THERE is a proven path. For gifted amateur boxers in the UK, if they can get on the GB squad, they do. All the better for them if they can win major international medals or reach an Olympic Games. Then they can expect attention from professional promoters, offers to turn over and, initially at least, prominent places on televised shows.
Viddal Riley could have followed the more traditional route for a boxer. He was a good amateur. Highly regarded when he was a Junior and Youth at the West Ham amateur boxing club, he achieved plenty. “I won eight or nine national titles, European silver medal as a junior, qualified for the Youth Olympics, which you have to have a top six ranking in the world. I got to the quarter-finals of the World championships, European championships a couple of times, captained the England team at the GB tournament. I’ve had a decorated amateur career. I don’t talk about it but it’s good,” he told Boxing News, leaning casually against the ropes of a training ring at his old club.
But instead of toiling away in one of the quiet corners of the sport, Viddal rose to prominence as the boxing trainer of celebrity Youtuber KSI. “During my amateur career, I had a day job, obviously amateur boxing doesn’t pay so I was a personal trainer and I trained a few Youtubers [at the gym where he worked], for the hardcore boxing fans that’s people who make a living off Youtube videos which is very possible,” Riley explained.
“They had to explain to me from the ground up what they do,” he continued. “I didn’t know you could make a living off uploading videos on to Youtube.”
A white collar bout between two internet personalities might sound like a minor affair. But it attracted millions of viewers, filled the Manchester Arena and Riley found himself at the heart of it. “It’s going to be close to 100 million [who watched it online]. Think about the number of boxers who could sell out an arena with 20,000 people, it’s really, really low,” Riley reflected. “I don’t tend to let occasions get to me too much. I’m quite good at blocking out what’s actually happening. So even though it’s a sold out arena, 20,000 people, millions watching online, I tend to not think about that. I just think I’m in the corner right now, trying to help you, so let me help you and after I think oh wow, it’s actually massive.”
It also took Viddal’s life in a new direction. He had accompanied KSI to Las Vegas, where the Youtuber was filming a video with Floyd Mayweather Snr. Riley isn’t just a trainer of Youtubers. He is a real fighter. He proved that at the Mayweather gym. “I went out there, had a few sparring sessions, I sparred with Andrew Tabiti. It was a good spar,” Viddal said. “It was more competitive than everyone around assumed it would be for the level that I’m at and the level that he was at. We’re at looking at someone who was top 10 in the world and I’d just lost in the semi-finals of the ABAs. So everyone is thinking, ‘This kid is competing, this spar is competitive. He has potential.’”
Ultimately Riley turned professional with Jeff Mayweather, the uncle of Floyd himself, as his trainer. “He’s very knowledgeable. Being around what he’s been around how could you not be knowledgeable. He was there for Floyd’s first world title. His debut, at the beginning so he’s been in this game very deeply,” Riley said. “He talks about making sure that, as skilful as I am, I hold my feet and fight. It was something that he didn’t do. He said he used to move around too much. He used to avoid the punches but not go in, not be aggressive enough. He makes it clear to me when you make them miss, hit them, get them… Avoid the shots, get them back.”
Riley is not signed to a promoter but he had his debut in Tijuana, Mexico, boxed on the Manny Pacquiao undercard in Las Vegas in January and will have his third prizefight in Dubai on May 3. “You wouldn’t expect to end up in Mexico for your debut,” he said. “They love it. That’s what they do so they genuinely love boxing.”
“I’m travelling, I can’t complain,” he continued. “I’m seeing new places. I’m only 21 so I can’t complain.”
Riley has also learned from his experience with Youtubers. He is building himself as a prospect and developing his profile. The numbers are striking. Riley is a 2-0 prospect but has more subscribers to his own Youtube channel than Anthony Joshua, the unified heavyweight champion no less and the most famous fighter in the UK. One of his videos (KSI reacting to Viddal’s pro debut) has been viewed over 2.3 million times. Outside of the boxing world, Riley is getting recognition. “That’s what this Youtube thing has allowed me to do, it’s allowed me to access the general public,” he said.
He does get stopped on the street and receive offers from sponsors. There is something for boxers to learn there, even if Riley is not aligned with a promoter or televised on the regular boxing channels. “It doesn’t seem like a good move to everyone to be involved or associate yourself with that industry, which is fair enough. Anything that’s new people tend to not be a fan of it,” he said. “I’m going to make it the norm. I feel like I’ve been put in a position where I’m going to lead the pack and pioneer that whole new wave.”
He has advice on what he’s learned so far. “You can’t take everything that comes your way, it’s one of the first things that KSI taught me actually. He said just because someone’s offered you something, it doesn’t mean you need to take it, even if you need the money. There have been times when I have been [thinking] financially this is great and he said don’t do it, you’re going to regret it,” Riley said. “Anything where if I feel the company are undervaluing me.
“I would say don’t caught up in all the other stuff. Do focus on boxing. At the end of the day, that’s what you are, you’re a boxer. So don’t get too caught up on everything else because boxing is what’s going to help you. Ultimately whether I get stopped on the street or not, or I have many followers or not, what matters is the success you have within the sport. That’s what changes everything. Focus on boxing. But don’t be your typical ‘I just go to the gym and train’. Have personality, do some things outside of boxing. I can’t tell anyone specifically what that should be. Everyone has different interests, but don’t be afraid to show that you’re human.”