Don Charles Reflects on His Career, Chisora, More
They say that Dereck Chisora could give Anadin a headache but few are burdened with passing as much time in the company of Del Boy as Don Charles, the Nigerian born coach who has helped mould Chisora from a raw teenage novice into the world class pugilist he unquestionably is today.
As he prepares his ex British and Commonwealth champion for his score settler with David Haye at Upton Park, a week on Saturday, the eloquent 50 year old ex amateur super-heavyweight gave a full and frank interview to boxing writer Glynn Evans which covered his early life, career in boxing and lifted the lid on what makes Chisora tick both inside the ropes and out.
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You were born in Nigeria. What are your memories of early life over there?
During the 60s, until I was six, things were good. Dad was a bank manager and I came from a middle class family. I was privately educated and the standard was high. If you failed a year, you had to repeat and no one wanted that. When I later came to the UK, my standards in English and Maths allowed me to excel compared with the British kids.
We were Biafran and, in 1967, a terrible civil war broke out which my people lost and several family members were killed, so later memories are not so good. Dad had a good position and was posted to the UK. I followed on when I was 14. I was the oldest of five; two brothers, two sisters.
You landed in London’s East End. How did you find growing up there in the mid 1970s?
Wow! I cherished every moment. Of course, there was some racism back then, but Britain allowed me to try my hand at so many things and my message to all black people, then and today, is that there are so many opportunities in Britain if you are prepared to work hard.
Dad was very strict and his message was ‘books, books, books!’ After dinner in the evening, he’d go through our school books and insist we explain to him what we’d learnt that day. If we couldn’t, he’d assume we’d copied and he’d slap us!
What age did you become interested in boxing? Who were your early heroes?
My first memories are of watching boxing bouts in the public parks back in Nigeria. Dad was a huge Ali fan and I became hooked. Ali’s fault!
I arrived in the UK on 14th October 1974, the original date for The Rumble in The Jungle, but it was delayed a fortnight because George (Foreman) got cut.
But I didn’t actually glove up until I was 19. I went to the All Stars gym over in Paddington – still The Mecca of gyms for me – and thought I could box cos I could mimic Ali. I was self taught in my back yard but when they stuck me in the ring, reality hit and I got a proper hiding! I never went back for two years.
What are your memories of your own amateur career?
At the age of 25, I moved from Ladbroke Grove to Dulwich, South London and enrolled at the Brixton ABC in Herne Hill where I was coached by a fantastic trainer called Floyd Alexander. Guys like Danny Williams, Spencer Fearon and Marcus McCrae were there at the time. I did a lot of sparring with Danny but, as I was 10 years older, I took it easy with him. I also sparred (future WBO heavyweight king) Henry Akinwande.
I boxed under the name of Charlie Eni. Eni is my mother’s maiden name. ‘Don’ is simply a nickname. I used to run security in the clubs and my team called me ‘The Don’. It just stuck.
Boxing as a super-heavyweight, I had 13 bouts and won 10. I was good but, after getting stopped by Harry Senior in the 1989 South East London ABA divs, I slumped into a deep depression and never boxed again. I’d previously beaten Harry on a dinner show but, in between, I’d had to bury my father and I’d had my house re-possessed. I shouldn’t have fought as I hadn’t trained but knew I was more skilled than Harry and thought I was Superman!
For six months I had head pains and panic attacks. I was convinced I had a tumour in my head but a friend arranged for me to see a neurologist on Harley St and, once he advised me to come off anti-depressants, I was right as rain.
After the depression, I toyed with going pro. I moved from south London to a flat in Finchley and began training at the Kronk St Pancras gym in north London, just to stay fit. (One time WBA heavyweight boss) ‘Bonecrusher’ Smith was training there and, one day, Joe Bugner’s son let him down for sparring so I stepped in. I impressed ‘Bonecrusher’. He wanted to take me to the US and train me until I told him I was already 30. After that, I sort of drifted away.
Tell us a bit about your life away from boxing.
Though I’ve had a few long term relationships, I’ve never married. I do however have a 20 year old kid, George. He’s a super-heavyweight who’s having his first bout in a couple of months. He’s an exceptional talent, very athletic. Look out for him.
I now live in Finchley where, prior to opening the gym, I used to own a florists, ‘The Flower Lounge’. It was successful but real hard graft so I sold it.
