By Terence Dooley
Joe Gallagher took over Billy Graham’s Phoenix Gym back in January, and the trainer hopes to turn his Denton base into the British version of Freddie Roach’s Wildcard gym. Gallagher trains the Murray brothers, John and Joe, as well as Matthew Macklin, Femi Fehintola, Mike Holden, and Gallagher is going to bring the likes of ABA winner Hosea Burton through the ranks in coming years.
Kerry Kayes owns the building; the boxing gym is housed at the back of Betta Bodies, Kerry’s bodybuilding sweatshop. Ricky Hatton’s conditioning coach during Hatton’s peak years, Kayes faced a dilemma when Billy Graham announced his retirement in August of last year. Kerry was left with an empty room, yet he still wanted to be involved with the sport of boxing, so Kayes decided to invite Gallagher, who was working out of the Phil Martin Centre in Mosside, to take over the boxing side of his Betta Bodies gymnasium.
“Well I worked with John Murray for quite a bit,” explained Kayes. “Joe (Gallagher) came to see me a few years ago to ask me to do work with John Murray. I get on really well with Joe so he then asked me to work the corner when John beat Lee Meager.
“As you know Billy then retired for boxing, this room was empty. It would have been criminal not to carry on with boxing. I asked Joe if he wanted to move into the gym. Joe accepted, and it was time to start a new camp.”
“Don’t forget, I had seen what Joe did for his boxers,” he continued. “Joe first asked me to speak with John Murray over two years ago. I knew that it must be a pain for John to go to the boxing gym and the weightlifting gym separately. It is well documented that Billy retired from boxing, making this gym empty. I either had to brick the wall up, because it was Billy’s [gym] to all extents, and then sign it over to Betta Bodies, or I could pass it on as a CNP-sponsored boxing gym.”
Bringing in Gallagher allowed Kayes a chance to step back from the Hatton-Graham split, whilst still maintaining his involvement with the sport. Gallagher was happy to move into the building; he renamed the place Gallagher’s Gym in order to start afresh.
Joe was well aware of the fact that the gym had a recent history of success, he also believes that it has a lineage, Graham had worked under local legend Phil Martin, as had Gallagher, and Joe was now taking his spot in the line of succession.
“I was chuffed to bits when Kerry offered me the gym,” explained Gallagher. “It was good to call somewhere home for a change. Since becoming a professional coach I’ve shared a kickboxing gym in Altrincham. Then I went back to Mosside. I was grateful, but I always wanted my own place. Billy was not here anymore so Kerry gave me this opportunity.”
“It is not just the building itself,” he continued. “It is everything that comes with it. Having Kerry Kayes and CNP beside you is a massive boost. The lads aren’t having to dash between two places to get their [boxing] training and their weight training.
“I would have been crazy to pass up this gym, and the opportunity it presented. I did not take it straight away. I like to have a think about things, only fools rush in, so I thought about it and I knew it was right.
“The main thing was that I’d be working closely with Kerry Kayes. It is a bit of a ‘young bull, old bull’ scenario as Kerry has seen a lot. I feel that my passion, my dedication and my will to succeed can be a bit overbearing on the fighters. I need someone to tap me on the shoulder and say, ‘Joe, you are taking on a bit too much there’. Kerry is a massive part of things when it comes to steering the ship.”
Phil Martin had steadily moved his boxers from the ‘away’ corner, turning some of them into champions in the process; he did it through sheer hard work and innovation. Graham and Gallagher had both worked under Martin, who passed away in 1994, aged only 44, cancer turned out to the one foe that Phil could not overcome through graft and determination; Graham had always credited Martin with giving him his start in boxing; Gallagher, in turn, had always spoken to me about the work Graham did with Ricky Hatton; Consequently, there was a brief moment of unease when the gym was offered to him.
“When the gym was offered to me? Yeah, I was uncomfortable with it because of who was in here in the past,” he confirmed. “I had to also get my head around someone wanting to do that for me, because I’ve never been given anything. I’ve always had to fight my way forward with John Murray.
“I was flattered and I was honoured to take over the mantle that was set here before. It all came down to Kerry and his offer and as I said in his Christmas card to him last year I’ll always be eternally grateful for his support, he made my dreams come true.”
Still, Gallagher was aware that he was stepping into a big role, The Phoenix had been at the thick end of the action during the mid-1990s Manchester boxing heyday, turning out exciting pressure fighters, with Hatton eventually proving himself the pick of them. Joe had been fully aware of the responsibilities, and profile, which would come with his new surroundings, the fact that the gym came with ready access to Kayes’ expertise was a crucial factor in his decision, and it was also nice to call somewhere home.
“It was a massive decision, yeah,” he confirmed. “I had been at Mosside when Phil was there, (I was) working with the amateurs. Then I went back to Mosside to work with John Murray when he was starting out. I will be forever grateful that they let me go back there.
“At the time John Murray needed to learn from respected pros like Carl Thompson and Michael Brodie. It was a special period for me, but the time had come for me to stand out and for the fighters to get their own space to train. Kerry will tell you that I took my time over the decision to relocate, but I would have been a fool to turn it down.”
