London boxing, and David Haye

As the gloves have settled on David Haye’s sensational victory over Nikolai Valuev on Saturday night, Arts London News investigates the effect a Londoner as World Heavyweight Champion could have on London, and how to get into the boxing world with no previous experience.

A visit to the Fitzroy Lodge boxing gym achieved an interview with the esteemed boxing trainer Mick Carney, who was the first man to train Haye, guiding him through his amateur career from a “long legged ten year old”, to a silver medallist at the World Amateur Championships. Carney’s profile on his gyms website describes him as a man who, after a long distinguished career as both a boxer and a trainer is now trying ” to entice today’s youngsters away from their computers.”

“If you’re not serious about it, forget about it” said Carney when I asked him if prospective boxers would be welcome at his gym, based in Lambeth. He has a point. Boxing is an extremely tough, vicious sport which requires much discipline. Thousands try every year to make it, mere dozens achieve their goal. “It takes two years to learn the fundementals” Carney told me, “the toughest thing is trying to get the kids to stay on.” By this he was referring to the challenge in getting young people to stick at boxing when they might get a beating first time round. “It’s not the problem with starting boxing”, he added, “David Haye never achieved anything until he was seventeen.”

Haye is central to all of this. On first look at him, he seems to have it all. He used to model for Versace in his youth, is a millionaire world champion and seemingly has the world at his feet. But it didn’t come easy for him. Known for being a brash party boy in his early boxing days, it took a defeat to the grizzled veteran Carl Thompson in 2004 to wake up up and reinvigorate his boxing career. Gone went the partying and the poor diet, and gone from London was Haye, moving to Northern Cyprus to get away from the dark temptations of the old smoke. “We need to thank Carl Thompson for that fight”, said Haye’s current trainer Adam Booth recently, “it gave David the kick up the arse he needed.”

Boxing pundit, journalist and soon to be author Steve Bunce told me, when asked about Haye “Boxing all over the world needed Haye to win.” He continued,  “the heavyweight division needs a young and flash and dangerous champion. Britain has a great domestic scene – some great fights and some great fighters. Haye will boost the whole of British sport, not just boxing.” Bunce also recommended Mick Carney’s aforementioned gym when probed about good boxing gyms to get started. “The Fitzroy Lodge in Lambeth, near the War Museum, is a great gym for strudent to start at – Mickey Carney and Billy Webster have been running it for a combined total of 112 years! that has to be a record,” he said. He continued “Akay’s All Stars club in the Harrow Road, near Notting Hill, is another fantastic gym – Akay introduced a boxing work-out for non-boxers over 20 years ago! He’s a guru and a great man.”

Boxing is not the easiest sport in the world to start at, but the rewards can be astounding, perhaps not monetarily, but certainly mentally and physically. That might sound like an oxymoron when the thought of a man punching you in the head can make you mentally happy, but boxing isn’t just about the violence, it is also about poetry and grace. As perhaps the finest of them all Sugar Ray Leonard once said “boxing brings out my aggressive instinct, not necessarily a killer instinct.” Although considering Muhammed Ali’s advice to “get an education, become an electrician, a mechanic, a doctor, a lawyer — anything but a fighter. In this trade, it’s the managers that make the money and last the longest,” you might want to think twice before lacing up a pair of gloves.

And what about the young Londoners? Whilst Carney was cynical about segments of the youth of today from entering his gym “Bad kids don’t look up to people,” he confided in me. “Bad kids don’t come into this gym, why do they want some arsehole like me telling them what to do?,” he was interested in positive people interested in boxing coming to see him. “You get kids who are interested, then it’s up to you as a coach to put your arm around them and see what they can do.” “Kids have problems” he said, “but I won’t have arseholes in my gym.”

To be a great professional, you need to be a good amateur, and Haye certainly was that, in 2001 he became the first British man ever to reach a World Amateur Championships final.  “The little boy on YouTube smiling after winning his first fight and the guy smiling away on Saturday night achieved what he wanted to,” said Carney speaking about his old protegé. Just think, if Haye can do it, then why can’t you? Get to a boxing gym, find the desire inside of you and explore boxing in ways you never thought you could.

Steve Bunce will perform his one-man boxing show at the Wallington Sports Club, near Croydon, on Dec 1, starting at 8:30pm – tickets just a tenner to students. For details: www.buncelive.com

Fitzroy Lodge boxing gym in Lambeth can be found at fitzroylodge.com

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