Issue | News | Sep 03 2019

Tony Jeffries: ‘It is scary when you’ve got a big split in your brain’

Tony Jeffries speaks to John Dennen about his fears in retirement
Tony Jeffries

TONY JEFFRIES retired young, but he still fears the physical toll boxing might have taken on him.

“Every single day,” he says. “There may be some sort of dementia coming.”

“Even though I retired eight years ago now, I still had 106 fights in my life, I did thousands of rounds in sparring, it definitely had some sort of effect on me,” he continued. “My friends who went on another eight years after I retired and continued doing that, I worry about them as well.”

He has been taking part in an expansive medical study. “In Las Vegas there’s the biggest fighters’ brain study in the world where I go every year and they check my brain,” he explained. “Over time you get the true results from the test.

“I’m doing it for myself but it’s good for boxing to find out how boxing really is doing. He told me I’ve got an extra large split in my membrane. Your membrane is what attaches your brain to your skull. So when you’ve been punched hard in your head, your brain’s shook around in your head, that membrane seems to split. He said 50% of fighters that have done this test have got this split in the brain. But there’s no evidence that it effects you in everyday life. But it’s still scary [that] you’ve got a big split in your brain.”

For the health of his mind he notes, “There’s things you can do to help slow down [dementia] like eating certain foods and exercising different exercises… Like hand eye co-ordination drills and footwork drills, they’re the main ones and memory skill drills.

“Different drills to help you connect your hands, your feet, your eyes all together. That helps your brain.”

At his gym in Los Angeles he’s even been running special classes for people with Parkinson’s, exercises like boxing drills to help train motor skills (without contact of course) have been shown to be beneficial.

This year a wave of high profile fighters in Britain have retired, boxers like James DeGale, George Groves, Tony Bellew who all headlined bills in the UK over the course of years. Jeffries actually recommends, “My advice would be stay in the limelight. While you’ll never be in the limelight how you were when you were fighting, but if you can stay active on social media, stay active doing interviews, keep your name out there as much as you can because when your name’s out there, the more opportunities come around, it might be a different field, or it might be whatever, the more high profile your name is the better it is for you later on in life… It brings opportunities, it keeps your face out there and makes people want to do business with you.”

Tony Jeffries 2008
Tony Jeffries has found peace after boxing Action Images

Jeffries, a former Olympic medallist, has enjoyed a successful retirement, with his gyms in California and training courses that teach boxers and personal trainers how to teach boxing for fitness doing well. Even Robbie Williams is now training with him too (he can punch hard apparently). But moving on from being a boxer and an athlete is never straightforward. “I found it really hard because I’ve done it since I was 10 and I retired when I was 27 so getting out of that routine, getting out of that boxing mindset to do something completely different, it was really tough. Because I got forced to retire from boxing, I was undefeated in 10 pro fights. I got depressed because I didn’t know what I was going to do and where life was going to take us because all I had done since I was a little boy was box,” he said.

“I think being a boxer is the hardest job in the world. So all I’ve done is taken my focus and my energy off what I’ve done in boxing, to be pretty successful as a boxer, I put that focus and energy into the industry that I’m in now. It’s been pretty easy because I’m passionate about it.”

“The thing is with boxers, they feel like if they stop boxing they’ve got nothing else,” he continued. “That’s where they really have because this boxing fitness industry is really booming.

“But if a boxer tries to teach a client, like a middle aged lady, the way his coach taught him, he’s not going to be that successful because you’ve got to switch to boxing for fitness. The way you speak to people, the way you teach people… I really urge boxers to come the course because I teach them the way to have success, the way to build relationships, retain clients, grow your following and have success in teaching boxing for fitness.

“We’ve been teaching boxing for fitness for eight years and LA’s the most competitive fitness market in the world. And we’ve had a tonne of success with it so we pass on our skills.”

Jeffries will be running a Box N’ Burn Academy certification course at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield from September 7-8. Email academy@boxnburn.com for more information and use the code BOXINGNEWS to save 10%.

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