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Meet the heavyweight who used to spar Prince Naseem Hamed

Prince Naseem Hamed British boxers
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On this day in 1991, Clifton Mitchell turned professional and began a short but eventful career

CLIFTON MITCHELL would like to point out that what you are about to read is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

“There’s no bulls**t with me,” he said. “Whether I’m talking to the Board, one of my fighters or my missus, I talk to them straight.”

You can do that when you stand 6ft 2ins tall, weigh around 240lbs – and can fight.

Mitchell fought for British and European heavyweight titles during an 18-2 career that started and finished under revered trainer, Brendan Ingle.

The well-intentioned Dubliner was at his most mischievous when he came up with Mitchell’s ring monicker.

Mitchell was born in Derby to Jamaican parents – and launched his pro boxing career as Paddy Reilly.

“I wasn’t very happy about it to start with,” admits Mitchell.

“But at the time, Brendan was doing giving a few of his fighters daft names – and it got me publicity, which was the idea.”

This was the era of Slugger O’Toole – real name Fidel Castro Smith – and the Prince.

“He was always special,” says Mitchell of “Prince” Naseem Hamed. “We must have sparred a thousand rounds and he was fast, tricky and hit you with shots you didn’t see.

“He was tough too. I saw him spar some big lads – and he was never hurt. He always had that self belief as well. I remember getting into the VIP area at a Simply Red concert with Johnny Nelson and Naz and Naz went up to (lead singer) Mick Hucknall and said: ‘Do you want my autograph?’

“He was 16 years old at the time, but that’s the way he was.”

Mitchell reckons Hamed had “the best trainer to ever come out of Britain” in his corner.

“Which other trainer brings fighters through the way Brendan does?” he asked. “Some trainers get given Olympians, but Brendan never has – and neither do I.”

Dave “Rocky” Ryan and Arfan Iqbal were both teenagers when they walked through the door of Mitchell’s gym in Derby city centre. Ryan went on to win the Commonwealth and WBC International super-lightweight honours, Iqbal claimed the vacant English cruiserweight championship.

“Arfan came to the gym when he was 13,” remembered Mitchell, “and my amateur coach said he wouldn’t do anything. “He said he was useless, that he didn’t box, he just wrestled. I told Arfan: ‘Treat it like you’ve got beef with your opponent, fight like he’s just insulted your woman.’ That changed his attitude. Only I can train Arfan.

“If I’m not in his corner, Arfan boxes like a prick. I give him extra confidence. I would like him to get back down to light-heavyweight, but with his style and punch, he will give people problems. Arfan has always been an unbelievable puncher.”

Iqbal proved that by thrashing Wadi Camacho inside four rounds for the vacant St George’s belt and Mitchell hopes stable mates Ryan Fields and Myron Mills will get shots at English honours in the forthcoming season.

Fields is back in contention at welterweight after pasting Craig Morris and Dale Miles in Midlands title fights, while Mills looked electrifying when dispatching Rhys Saunders inside a couple of rounds in June, his ninth straight win.

There were traces of Floyd Mayweather Jnr in the boxing of Mitchell’s 21-year-old nephew that night. Mitchell smiles at the comparison.

“Myron knows I’m good at coming up with a game plan and he asked me a while ago: ‘How would you beat me’?” he said.

“I’m struggling to find a way, but you will have to be able to walk through punches. Myron makes it look so easy. No matter who he spars, I’ve never seen anyone put him under any pressure.

“They always end up boxing at Myron’s pace. That’s what he does so well. He controls the pace of fights. You can’t rush in against Myron because if you do, he will hit you with a right hand or make you miss and that makes you slow down, makes you think.

“I know I’m loud and brash, but my fighters can fight. I know I’m good at what I do. My record proves that.”

Mitchell grew up in the shadows of Derby County FC’s Baseball Ground, where Brian Clough was working his magic, and discovered fighting early, during a game on a local park when he was 11 years old.