Outside of boxing, I’m a football fanatic, support Tottenham, a ‘Yiddo’! In addition to the boxing, I do a lot of ‘one-to-one’ personal fitness training sessions with some very ‘well-to-do’ clients who often take me over Spurs in their executive boxes!
How did you become involved in coaching?
At its peak, my security firm ran about 10 contracts and I insisted on training my 150 doormen in boxing so they could handle themselves. I hired a martial arts gym in Temple Fortune for a couple of hours, three days a week and, if they didn’t train and spar, they basically didn’t work! Lots were far bigger than me but I really enjoyed it. I had rock solid pads and a big body bag and basically refined the methods Floyd Alexander had used at the Brixton club. Many of my techniques are from his template.
Next project was to get my own space. Eight years ago, by chance, a fella took me to this unused plot around the corner from my florist. Wow! Perfect! That’s how ‘My Gym’ started. It was meant to happen and changed my life.
The first call I made was to Danny Williams. I pleaded for a chance to train him as I knew him better than anyone. He agreed but never turned up. But, again by chance, I bumped into Dereck Chisora at a garage across the North Circular and he was wearing a Finchley Boxing Club sweatshirt. We started chatting. He told me he’d won eight of nine so I persuaded him to come to ‘My Gym’ for private sessions whilst he trained for the Novices and Senior ABAs. He won both, same year (2006). I became assistant to John Oliver, his head coach at Finchley.
When Dereck first landed, the gym was still to be completed. It had one bag on a rope and I had a set of pads. Dereck thought I was mad but we gelled.
Initially, Johnny Oliver (uncle of ex European super-bantam king Spencer) trained Dereck for his first two pro fights but a few things happened, John lost his temper with Dereck and walked out. Dereck was already top flight, signed with Frank Warren, but I believed I could do the job and asked Dereck for a chance.
Though my opportunity came out of the blue and I was slung in the deep end, I’d researched boxing all my life and moulded myself. I was well prepared. John Oliver kindly agreed to work as sort of a consultant whenever I needed help.
What were your first impressions of Chisora as a fighter? What changes did you need to make technically?
He was already extremely powerful but he had no basics and no balance. I installed the fundamentals, gradually helped him refine his art.
For his first four fights, he tried to mimic Ali, leaning back from punches. But he simply wasn’t tall enough to box that way and, if he’d continued, he’d not have lasted.
So I introduced a piece of rope across the ring and got him to bend; bob and weave underneath it. Dereck hated it but we’d not let him take one step back. First time he fought Sam Sexton, a very well schooled boxer, Dereck buried his head into Sam’s chest and took his jab away by denying him room. I think that showed Dereck we knew what we were doing. He started to listen and we’ve moulded him into a Joe Frazier!
Given the incidents of misbehaviour early in Dereck’s career, such as when he bit Paul Butlin’s ear and aggressively kissed Carl Baker, were you fearful that Dereck’s erratic tendancies might prevent him from fulfilling his championship potential?
No. I knew he was just being mischievous. It always looked far worse than Dereck intended. Whenever I’d pull him about such incidents, he’d just laugh like a child. He did them because he was bored. They were never pre-planned or malicious, just spontaneous.
The one occasion when Chisora failed to turn up for battle in shape saw him concede his British and Commonwealth titles to Tyson Fury. Dereck magnanimously refuses to forward any excuses that would detract from Fury’s glory but clearly something was remiss.
We learned a lot from that loss. I wanted to pull Dereck out. His physical condition wasn’t good.
The rest is history. While Dereck arrived two stone over his normal fighting weight, Tyson Fury arrived in the best shape of his life, used his size well and boxed a very clever fight. When Dereck got into range he lacked the energy to let his hands go to the body at the rate we needed to, to win the fight. He failed miserably and I can’t believe that I allowed it to happen. Being unbeaten, I thought he was invincible, even two stone overweight.
But big credit to Mr Chisora. He soaked up his punishment and gritted it out for 12 very hard rounds. There were even a couple of times when he looked like he’d stop Tyson.
Since, Tyson has gone in reverse and Dereck has risen to world level. But if Tyson makes the grade, we’ll fight him again in shape and we’ll beat him, guaranteed.
Reflecting on the actual fight with Vitali, what aspects of Dereck’s WBC title challenge pleased and displeased you?
