By Terence Dooley
Billy Graham, Kerry Kayes and Bobby Rimmer sat down one day in the the early-noughties to reflect on a job well done after turning the back room of Kayes’s Betta Bodies body building gym into a boxing gym. It was the latest incarnation of Graham’s Phoenix Gym and housed a fighter, Ricky Hatton, who looked a sure thing for success. The trio didn’t do anything as dramatic as clasping hands and pledging loyalty forever, but they all felt they had taken the first step on what would be a long, smooth and successful boxing journey.
Rimmer was gone by 2005, the politicking at the top-level had driven a wedge between himself, Graham and Kayes despite decades of friendship. Hatton had flown the nest by 2008 after firing Graham, with Kayes opting to remain friends with “The Hitman” while ceasing to work as Hatton’s strength coach and nutritionist. A joint voyage of success brought about by a shared love of boxing had been dashed on the rocks of the business side of the game, leaving behind a few broken dreams, a strained relationship or two and, for Kayes, an empty boxing gym.
Joe Gallagher filled the void between 2008 and 2010 before moving on to Amir Khan’s Gloves Gym in Bolton. Since then, Kayes has sold his company, CNP, in order to spend more time with his family. Kayes recently sat down with his wife, Jan, to discuss what they could do with the gyms. The two quickly decided that Rimmer needed to come home. The trainer is the new owner of Betta Bodies and the boxing gym, which is now Bobby Rimmer’s Boxing Academy and already houses a British champion in 154lb titlist Brian Rose.
“I’m not sure ‘back together again' just applies to this weekend,” said Kayes when speaking to BoxingScene about the change of ownership. “It is well-documented that Bobby left in 2005 because of outside influences creating wedges in the gym, but we’re a couple of years older now and a bit wiser. Bobby and I have worked together again for a few years and it is comfortable. So when people say they have heard we’re back together it isn’t strictly true — we’ve been knocking about for ages. I was doing weights with Brian Rose, Jack Arnfield and other lads, and have always advised Bobby's fighters on nutrition.”
Rimmer, a former pro who amassed a 7-7 (4) record before retiring in 1985, expanded on Kayes’s point. “When I first came into the gym, Billy Graham told me: ‘Be careful because this job will consume you’, and it did,” said Rimmer. “I wish I’d have relaxed into it more. I have an infectious personality, I try to run before I can walk, and that was partly to blame. In retrospect, Billy was right, I should have listened to him then.”
“There were outside influences in the gym creating all sorts of rifts,” added Kayes. “I remember Billy said the same thing to me that he’d said to Bobby (when Kayes came into boxing). Billy told me to be careful. You look back on it now as an older person, and it was a great journey, but the reality is that there were lots of warts on it. Billy once said, and I apologise if this upsets some people, that boxers are lions led by mice.
“Bobby left in 2005, everyone knows what happened with Billy and Ricky, then Joe Gallagher moved in, and I sponsored his fighters, but me and Joe didn’t get on, so he left the gym. I’ve seen Joe loads of times since then. We share laughs and jokes, so good luck to him — he’ll have a massive career.
“Then the gym was empty again. I’m at the age where I’m still very much in love with my wife, have time on my hands and am successful in life, so I want to a bit of travelling. This is my last business interest, and it is a time-consuming business — I can’t spend the time here that Betta Bodies deserves. Bobby knows everybody. He can build up the boxing gym again, and both gyms will compliment each other. As of the first of November, Bobby will own Betta Bodies and the boxing gym, which is now Bobby Rimmer’s Boxing Academy.
“I can just enjoy coming in to have a cup tea with Bobby, and working with him and the lads. Bobby has the enthusiasm to sort it all out, like I did 20 years ago, but I’m 63 now, so now have the enjoyment without the mither and someone I trust has the gym.”
Indeed, and despite his other sporting interests, Kayes lives and breathes boxing, his love for boxing is underpinned by one thing, the fighters. “Boxers are the most honest sportsmen,” said Kayes.
“I’ve had the luxury with working with every discipline in sport. Manchester City, Blackburn Rovers, Liverpool FC, the Welsh and English FA all use CNP. Andy Bolton uses CNP, so do British cyclists Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton, Bradley Wiggins. Boxers have special place because if you want to be a boxer, you make yourself go to the gym and you can’t have the odd easy workout. You can’t have easy spars. You do have easy training days, but they’re following hard training days and in that ring you can’t hide, so they’re very honest people.
