By Terence Dooley
Not many people are giving Robin Reid a chance of winning the British super middleweight title on Saturday night when he meets Edinburgh's Kenny Anderson for the belt vacated by George Groves on the undercard of Kell Brook versus Hector Saldivia at Sheffield's Motorpoint Arena. The former WBC, WBF and IBO title-holder is far more experienced than his Scottish opponent yet he is 41-years-old and seen as a relatively soft touch for the 29-year-old's ascension to the British belt.
However, Reid's training team of Pat Barrett and Thomas McDonagh do not understand why people are already writing obituaries for the “Grim Reaper”. They believe that Reid's experience, guile and power, not to mention a career spent at a higher level than Anderson, will come to the fore on the night. Barrett in particular believes that his man is going to do what George Foreman did to Michael Moorer by taking out the younger man.
“A lot of people are writing him off, but he's been at super middle his whole career, is strong at the weight and is a natural at the weight – a lot of these people lose strength coming down from light-heavyweight – so I think there is only (George) Groves out there who could beat him at this level,” said Barrett when weighing up Reid's chances.
“Robin's one of the best super middleweights in Great Britain. I would say Europe, but Groves is one of the best out there, so you'd have to beat him to move on. Never write off experience. George Foreman did it at a late age (when stopping Moore in round 10 in 1994), so you can't write anyone off. Robbie is versatile, he can fight and box, and people are forgetting about that. Robin showed his boxing ability in the (1992) Olympics (where he won bronze at light-middleweight) and in his career he has always proved that he can box – he comes into the gym, teaches our young kids a few lessons and is always in shape.
“The only bad fight he had recently was in Prizefighter (in 2011, in which Reid lost his only contest to relative novice Tobias Webb), which made me think about retirement for him. I told him that if he couldn't keep up with these young ones then I wouldn't want to have anything to do with his career, but he has proven me wrong in fights and in training by the way he can keep up with these young kids.”
Barrett and McDonagh have taken over Brian Hughes's Moston-based gym. The two former fighters owe a debt of gratitude to Hughes – often referred to as the 'Godfather of British boxing' by Barrett. Indeed, Barrett feels that they have built on the work Hughes did with Reid to ensure that the Runcorn-based boxer proves that there is life after 40.
“I think Robin's capable of winning (the British title) and even capable of winning the European, you can't write off his punch, he has stopped (Daniel) Cadman and (Wayne) Reed in his comeback – the only time he didn't do well was in Prizefighter,” reiterated Barrett. “Don't write Reid off.”
Barrett won the British and European light-welterweight titles and unsuccessfully challenged for the WBO welterweight belt when meeting Manning Galloway in 1992; the 45-year-old coach is still in love with the game and is proud to be continuing Hughes's work.
“I'm still learning the game,” he said. “If I can be half as good or passionate as Brian Hughes was, and in his old gym, then I'm sure I can produce champions. I am trying, that's all I can say. I'm like a fighter giving it 100%, the rest is down to the lads.
“I think they're all very talented, more so than I was in the day, so I am extremely grateful for what I've got. It is something I love doing, it is good when young kids turn pro with me. I can't believe it. I don't know why they'd come to me. To follow Brian as one of the chief coaches at this gym just feels strange. I always had Brian there for me, now I'm working with Tommy and can talk to him, we're like good cop, bad cop – I don't mess about, so if the lads don't feel right about something they'll go and see Tommy and then he'll come and see me.
“I've been in that gym for 30-years, I go in there and just feel right because I've spent so much of my life there. It is a big part of all our lives. It would be great to have our own champion. I am in this game to win things and want Robbie to feel the same. I think he does because he's a better listener now, and trains harder, than when he was a world champion. Robbie knows a lot more now, he can look back and see any mistakes he might have made, and is still young enough to listen and put them right.”
“The Black Flash” was a noted KO puncher, his icing of Efrem Calamati is a Youtube favourite of many fight fans. Ironically, Barrett, who amassed a 37-4-1 (28), prefers the sweet science of the sport – he lists talented Americans Adrian Broner and Floyd Mayweather among his list of favourite active fighters.
“There's a kid called Adrien Broner, I like that kid,” he said. “I love watching him and he's a bit of a character. The guy is skillful, positive and knows what he wants to do. Brian didn't like that flashy type of fighter – and I wouldn't tell my kids to do some of the things Broner does – but I like him and think he's very talented. But (Floyd) Mayweather's still number one because boxing's about defence and not getting hit. Mayweather isn't taking any silly punches, so he will know when it is time to pack it in and look for a new challenge.”
Thomas McDonagh retired in 2009 after amassing a 34-3-3 (7) record. His last fight was a decision defeat to then-British and Commonwealth light-middleweight titlist Anthony Small. A self-confessed practical joker, McDonagh had talent, and energy, to burn, but he did not make the most of either during his career. Still, the fighter formerly known as “Storm Boy” has knuckled down in his new role.
“I really love it,” said McDonagh. “I love the way both the amateurs and pros are going. We've got young fighters coming through – good kids and guys who have determination. Obviously Robbie's got a British title fight, which is great.
“I'm the good cop, to Pat's bad cop. Pat's got his way of doing things, I've got my way, but we both want the same thing and the same end product. We both know what's what. Pat trained me and I know what he wants, we also see fights the same way. Some lads just have something about them, they can do it all, and they are the future of the sport, so hopefully we'll be the guys to bring them along.”
As mentioned above, Reid, 42-7-1 (29), has been written off ahead of his meeting with Anderson, 17-1 (12), but McDonagh, like Barrett, is quietly confident that their charge will roll back the years in front of the Sky TV cameras.
“I think that it is a great fight, it really is, and one main thing Robbie has got over Anderson is that he can punch,” said McDonagh. “Plus he's up for it, when Robbie is up for something then he has that inner-determination that you can't buy. I was about when Robbie was at his best, I know what he is about and every now and then he will give you a flashback of his 20s and it makes you think: 'This guy is 41!', but he has still got that hard mentality.
“Put Robbie in a ring and he'll do 10, 12 rounds easily. Kenny won't intimidate Robbie, he's a good fighter, but he is beatable. Robin has that punch, and he has boxing skills. I understand why people might write Robbie off, but he's not your average 41-year-old from the street. When he takes off his top, you can see that he is ripped and then he shows you that he can still fight. I think this will be a really good fight. One other thing about Robbie is that, come fight night, he is really up for it.”
Previously the class clown in the Hughes camp – McDonagh once cracked a joke in the corner, much to Hughes's annoyance – the former pro has quietened down in recent years, although he still provides the camp with much-needed levity if the occasion calls for it.
“Some lads you can joke with, some lads are more serious and quiet, so you get used to that,” he said. “But now I can understand why Brian used to get mad with some of things that the guys would do. You'll be telling them something and then have a flashback to Brian telling you the same things and why he would get frustrated if you didn't do them.
“I'm happy with what I'm doing. I feel I'm doing something positive and that I know what I'm talking about – I have that confidence now. I know how to read a fight and train a fighter, and I'm only 31 so in 10-years time I will have even more experience.
“I've trained with all the best fighters and under a great coach in Brian, plus Pat's one of the main influences in the gym. We're going to carry on Brian's work. Things can only get better, but for now we're trying to get to the point where we can say we're really carrying on Brian's work and we have our own champion, because when Robbie win this British title then he'll still be Brian's champion. Hopefully in a few years we can bring our own champions through from nothing.”
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