Feature | Aug 01 2019

Bobby Rimmer: ‘I said I’d never go back. I never have and I never will’

Bobby Rimmer speaks to Terry Dooley about fighting, prison and his journey through the sport
Bobby Rimmer
Action Images/Craig Brough

IF you walk southeast for about thirty-minutes from Manchester city centre you will find yourself in a former township called Gorton. The name means “dirty farmstead” due to the iron deposit discoloured water of Gore Brook, which runs all the way through it.

Once a quiet suburb, Gorton gained a reputation for being rough and ready throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Hyde Road cuts through it like a knife, connecting the city centre to Denton. Before the decimation of local pubs, you could barely take a few steps along that road without passing a watering hole: The Midland, The Longsight, and a locally infamous nightclub called the The Pig and Ball Bearing.

If you were to stop and ask some of the older locals if they are aware of a man nicknamed “The Gangster of Love” some will instantly know who you are referring to. Others may know him by his proper name, Bobby Rimmer, and a good few of them will probably recall his time working the doors when he was younger as well as his stint as landlord of The Prince of Wales pub. 

My dad certainly remembers Rimmer, he has told me a few times that the former fighter turned doorman once had to throw him out of a pub when he was younger and a bit rowdier; he also told me that Rimmer administered a bit of a slap en route while he was at it. “I did that to your dad?” said Rimmer with a chuckle while talking to Boxing News. “You are joking me. Tell him I’m sorry.”

Like most bouncers at the time, Rimmer’s role on the doors led to other things, and not all of them strictly legal, yet he told me that despite times being tough back then it felt a lot safer prior to the rise of the gang violence that Manchester became infamous for in the nineties. 

“We was just part of that world,” he recalled. “It all kind of followed on. I was an amateur boxer, I had a professional career, and I went on the doors, where you would get involved with a bit of criminality — collecting money and stuff like that. Luckily, I got out of that. We were old-school doormen in days when you didn’t need badges or police involvement. You just turfed people out of nightclubs and that was it, they went home. These days they come back with knives, guns and all sorts.

“When I was doing the doors it was just before the ‘Gunchester’ thing, just before all these gangs from Cheetham Hill, Mosside and Salford started their fighting. I remember a mate of mine at the time getting shot on the doors. I was just about getting out of it. Times have changed in many ways. These days if you are walking down the street and look at someone the wrong way they could stick a knife in you.

“Boxing was just something I did. It was fantastic, though. Boxing has only been good to me. The way it worked on the doors was that everyone knew you, and they wanted to be your mate and have a chat. Nowadays, kids don’t really respect anything: the police, the fire service, the ambulance services, so they certainly aren’t going to respect doormen.”

Despite retiring in 1985 with a modest 7-7 (4) record, Rimmer enjoyed being a boxer so it was only natural that he would come back to the sport in a different capacity. Part of the original team at Billy Graham’s Phoenix gym, he describes his time there as a crash course in boxing at the title level and has fond memories of it despite falling out with Graham in 2005.

“Just being involved the Phoenix Camp with Billy, the Hattons and all those other fighters was a great time for me,” he said. “Something that was great to be part of. I got a great education there and owe Billy a lot even though we don’t speak anymore. When I went on my own, I knew people like Adam Smith and Ed Robinson so it was an easier passage.

“The fighters would all come to my pub after fights so we’d get pissed and have a laugh. The Prince of Wales was never like that [rough] under me. When I moved in it took me about six-weeks to get rid of all the scum. After that it was great. There was very rarely any trouble as we had boxers in there and a lot of my mates, who were the type of people you don’t f**k about with.”

Although he doesn’t like to discuss his falling out with “The Preacher”, Rimmer happily talked about his friendship with Kerry Kayes. The two worked doors together in the past only for their relationship to end briefly as part of the collateral damage caused by the rift with Graham. A chance phone call brought them back together and the bond has remained strong ever since. 

“I’ve always classed Kerry as one of my best friends, and I always will despite having our differences a few times,” revealed Rimmer. “Kerry wished me luck just before [Michael] Gomez went in against [Amir] Khan [a fifth-round stoppage defeat in 2008] and that was that. That is what friends do if it is a good friendship, they can fall out and reconcile. In relationships, especially long ones, things do happen — you have misunderstandings and fall out a bit.”

Michael Gomez fights Amir Khan Action Images/Andrew Couldridge

A personal setback tested his mettle in 2003 after he was arrested for fighting in the city centre and given a 15-month sentence. It is an insult to people who have been in prison to call any sentence a short one as time passes differently for them than it does for us yet Rimmer revealed that his stint was almost like logging on to Friends Reunited.

“I remember helping in Ricky’s corner against Vince Phillips, so I’m there doing the corner live at the MEN in front of a huge crowd and then a couple of weeks later I went into jail,” he said. “Then I came back out of jail. Remember when they all went up to Scotland and [Michael] Gomez fought Alex Arthur for the British title? I couldn’t go because I had a tag on. Kerry was in Vegas so I’m there watching it on the telly and commentating to him over the phone so he could keep up with what was going on.

“I was in Strangeways for about eight weeks and I knew almost everyone in there. It was strange, I went to jail and saw people I hadn’t seen for years because they’d been away for so long. You’d be walking about going: ‘F*****g hell, mate, how are you?’ I met at least four or five people that had been friends of mine.

“It sounds strange, but I just laughed my way through it. Everyone knew who I was from Rick’s fights. I remember Ricky and Billy visiting me in Strangeways and people couldn’t believe Hatton was in the same room as them. Then I went to an open prison. I never put a foot wrong because I wanted to come home to my family. I didn’t get in any trouble or cause any problems for anyone, and a mate got me a job in the gardens so I was working outside in the summer. It was an easy time for me.