“We stood around in a circle,” he remembers, “with one glove each and paired up to fight. I fought this older lad. He hit me with a few shots, then I hit him back and started to bash him up.”

Boxing and American Football would prove to be Mitchell’s twin passions. His American Football career included spells at Derby and Nottingham and with Great Britain, while as an amateur super heavyweight, he was an ABA semi-finalist in 1988.

“If I didn’t knock them out in first round, I was in trouble,” is how Mitchell remembers his amateur career. “I didn’t really train properly until I turned pro.”

He turned pro with the Ingles in 1991 after a spar with Johnny Nelson.

“Johnny walked in, looked me up and down, said: ‘Can he fight?’ then f**ked off,” remembers Mitchell. “I was angry. But when I got in the ring, I couldn’t hit him with a handful of rice. I thought to myself: ‘With my aggression and his defensive skills, I could be some fighter.’ If I had gone there earlier I probably would have won everything.”

Mitchell had his first seven fights under the Ingles and had Ernie Fossey in his corner and Frank Warren behind him when he met James Oyebola for the vacant British heavyweight championship in Cardiff in November, 1994. Before the fight, Mitchell had ‘British heavyweight champion’ sprayed onto his car – and then wished he hadn’t after being chinned in the fourth round of a furious ding dong.

“I wasn’t over confident,” said Mitchell, “I was just a bit too revved up and got caught by a good shot. It wasn’t a lucky punch. He meant to knock me out – and he did.”

Mitchell was back with the Ingles when he got a shot at the European championship, against Zeljko Mavrovic in Germany in November, 1996. The build-up was chaotic. Because of a query over his brain scan, Mitchell had to go back to London just days before the fight. Doctors gave him the all clear, but Mitchell feels the confusion contributed to a premature stoppage defeat.

“I took half a shot, went over, got up, he threw four more and the referee jumped in,” he says of the second-round ending. “We weren’t a pair of novice amateurs, we were fighting for the European title. But after everything that happened, I wasn’t really in the right frame of mind and the referee must have known about the brain scan.”

Days after he returned from Germany, Mitchell received a letter from the Board telling him his licence had been suspended. “They (the Board) were out of order for letting me fight Mavrovic,” said Mitchell. “You can’t pass and fail the same brain scan.”

He set up Security Alert UK and then opened One Nation Fight Academy. First through the door of his gym was a 15 year-old called Dave Ryan. They were together for the next two decades.

For a spell, the Midlands title appeared to be Ryan’s ceiling, but he reinvented himself – “He went from dancing to thinking: ‘Fuck it, I’m going to have it with them’,” said Mitchell – and ground out gruelling points wins over Tyrone Nurse and John Wayne Hibbert that took him into the world rankings at 140lbs.

The second of his three fights with Hibbert was named fight of the year by the Board in 2015. Ryan got off the floor twice to win in nine rounds, then lost the rubber match after a back injury ruled him out when he was heading for a points victory.

Mitchell says Ryan, who he describes as “a hard, hard man,” was “dead at the weight” for his five-round defeat against Josh Taylor.

Ryan served his pro apprenticeship on Mitchell’s shows. He promotes “four or five” value-for-money small-hall shows in Derby and Leicestershire every season and to armchair fans, Mitchell was recognisable as the cuts man for the Furys – Tyson and Hughie – the outspoken and provocative manager of Jahmaine Smyle and the burly, no-nonsense security chief who helped keep Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte apart when they went for each other after the bell to end the first round of their grudge fight.

Clifton Mitchell on Naseem Hamed

“For the sake of that fight, boxing and my security company, we had to act fast – and we did,” said Mitchell, whose Security Alert UK company has contracts with Matchroom, Hennessy Sports and Steve Goodwin. “We got it under control in about 30 seconds. It could have been a lot worse. We rescued that fight and how many other security companies would have done that?

Mitchell says he is “passionate about security” – and boxing. “If you’re in boxing to make money, you’re in the wrong sport,” he said. “Not many boxers and trainers do that. I’m in boxing because I love the game and if I can save one person, that’s good enough for me.”

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