THE late Brendan Ingle MBE once described the characters who turned up at his Sheffield gym as “headbangers, nutcases and no-hopers.” He turned them into champions, journeymen and most importantly for him, better citizens.
Kid Galahad can become the fifth – and last – of Ingle’s students to capture world honours when he challenges Josh Warrington for the IBF featherweight championship in Leeds this Saturday (June 15). Galahad came to the gym as “a no-hoper” who Ingle told me “was heading for prison. His favourite trick was jumping on trams without paying.” Galahad goes along with that.
“When you’re from the environment I’m from, going to jail is normal and I would be dead or in prison without Brendan,” admitted the 29-year-old. “He kept me focused, kept me in the gym. I knew I couldn’t get into trouble because I was going to be world champion. Me winning the world title is Brendan winning the world title. June 15 is going to be a great night for me and Brendan.
“I’m not like Warrington. I don’t have any education. I can’t do anything else. I haven’t got any qualifications. I left school with nothing. I missed years seven and eight. I was always fighting and getting suspended. I started going again in year nine when Brendan told me I had to. But I could never concentrate at school. I knew what I was going to do. I told my teachers: ‘I’m going to be a world champion.’ I put all my eggs in one basket. There was never a Plan B. I have nothing to fall back on. I fight because I have to and to beat me, you have to kill me.”
Galahad was steered towards Ingle’s gym by former world featherweight king “Prince” Naseem Hamed. Galahad said: “I saw ‘Naz’ at my local mosque, told him I wanted to box and he said, ‘If you want to be a champion, you need to find Brendan Ingle.’ I went home and told my mum and the next day we went to the gym. Brendan said, ‘If you want to be a champion, get here at six o’clock tomorrow morning.’
“I got there 15 minutes early and I waited and waited. He eventually turned up, showed me some footwork and then said, ‘I’ve got to go shopping. I’ll be back later.’ He came back a couple of hours later, looked through the window, saw I was still doing my footwork and took me for a salad sandwich. Then we swept up the gym and cut the grass around the church.
“All the time, Brendan was brainwashing me with good advice. He was telling me, ‘Anyone can be a champion, you want to hang onto it. When you become a champion, don’t go chasing women and don’t start thinking you’re chocolate.’ Brendan was telling me things that didn’t make sense to me back then, but they make sense to me now. He was programming me. Every bit of advice he gave me was good.”
Ingle was well read, worldly wise and well intentioned, and on the day I visited his Wincobank headquarters around five years ago, the advice being dispensed included: “People will shake your hand and stab you in the back”… “Never take anyone or anything for granted”… “The only crimes you can’t be punished for are envy and jealousy”… “When you can laugh at yourself, you haven’t got a problem.” There were harder words as well. Part of the toughening process.
At first, Barry Abdul Awad was known as “Barry The Arab”, before morphing into Kid Galahad.
“I used to watch [the Elvis Presley film] Kid Galahad with Brendan,” he remembered. “He said, ‘We should name you after the king of rock and roll because you’re going to be the king of the ring.’”
Ingle had a hard 33-fight pro career – 19 wins, 14 losses – and wanted better for his students. Chris Walker and Mick Mills were domestic contenders before Herol Graham – “a bloody limbo dancer”, according to contemporary Tony Sibson – was the first to break through. Others followed, including future long-reigning WBO cruiserweight titlist, Johnny Nelson.
“Johnny Nelson was useless,” Ingle told me, “and when I say useless I mean useless. He used to look around the gym and had no confidence. He had nothing going for him and when he got in the ring, he would just run around it. He would stand against the wall because he was scared of his own shadow.
“People used to say to me, ‘Why are you wasting your time with him? He’s useless.’ And he was. But he came in every day, seven days a week and trained three hours every day. It takes time and patience.”
Ingle also knew the importance of building a fighter’s confidence.
“I have nothing to fall back on. I fight because I have to and to beat me, you have to kill me”Kid Galahad
“I said to Johnny, ‘In time, you will go professional.’ His eyes lit up like he couldn’t quite believe it,” he remembered. “I told him he would win the Central Area title – and that’s a good title to start with.”
Nelson did go on to use the Central Area belt as a stepping stone to the British crown, and that was followed by a world title challenge. His draw with Carlos de León for the WBC cruiserweight championship in January 1990 is remembered as one of the worst world title contests seen in Britain.
