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Amateur Scene: Boxers out of lockdown

Macauley Owen
But Covid has robbed amateur boxers of the season they hoped to have, writes John Dennen

AMATEUR clubs, under tight restrictions, have been able to open their doors and carry out limited training sessions. But it is by no means business as usual and all plans for championships to take place in 2020 have had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The situation is understandable but still deeply disappointing for boxers across the country. Macauley Owen is a prime example. He would have been entering his first Elite championships at lightweight this year and was a real contender for the title this year. His hopes will have to stay on hold. “It was top of the list, the ABAs, this year. I honestly thought they were mine to get. So Covid took it away,” Owen said. “I have to keep reminding myself of what I’m in it for. The idea of winning a national title, and having one in my bank, that stands in better stead for me than turning pro at the minute. I want to win a national title and see what I can get in the amateurs. The pride of doing it more so is a bigger incentive for me than turning over pro and having to sell tickets. You see all the pros stressing about selling tickets and if I can get myself up in the amateurs and do it for pride, do it for boxing and do it for national titles I’d rather do that.”

Owen has been making the most of this enforced break, finishing his degree at Coventry University. The university has an impressive programme, Macauley was admitted on a boxing scholarship. It’s enabled him to box virtually full time alongside his studies in sports nutrition. “As an athlete I’ve come on leaps and bounds,” Owen said. “I was labouring [before]. I ended up realising labouring wasn’t for me. I was doing it and it was good earning the money, don’t get me wrong, but I wasn’t loving the job. I’ve always been into sport so I decided to go to university.

“The ability to box full time for another three years was a no brainer for me. And four years later I’m finishing my Masters. Look what I come out with. I come out with winning Haringey [Box Cup] twice, CYPs twice, I’ve been to Ukraine and Canada to box, all over the place.”

“I didn’t think university would be as tough as it was, especially in my final year of undergrad and this year of my Masters, training full time alongside studying,” he added. “To be running in the morning, doing S&C midday and then boxing in the evening and then you’ve got to really concentrate on the lectures.”

There is a worry that without competition talent will drain out of the amateur sport. As elite GB boxer Calum French pointed out, “That’s what keeps you driven as a kid. That’s what keeps you on the right track. You want to win titles… You want to be winning them Junior ABAs, them Schoolboys, them Boys Clubs. As you come up to being a senior, you want to be winning the senior ABAs. It’s your drive. So you need them national governing bodies to come together and work together to get the national tournaments running again.”

“You don’t even mind boxing with not much of a crowd there when you’re an amateur because your drive is to win the title,” he adds. “It’s still my drive now. You still want to be winning gold medals.”

French himself could have been forgiven for considering the direction of his own future and whether turning pro would appeal to him. He had to move up to 63kgs and would be the reserve for Luke McCormack in the new lightweight division. The Olympic qualifiers however are all in turmoil and the Games themselves have been postponed a year. French though has been recovering from a shoulder injury during the period of lockdown, which with hindsight “was probably the best time to do it” given that it hasn’t set him too far behind.

GB boxers at least are now permitted to do padwork and spar at the EIS in Sheffield. “They’ve made massive progressions to get everyone back into Sheffield. Because I know that to get everyone back they needed all the correct PPE, they needed one living per flat,” French said. “It’s going to be tough. But the whole situation’s a tough situation.”

Given all their Olympic dreams have to be paused, he reflected, “Health and that’s more important but it was gutting to hear one of the biggest sporting events on the planet get cancelled because of it, and not just that, all the other sporting events to come to a halt. But it gives us a chance to recharge the batteries and go again when we restart.”

Calum French
Calum French is resuming training. Photo: AIBA

A LEGEND PASSES ON
Rab Bannan, a hugely respected figure in Scottish boxing, remembered

A hugely respected figure in Scottish boxing, Rab Bannan has passed away. For years he helped young people from Coatbridge at the Barn boxing club and he won the BBC’s Unsung Hero award in 2015.

Three-weight world champion Ricky Burns said, “My thoughts go out to all of Rab’s family, friends and to anyone who’s stepped through the doors at the Barn ABC and had the privilege of training alongside this man. What he’s done for Coatbridge and the impact he’s had on so many people’s lives is special. Not just as a trainer, but a true friend who was always there for everyone.”

Boxing Scotland, the national federation, is mourning the loss. “The boxing community has lost a stalwart. Rab dedicated his life to boxing and trained many champions across all age and weight categories also achieving acclaim in the professional world setting three-time world champion Ricky Burns on the road to stardom,” they said. “For decades children have been kept on the straight and narrow by the discipline instilled at the club. In 2015, Rab was recognised for his tireless work at The Barn boxing club with the BBC Unsung Hero award, a real honour. However for Rab, it was never about him it always about the club and the town of Coatbridge.

“Rab always found time to chat to coaches, officials and boxers whether it be at a club show, district or national championships. Always enthusiastic and passionate. Rab was always willing to help other clubs out with bouts, you always knew his boxers would be strong and you were in for a tough bout.

“Our sincere condolences go to his family, friends and everyone at The Barn Boxing Club at this difficult time. Rab will leave a huge void in our sport.”

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