I STARTED with Brendan Ingle at the age of six and I remember the footwork -always, always, footwork. At least 30 minutes, sometimes 45, before doing anything else, you’d go on the lines and circles painted on the gym floor. Up and down the lines, first one way, then back, reversing your stance, mixing it up between southpaw and orthodox. That way, we learned to switch early on.
We only did open sparring three-four weeks before a fight and that’s why we had a long career as well, there were no wars in the gym. Guys would come in from other gyms but the majority of our sparring was in-house. 75 per cent was body-sparring and it was mainly technical sparring to the face.
On a Saturday or Sunday we’d be in the working men’s clubs – mainly in South Yorkshire – and first we’d spar each other,me, Naz, a guy called Wayne Windle [then a pro light-welterweight]. Then – obviously this is when I got to 13-14 – we’d get in with the people in the audience, the big men with Herol Graham and Johnny Nelson and I’d get the 17-18-year-old kids who’d come along with their dad. They’d be hitting me to the face and I had to learn to move out of the way; we weren’t allowed to hit them. We’d have our hands behind our backs, even the ladies got up! Brendan used to say the hardest person to fight is the fella who doesn’t know how to fight and after five-six pints they used to get much braver. It’s why we all had a long career; we learnt not to get hit, to take care of ourselves. It was the same in the prisons, the prisoners would have to stand up in the ring and fight you. They’d have the pressure of a reputation to keep up. Brendan got you dancing and singing in the gym, to give you a bit of confidence. You’d be in front mates of your mates so you weren’t bothered how embarrassing it was. Then, in interviews and stuff, you’d be confident because you’d been doing it for years. There was a method behind Brendan’s madness, we came across
well and spoke well.
We’d be cleaning streets! Down Newman Road, where the gym was and in the Wincobank area, in the morning aftertraining, during the school holidays, we’d be up and down the streets, cleaning, talking to people outside their houses,picking up litter, pulling weeds out; we got respect for that. It was Brendan’s way of getting us interacting at an early stage.
BRENDAN thought sparring was the best form of conditioning, because it’s what you’d be expected to do at a more serious level. I remember one Saturday night, I was at a club with Herol Graham and Brian Anderson and it was next to an Indian restaurant where Brendan went, and they phoned him and grassed me up. He knew everything you were up to. I rolled into the gym on Sunday morning with no sleep, sparred and went to get out after four rounds. Brendan kept saying, ‘No, do a couple more’. After two hours,I was absolutely shattered, drained, and he’d make you spar everybody, they’d come in and out. When he’d exhausted all the sparring partners, I was sitting on the side of the ring, nearly puking. He said, ‘Next time you think about going to a club the night before training, think about this.’
There was a period where I was a gym king but I couldn’t translate my success into actual fights. Brendan said, ‘You’re a momma’s boy, you need to grow up.’ He sent me away to spar, to Germany, France, Italy.I didn’t want to but I so wanted to make him proud, and I felt I owed him. It was horrible. They’d get you out to Germany and you’d have a ticket for six weeks. If you wanted to come home early, you’d have to find a way from Frankfurt Oder back to Berlin airport and then pay for your own flight home. They put me in a dire apartment, and I found a letter behind the settee from Henry Akinwande who had been there before me. It was to his girlfriend saying how he hated the place, wanted to go home and was missing her. He was European champion at the time so to read that made me realise, ‘I’m not the only one and I have to stick this out.’ Brendan said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t beat the sparring partners up because they’ll sack you, you won’t get paid and if one of them wins a world title they won’t fight you.
I reported back to him every night and he would tell me what to do the next day. It worked, not beating fighters up when I knew I could. Brendan wanted me to breathe and see success but not have it and be hungry for it.
I’m reading Mike Tyson’s autobiography, Undisputed Truth, and I’ve been reading about Cus D’Aamato, and that is Brendan through and through. He’d admit he was brainwashing you but it was positive brainwashing. I was complete garbage so I’m proof his methods worked. I’m not his most talented fighter but I am his biggest success story for that reason.
I WENT to the gym at 15-16. My first day was a freezing Sunday morning and Mick Mills and Robert Wakefield were there,about eight-nine people in total. I got changed, and we did some skipping and warming up on the bags. Then Brendan said, ‘Everyone, stop. This is Herol, he’s come to spar.’ So we did and they were saying, ‘F***ing hell’. They couldn’t touch me. Within two-three weeks, Brendan was saying to everyone, ‘I want you to move your head, I want everyone to box like Herol.’
We used to go to the working men’s clubs mainly on Sundays. We’d put the gloves on, skip and introduce ourselves. Brendan would say, ‘You can hit him, but he can’t hit you.’ If they hit me, that was my problem, and it went down a treat. I could just tap them, and I was tripping them up and making them miss. They saw me moving and slipping then wanted to see me fight. It was the same thing in the prisons. Then it’d be big guys in confined spaces, and they could only go to the body because there was no covering on the floor.
It helped my reflexes, moving my head, thinking where their punches were going to be. Brendan was a good teacher. He gives you confidence and self-belief. He makes you believe you can do anything you want,that you’re able to win a fight without the opponent touching you. I was in his household for two-three years, so I had that influence regularly. He taught me loads that I still use in my day-to-day life now. It’s a discipline he instilled. If there’s none at home or in the gym, you get unruly children and unruly boxers.