In the ring, he did the team proud. First and foremost, he represented, had a fight, never folded on the big stage. He gave his best effort, if not his technical best. That said, I wasn’t at all surprised. Dereck’s very deceptive and, until you’re actually in the ring with him, opponents don’t realise how hard it is to hit him with a clean shot. David Haye will discover this. Vitali actually had more success putting glove on Dereck than anyone has.
On the downside, we genuinely went to win and came up short, largely because Dereck didn’t follow our gameplan to a tee. He didn’t cut off the ring and set the traps to attack Vitali’s body as we’d planned. Dereck followed him round in straight lines which allowed Vitali to escape. Neither did he use his jab which is a very good jab. He rolled in a bit predictably.
You’ve gone on record as not condoning Dereck’s behaviour in Munich but, in your opinion, what might have been done to have prevented the slap, the spit and the press conference scuffle with David Haye?
Again, I don’t excuse or justify any of the behaviour. But as you’re asking me to explain, the slap followed a build up of anger from the two scheduled fights with Wladimir Klitschko and the disrespectful manner in which they treated Dereck after they pulled out.
Understand that Dereck had an eight man team working for him who all needed paying yet Dereck received no compensation and no public apology from K2. He was simply brushed aside like he did not exist. That left him six months without pay yet many outgoing expenses. That said, I honestly don’t think it was pre-meditated. Vitali tried to intimidate Dereck by placing his head in Dereck’s face and Dereck just lashed out.
The spit in the ring happened because it was the first time Dereck had seen Wladimir since he’d forced him to get his hands unwrapped in the changing rooms. At the time we’d asked the WBC supervisor if he saw anything wrong (with the manner Dean Powell had wrapped Chisora’s hands) and he simply didn’t answer. Clearly, the Klitschkos, not the WBC, were running the show and that wasn’t fair play.
From Dereck’s end, I think he did it (spat) to make the Klitschkos angry and come out fighting rather than trying to bore the pants off everyone as they have every fight before.
Why specifically were you dissatisfied with the manner in which the Board’s disciplinary hearing into Chisora’s transgressions in Munich was conducted?
It was very unfair. The Board should’ve been more assertive, given Dereck a ban over a definite period of time and fined him heavily. We did something wrong and we’d have taken the ban. But instead, they tried to be too clever. It would appear that they didn’t seek legal advice and, if they did, they should certainly sack the lawyer.
Robert Smith concluded that Dereck wasn’t fit to hold a licence of the British Boxing Board of Control but that if he chose to seek employment elsewhere he was free to do so. That’s what he did! What was Dereck supposed to do? Boxing is his living. He has nothing else.
When the Haye fight was mooted did you have reservations, especially as you were coming off three consecutive championship losses?
Before Frank had even finished the sentence the answer was ‘Yes’!
Dereck was coming off three very, very hard back to back fights with Tyson Fury, Robert Helenius and Vitali. Haye represents his first fight for some time against a similar sized fighter.
David Haye will be in the fight of his life and he knows it. I’d far rather be in the Dereck Chisora camp than the Haye camp.
How long had you known David Haye and Adam Booth? What was your relationship with them prior to Munich? What’s your assessment of them as people?
I have to give credit to David and, particularly, Adam because they’ve come through the hard way, on their own and nobody gave them a chance. Adam is very smart; articulate, intelligent, a shrewd businessman. There’s big respect and admiration there. He’s how I wanted to be.
Though he’d been very disrespectful of Dereck’s chances against both Wladimir and Vitali, ridiculing his weaknesses but refusing to acknowledge Chisora’s strengths, Adam was magnanimous enough to offer his hand through the rope immediately after the Vitali fight and admit: ‘I got it so wrong.’ I had to respect that.
I didn’t know David Haye at all other than I’d heard through the grapevine that he’d regularly been ejected from clubs where I controlled the doors.
Spars (with Chisora) had been mooted and we’d always been willing but they’d fallen through from David’s end. As Dereck came through, David was country miles ahead in terms of his boxing development so it’s a total surprise that their paths are crossing so quickly.
David Haye has fantastic PR. He’s a good looking, well presented boy. Up until he won the WBA title off Valuev, I thought he was a nice guy - he once took my son out for coffee – but around the time of the Audley Harrison fight, he’s really started to change and undo his good reputation.
What’s your assessment of David as a fighter? Which qualities do you particularly need to be wary of?
