Ian Probert is following the career of cruiserweight James Branch as he steps into the world of professional boxing. As the 23-year-old Branch prepares for his second ght, set for this weekend, he realises he’s been making a mistake that does not sit well
I THINK we just gelled straight away,” replies the man in the T-shirt and shorts. “If you’re training fighters you need to have a relationship because you spend so much time with them. I just took a shine to Jamie. He’s quite a happy-go-lucky sort of person, although he’s very serious when he’s doing his training.”
Martin Bowers is sipping tea at a table in the gym he and his brother started over 40 years ago. As well as being the trainer of the highly-regarded heavyweight prospect Daniel Dubois, the co-owner of the famous Peacock Gym in Canning Town is also charged with the responsibility of guiding the career of cruiserweight novice James Branch.
The young boxer sits across from us while Bowers fills in the blanks: “I started training in 1978,” he says. “Over the years I reckon I’ve probably worked with about 100 pros. I used to train Jamie’s dad. But he’s a different animal to his dad and he’s got a different persona.”
I’m here this morning to try to gain an understanding of what a young fighter goes through every day in order to prepare himself for an impending contest. With just over two weeks to go to his second pro appearance, James Branch is looking to hit his physical peak.
“We’re in the gym five days a week,” explains Bowers. “And two days a week he needs a day off – which is normally the Sunday. On the Saturday he should just do a gentle run and stretch off for about 45 minutes.”
“What time does he normally arrive in the morning?” I ask.
“What time does he get in of a night is the question you should be asking,” says Martin to laughter. “We all meet here at 9:30am,” Branch interjects. “And you’ve already been running?” “No.” “Some people will tell you that they go running at six o’clock and then they do this and do that,” explains Bowers. “But it’s a waste of time.” “Really?” I say. “We have a young embryo fighter here who’s going to progress from four rounds to six to eight,” Martin continues. “So we don’t want to be training for 10-rounders now when we’re at the four-rounder stage. His body’s got to change a little bit. He’s got to move into the pros and mature into it hopefully.” “So what is the daily routine?” I ask. “We come here at 9:30 and start at 10. Wrap hands. Make sure we’ve got all our gear and the bandages are dry,” says Martin. “The important thing is the equipment we use. Basically, our equipment is our hands. So we really need to protect them.
“The first exercise we normally do is a run. Very gentle on the treadmill, probably about one to one-and-a-half kilometres for about 10 minutes. Then we stretch, probably for about 10 minutes. A lot of people come in the gym and stretch straight away without warming up. But you can’t do that. An easy way to explain is if you took an elastic band and pulled it, it would snap. Whatever exercise we do, we always stretch first.
“Then we mirror: shadow boxing in front of the mirror. Watching feet, hands, recovery position. We do this for three-threes.”
In common with most boxing gyms, time in the Peacock is rigidly split into segments. Every three minutes a bell will sound followed by the chiming of a second bell exactly a minute later.
“It’s your concentration period,” explains Martin. “You need to know mentally how long three-minutes is. Just as important you need to know how long a minute is to rest. If you’re fit and well like Jamie and the boys that minute is a long while.
“Then we might glove up and get ready for sparring. We’d probably do pads after sparring. You need pads for target area, punch deliverance and weight distribution but they’re not the be-all and end-all. Just because someone’s good on the pads doesn’t mean they can fight. It could be me doing the pads, or Ray Ball, Andre Ollie or Eric Teymurazov – there’s four of us in our group. We’re very lucky to have three really good trainers.” “And how long do you typically train for?”
“We normally train for two hours – we’re usually finished by 11:45.”
“That’s it for the day? It doesn’t sound a lot.”
“Well come and join in,” grins the trainer. “When you’ve got somebody watching everything you do it changes everything. The other thing that changes everything is a date. You give a lot of people a date and they fall to pieces. All that training they’ve been doing easily now becomes harder.
“When you’re competing and you’re going under the ring spotlight, you’re naked, you’ve only got a pair of shorts on, some gloves and a gum shield. When the geezer in the other corner wants to hurt you the whole ethics change. Everything changes. Chuck into that mix that you’ve got to make the weight: now all of a sudden you’re got so much going on in your head. It’s not about how many press-ups you do. It’s the complete opposite.”
“These boys get battle hardened but you have to be careful that you don’t break them. So you have to be slowly, slowly, gentle, gentle. Jamie ain’t been a
SOME PEOPLE WILL TELL YOU THEY GO RUNNING AT SIX O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING BUT IT’S A WASTE OF TIME”
pro a year yet and I don’t know how his body feels every day of the week or if in his own mind he thinks he’s improving. Time will tell.”
“What about diet,” I ask, changing the subject and turning to James. “What do you eat in the morning?” “I don’t really eat before training.” “And lunchtime?” “I don’t have lunch.” At this moment a frown appears on both the faces of Martin and I. “How are you fuelling yourself,” I ask. “I’m not sure,” says James. “You should be having breakfast,” says Martin. “Or a hot drink at least. You have to programme your body to do certain things at certain times.”
“It’s hard because I don’t feel like training if I eat,” admits the young fighter. “Every day I come in I want to show myself as the best person I can be.”
“He’s really gone off me now,” I say, realising that I may have got James into trouble.
“I didn’t know you didn’t have breakfast,” says Bowers. “I took it for granted that you did because you were in the England boxing squad.”
James looks down sheepishly as a good-natured lecture on correct diet is duly administered.
THE VETERAN: Bowers is proud to say he has been a trainer for 40 years
TOUGH LOVE: Bowes is determined to get the best out of Branch at the Peacock Gym