Dominic Ingle: ‘Junior Has Body Of 27 But The Wisdom Of 38.’
New meets old at the York Hall this Thursday evening, when rising former world amateur star Frankie Gavin challenges wise old warhorse Junior Witter for the British welterweight title.
Here, in his own words, the champion’s long standing trainer-manager Dominic Ingle provides us with a fascinating insight into Witter, the deep, introverted but talented switch hitter who he moulded and cajoled from a youth into a British, Commonwealth, European and world champion.
‘I first became aware of Junior when he boxed Ryan Rhodes, who was the weight above, as an amateur. Even then, you could see he was a bit different to everybody else. He had similar attributes to those taught at our gym, naturally tricky, delivering shots off awkward angles, but he’d developed the style himself. A while after, he rolled up at our gym cos he’d seen all our top kids appearing on TV.
He’d come over from Bradford about three times a week but largely kept himself to himself. It were a couple of months before he said anything other than ‘Hello’ to me! He’s always been a bit of a loner and, after 16 years at this gym, I’ve never really dug under the layers and been able to get to really know him. He’s just a very quiet, unassuming guy. ! I thought he were promising and could cause people problems but never expected he’d develop into a world beater!
Like with all new blood at the gym, everyone wanted to beat him up but he developed survival techniques then gradually improved his footwork through the lines at our gym and learned how to punch on the pads. He was a good student, observing Johnny (Nelson) Ryan, Naz. While we gave him the basics, he’d experiment with his own stuff; these Michael Jackson moonwalks with a shot on the end! The only downside back then was he had a very poor diet, loved his chocolate bars.
He had a baptism of fire on his debut because he was stuck in over six-threes against Cam Raeside, the reigning Midland Area champion, but Junior held him to a draw. Early doors, he regularly featured as the opponent on other people’s shows, often against kids who’d beat him, or didn’t rate him, from the amateurs. Starting out, Junior couldn’t punch much but he could outbox’em.
The turning point came when he beat South Africa’s Jan Bergman over six rounds in just his tenth fight. Bergman had won about 34 of 35 and went on to fight for a world title but Junior completely bamboozled him for the first four, ran rings round him, then held on to get the verdict.
Though Junior hadn’t really won any major amateur titles, and hadn’t fought for even a British or Commonwealth title, we matched him against Zab Judah for the IBF world title on the Tyson bill at Hampden Park, Glasgow just three and a half years after he turned pro.
None of the other British light-welters around fancied it so Junior was the last option.
Before the Judah match was made, Junior wouldn’t say ‘boo to a goose’. Judah came over as this bad ass friend of Mike Tyson’s but, at the pre-fight press conference, we persuaded Junior to get into Judah’s face and say loads of brash stuff which got into Judah’s mind. Initially, Judah was expecting a walk in the park. All of a sudden he’s questioning himself, demanding tapes of Junior, otherwise the fights off?! From that, Junior learned valuable lessons about how easy and important it is to get a psychological edge.
While we didn’t really expect Junior to win – he’d fought a four rounder against Arv Mittoo in his fight before– we expected him to get through. Sure enough, he held his own for the first six rounds and came through unscathed. He got slagged off for being negative afterwards but that fight taught Junior that he had the ability to compete at world title level. It were a crucial stage of his development.
From that, Junior derived the confidence that he could compete at world level. He began to embrace a proper diet, we gave him more attention at the gym and sent him off sparring overseas, learning behind the scenes.
After Judah, Junior had 15 consecutive stoppage wins and picked up the vacant British, Commonwealth and European titles in just seven rounds combined. Unlike certain rivals, Junior always took chances. He was brought up by a traditional West Indian dad who’d give him a clip himself if he didn’t fight back in the street and he had three or four elder brothers who’d battle him every day. Consequently, he was frightened of nobody!
Around that time, Johnny Nelson started to play a big part. He’d stress that Junior had ten times the ability Johnny himself had but that he had to get in the gym two or three times every day if he was to really fulfil his potential.
Unlike some of the others Junior never let his hair down. He weren’t a big socialiser. He was never absent from the gym for longer than a fortnight – if he went away on holiday - and was always within 70% of his maximum fitness. Whether he’d a fight lined up or not, he’d train every single day. Junior, to his credit, did every thing that we told him even if, at the time, he didn’t think it was right. He learned every aspect of his craft.
Ricky Hatton had this Manchester style that the likes of Anthony Crolla and Scott Quigg have today where they press forward and grind you down. If you’re superfit - and Junior always were – it’s a relatively easy style for a mover to beat. Luis Collazo and Eamonn Magee gave Hatton fits and Floyd Mayweather beat him up. Junior would’ve tormented the hell out of Ricky, then caught him coming in. He’d not have seen the shots coming. We were very, very confident.
