By Terence Dooley
Gary Lockett retired from boxing in 2008 after suffering a third-round stoppage defeat to then-middleweight world champion Kelly Pavlik at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall. Dismissed as a no-hoper going into the contest, Lockett loaded up on his shots in a bid to land flush and pull off a monumental upset. After the fight’s third knockdown, however, Lockett was pulled out of the firing line and left to reflect on a career that had shown plenty of early promise only to slow to a crawl en route to world title contention.
Once one of Britain’s exciting 154lb early-2000s pack, which consisted of Lockett, Wayne Alexander, Anthony Farnell and Richard “The Secret” Williams, among others, Lockett missed out on the chance to put his wits and hone his skills against the best in his division due to the fact that the fighters, in the main, all fought under different promotional groups and, in some cases, lost at crucial times.
Indeed, Lockett suffered a shock upset decision defeat to Yuri Tsarenka in 2001 and decided to leave light-middleweight behind due to the rigours of making weight. His 154lb reign had not taken in those anticipated clashes against the likes of Alexander and despite a WBU middleweight title win over Ryan Rhodes, the Welshman’s 160lb career failed to catch fire due to defining fights falling through at crucial times.
“I think the big fights just didn’t come at the right time,” said Lockett, now an up-and-coming trainer, when speaking to BoxingScene about his career. “You’re beating guys up all the time and padding out your record. Some guys don’t mind that, they like to pad their records and like the idea of being a pro boxer but don’t want the step up — it was never like that for me, I wanted the big fights.”
“I think most of us wanted the fights, maybe there was one or two who didn’t but I definitely wanted them because big fights make big money and that is what I was in the game for,” he said as talk turned to that thriving noughties 154lb scene. “I loved it (boxing) at that time, but getting paid well is a massive bonus. For one reason or another the fights didn’t materialize because people didn’t work with each other.
“There were fights arranged that didn’t come off because of injury or postponements. In the end I fought Ryan (Rhodes), but by then I’d fallen out of love with the game. I had to pull out of a fight with Wayne Elcock with a knee injury, which I still have today, but I wanted that one, people look at these fights not happening and think the boxers don’t want them but that is not the case.”
By the time of his world title challenge, Lockett had lost a lot of his love for the game. A huge chunk of his desire had withered and died on the vine of contention yet the contender clung on in the hope that a major fight would reignite that love for the game.
“I stayed in it as a fighter because I felt I could still do something in the game and wanted to get something out of it but the love had gone,” said Lockett. “But it just so happened that Kelly was WBC and WBO champion, so I thought he’d vacate rather than fight me as it wasn’t worth his while. I still held my own WBU title going into the fight.”
Lockett, like fellow former WBU title-holder Anthony Farnell, acknowledges that the WBU belt was seen as the poor relation of the “top four” belts, but revealed that Enzo Calzaghe, who trained Lockett for a time, insisted that Lockett could have brought home one of the major titles had his shot come earlier in his career and on home soil.
“I remember Enzo was in conversation with me and some other people a while after (the Lockett fight). I was asked if I was ever world champion and I told them that I held the WBU version and would never call myself a world champion. Enzo said: ‘No, wait a minute, if you’d have got a big fight in the UK for the vacant WBO or something like that you’d have won it’. Enzo felt it wasn’t that I wasn’t good enough, I just fought a really strong world champion.”
Now a manager as well as a trainer, the 35-year-old tries to keep his fighters busy in order to allow them to develop their skills and keep boredom at bay. The lessons learned from his 32-fight career — 30-2 (21) — have not been forgotten.
“As a manager first and foremost I try to get my fighters on smaller bills in different areas in Wales so you can get a few boys on those bills to keep them busy,” he said. “I’ve got boys with different (promotional) groups, so if you can supplement the big shows with getting them on smaller bills it is fantastic, but to do that they have to sell tickets — it is a tough sport. Sparring can bring you on a lot, but you showcase your talents in the ring and put them to the fore, it helps you grow when you fight often.
“Although once these boys have a few good results on big bills it gets very hard to match them on small hall bills. Plus everybody is skint in today’s economy. I grew up in a small town that neighbours Newport and there used to be places to go at the weekend and things to do, but if you look now there’s probably eight or nine bars, so things are on a downward in the poorer areas.
“The businesses go down, the money doesn’t roll in and it goes hand in hand with boxing as people can’t afford tickets, so they have to watch it on TV. We’re having tough times in boxing because of the economic climate and I’ve never known it so bad.”
As far as coaching goes, Lockett has worked wonders with Gavin Rees and has recently welcomed Enzo Maccarinelli into stable. Rees’s British and European lightweight title looks set to end in a world title challenge, which has plucked Lockett out of the chorus line and into the limelight as one of Britain’s best young coaches.
He said: “The training aspect is good because you’re always learning. There are things that I wouldn’t tell my fighters now that I would have told them a few years ago. I put that down to learning constantly, but you’re only as good as the boxers you’ve got. I have had nice things said about me because of my boxers. It is really flattering, but if I didn’t have Gavin Rees then there might be nothing said about me.
“Because Gavin’s so short and fast he can get the timing right, out-box taller guys on the jab and it is a case of working with what he has whilst developing his body punching and power. There was much made of him coming out fast and fading [against John Watson and Andy Murray], so people thought that if you take him past six he’ll be knackered, that is bull, you don’t win his titles by fading late.”
“Gavin’s whole attitude has improved,” added Lockett. “His power has as well, but his diet and lifestyle were a bit wrong and you can’t just fast track that by hitting them with a magic stick. His diet was poor, the way he was losing the last ten lbs was crazy and he was running on the morning of weigh-ins with a sweat suit on. That is why he faded a bit in the Watson and Murray fights, but he has changed.”
Lockett’s work as a trainer stems from his intelligence as a fighter, the former world title challenger told me that he always had the “magic eye” when it comes to coaching and could pick up on things quickly during his own career, which he puts down to the input of his father.
“I went to a boxing gym when I was little, I was bloody useless, the much vaunted left hook wasn’t around then,” he recalled. “My dad always trained me, even though he wasn’t my official trainer I would keep him involved as he always had a good eye for boxing. My dad is a very straight man, no bull***t and most of the time he turned out to be right.”
As for that long gone but often talked about 154lb division from the early 2000s, any chance of a Prizefighter: The Class of 2000 Light-Middleweights? “I tell you what, if I could make light-middleweight these days I’d be very surprised,” joked Lockett.
“I’m still fit, still train, but have put a bit of weight on since I retired and once retired you should stay retired. I have other things to occupy my mind, I rent properties, write wills and do estate planning and do the training and managing so there’s no temptation to dust them off, no.”
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