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British Boxing Trainers: Changing of the old guard

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By Rob Maclean –  Historically on the British Isles, high-quality boxing talent has often come through established sources. At the top level, Rob McCracken has to be considered a high level coach. From taking the reins with Carl Froch (33-2, 24 KO’s), being recognized by the Olympic Committee for his work in the 2012 Olympics and in turn helping guide the excellent career of Anthony Joshua (24-1, 22 KO’s).

Based in Sheffield, McCracken has been working out of the Team GB Institute for Sport, a short drive away from another highly regarded, historically developed Wincobank Gym. Formed by the acclaimed late great Brendan Ingle, the gym has homed the development of many British World Champions. Prince Naseem Hamed, Johnny Nelson, Kell Brook, Junior Witter and most recently Kid Galahad (28-1, 17 KO’s) all boxed out of the Wincobank from an early age. Dominic Ingle is now the head trainer and clearly still prefers the ‘Brendan way’ of prizefighting, switch hitting and being fleet of foot, but some question what he has produced without his father.

Joe Gallagher, the Manchester based trainer had good success through the 2010’s with the likes of the Smith brothers, Scott Quigg and Anthony Crolla. In Scotland, Billy Nelson did some fine work with Ricky Burns and Gary Lockett is often the name associated with Welsh fighting for his work with Gavin Rees and Liam Williams (23-3-1, 18 KO’s). 

London trainers have been ten a penny but Adam Booth was highly regarded for his work with David Haye and George Groves. Jim McDonnell trained James DeGale to a world title and Mark Tibbs helped guide the career of Billy Joe Saunders (30-1, 14 KO’s).

However, when you consider the younger British fighters, you are seeing more and more often the inclusion of lesser known trainers. Some exceptions to this rule include Tony Sims, with the likes of Conor Benn (18-0, 12 KO’s), Felix Cash (14-0, 10 KO’s) and Joe Cordina (13-0, 8 KO’s) progressing nicely with him.

The other is Barry McGuigan, of course by extension and predominantly with his son Shane McGuigan. These include world champion Lawrence Okolie (16-0, 13 KO’s), Chris Billam-Smith (13-1, 10 KO’s) and recently Daniel Dubios (16-1, 15 KO’s), but it has to be noted many have jumped ship (McGregor, Taylor, Cameron).

Is the old guard on the slide and who are they being replaced by?

Grant Smith – Steel City Gym, Sheffield

Sheffield based trainer Smith has only recently started to gain traction in the sport. This is because his charge Sunny Edwards (16-0, 4 KO’s) put on the most unlikely of masterclass performances against long reigning champion Moruti Mthalane (39-3, 26 KO’s). Smith also trains Charlie Edwards (16-1, 6 KO’s) brother of Sunny and former world champion. 

The brothers might be his most noted work, but his most outstanding piece of work is his son, champion in waiting Dalton Smith (8-0, 7 KO’s). Dalton had a tremendous ametuer record and since turning over at light-welterweight has been truly formidable. Stalking his opponents with Canelo-like patience and pressure but taking his chances with ferocious power and hand speed, he is certainly the most exciting prospect on British shores. 

Pat Barrett – Collyhurst and Moston Gym, Manchester

‘Black Flash’ Barrett will likely be best remembered by fight fans as a very good light-welterweight fighter but is most recently making waves as a trainer and promoter of ‘Black Flash Promotions’. His best work as a trainer has been, like Smith, with family members. His nephew Zelfa Barrett (27-1, 16 KO’s) is a hard punching Super-Featherweight who boxes under Matchroom. He was looking seriously dangerous until he ran into a very game Ronnie Clarke. He has since improved and had a close (but controversial) win against former world champion Kiko Martinez. 

The reason for Pat’s placing on this list however is Lyndon Arthur (19-0, 13 KO’s). Arthur is without doubt one of the finest ‘under the radar’ talents in the UK currently. He’s plagued with a lack of self belief but his body of work culminated in a huge win against domestic rival Anthony Yarde (20-2, 19 KO’s). Barrett is a perfectionist when it comes to technique and Arthur has absolutely revelled under his charge, throwing the tidiest jab in the UK today in my eyes.

