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

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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


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

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