I’ve monitored him for a while. My attention was first drawn to him when he ran out of gas against Carl Thompson. Clearly David’s an exciting fighter. He’s a bit chinny but, when he does go down, he’s shown he can get up to win. Obviously I can’t give too much away at this juncture but, having examined him in depth, I believe his weaknesses outweigh his strengths and there is plenty for us to exploit.
As you became physically caught up in the press conference brawl, will it be difficult to detach yourself from the personal aspect and remain professional?
Most definitely. Everyone has an ego and mine was dented. That punk took a free shot. Dereck knows me well and pulled me to one side but my pride is hurt and I will deal with the guy, in time. Right now, I’ve had to lick my wounds and channel all my aggression into making sure that my boy is victorious.
Give us a breakdown of Dereck’s preparation. What might his daily routine include?
For this fight he’s had two weeks short of the 12 weeks we’d usually take, so we didn’t need reminding to get straight into it.
We were tempted to go away to free us from distractions but it’s bloody expense flying the camp and sparring partners about so, for logistical reasons, we opted to stay put.
Dereck gets up at 4.30 to run and, whether it be long, mid distance or interval sprints, every run is monitored. Dereck actually enjoys running and, for a heavyweight, he can shift. After running, he eats his porridge then has a rest until boxing training in the afternoon.
This is the first time we’ve not struggled for sparring. We’ve paid for four quality guys and we’re on schedule to get the rounds that we need, without incurring injury. All is on track.
In the evening, Del does his power work with John Ramos, his strength and conditioning coach, a long jumper who has a sports science degree and really understands the body. He’s been on board since the second Sexton fight and, lately, Dereck’s fitness levels have gone through the roof.
Dereck’s mum cooks for him and he eats relatively well. He’s recently employed a dietician-nutritionist.
There was a leak that you and Dereck came to blows at the gym the other week.
(Laughs). That happens regularly but this was the first time when there was a tv crew there. Previously only our camp assistants have witnessed it.
It was my frustration. Dereck winds me up, just like he winds opponents up. You’ve no idea what mood he’ll arrive at the gym in. Most days he’s happy and joking but sometimes he doesn’t even acknowledge me, never mind greet me, which is really rude.
On that occasion, he spoke in the wrong tone, at the wrong time and I flipped, exploded. There’s a lot of tension surrounding this fight. However, within a couple of hours, I met him at his mother’s, we both told the other how much we loved them and everything was cool again.
Which of Dereck’s prior fights do you think will have prepared him for the challenges that David Haye will present?
To be honest, there hasn’t yet been one. Certainly not Helenius or Klitschko. Sam Sexton, who I rate very highly, was probably the nearest style wise. Dereck hasn’t fought anybody as quick as David Haye but I’m very confident we’ll be able to equalise that speed.
That established, David Haye certainly hasn’t met anyone that will resemble the kind of pressure Dereck will apply to him. We’ve got plenty who can mimic what David does. They can search worldwide but won’t find a heavyweight to replicate the intensity Dereck Chisora will bring.
Does the Board’s threat to discipline any fighter involved in the Luxembourg Boxing Federation licensed Upton Park promotion concern you?
Of course. I help train other fighters, like Ajose Olusegun and Ashley Theophane, not just Dereck Chisora. It’s completely the wrong stance. If the Board don’t change, not only will they lose revenue but you’ll see a mass exodus to other Boards, like Luxembourg. Fighters will follow their trainers and you’ll end up with three or four conflicting Boards operating in the UK. The Board is just a limited company. They shouldn’t forget that.
What type of fight do you envisage? A cagey boxing match or a wild brawl?
A right ‘royal tear up’! It’s going to be a ‘fight’ and, if I wasn’t actively involved, I’d pay to watch it. David Haye didn’t throw for two whole rounds against Audley Harrison but, against Dereck, he’ll be forced to fight from the ‘get-go’. Even if David chooses to box, he’ll be made to fight. And if he chooses to fight......fantastic!
Chisora prevails because......?
Lots of reasons. Physically, Dereck is the true genuine heavyweight, he’s the true warrior, he has the better chin and we have more to lose. If David loses, he just retires and spends his millions. If we lose, it will not sit well with our minds. I’m absolutely fed up with Dereck providing fantastic entertainment ....and losing!
This fight, someone is getting stopped and I assure you, it isn’t Dereck Chisora. You have my word!