“I gave up halfway through,” admitted Bob Mee in his Boxing News report. “I lost interest in the outcome. Nelson let down the long line of willing, courageous fighters who, year after year, have worked their guts out without getting a sniff of a world championship. Old champions and young journeymen now have a right to eye him with suspicion, as if he doesn’t belong in their world.”
The press were hard on Nelson; the public much harder.
“I went out with my girlfriend in the weeks after the fight and people would shout abuse at me when I walked down the street,” Nelson said. “I got it everywhere I went. I remember stopping at a set of traffic lights and a group of lads banged on the window of the car, called me a coward and said they wanted their money back. I was in a restaurant once and people swore at me under their breath when I walked past them. I ended up pretending I was deaf because I knew that I couldn’t fight everybody.”
Eventually, Ingle decided he had had enough.
Nelson said: “Brendan kept getting sent three white feathers with a note calling me a coward. After a few weeks he put an advert in the Sheffield Star offering £700 to anyone who could last a week sparring with me. Half of Sheffield turned up. The gym was packed with body builders, amateur boxers and hard men.
“One guy said his missus had sent him because they needed the money to buy a new sofa. They all thought it was easy money. The guy who had been sending the letters to Brendan got in the ring with me first. He jumped out after a minute and the gym soon emptied. Nobody lasted very long with me.
“After coming through that I knew that nothing anybody could say or do would ever knock my self-belief. I’ve always been a stubborn kid and that helped me through. I knew I would always think of myself as a failure if I walked away from boxing. Brendan talked me through it.”
Ingle remembered: “I told him, ‘When you’re an outstanding world champion, you’ll sit back and laugh about all this and nobody will believe what you’ve achieved.”
Galahad has had his troubles as well. Stanozolol was found in a urine sample following what former WBC super-middleweight champion Richie Woodhall described to Channel 5 viewers as a “punch-perfect display” against Adeilson Dos Santos in September 2014. Galahad was subsequently banned for two years.
Galahad’s brother, Mageed Awad, admitted responsibility, saying he had spiked Galahad’s drink after they had had a row, and on appeal, the suspension was reduced to 18 months.
“Ninety-nine point nine per cent of people would have quit after that,” he said, “or maybe had 18 months off. But I haven’t got any other options. Who’s going to give me a job? Nobody. I just thought, ‘I want to come back better than I was,’ so I went to Los Angeles sparring and training for three or four weeks. I sparred Oscar Valdez. I sparred everyone who was in the gym who was between super-bantamweight and lightweight.”
John Ingle insists he has never seen anyone “get the top side of Barry in sparring”, including Ricky Burns.
“Alex Morrison rang up asking for Junior Witter,” John remembered, “but Junior was too heavy at the time and I said, ‘What about Kid Galahad?’ Alex wasn’t too sure who he was and I said to him, ‘Look, if he’s no good, don’t pay him and send him back.’ He rang me after the first day and said, ‘We will keep him…’”
Ask Galahad what makes a good fighter and he gives an answer very similar to Brendan Ingle’s.
“Boxing,” Ingle told me, “is all about timing, distance, coordination, mobility, flexibility, agility, accuracy, rhythm, pace… and the will to win.” Galahad says it’s “timing, distance, coordination, rhythm…” that makes a champion.
“It’s all about hitting and not getting hit,” Galahad added. “When you’re in the ring you have to make sure your opponent doesn’t know what you’re going to do next. If you’re too predictable, they’ll figure you out and you’re in trouble.”
A scare against Jazza Dickens in September 2013 aside, when he trailed on two cards after nine rounds and scored a stoppage in the 10th, Galahad has had a relatively trouble-free run to his world championship shot – when he’s fought. Despite the disappointment of fights falling through – Ghanaian veteran Joseph Agbeko was taken ill on the day – Galahad has always stayed in the gym. One of Brendan’s messages was: “If you’re in the gym every day, you’ve got half a chance” – and that’s Galahad.
“People have always said to me, ‘You train too hard. You’ll burn yourself out,’” he said. “My training schedule would break most people mentally – and then physically. I’ve been working hard every day for 16 years.”
That perseverance has paid off. “There are loads of kids in Sheffield who go around saying, ‘I was better than Kid Galahad or Kell Brook when I was 16,’” said John Ingle, “and they probably were. The difference is, Kell and Barry stuck at it.”