THE doors remained open on Chantelle Cameron’s dressing room at the O2 last Saturday. And I mean open. She quietly went about her business, shadow boxing, stretching, slowly dropping items of clothing until she was ready for the ring. People came and went, one or two stayed, but she does not crave a crowd.
“This is it,” Jamie Moore told me. He was not joking; there was Moore, Nigel Travis, Assam Fiaz and Kerry Kayes. That’s it, no professional bucket carriers.
“We could get above ourselves and close the door,” said Moore. “We are not like that.”
Some teams have the need to convert a dressing room, litter it with rubbish, people, too much fake laughter, demand comfortable sofas and too much ice. Ask for a security guard on the door. Others like to cover the walls with slogans, their pictures, their plans. Those rooms can look desolate in defeat, that’s for sure.
Cameron had a peg for her jacket, a bench to sit on and a floor. Moore put out the tape, prepared the bandages and Cameron went about her business. It was a business room, something they all do for a living and a craft they have mastered.
Her toilet was also the one used by all the referees and judges and other duckers and divers who live in the corridors of venues at big shows. Every 10 minutes somebody would walk through, nod as an excuse and a hello, walk around Cameron if she was stretching on the floor and disappear into the toilet. She nevers says a word.
Travis does a lot of the talking, the dancing and storytelling. At about 8pm he went off to witness Mary McGee having her bandages put on; in exchange, one of McGee’s men came in and watched Moore lovingly apply the bandages and tape to Cameron’s fists. The man from Mary’s team stood as silent witness. It took Moore 29 minutes, left hand first. Somebody from the Board was close to watch over the ritual. Bandages are, at Cameron’s level, a very personal thing; some fighters fly in a man to put them on, to weave his wonder inside the Board’s limits on length and thickness. It’s not a job for amateurs.
“Good?” Moore asked Travis when he got back. “Yeah, they are making a lot of noise, screaming. Were they trying to intimidate me? Wasting their time.” In December 2018, at Madison Square Garden, Travis was witness to Canelo Álvarez’s hand-wrapping process. He was there with Rocky Fielding.
“I made him take them off twice,” Travis said. “The local commission were telling me it was good, but they were not. Canelo and his people were swearing at me in Spanish. How does that bother me? I loved it.”
Guy Williamson, a new recruit to the Board, came in. He and Travis go back a long, long way at the Fitzroy Lodge. Cameron sat down for five minutes of their stories. She smiled at the memories, the clock ticked, she had a quiet word with Moore. And then she went back to shadow boxing. The Craig Richards fight was over, it was the heavies and that meant it could be quick.
The referee, Mark Lyson, came in. He told her what she could and could not do. She nodded, hopping lightly from foot to foot. Lyson lets fights happen, that suits Cameron. “I will let the fight flow,” he promised. And he did.
Lyson left, she started moving her feet, her amateur grade clear to see; Travis put something on from Ibiza’s heyday and danced near her. She tried not to laugh; it was hopeless. Travis wins awards as an active fireman (a real, up-the-ladder fireman), not for his dancing. Another ref walked in for a pee, Williamson and the Board’s Charlie Giles excused themselves and Johnny Fisher emerged from the lights at the back of the O2. Time was getting closer. Kayes had quietly set up his stall of magic. He had his tools ready; he gently applied some grease to Cameron’s eyebrows. He did it so expertly that she barely had to stop moving. It was a room of No-Fuss.
Chantelle Cameron had started to smile and get a bit warmer. She looked like she was seeing the fight in her head – let her punches miss, counter from angles, break her up with the jab. Half sentences in half whispers from Moore. Her face never changed, just got a bit flushed from the work. “I use the nerves, I’m starting to feel good now,” she said.
In the ring, Fisher was playing to his devoted flock. They love the kid.
Moore was up, standing in front of Cameron and talking about the jab, slowly increasing the jab. “You have a great jab,” he told her. “Keep her honest with that jab, you will hurt her and bust her up.” Cameron was nodding. It was all about pressure being applied sensibly, Cameron nodded again. Kayes stretched her arms; Cameron had increased her pace, sweat was just forming. Fisher was done, the Savage was next. There were the familiar distant echoes of faraway voices, shouting, laughing. The Savage had won again. One team going, one team getting ready. Cameron kept on moving. It was close now, just the final little pad session with Moore. It’s another of her things.
“They are all different, all need different things,” Kayes told me in the last minutes. “She is just calm, always calm.” There was a lot of respect in his words.
The energy in the dressing room had increased, but it was still not mad. Steven Ward and Aqib Fiaz arrived, familiar faces from the gym. Moore and Travis were still calm, talking gently to each other, checking things they knew they had talked about. They all had their call from the whip, the fight was next. Inside the McGee room there was a lot of noise.
As I left, Cameron paused for a second, stopped her fists from moving: “Thanks.” It was my pleasure. Twenty minutes later she was walking and doing what she loves and does so well. You know the rest.