By Nick Halling
Sometimes a partnership in boxing can be forged by accident. That is certainly the case for Cambridgeshire light welterweight Tyler Goodjohn and trainer Peter Sims.
In May 2012, three days after his 21st birthday, Goodjohn received a late present he definitely didn’t want. He’d just lost a British Masters title tilt against Danny Connor, and worse was to come. His then-coach, Tony Sims, called to say that he was being released from the gym.
“He was very good about it, and I have a lot of respect for how he handled the situation and explained it to me,” said Goodjohn. “But he had a lot of fighters in the gym, and he just didn’t believe I’d be able to go to championship level. I said I hoped I’d be able to prove him wrong, and Tony said he’d be delighted to be proved wrong too.”
Goodjohn considered his options for eight months, before settling on a new coach, and he didn’t have far to look – Tony’s brother Peter. Except Peter needed some persuading because taking fighters on board to train them wasn’t high on his agenda.
“When he lost to Connor, Tony released him because he didn’t think he’d win anything,” said Sims. We knew each other obviously, and one day he asked me if I’d look after him. I wasn’t training fighters at the time as I had a lot of business interests going on, but the kid doesn’t have a bad bone in his body, so I took him on.
“We have a very close relationship, and he’s a dream to train. He does exactly what you tell him to do. He’s a very hard worker, he’s not a clubber, he doesn’t drink and he trusts me completely. He’s even lost that farmer’s accent since he’s been with me!”
The results in the ring have been impressive. In their first fight together in December 2012, Goodjohn stopped Sylwester Walczak in five – the Pole had never previously been halted. In April, David O’Connor went in seven, and hasn’t fought since. Then, in October, Andrei Hramyka lasted just five. None were household names, but significantly, the youngster was making clear progress with every contest.
“I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason,” said Goodjohn. “Looking back, that loss to Connor was a big boost for me. It made me get my head down and work at it even more. I’m a very determined person, and it made me come back even stronger.”
Having Peter Sims in his corner was an added bonus. “He’s very good at picking out other people’s weaknesses,” he said. “He picks up little things here and there, tells me what to do, what the other guy’s going to do. And it works – those three fights I had, Peter’s tactics were spot on. I trust him 110 percent, and in boxing, that doesn’t always happen. We have a great connection.”
That brought him to a turning point in his fledgling career at the ExCel Arena in London last month. It was another meeting with Danny Connor, officially billed as an eliminator for the English light welterweight title. Unofficially, Goodjohn was fighting for his career.
The fighter now confesses that there were huge pressures that night, but if he was feeling the strain, he hid it well. It was never easy for him – Connor’s relentless pressure saw to that – but at the end of a busy 10 rounds, Goodjohn had secured a merited 98-93 verdict.
“I proved a few things to a few people,” he said afterwards. “I was using my boxing and making him miss. But even though I’d met him before, I’d forgotten how much of a pace he sets. That guy doesn’t slow down at all, even after seven or eight rounds, he still kept coming.”
Connor’s pressure was commendable, but he found Goodjohn an elusive target. And there was more to the youngster than evasive skills. He consistently landed the better shots, and on several occasions looked as if he might have wobbled the game Connor.
“If he’d got beat, I think it would have destroyed him,” said Sims. “That one meant everything to him. It was his world title fight. If he hadn’t got the decision, I think he’d probably have retired. He would have gone back to being a cattle farmer on his dad’s farm, looking after the pigs or whatever he has to do.”
It meant a lot, too, that Tony Sims took time to come into his dressing room to congratulate Goodjohn on his victory. “He came in and told me he was really pleased for me,” said Goodjohn. “I was so happy. I always said I wanted to prove him wrong.”
The livestock will have to take a back seat in 2014, as Peter Sims and Goodjohn consider their options. There is no need to hurry. It is not certain that the fighter will even be taking on the English title yet, as Sims looks to continue to develop his prospect carefully. Instead, a Southern area tussle against newly-crowned champion Ricky Boylan might prove more tempting.
There are certainly no immediate plans to call out current champ Darren Hamilton. Goodjohn still has progress to make, and the tricky, clever, deceptive Hamilton would be a hard puzzle to solve at this stage of his career.
“He’s only a baby in this game,” said Sims. “There is no need to rush him. (Stablemate) Martin Ward is only 22, and he’s still doing six rounders. There’s a lot we can do with strength and conditioning. He can punch, but he needs to hit a little bit harder.
“But there’s no doubt in my mind that he could pick up the British title, and that’s what we’re aiming for. He’s got great skills, good reflexes, very elusive. You see him sparring in the gym with guys like Kevin Mitchell and Lee Purdy, and he holds his own. He’s a proper talent. Give it a year, maybe 18 months, and he could be fighting for the British title.”
If that were to happen, Goodjohn would be delighted. “You hear someone like Carl Froch talk about what the Lonsdale belt means to him, and to get that title would be a dream come true,” he said.
Cambridgeshire is not a famed hotbed of boxing talent, but another useful light-welterweight is a near-neighbour of Goodjohn. Dave “Boy” Green won British and European titles, and twice boxed for the world crown, having the great misfortune to come up against two legends in Carlos Palomino and Sugar Ray Leonard.
Nobody is yet suggesting that Goodjohn is anywhere close to emulating the Fen Tiger’s 1970’s exploits, but he is clearly heading in the right direction. Rejected by one brother, reclaimed by the other, the youngster has a fascinating future in prospect. Livestock farming’s loss could be British boxing’s gain.
Nick Halling is a commentator for Sky Sports.