By Daniel Vano
“I have been aware of boxing ever since I was conscious of being alive,” admitted Ben Doughty during a recent interview with BoxingScene. “One of my earliest memories is of sparring my Dad, who would get down on his knees in the living room to make up for the height discrepancy.”
While these are be the words of the London-based trainer, every boxing enthusiast on the planet can relate to them. Our beloved sport, seemingly more so than any other, captures the minds and imagination of youngsters on a daily basis. For Ben Doughty, the same thing happened just outside of Liverpool in the early 1970s.
“From the age of 5, I idolised Muhammad Ali and would be glued to the screen whenever he was on TV,” said Doughty. “Every boy on my street seemed to own a pair of gloves and wanted to be either [Muhammad] Ali or John Conteh.”
While Ben’s family would soon move away from Conteh’s hometown, his love affair with boxing was only just beginning. Moving to Stroud in Gloucestershire, Ben was excited to learn that a new boxing club was opening just months after his arrival.
“One day a friend phoned my house and told me that a boxing club was starting up in our town and he was going to opening night, so I went with him, “ he explained. “Being the inaugural night of a new ABA club it was a surprisingly prestigious affair. There were officials from all over the region and boxers from neighbouring clubs like the thriving Gloucester ABC putting on exhibitions. I got to spar with 1980 Olympic Team captain and ABA Champion Peter Hanlon, and the next week a picture of me landing a jab to his midsection appeared in the local paper – I was hooked for the rest of my life.
“From then on I would train three nights a week at Roxburgh House ABC and would watch all the big fights which were on TV. Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler impressed me most of all. I had over a year in the gym before I was old enough to make by amateur debut which came on March 13, 1981. After winning a wide decision against a kid called Lee Walsh from Penhill ABC in Swindon, I had already set my heart on Olympic and professional glory.”
However, Olympic and professional glory eluded Doughty. Despite getting to the Junior ABA semi-final, and having won a string of bouts by the age of 19, problems at home distracted him from his goal.
“Throughout my teenage years I was obsessed with turning professional, and I avoided all the traditional rebellious pass times of hanging out on street corners, smoking and getting drunk on Thunderbird,” said Doughty. “But at this point a bit turmoil entered my life. I left home with a degree of acrimony – the way teenagers do – and moved to London. Rather than sort my life out by finding a college placement and a new boxing club, I fell in with a crowd of musicians and began investigating pastimes extremely at odds with the lifestyle of a promising young boxer.”
Ben’s new found love for rock and roll took him across the Atlantic. He said: “In the summer of 1990, I went to New York on what became a barnstorming tour of the States on a shoestring budget.”
Having toured with a band in Colorado, Ben returned to London six-months later, and started training at the Thomas A’Beckett Boxing gym, where he decided to turn professional under Harry Burgess; an agreement which would be short lived.
“I agreed to turn professional, but over the next few weeks it was clear that my head wasn't really in the game, and my new found love of the rock and roll lifestyle was getting in the way,” recalled Doughty.
Doughty had seemingly fallen out of love with boxing, so much so that he simply walked out of the gym and didn't go back. “That has to be my biggest regret,” Doughty told me. “I won't dwell on it, but I ended up acquiring a hard drug problem and wasted a fair bit of time in the ensuing years.”
Over the next decade, Ben would all but give up hope of making a career in boxing. That is until his love affair was rekindled by a boxing-crazed girlfriend. “It's an unlikely postscript, but at the tail end of 2002 I set off to New York with a girlfriend who happened to like boxing, so we went to see Ward-Gatti II in Atlantic City,” recalled Doughty.
“Something must have clicked because the following Monday I was signing up at Gleason's Gym, just intending to get back in shape, initially. Before long I was training six days a week and sparring with guys like Paulie Malignaggi, Vivian Harris and Wayne Braithwaite. I got carded and had an amateur fight out there, losing a majority to future pro, Ashantie Hendrickson. A guy called Moe Sims who had worked with Riddick Bowe and Junior Jones trained me and suggested I give the pros a try. I certainly would have done but, after nine-months in New York, I had visa issues and decided to return to London.”