“Saying that, I knew I didn’t want to do it again because I thought: ‘This shit is no good for anybody’. Your life stands still. Kerry was great. He’d come and get [Rimmer’s daughter] Chelsea on a Thursday night to work behind the counter at the gym. Kerry actually came to pick me up from prison when I came home. 

“I said I’d never go back. I never have and I never will. Boxing is a very forgiving sport in that way. When I went for my trainer’s licence, Brendan Ingle was outside the hotel and told me to just be honest about my police record, god bless his soul. So many boxers and coaches have been in trouble with the police, some even went to jail then got back into it, and they have been OK ever since.”

History repeated itself when his sons Anthony and Robert spent some time inside. Robert Jr. pleaded guilty after attacking footballer Ronnie Wallwork with a fish knife in 2007. After doing his time, he followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a trainer. Robert Jr. is the latest coach to base himself at Graham’s former gym, following on from Joe Gallagher and Rimmer Sr., and has named it Phoenix Camp in honour of Graham and the fighters who were based there in the past. 

“It is no secret that Anthony and Robert have both been in trouble,” admitted Rimmer. “That is the way it goes, we’ve all been in a bit of trouble at one time in our lives. You have to learn from those mistakes. Robert has and is making his way in the boxing game. It is like a little bit of history repeating itself.

“I’m so proud of Robert for what he’s come through and where he came from. He has an aptitude for training. He hasn’t started out at the top — there’s been some bad losses for him — but he grafts away with the lads and is really good at it. It is nice he’s come into the boxing world. I’m proud of all my kids.”

It isn’t just all about boxing, either, as Rimmer fielded a phone call out of the blue in 2011 that changed his life in more ways than one. He had been recommended to MMA star Quinton “Rampage” Jackson as the fighter was looking to recruit a striking coach. It ended with Rimmer flying to LA to begin a professional relationship and friendship that remains strong to this day. One that also means he brushes shoulders with actors and other people in show business.

“I was asked by Quinton’s manager at the time to help out with his boxing. He was over here so came to the gym and we hit it off. He is a really nice fellow, a solid friend. We worked together on and off. He was fighting a kid in Chicago when I first started working with him so I went over for it. It was my first time in the octagon so I went in there with the stool and didn’t know where to put it because they aren’t any corners. One of the other lads corner ushered me to where the stool is supposed to go.

“There were plenty of other times I could have gone over, but I was training lads over here, so when Brian [Rose] and I weren’t working together I went over properly for a few years. Quinton really looks after you. There is a lot more working with other coaches, like a wrestling coach, and the MMA and kicking coaches. You are working with different people as part of a team. I’m doing his conditioning and stand up stuff.

brian rose
Rose has reunited with Rimmer Action Images/Andrew Couldridge

“You are looked after, it is California so the sun is always shining. Any day where you wake up to sunshine is already a good day. I was in Atlanta with him recently for the film he’s making, Boss Level, and had a great experience there. The producer is Joe Carnahan, who made Smokin’ Aces. We got on great as he is a big boxing fan and so is Frank Grillo, the star of Boss Level. Frank can really fight a bit and is a really nice fellow. He is a fitness fanatic who is into boxing, MMA, the lot. They are a nice bunch.”

In the midst of all this, Rimmer managed to fall in love. After he was divorced from his then-wife Debbie, the mother of his five children, he prepared for a life of solitude only to be hit by Cupid’s Arrow in the most unusual place. 

“I was with Debbie for a long, long time. Then we split up and I thought that was it for me, I’d be alone for a long time or for the rest of my life. I was training Brian one day in the old gym in Manchester. He told me that a lady had been on the phone because her son was really ill at Wythenshawe Hospital. He was a big fan of ours so Brian asked if I wanted to go with him to the hospital to show the lad his belts.

“We went in there, met Danny Ellwood, who has cystic fibrosis, and I met his mum, Sharon, and her daughter, Chloe. It was a big surprise for Danny and cheered him up. Sharon’s husband had died a few years before. We got talking and one thing led to another. Before you know it I’m in love and living in Blackpool.”

The relationship also led to a new outlook on life. Rimmer used to enjoy a few beers in his time yet decided to lead a healthier life and turned to complete sobriety, the higher power. It has worked out well for him. “I’m six-and-a-half years in now,” he said. “I’ve lost two stone in weight recently. Life is great.”

Like a few people in the trade, the 59-year-old races pigeons. As someone who does not know the first thing about it I had a final question for him: How do you get them to come back?

“It is just something they do, they have got a great homing instinct. What you have to do is begin taking them out in the car then training them to come back to the loft. You might do 10 miles one week, 20 for a week, and then on to 30 and 40. I’m up to 40 with my current babies now and they are racing next week.

“I gave Paul Smith his first loft. He came to my allotment in Clayton to take it to Liverpool. It is such a calming hobby. You’ve got to look after them. You have to be there to feed, water them, and clear the loft out twice a day. They have to be taken out and trained. It is a bit like looking after a boxer.”

Bobby Rimmer
Rose fights Fowler on Friday Dave Thompson/Matchroom

Like Rimmer’s pigeons, Rose quickly came back home to roost. Win, lose or draw against Anthony Fowler on Friday night, and whatever they decide to do next, their story will continue long into the future. “I’m enjoying it again,” he said.

“I gradually got back involved. Because I’m not on social media too much people kind of think I’m out of it. I’m still up here working. If anyone wants to come and join us they’d be more than welcome.”

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