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“If our boxer’s in too deep, we’ll pull him out” – a ringside view of success in British junior boxing

Anthony Joshua or Deontay Wilder? Veteran amateur boxing coach Bob Pearson shakes his head to indicate his lack of interest: “I don’t know.”

He is dedicated to overseeing the junior boxers at Earlsfield ABC in South West London, which is run by Sid Khan, the older brother of London Mayor, Sadiq Khan.

Pearson prefers grassroots development over championship fights.

“Have you ever been to a junior boxing show?” Pearson enquires.

“No,” I confess.

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He continues: “they could show some of it on telly, it’s really good.

“You should see some of them fights on telly, they’re rubbish. They’re getting a lot of money for what they do, the juniors are doing it for a little cup and they give you their heart and soul.”

Yet, Earlsfield have produced some of the best boxers on the world stage who have enjoyed success in the professional ranks. Pearson reels off names of former graduates: Frank Bruno and Richard Williams, both won world titles, as well as Bradley Skeete, British and Commonwealth champion.

“If you keep coming and training hard, you’ve got to have that little bit of ability, not everyone’s got it, you get a few that stand out,” says Pearson.

One boxer who stands out for Pearson is 6”6’ heavyweight Joe Joyce who recently turned professional at the age of 32, having claimed silver at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

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Joyce started with Earlsfield as a “Keep Fitter” at 22, having previously participated in athletics, rugby union and swimming.

“For a big man he was very fit, agile – he used to do the backflip in the ring. All the juniors used to try and do it,” Pearson continued with a grin.

Joshua also used to come down to Earlsfield to train. Recently Joyce impressed many in his practice bouts with Joshua but sparring is quite different to real competition.

Pearson says: “you know who you’re sparring with, but when you go out and compete, you’ve got somebody you’ve never met, a lot of strange people there.

“A lot more pressure. You just need to relax, get out there. If you’re sparring this boy in the gym, he wouldn’t touch you but it’s all different. It’s hard – it’s hard to be a boxer, one of the toughest sports, if you’re taking a beating.” He smiles.

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One that note, I was curious to ask him just how much he thought the hits could contribute to illness later on in life such as Muhammad Ali’s Parkinson’s disease.

“No, he didn’t get hit a lot, did he?” Pearson replies firmly.

He leans in closer. “If our boxer’s in too deep, we’ll pull him out.”

“A lot of people say when a boxer’s been in the ring and the fight’s been really hard, he’s a brave boxer. He’s not a brave boxer. His coach in the corner’s brave letting him stay in there.”

He briefly shifts his gaze across the gym “did you miss that Dominic?” There is another smile etched across his face.

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“It used to be skill at one time and now the man going forward being aggressive nearly always wins whereas before it was a man fighting up throwing a straight jab. That’s how we teach our boxers. Do the basics well – if you can do the basics you’ll be halfway there.”

Earlsfield ABC could yet have more success.

Featured photo: Tomas Meehan.

Tomas Meehan
Tomas has a passion for track and field but takes an interest in doing interviews and writing articles on a wide range of sports including bobsleigh, Muay Thai boxing, boxing, horse racing, rugby, football and Ultimate Frisbee. As well as writing, he has a YouTube channel featuring interviews from high-profile track and field athletes. Prior to embarking on his Sports Journalism degree at St. Mary's University, Twickenham, he obtained an MA in Spanish from the University of Edinburgh.
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