Ben ended up having another three amateur bouts, fighting out of Angel ABC, before taking on the ABA coaching course. He said: “I coached the juniors at Angel for a year and then went on to help Tony Burns with the seniors at Repton. That was the highlight for me. Those three long years I spent assisting Tony Burns at the famous Repton. Travelling about in his Range Rover and listening to his wealth of boxing stories, doing corners with him and working with special talents like the late Gary Barker was priceless.”
While Doughty may have stayed under the radar until this point, he was propelled into the limelight at the famous York Hall in Bethnal Green, where he was part of the team who helped the exciting Mongolian Choi Tseveenpurev win the Featherweight Prizefighter tournament. The other half of Choi’s winning team was, of course, Spencer Fearon, a man Doughty knows well.
“I met Spencer in 2007 and we hit it off straight away,” he said. “He even toyed with the idea of turning me pro at 37 because he reckoned I still had it.”
Over the years, the relationship between the two has blossomed. Just recently, Ben was awarded a matchmakers licence, increasing his involvement in Fearon’s Hard Knock Promotions, but Doughty remains grounded, and speaks highly of the exciting new promoter.
“Quite simply, Spencer has star quality and is a promoter in the true sense of the word. He is passionate about boxing and approaches his shows from a fan's point of view. If he wouldn't want to watch a fight himself then he doesn't want it on his show. Spencer has given me a platform at a time when he didn't have to, and right now he is riding high with a British Champion in Darren Hamilton, and an English champion after Kreshnik Qato's fight of the year contender with Matt Hainey.”
On a day to day basis, Doughty works alongside Frankie Monkhouse, a young Scottish boxer who made a winning start to the professional ranks at London’s ExCel Arena earlier this month. “When Frankie first started training with me, I had modest expectations,” he stated.
“He was 80kg and had only tagged along with another lad I was training at the time, but two things were apparent: One, he could punch a bit and, two, he could take a shot. Frankie has stuck to his task and has been very easy to work with. Some lads have all the talent in the world but need a small team of counsellors around the clock! Frank gets great sparring at TKO gym with the likes of Colin Lynes and Freddie Turner and he has come on so much in eight-months.
I was happy with his debut and I would like to see him win a Southern Area title before he's through.”
Having seen his own dreams of becoming a professional boxer dashed, Doughty tries to offer a sense of level headedness and realism to the fighters he works with.
He said: “Throughout the last four-years I have lost most of my illusions about professional boxing. It is not some Holy Grail and I tell any kid who wants to turn over to consider the reason why. I tell him right off the bat that if he can't sell a 100 tickets then he will struggle, even if he's the new Ray Robinson, in today's domestic scene. Having said that, I would never discourage a kid who simply wants to fulfil the dream of turning professional, provided he can look after himself in the long run. As long as they are realistic, dedicated and understand the need for a Plan B, then we can work together.
“As a trainer I'm looking for success and eminence like most of my ilk. Some coaches spurn publicity, but I love boxing and want to be recognised for it. Hunter S. Thompson once said that if you can do one thing better than anyone else in the world then your life is a whole lot easier. If I can one day be regarded as a top trainer then I will have a bigger talent pool to work with because much of life is about people’s perceptions of you.”
The future certainly looks an exciting prospect for Ben. While enjoying the coaching aspect of the sport, Doughty also hopes to get a managers license in the near future. “I'm also enjoying the journalistic side,” said Doughty. “Being a Fighting Fit contributor is nice and I love filming Doughty and The Spirit with Spencer, a show which can be seen on YouTube, although we hope to get that on TV sometime soon. I'd like to write a boxing related book or two and may start with a ghost written autobiography. Watch this space.”