By Terence Dooley
Last week, Bob Shannon made his weekly to visit the grave of his son, Robert Shannon Junior, who died aged 21 in a car crash back in 2003. During the course of laying flowers and lighting candles, the veteran local trainer spoke to the spirit of his only son about the rumours of a Ricky Hatton comeback and his intense desire to train “The Hitman” should the former lineal light-welterweight world champion and WBA welterweight titlist return to the ring.
Every night, Shannon and his wife, Jean, light candles for Robert and speak to him as if he was still in their lives — and he very much is as they have worked tirelessly to keep his memory alive.
As he tended to the grave, Shannon expressed his worries that he would not be considered for the role of Hatton’s head coach as he had not properly spoken to the former fighter for six-months and, it seemed, had slipped out of the running for an assignment that he recently told BoxingScene was his “dream job”.
As Shannon was opening his soul, a phone call came through on his mobile. The trainer did a double take when he saw the name ‘Ricky Hatton’ on his caller ID. Hatton was phoning Shannon to ask him if he was interested in training him for his comeback fight. It was a dream come true for the trainer, and he feels that his son played a part.
“I know you don’t believe in this stuff, Terry, but do you know where I was when Ricky phoned me?” said Shannon when speaking exclusively to BoxingScene. “I was at Robert’s graveside. I go there to have a chat with him about things and was talking about Ricky’s comeback when my phone went, so I looked at the phone and it was Ricky calling me! How mad is that? Can you explain it?
“It blew me away. I told Robert, who had always told me to have faith in my ability, that Ricky wanted to talk to me about his comeback. It felt great to know Robert was looking out for me. Every man and his wife has been in touch with Ricky asking to train him. I didn’t do that, I just do my job — I think Ricky saw and recognized that.”
Shannon is now in place as Hatton’s trainer. It is a logical choice for Hatton, who has talked about going back to his boxing roots. Indeed, Shannon used to train alongside Billy Graham, Hatton’s former trainer, and both Shannon and Graham were taught the trade by Shannon’s father, Robert Shannon Senior.
Ironically, Bob once hurt Graham in sparring with a left hook to the body, which would become Hatton’s trademark blow decades later. At the time, there was a deep rivalry between the two budding fighters. Shannon’s father had taken a special interest in Graham due to the Salfordian’s silky boxing style.
Despite this initial enmity, the two boxers put their rivalry behind them and have both spoken well of each other throughout the years. Now Shannon is taking up the role that Graham thrived in.
“Ricky said he’s gone back to his roots, back to what made him and back to someone who is from the same cloth as Billy, Phil Martin, my dad and other Manchester trainers,” explained Shannon.
“Matthew (Hatton) left me recently, (former British light-middleweight champion) Prince Arron (moving on) really hurt me, but what a lift for me and the gym. What a great compliment was made to me today when Ricky told the world that he trusts me to be his trainer.”
Hatton revealed the details of his ring return earlier today. November 24 is the date, the MEN Arena the venue for his eagerly anticipated return to action. Everything is in place apart from the opponent, which should be resolved soon.
“We’re talking, there’s names in the hat, but that won’t be announced for a week or two,” said Shannon when asked if an opponent has been lined up. “I’m going to the gym right now with Ricky and am excited about working with him. In boxing, things either come too soon or too late — this has come at just the right time for me.”
Still, it has been a tough week for Shannon, he dared not tell his closest friends and members of his family the good news for fear of jinxing himself. These fears, though, proved to be unfounded; Hatton had made up his mind and nailed his colours to the mast by asking Shannon to come over to his house to give his honest assessment of the comeback plan.
“I told Jean about Ricky’s call because she was at Robert’s grave with me, but didn’t even tell my other family members for fear that it might not happen if I did,” he recalled. “Now it has happened and I’m a very proud man.
“It is a proud day for me as a trainer and a proud day for my family. I am very happy with this as it is a dream come true. I hadn’t seen Ricky properly for six-months then he called me and asked for a meeting.
