IN a ring at the 12×3 gym in Paddington last week it looked more like a rehearsal for a flamboyant modern dance scene than three proper boxing men inside the ropes. In the centre was Dominic Ingle, jeans and no frills, and each side of him in seemingly perfect harmony was Kell Brook and Kid Galahad, separated by a few pounds but united by a life under the same roof in another gym, one on a hill on the outskirts of Sheffield. They are close to perfect examples of what that sacred gym has been trying to create in every fighter that has ever pushed his or her way through the heavy door during the last six decades.
Last week it was a training session to remind people that Brook is still fighting, still looking for the Amir Khan fight and that Galahad – I prefer his stage name to his real name – is still chasing a rematch with Josh Warrington. I’m not sure, to tell the truth, if either of those fights will ever happen. Still, they each box in Sheffield on February 8.
However, watching the three friends and men in that ring was a great reminder of just how close a top trainer can be to his best fighters, the ones that really know what they are doing. Big Dom had the pads, was moving smoothly and with efficient grace between the pair, catching shots, calling shots and blocking shots. The boxers, both in the same Kronk t-shirt, formed a seamless pattern in front of Ingle’s hands, often a blur; southpaw, orthodox, front foot, back foot, in close – it was a joy to watch the feet, the hands, the concentration and hear the punches. They moved so smooth it looked choreographed and not a routine perfected through years and years of graft. Too many people missed it, intent on telling me why Teofimo Lopez will fight in Saudi Arabia. “Watch this,” I said. “It’s class.” It was.
“When I first walked in the gym [the Ingle’s Wincobank gym] Dom was taking Junior [Witter] on the pads, Johnny [Nelson] and Kell [Brook] were all in the ring body sparring – Brendan [Ingle] was watching,” Galahad, then known simply as Barry Awad, told me. The Galahad tag came courtesy of Brendan’s humour, his genuine eccentricity: Galahad joined a Slugger, Tony Montana, a Killer and a dozen other ring sobriquets. Men you have never heard of came and went with names that would make you chuckle. They are names they probably still use now.
“I was only about 11 or 12 and I couldn’t believe how big they were – they were all massive, giants. I was tiny, I was just a kid. I will never forget that first day,” Galahad continued. Galahad was taken on the road, like a stowaway on nights and days in odd cities and foreign lands and walked in the same footsteps as Naseem Hamed and Brook. They had both been given a unique boxing education as kids, backstage at shows where just 200 paid and often left the promoter broke and others where 20,000 packed a sold-out venue. Brendan loved a stray. “Who gets a boxing education like that now” Ingle asked me. The answer is nobody.
Galahad at 29 still looks like the boy from a few years ago, but Kell has changed, his face has become far more distinguished, far nobler, a bit like a famous actor. I remember seeing that switch in Mike Tyson one night in Las Vegas in about 1999, some grey in his hair and a lifetime in his eyes. The child has been replaced in Kell and that is totally understandable at 33 after hard years, an attempt on his life and some truly gruelling world title fights. However, he looked magnificent during the workout, possibly the best I have ever seen him this far from a fight. It’s no secret – he has done the weight properly. “I look good, don’t I,” he asked as he started to unload on a speed-ball. He did, that’s for sure. This will be Brook’s 17th different year in the professional business, this his 41st fight and he was just 18 when he made his debut.
There is a decent argument that fighters like Brook, men that started on tiny shows fighting for peanuts, will not have long, fantastic careers, win world titles and have in excess of 40 fights in the future. He could be part of a dying breed. Warrington, it has to be said, shares that type of ancient apprenticeship; it is hard to see it happening anytime soon with the way British promotional companies sign just about any boxer with the tiniest bit of talent. Brook benefited from learning under the radar, make no mistake and so would a lot of the hot-house flowers currently being touted.
“It was never easy, there were fights in some right tiny places,” said Brook. He fought in Worksop hotel ballrooms and some dirty leisure centres before early-shifts as the 4pm boxer on big bills. He had fights at the very start where the promoter ended up in tears, broken and skint. Kell had to drive back to Sheffield – eight to a car – without his money; the money would often arrive in dribs and drabs. We will never sit down again at the O2 to watch a boxer with the same type of history as Kell in a fight against a man like Gennady Golovkin.
At the 12×3 gym last week – a fine modern advert for our cosmopolitan game – three men took control of a ring to dance brilliantly for an old and a new audience. It was a pleasure to be there with a foot in both camps.