AT the Ingles’ gym in Sheffield, Lee Noble, who died this week aged 33 after a long battle with cancer, was known as ‘Daisy.’
“Brendan [Ingle MBE] would say: ‘Some days you’re brilliant, other days you’re rubbish,’” Lee told me last year. “I would hold my own sparring Kell Brook, but sometimes I wouldn’t produce it on fight night.”
John Ingle went along with that.
“Lee would beat kids he shouldn’t beat,” he said, “and then lose to kids he should beat. We used to pull our hair out. Lee boxed like Sugar Ray Leonard when he had a local derby against Dave Fidler [in February, 2014] and at other times, he didn’t do anything. If Lee had got his mind right more often, who knows how much he could have achieved?”
On the good nights in his 20-24-3 career, Noble snapped three unbeaten records and shared a session of a six-rounder with Billy-Joe Saunders, who was having his fifth pro fight.
He went the full 10 rounds with Brian Rose for the vacant English super-welterweight title in November 2010 and at the time he was first diagnosed with leukaemia, Noble was chasing belts again.
“Chris Saunders was a really good mate of mine,” Lee told me ahead of what would prove to be his last fight, in September, 2014. “When I first started boxing, he used to give me lifts to and from the gym all the time.
“He’s given me a DVD of the fight when he won the British title [against Del Bryan in 1995] and I want the British title myself. I’m only 27 so I still have plenty of time.”
There was talk of a possible eliminator following a points win over Kiril Psonko – a fifth straight win for Noble – before he was diagnosed with leukaemia.
“I lived a healthy lifestyle,” he told me last year. “I didn’t drink or smoke, I trained twice a day and watched my diet. So it was a shock to be told I had cancer when people I worked with were smoking 20-a-day and drinking every night and were okay.”
Johnny Nelson saw his former gym mate fight the disease.
“Lee probably should have gone years ago,” said the former WBO cruiserweight champion, “but he wasn’t having it.
“He said: ‘This won’t beat me.’ He didn’t sit there feeling sorry for himself. He wouldn’t let it beat him mentally.
“Doctors would tell Lee: ‘You have to stay in hospital for a few days’ and he would say: ‘I’m not waiting here to die’ and soon be out and about.”
Lee was laying floors when I spoke to him and believed he was beating cancer.
“It was a shock when I was told Lee had gone,” admitted Nelson. “I didn’t realise he had relapsed that badly.”
Nelson knew Noble from when he first went to the Ingles’ gym as a troubled teenager. “Brendan used to say he was a bag of trouble,” said Nelson, “and trickier than a bagful of monkeys. But he became one of Brendan’s favourites. Lee was a character and a grafter. Throughout his illness he tried to make the most of his life.”
As an amateur, Noble reached the 2005 Junior ABA final, losing to Danny Butler, before turning professional aged 19.
“Early on I could never be bothered to sell tickets,” he said. “It felt like I was begging people and I couldn’t do that. I decided I would rather go on the road.”
Matchmakers didn’t know quite what to expect when they booked Noble – and neither did his team. He was good enough to upset 2011 ABA middleweight champion John Dignum, Phill Fury and, on possibly his best night, Newmarket combination puncher Pat McAleese, in September, 2010.
Six months earlier, Noble had dented McAleese’s perfect record by holding him to a draw and the rematch was going McAleese’s way after eight rounds of a scheduled 10. Noble found a crunching right uppercut in the ninth that flattened McAleese and silenced York Hall.
“I thought boxing was a hard life, training twice a day and then getting in the ring to fight in front of thousands of people,” he said last year. “It was a piece of piss compared to this. I’m fighting for my life.”
Former stablemates Nelson, Brook and Kid Galahad stayed in touch with Noble.
Nelson said: “Lee was a great kid, a loveable rogue.”