“I went over to Ricky’s house, had a chat with him and asked why he wanted to fight again. Ricky told me that he wanted to redeem himself after his last fight (a second-round KO loss to Manny Pacquiao in May 2009) because of the way he’d boxed that night. That was music to my ears because I didn’t want to hear it was down to money or the lack of a T.V. date (for his promotional outfit).
“I am hungry for this because it will leave a legacy for my own family. I want to work with fighters who want it as much as me. Ricky came into the gym and we really gelled so moved forward from there. This isn’t about money or fame — I still do my decorating job in the day. It is about legacy, about achieving something for my dear son, Robert, my family and the people in my life.
“I wanted Ricky to come back for the right reasons and now I’m happy that’s the case. People should give Ricky the benefit of the doubt for the Pacquiao fight (Floyd Mayweather Senior trained Hatton for that one and the win over Paulie Malignaggi in November 2008). We all deserve a second chance and the chance to redeem ourselves. With my input, Ricky can do that and show his loyal fans what they’ve been missing.”
He added: “Ricky said he was over-trained for the last fight, he left it in the training camp, didn’t have the desire and went through the motions. If you look at Ricky in that fight, you see that he was like a raging bull who came in straight lines with his hands down and was more reckless than he’d been earlier in his career. Ricky wants to set that image straight.”
As for questions as to whether or not Hatton has made the right move, Shannon feels that it is the fighter’s prerogative and that the desire to get back to where he once was will fuel Hatton through some tough weeks of training and help him hone a desire that was blunted by living the high life during his temporary retirement.
“Ricky has more than earned the right to have another go to see what he can still achieve,” he said. “When Ricky spoke to me, he said he had stripped it back down to basics and I could help him get back to what he had early in his career with Billy Graham.
“Billy and me come from the same camp, we both trained with my dad, and it has come full circle now because Ricky’s seen that his best days were with Billy. He’s looked at me in the same way he looked at Billy and knows that I’m a caring person who knows his job.”
I spoke to Graham at length over the phone this afternoon. Although he was not ready to go on record just yet, Hatton’s former trainer is pleased that Shannon has got the nod for the 33-year-old’s return to the hardest sport of all.
“That is fantastic,” said Shannon when told of Graham’s words of support, “because I don’t want to jump into his footsteps. No one can do it the way Billy did, but I am from the same background and am the best man for the job. Billy did the best job for Ricky, no question, and those were golden days for Ricky, so that’s a great thing to hear. I hold Billy up as one of the best trainers out there and will do my best to bring those days back to the Manchester Evening News Arena with Ricky.
“It is the next level up for me. I think it is my time to shine now. Ricky’s fans love him, so I want to make them happy as well. I will be the first to tell him if he shows he hasn’t got it in sparring, but he has the eye of the tiger now and is such a clever, clever boxer that I am sure he can recapture his part form.
“I’m not one who wants the money and then out, I don’t want Ricky to get hurt and, as a matter of principle, I wouldn’t allow that to happen. I am a straight guy, Ricky knows that, and we’ll take it as it comes. I care about Ricky, his family, his children and his legacy — and I have my own legacy to build for the memory of my son.”
Working with a big name like Hatton, 45-2 (32), will bring a lot of exposure to Shannon’s Fighting Fit gym; he closed out our interview by thanking the fans that have shown him support via the gym’s Twitter account, @Bobshannonsgym.
“Yeah, I’m even on Twitter these days,” he laughed. “I don’t go on it a lot, but earlier today I told the fans that their support messages got me through the tough days — I owe them so much. Thanks again to everyone who has been there for me.
“I’ve not been in this life for a few minutes, I’ve done my apprenticeship and, like Billy Graham, I care for fighters and won’t see them get hurt. I’ll do my best and more for Ricky because I know this means a lot to boxing fans in general and Ricky’s fans in particular. Now let’s go to work. Nice and easy, hey?”
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