“The main problem with boxers is that there’s well-respected coaches, especially in the amateurs, who know a lot about boxing, but who still advise their fighters not to take in any water, which is crazy and ABAs could almost be sued because you can’t give your child to a federation in which a coach can tell a child not have water. So I’m very proud on my achievements in boxing and am very proud that I’ve taught some boxers and coaches to eat properly.”
Rimmer’s boxing nous and Kayes’s areas of expertise should dovetail nicely to create a one-stop-shop. Plus the gym itself, with all its history, is a draw. “This gym made its name through Ricky Hatton, Matthew Hatton, Billy Graham, Matthew Macklin, Michael Gomez, Paul Smith and many others,” said Kayes.
“Bobby went out on his own and made his own name with Brian Rose, he brought a kid from four-round level to knocking on the door at European and world titles. Bobby is not moving in as a lodger, it is his gym and he now has the gym he created. Bobby did all the hard work of putting in the windows, putting the bags up, and he now has Betta Bodies, which has the luxury of strength equipment.”
Rimmer spends his spare time racing pigeons, dare we say that he has now come home to roost? “It is really strange, isn’t it, because listening to Kerry in this interview has brought it all back home,” said Rimmer.
“I was very lucky in boxing because I walked right into a thriving gym as Billy’s assistant coach, which was a massive honour, and I learned so much from my time here. Now I have the business side as well and have the best of both worlds.
“We all look for something in our lives, sometimes we don’t know what we’re looking for and do something that doesn’t work out then try to move on to something different, but we come back. I was here at first, it didn’t work out and I opened my own gym, so I think I learned a lot, but this is my home and I’m back to the place where it began. I got the same feeling when I boxed for Ardwick Lads as an amateur then went back a few years later. I feel this is where my life in boxing belongs.”
Unlike most trainers, Rimmer came into the sport at a high level; Hatton was already the WBU light-welterweight-champion and the hottest property in British boxing when he hooked up with Graham. However, what started out as an adventure between friends became a crash course in the unseen, and often unseemly, side of the sport.
“The first corner I ever worked was Stephen Foster Junior (versus David McIntyre in 2003) at the Braehead Arena, my second corner was Ricky Hatton versus Vince Phillips at the MEN (also in 2003),” recalled Rimmer. “I was very lucky. Some boxing coaches may never get that, but I think I got it all too quick and had to go back to come forward. I went from Ricky versus Kostya Tszyu to Brian Rose doing a four rounder at the George Carnell Leisure Centre, where I was on my own.”
“It was like you served your apprenticeship at the top-level then went back and forward again,” joked Kayes.
“Exactly,” added Rimmer. “Starting again has given me so much more respect for the job. Since I started again, I appreciate it more. I got in the corner with Ricky (for the Phillips fight), the MEN was packed, and everyone was shouting Ricky’s name, but I hadn’t done an apprenticeship and, really, had no right to be there. I’ve done it all now.
“Brian and I have had to put our money together to go sparring. We’ve driven back wondering if we’ve got enough diesel to make it. We’ve had to put to for a loaf of bread and six eggs. That’s what we’ve done. I feel that I’ve got a right to be there now. I’ve worked my apprenticeship.”
Now older and wiser, Rimmer was philosophical when looking back on his time with Graham, Kayes and Hatton, ruing the fact that the code of ethics he had grown up with did not exist in an around the cut-and-thrust of boxing, which has a long history of interfamilial fighting and sudden rifts.
Indeed, Rimmer once told me about the boxing phenomenon of “three-step trainers”. The first step sees them poke their head around the gym door to ask if they can watch your fighters train. By the second step they are by the side of the ring passing water to your fighters. When step three comes you don't even see it, you step into your gym one day and they're training your guys. There are probably more potential “three-step trainers” than there are actual trainers operating within the sport. Even if it does not get that far, there is always a friend, associate or family member who knows better than the trainer, and they are not shy when it comes to stating their views.
“Kerry and me have been friends for a long time, we have some very serious memories, and that kind of sh*t didn’t go on until we walked into a boxing gym, where it goes on,” revealed Rimmer. “Ordinarily, you wouldn’t have it, if someone started a bit of sh*t you’d tell them to hold up and see them off — you wouldn’t have anything to do with them. Then you’re here, you’re getting bombarded with it every day and it is very hard to put up with. I’d never put up with it before, Kerry hadn’t — so at one point you are going to rub against each other.
