THE BRITISH CUS D’AMATO
Manchester boxing stalwart Brian Hughes is a fountain of knowledge
IAM sorry to say that Manchester trainer Brian Hughes MBE is currently struggling with his health. Brian will be known to many in the game for a variety of different reasons. I first came across the name when I took an interest in a series of books he wrote about long-forgotten champions of the 1930s. Others will know him, of course, for the success he had with a string of top fighters, including Pat Barrett, Robin Reid, Michael Gomez and Michael Jennings.
To the many kids from the rough streets of inner Manchester, who never quite made it, but who tried, he will be best known as a boxing coach, a father figure and a local hero. Brian has always been completely committed to the club he formed in the 1960s, Collyhurst and Moston Boys Club, and he gave a great deal of himself to everyone who walked through its doors.
As a trainer, he comes from the old school. In a 1999 interview with Boxing News, Brian recalled how he learnt the ropes in the gym from an old fighter called Fred Hampson. Fred had a handful of contests in the early 1930s, without much success, but he became a very good trainer. Fred worked alongside Jack Bates, another Collyhurst legend. Jack had 135 bouts in a career that lasted between 1924 and 1932. Immediately upon his retirement, he became a top-class coach and he trained the three Manchester greats, Johnny King, Jackie Brown and Jock Mcavoy, all of whom became champions. Brian wrote biographies on all three.
Bates died in 1962, but Brian remembered studying his methods as a 13-year old. Another Manchester influence was Tommy Proffitt. Tommy is still with us today and he is a regular attendee at Manchester EBA meetings. He boxed in the 1948 Olympics and he became the No. 1 contender for the British bantamweight title. He helped Brian in the early days with the club.
It took Brian quite a few years to become established as a top professional coach. His early fighters included Kenny Webber, Eddie Smith and Lance Williams. His first major success came with “Black Flash” Barrett, who he guided to British and European title glory. By the mid1990s, Manchester had regained its former prestige as a fight city of outstanding importance, and Brian played a major part in this.
Gomez, Jennings, Reid, Anthony Farnell, Gary Lockett and Thomas Mcdonough were all trained by Brian and all of them were top class. After this, his involvement continued with Scott Quigg, Lyndon Arthur and Rees Roberts. He also assisted with the early development of Tyson Fury, having also coached his father, Gypsy Johnny, back in the 1980s. Tyson has referred to Brian as “the Cus D’amato of British boxing.” What a compliment that is.
Brian has always treated his involvement with boxing as a career, and he has consistently sought out the best in order to help him to become the best. In the early days, he asked ex-british welterweight champion Eddie Thomas, an established manager, promoter and trainer, to teach him how to properly tape hands and to deal with cuts. Eddie knew a thing or two about the game and it says a lot about Brian that he travelled regularly to Merthyr to pick his brains.
Brian spent time in the Kronk Gym with Emanuel Steward in Detroit in the early ‘90s and he had Angelo Dundee over to his own set-up in Collyhurst some years later. Both of these Americans, among the best trainers of all time, spoke highly of him. Dundee stated that he couldn’t do what Brian did, taking raw kids off the street and turning them into champions, as “the ones I get are all Golden Gloves or Olympic champions.” Steward went so far as to offer Brian a job.
His lasting legacy is his ability to transfer his training skills to the fighters he worked with. Look how many of them are now established trainers themselves – Barrett, Farnell, Lockett and Mcdonough. The old tricks that Bates taught in the 1930s are now being passed on to Manchester’s current crop of fighters 80 years later.