“I feel that the gym in Mosside was very good for me,” he continued. “I was very privileged to come through under Phil Martin. I was very proud to have a lad [Joe Murray] come through the Olympics last year under the banner Mosside ABA. It was only right that I did that. Phil can feel proud that a fighter from Mosside ABA represented them at the Olympics.
“John Murray also won the British belt out of that gym, and it was like bringing another Champ back to Champs Camp. Even now the Mosside gym is still known as Champs Camp, nearly fifteen years after Phil passed away. It will be known as Champs Camp for longer than that. I just needed a chance to move away and make my own mark on the Manchester scene.
“I was a lodger there. Maurice Core is there doing good work with his own fighters. I needed to step out and find my own identity, like Bob Shannon and Brian Hughes did. I hope that in ten years time Gallagher’s Gym has left its own mark on the local scene.”
Still, it was a nice little move, and it brought with it lots of synergy. Gallagher pointed to the photo on the office counter, using it to illustrate the point.
“It is funny when you look back,” he explained. “That photo is from the downstairs gym at Champ’s Camp in 1993. Billy looks young. Phil looks young. I sit here and hope that Phil is proud and Billy is proud. You see the same picture of Phil over there that Billy had when he was here. I hope Phil is looking on with pride.
“You have got Phil, he was his own man. Billy is known for doing things his own way. I don’t want to copy Phil Martin and I don’t want to copy Billy Graham. I want to be my own man, and (be) known for being myself. The common thing between us all is the work ethic. Knowing that at some point your fighters are going to have to fight hard.
“People used to say, ‘Phil’s fighters can fight’. Or ‘Billy’s fighters can fight’, I hope that people will one day say, ‘Joe Gallagher’s fighters can fight when push comes to shove’. Up to now John Murray in particular has proven that to be true.”
The man who had put The Phoenix, and Manchester boxing, on the worldwide boxing map further bolstered Billy Graham’s endorsement of Gallagher, Ricky Hatton popped in to see how things were going when Joe first made the move, it was a nice double whammy.
“Ricky popped in when we first got here to see how things were,” explained Gallagher. “Ricky watched Joe (Murray) train and made some nice remarks, which is a big thing for a young lad looking to turn professional.
“Billy came in as well, and (he) liked the gym. I got a nice text from Billy last Christmas Eve, he wished me luck with the fighters, and said that talent always shines through. For Billy to give me that seal of approval means the world to me.
“I know Billy had his critics, just like every trainer that comes on the scene, but Billy won them round in the end. Enzo Calzaghe did the same thing. Billy’s name is there in Manchester, and British, boxing history; it will be etched as part of the Manchester scene. People like Anthony Farnell and [Michael] Gomez did well with Billy. People think it was all about Hatton but he also had Carl Thompson and Ensley Bingham. Billy knows that I will do a good job, and that I won’t let anyone down.”
Gallagher hopes to build his own training legacy, the addition of Matthew Macklin to the gym at the turn of the year was a huge boost, especially when Matthew went out and demolished Wayne Elcock for the British title back in March, Macklin did the job in three rounds, two rounds quicker than Arthur Abrahams had managed when beating Elcock in 2007.
“A while ago I picked out three fighters that I thought would make it as pros: Steven Foster, Matthew Macklin and Kenny Anderson up in Scotland. They went on to become good pro fighters,” explained Gallagher.
“For Matthew to come and train here was a good kudos for me. I had doubts about taking on too many fighters. No disrespect to Billy or Phil but they did have huge gyms. Phil started off with Frank Grant and [Ensley] Bingham and Maurice [Core]. Then it got so big, and it became hard for Phil to spread himself along.”
He continued: “Then Billy came along, and funnily enough the same thing later happened to Billy, his stable became too big. Billy started out with Ricky, then Matthew [Hatton], Arnie [Farnell], [Michael] Gomez, then [Paul] Smith and the likes of [Steven] Bell, then Macklin, they all added up.
“You think to yourself, ‘It can all get too big and spread from there’. I never wanted a massive camp. If someone offered me ten John Murray’s, ten Joe Murray’s, ten Femi Fehintola’s, and ten Macklin’s I would take them, but you are giving yourself a lot of work at the same time.
“I want to bring quality fighters in but I want them to get the one-on-one time that John and Joe got for so long. I want to make sure that I spread myself just right for each boxer. These kids are paying me to do a job, and I don’t want to cheat them by not giving them everything I have.”
Gallagher is now looking towards Freddie Roach for inspiration, Freddie has had a great year or two, his recent success is the result of years of hard work, Roach is reaping the rewards of a job well done, and Gallagher told the Manchester Evening News that he hopes to emulate Freddie.
“In the space of a couple of weeks we will have Macklin going for the European title and Murray going for the British title,” he said.
“We've already had two British champions at our gym and by the end of the year we could have two European champions. For all the great fighters Billy Graham had at this gym, he never had a European champion. That's the one belt missing.”
“I want this to be the Wild Card Gym of Britain,” he continued. “That's what drives me on and it shows in my fighters. We are here for the long haul. We've got two fighters in Murray and Macklin who have conquered Britain, now it's time to conquer Europe and then the world.”
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