“Because we’re big characters, the people causing problems see that you’ll rub up against each other and you’re the ones who backfire. That’s what happened (when Rimmer first left the gym in 2005). I was hurt when it did, but I learned a very valuable lesson. I missed Kerry a lot when he weren’t friends, I always did, and it turned me against the people who caused it.
“With me, I set off on this road and couldn’t get off it because I was hell-bent on what I was thinking. I led what I thought was a stressful life, but it was a black and white life, if I didn’t like you then that was the end of it, there was none of the grey areas. In boxing, there are the grey areas and people you have to put up with. They come to the gym saying: ‘Someone has said this and that about you’. Then I got consumed by it all. I let my guard down. Once the anger of the split subsided, I started to think clearly and realized that it wasn’t the people I was venting my anger on, like Kerry and Billy, it was these other people, they’d done a belting job on me, and that’s what annoyed me.”
At this point, Kayes took up Rimmer’s point, he said: “To this day I don’t understand what goes on (in boxing). It is politics for the sake of politics.”
“I used that because I now know how it works in a gym,” continued Rimmer. “We don’t have fathers, mothers, aunts or uncles or anyone else coming in to tell us how it works. No cousin twice removed will tell me what goes on in this gym. If you want to train here, understand that there’s one trainer, one nutritionist and one strength coach, and no one else. I’ve learned a very valuable lesson. Parents can come and watch the boxing, but I don’t go to their houses and tell them how to cook their meals, how to fold their clothes or what TV station to watch, so I don’t expect them to come into my house and tell me how to do what I do.
“The lesson is, stop it before it starts. I tell the dads how the lads are doing, they can watch them train, but I’m the boxing coach. They want their son to have a coach, so they let me do the job that I’m paid for. I don’t have all them ad hoc meetings about other people and the politics, boxing is hard enough for these fighters. They’ve got enough to think about, at the end of a camp, someone is going to try and knock them unconscious, so we don’t have any of that.”
After the rifts, splits and fall outs, it was left to the next generation to bring the two friends back together. Ironically it was a boxer, Brian Rose, who played an instrumental role in getting Rimmer and Kayes back on track.
“Brian came in the gym one day and said he’d been over here with Kerry,” said Rimmer. “I thought it was fantastic — that was it. Brian engineered little things so we’d get talking again. Kerry sent me a t-shirt one day that said ‘Team Kayes’ in it, I picked it up and took a photo then posted it on the Internet, talked to Kerry, and we came over and did the strength training. It went on from there and has been great. I walked in here this morning with a clear head and all that stuff (from the past) didn’t mean anything to me any more. It is a new regime. It is like I’ve never been away and, for that feeling alone, I know it is going to work.”
He added: “One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t change the past. The more you dwell on it the harder it is to let it go. It is not about the past, it is about what is in front of you. I have more excitement over what is going to be. This is going to be a better place than it was, that is not being disrespectful to Kerry, Billy, Ricky or anyone else, it is going to be better because there’ll be no falling out between anyone.”
As for Rimmer’s usual tongue-in-cheek claims that he has been “winging” it all these years. The gym owner, businessman and title-winning trainer might finally have to start admitting that he knows his onions.
“I’ve always been modest, I’m always there with a nod and a wink, but it is not about me, I’m happy how I am, it is about the boxers, about getting a gym and making it the best it can be,” he stated. “Without the boxers there wouldn’t be any trainers.”
The new look Betta Bodies will also be a family affair. “My son, Robert, is a prize candidate to come and help me,” said Rimmer. “Kerry will show him the finer points of the strength training and, when Kerry’s not here, Robert can help out. Anthony, my other son, will come in, so already I’m building this little family unit up together. It is security for my family and that enjoyment of working with them. In boxing, you feel you’re away from your family all the time, you’re not, but you do feel you’re spending more time with your boxers, so I want us all together.”
Ricky Hatton is the gym’s most famous product. Now an active fighter again, “The Hitman” is gearing up for his November 24 comeback and has the unanimous backing of his former team.
“Whether it works or it doesn’t, I spoke to Ricky on Friday and he’s the same as he was when I first met him — he’s got rid of some demons,” Rimmer’s take on Hatton’s retirement U-turn. “Me, Kerry and everyone else, we just want Ricky to be well, to be healthy and to be here for a long, long time. We don’t want to see him drunk or in the papers for the wrong reasons. Ricky’s taken the reins of his life and he’s leading them himself, which is great for Ricky Hatton.”
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