THE troubled life of Nicky Booth, the former British and Commonwealth bantamweight champion, came to an end last week (January 13). He was 40 years old.
Former manager Mike Shinfield broke the news on Facebook.
He said Booth died of “liver problems and cellulitis” at the Queens Medical Centre in Nottingham.
Booth had battled addiction for years and was sentenced to six months in prison in 2004 after he was convicted of robbery and burglary, crimes committed to pay for his crack cocaine addiction.
After his release, Nicky talked of fighting again and teamed up with Matt Scriven, the former hard pro who was managing and promoting at the time.
“Nicky was hard to control,” said Scriven, who’s currently looking to get his Sweet Boxing Gear into gyms and clubs.
“I was hoping he would turn it around, but he went off and did his own thing. What a fighter he was. He had so much bottle, but I had to give up on him.”
Esham Pickering, the former British, Commonwealth and European bantamweight champion, says he saw Nicky “sometime in 2019” and he was struggling.
“I went to see my daughter in Nottingham,” he said, “and when I stepped out of a shop near the city centre someone shouted: ‘Esham, lend me a pound.’ It was Nicky and he looked rough.
“I gave him the pound and he said: ‘I will give it back to you later’.”
Shinfield said that when Nicky visited the gym “three or four years ago, he looked like a little old man,” but more recent sightings of Booth were positive.
Rendall Munroe, a former amateur opponent and sparring partner, said: “I saw a photo on Facebook a few months ago and wrote: ‘Good to see you looking well and looking after yourself Nicky.’ Then this happened. I knew he was ill and was going into hospital and then I got a message saying he had gone.”
In better times, Nicky and Jason headlined Sky Sports shows at the Harvey Hadden Leisure Centre, a short walk from where they grew up.
British and Commonwealth champion at 20 and winner of the Lonsdale belt outright two days after his 22nd birthday, Nicky always struggled to escape his environment.
Booth and elder sibling Jason were skinny scallywags from the Strelley estate in Nottingham and started boxing young, at Radford Boys Club.
“That was a good gym at the time,” said Scriven, who also served his amateur apprenticeship there before going on to win Midlands honours in a 106-fight pro career.
“Herol Graham had been there and then there was [future British cruiserweight champion] Roy Smith and the Booth brothers. Whatever Jason did, Nicky followed.”
Pickering remembered the brothers “really blossoming when they were 15, 16.”
Jason, who made his debut against Carl Froch when he was 11 years old, was good enough to win numerous junior titles and compete at the European Junior Championship, while Nicky claimed Schoolboy and NABC honours and had a win over Munroe in a Midlands final.
“I remember walking into the changing room and someone shouted: ‘Where’s this ugly Munroe I’m fighting tonight ?’” remembered Rendall. “I looked up and there was Nicky. He had no front teeth and looked angry. That was the first time – and the last time – I ever felt intimidated before a fight.
“That was Nicky. He was always loud.”
Booth won that bout narrowly on the scorecards and went on to turn over at 18, following in Jason’s footsteps.
“Nicky didn’t want to be known [only] as Jason’s brother,” said Munroe. “He didn’t want to be in his shadow. He wanted people to know who he was.”
Scriven would give the Booths a lift to the Shinfields’ gym in Somercotes.
“I lived near them and we travelled to the gym together every day,” he said. “On the way back, I would stop off for a bottle of water and Nicky would get a can of Diamond White.
“He was doing that when he was British champion.”
Nicky stepped in at three days’ notice to dethrone British and Commonwealth champion Tommy Waite in Liverpool in October, 2000.
“I was a big star the night I beat Waite,” Booth told me in 2004, “and everyone wanted to know me. But that all goes within a few days and you are left by the wayside again.
“I always wanted to keep the feeling I got that night. I was always looking for that high and drugs gave me that.”
The win over Waite made 20-year-old Nicky the youngest holder of the British bantamweight title since Bugler Harry Lake in 1923, and it also meant that Nicky and Jason became the first brothers to wear Lonsdale Belts simultaneously since George and John Feeney 15 years earlier.
Nicky went on to win the Lonsdale belt outright two days after his 22nd birthday, with a seventh-round stoppage of Stephen Oates.
Up a level or two, Booth was well beaten by Colombian southpaw Jose Sanjuanelo after he took the chance to fight for the IBO belt at a week’s notice and Canadian left-hander Steve Molitor took away his Commonwealth belt.
(Molitor would go on to defend his IBF super-bantamweight title against Jason).
In what proved to be his last fight, Nicky was outpointed by Australian southpaw Nathan Sting in a challenge for the WBU 118lbs belt in September, 2003.
Munroe made his pro debut on the undercard of that show after sparring Nicky regularly in the previous few weeks.
“Nicky was the one who told me I could achieve things if I took it seriously,” said Munroe, who went on to win Commonwealth and European honours at 122lbs and challenge for the WBC title in Japan.
“I got to the gym early one day and Nicky and Jason were waiting for their sparring partners to turn up. I said: ‘I’m here, I will jump in.’ I got in there, gave a bit, took a bit and Nicky came into the changing rooms afterwards and told me: ‘You don’t know how good you are. We need good sparring partners like you.’”
Munroe lived a disciplined life and got the most out of himself, while Pickering – and others – believe Nicky should have achieved more.
“He was British and Commonwealth champion at 22,” he said, “and I didn’t reach my peak until I was 26. There should have been more to come from him.”
Nicky told me he started taking drugs after being denied access to his daughter and turned to burglary to feed his addiction.
“The other prisoners couldn’t believe I was inside,” he said. “Some of them had seen me box on television and said they had been wondering what had happened to me. It could have been hard for me in prison because I was high profile, but they looked after me.”
The comeback never materialised and Nicky bowed out with a 17-5-1 record, while Jason carried on fighting until 2016, winning British titles at flyweight and super-bantamweight and claiming Commonwealth championships at 112lbs and 118lbs.
He was soundly outpointed by Molitor in a challenge for the IBF super-bantamweight title in September, 2010, the biggest fight of his 38-15 career.
Jason was known as “2 Smooth,” Nicky took the moniker “1 Smooth.”
“Everything that Jason did was smooth,” said Munroe. “It seemed to come naturally to him. Nicky had to work harder and was more in your face. People thought: ‘He’s strong and he comes to get you,’ but there was more to him than that.
“Nicky knew what he wanted to do. He knew how to set you up.”
Scriven added: “I always thought Nicky was more exciting [than Jason]. He was really tenacious.
“But if he’s not going to listen, what can you do?”
Our thoughts are with Nicky’s friends and family.