spoke to him the next day and he knows he was one minute away from the win. A loss in the changing room is hard, there’s silence, none of us know what to say to each other.
You do dwell on the losses. All I can think about now is Burton’s loss. The other lads won [on the bill], and I came back home after that night, and I was just emotionally drained. There were three, four tough fights. I was back in the ring with Callum Smith 10 minutes after leaving with Hosea while he was sobbing uncontrollably in the changing room. I’ve had him in the gym since he was 11 years old. It’s like leaving your child behind crying. I really felt that. All of the lads losses hurt. But that’s your job, it’s what you’re paid for, and you’ve got to move forward.
The man-management side of the job is tough, making sure the fighters are prepared at the right time. That week I had five fights in seven days, the weekend before I was with Paul Butler in a tough little fight. It’s been difficult, but you’re as good as what you work with, and with the high volume of fights that we had at the highest level, we were bound to lose some. But I’m proud of what we’ve achieved and what I’ve achieved. I was at the WBC Convention and I was invited to the top table alongside Abel Sanchez, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, and that’s nice, I’ve been elected onto the inaugural trainers’ committee. I’ve got a stable of 11 fighters, and seven or eight will box for world titles in the next year. You tell me any other gymnasium in the world that has that level of output.
I tell you what has been the hardest thing this year – getting sparring partners. The logistics and the man management of getting the right sparring partners that are specific to their opponents has been incredibly hard. I’ve been let down at the last minute by sparring partners, and you’ve geared your fighter up for a sparring session, and the next morning you have to say, ‘I’ve just had a text, they can’t make it.’ The amount of times that has happened this year I think to myself, ‘Have they done that on purpose? Is there an ulterior motive?’ I don’t know. There’s a true saying, ‘Everyone wants you to do well, but not better than them.’ I try not to be paranoid in this business and I tell the lads to keep smiling, to enjoy it. Because it will be all over in five or six years, we don’t want to look back with any bitterness.
Looking at the sport as a whole, the worst thing to come out of the year is a failure to truly address the drug cheats. I think boxing is bracing itself for a huge black eye, and I think until they get rid of the drug cheats, ban them for life, I don’t think boxing will ever be right. It’s a beautiful sport at its best, but so ugly at its worst. I do feel that until someone is killed in the ring and the person that did it was on Performance Enhancing Drugs, boxing won’t act, and by then it will be too late. I keep saying it, prevention is better than a cure. If promoters, managers and television networks don’t work with fighters who are known to take drugs, to cheat, then where are they going to go? But if you keep giving them second and third chances, a route back, you’re asking for trouble. It has to be zero tolerance. It’s attempted murder – dress it up any way you like. I feel so strongly about it. They should all be banned for life and that will eradicate it.
But looking on the positive side, wow, look at the sport in Britain. It’s thriving. In America the big fights haven’t happened but in the UK we’ve had some great nights. And look at the TV, with BoxNation, Sky Sports, ITV are back on board, Channel 5. The attendances are rising, the venues are being packed out. Look what’s ahead for 2017. We’ve got Joshua-Klitschko, Haye-Bellew, there’s talk of Khan-Brook, there’s talk of Canelo-‘GGG’. It’s going to be a super year. Look at the reception the British guys had out here at the WBC Convention. It’s mad. The reception Tony Bellew got was great – Marvin Hagler wanted his picture taken with Tony Bellew! That shows you how much British boxing is getting noticed. It’s a fantastic time.
Looking forward, I want to put a couple of my fighters back where they belong. I want my fighters to raise their game again, as they have done for the last few years. Win or lose, the important thing is to improve. I want to take my fighters through another tough year, with their health intact.