The night that Junior outscored DeMarcus Corley to win the vacant WBC light-welter title (September 2006) was a very special night for our gym. Corley was quite a good boxer himself, very tricky. It wasn’t a fantastic fight to watch – Junior’s elimination win against Lovemore N’Dou was far tougher, far better - but Junior was brilliant, completely bamboozled him.
We didn’t have a world champion in our gym at the time so I remember it really raised morale, motivated all the others coming through. From what he did as an amateur, compared to Naz or Ryan Rhodes, we always viewed Junior as an overachiever. There wasn’t the same level of expectation.
He’d always been overshadowed by Ricky Hatton who had a more attractive fan friendly style yet Junior won the WBC belt. It doesn’t get any better than that! Whatever you want to read into it, Junior was mandatory and Floyd Mayweather gave the belt up because he didn’t want to face Junior. Fact. Perhaps it just weren’t cost effective. Whatever.
Junior made two successful defences and looked particularly good knocking out Vivian Harris (round seven) but he never really got the recognition he deserved or made that ‘crossover’ (to be appreciated by the wider sporting public).
The night he lost his title to Timothy Bradley he were only 75% there, mentally. He trained hard as always but his Dad, who he was close to, had cancer. The week before the fight they cut his Dad open and Junior finally realised there was nothing more they could do for him, that he was on his way out. It pre-occupied his mind and, at the time, his WBC world title wasn’t the most important thing to him.
Tim Bradley was always likely to be a very tough night. He’s a game, willing roughhouse who makes very good use of his head!
Still, it was close up until round seven when Junior lacked a bit of concentration and got dropped by a big overhand right. He was a bit ‘gone’, tell the truth, and did well to fence Bradley off and survive the last six rounds. He still only lost on a split decision by a couple of points. If he were 100%, the outcome might have been different but that’s boxing. You can’t expect all the planets to be aligned 100% every time you fight.
Junior was always going to be up against it the night he tried to regain the title against Devon Alexander over in America. From the moment we landed, we were given the run around. We’d had all our medicals done but the Yanks insisted we got ‘em done again over in Los Angeles. Next thing, the California State Commission denied us neutral WBC judges, insisting on all Americans....like it or lump it!
Then, warming up in the changing rooms, Junior overreached with a shot and his right elbow locked. After that, he couldn’t punch with any power. Alexander were a strong, game kid – really up for it - and Junior had to hold a lot just to buy time. He were risking disqualification so reluctantly I decided to save him for another day and retired him on his stool (after round eight).
After that, I think Junior became a little disillusioned for a while. He had some personal problems, then had surgery on his knees and was in therapy which restricted his movement when he had a comeback fight over in Canada (lpts 10, Victor Lupo Puiu). Then he did Prizefighter and got to the final but it wasn’t really his game.
He’s had to accept that he can’t be the same fighter today that he was five years back. He has to rely more on his trickery. But we knew he wasn’t ‘done’. Lately, we’ve been working closely with sports scientists from Sheffield University, strength and conditioning experts who monitor heart rates, check recovery, hydration and blood sugar levels.....
Their tests determine that, physiologically, Junior’s got the body of a 27 year old, but the wisdom of a 38 year old. That’s some package. He can still complete all the training, still beats all the 22 and 23 year olds in the gym, outlasts ‘em on the pads and controls ‘em in sparring.
There’s always been rivalry in the gym between Kell (Brook) and Junior but there’s big mutual respect. Junior appreciates that Kell is the new generation. I don’t let them spar together too often but when I do it’s always very entertaining!
So, while everyone else thought Junior was past his sell by date, it came as no surprise to us when he beat Colin Lynes to win the British welterweight title last May. And he only had one good hand!
After their first fight, Colin told me he was thinking of quitting the game because Junior had been so much better than him and I sensed he still had those inferiority ideas in his head. Sure enough, once Junior clipped him a couple of times, Colin backed off and Junior did what he needed to do to become the oldest British welterweight champion in history.
Every fight now is a bonus for Junior. I’ve told him next time he gets beat, he’ll need to call it a day. At 38, it’s too hard a game to be battling your way back into contention for a grand a fight. To date, thankfully, he’s got no damage and he’s been such a fantastic advert for our gym we won’t allow him to get hurt. We’ve a career planned for him in coaching after he retires.
But he won’t be getting beat by Frankie Gavin. It’s going to be like moving from League Two into the Premier League.
Frankie keeps rabbiting on about Junior’s ‘old man legs’ but I guarantee he’ll have never met anyone fitter than Junior. Alongside Kell, he’s had the best camp of his life. He’ll have been at it steady for 14 weeks, including a brutal fortnight over in Fuerteventura, and I guarantee he’ll be 25-30% better prepared than he was for Colin Lynes last time.
He’ll present problems Frankie Gavin’s never seen before. He’ll never have boxed or sparred anyone remotely like Junior Witter.’
By Glynn Evans