Martin Bowers – Peacock Gym, London

Perhaps the eldest of the new crop of training talent to emerge, Bowers is head of the historic Peacock Gym. Sadly, Bowers will most famously be remembered as the man who was sacked by heavyweight prospect Daniel Dubois, but what won’t be remembered was the quality of his work with Dubois. At the age of 21, Dubios destroyed undefeated prospect Nathan Gorman (18-1, 12 KO’s) over 5 rounds for the British heavyweight title. At 22, he was already boxing for the European title, but the much older and more experienced man Joe Joyce (13-0, 12 KO’s) proved too much for him on the night.

Bowers also helped guide another young fighter Denzel Bentley (14-1-1, 12 KO’s) to a British title at just 25 but again was defeated by the better man in Felix Cash (14-0, 10 KO’s) in his next fight. To round off Bowers’ stable he has a handy super-bantamweight on his books with Chris Bourke (10-0, 6 KO’s) who’s proving to be a highly skilled operator. 

Alan Smith – iBoxGym, London

Another London based trainer Alan ‘Al’ Smith gained notoriety with his guidance of high level domestic talent Bradley Skeete. He also worked with the former British champion Johnny Garton. Both solid fighters that managed to gain him a partnership with Queensbury promoter Frank Warren last year.

This led Smith to guiding more young talent, the cream of the crop being slick undefeated super-middleweight talent Lerrone Richards (15-0, 3 KO’s). Smith guided Richards home safe to a British and Commonwealth belt but since then Richards was plucked by Eddie Hearn and has since linked up with Dave Coldwell. 

I’m sure this was a disappointment for Smith but his stable is built with numerous young punchers. Dennis McCann (10-0, 6 KO’s) is gaining traction at bantamweight and is a mere 20 years of age. Sam Noakes (7-0, 7 KO’s) is a big punching lightweight that in his last fight managed to stop a journeyman who hadn’t lost by stoppage in 73 professional contests. Another of note is Caoimihn Agyarko (9-0, 6 KO’s) who moved to London from Belfast to train with Smith; he is a skilled, hard counterpuncher.

Ben Davison – MTK Performance Centre, Essex

The most controversial entry I have left till last. Even in my own eyes, I find the inclusion of the young Ben Davison to be a hard entry to fathom, but what is undeniable is his reach currently with young fighters. Earlier this year Davison linked with Josh Taylor (18-0, 13 KO’s)  and cornered him when he claimed undisputed status at light-welterweight. Also add Tyson Fury (30-1, 21 KO’s) and Billy Joe Saunders (30-1, 14 KO’s) to that list of current British elites he has worked with, but also, got results with. 

If you’re unaware of Davison you may at this stage be pondering what is the problem? The reason for the controversy and what has probably made Davison the most polarising trainer in professional boxing today is that many of his charges have been guided by other trainers, before Davison has taken over. Many claim Davison has taken over ‘ready made’ talents.

Of course, this isn’t always a bad thing, as highlighted with Leigh Wood (25-2, 15 KO’s). It appears (from the outside at least) that Davison has played a big part in turning Wood’s career around, culminating in a sensational knockout win of world champion Can Xu (18-3, 3 KO’s) just a few weeks ago. 

Also add the excellent young Scottish prospect Lee McGregor (11-0, 9 KO’s) as another champion in his stable.

However, the other question mark above Davison is the length of time spent with these fighters, both Fury and Saunders dropped Davison as head coach after a year or so. Add to that the mystery behind his role with both Saunders and undefeated American Devin Haney, you have yourself the complete picture. The secrecy and speed of it all happening is most bizzare, but despite this, his entry as a new face of trainers in British Boxing was never in doubt.

This author is also a regular panelist on The Perfect Record – A Boxing Podcast, available on Spotify, Apple Music and Google Podcasts.




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