By Terence Dooley
Heywood’s Kieran Farrell has had good days and bad days since being told that his boxing career is over. The 22-year-old suffered bleeding and swelling to the brain after dropping a 10-round decision to Anthony Crolla for the vacant English lightweight title at Manchester’s Bowler’s Arena on December 7. Farrell, 14-1 (3), was kept in hospital for observation for a few days then faced an anxious couple of weeks before his doctor confirmed that his career was over due to the irreparable damage sustained in the bout.
Coldwell Boxing Promotions — who promoted Farrell’s recent fights — have arranged a benefit night for the former fighter. Farrell plans to move into coaching, but is taking things one day at a time. He had one of his bad days a few weeks ago after deciding he wanted to hit the gym for a training session despite being told to take a break until he recovers from his ordeal.
“I had a bad one a few weeks ago, I was walking around pushing my daughter [Kiera] in the pram all-day and got home and said: ‘F*** it, I’m going training’,” said Farrell when speaking to BoxingScene.
“My brother, Nathan, thought I was having him on, but then my dad got home and saw I was about to leave — I was wearing my sweat suit and everything. My dad said: ‘Where are you going?’, and I told him. He wasn’t happy, but I started walking up the street. Nathan caught up with me. I asked him if he was training as well and he said: ‘I’m coming to make sure you don’t drop dead!’. I turned around and headed back home. I know I shouldn’t be in the gym, I know that, but it is killing me. My type of injury was the worst one you can get. I burst out crying when I realised I couldn’t go to the gym.
“It is still a shock. I know fights only come around three or four times a year, but you look around at other guys who might take it easy and then you’ve got me, who wants to train hard and fight but can’t. I love the lifestyle of boxing, not many fighters do love it and that’s why it is hitting me hard. It was my life, now I’m having to come to terms with it, so I’ll put all my energy into the gym.”
Indeed, Farrell’s injury and the news of his retirement moved Irish tough man Eamonn Magee to tears. “I spoke to Eamonn to see if he was OK because he burst out crying last time we spoke,” he said.
“Eamonn is the hard man of boxing, but he was upset because he knows I lived it seven days a week when I was over in Ireland [training with Magee and head coach John Breen]. I was shocked by Eamonn’s response, he got his missus on the phone and I told her it will be alright. I know I’ve got people to support me whenever I give them a ring. Eamon is a tough man, so if he’s in tears then you know that something bad has happened.
“I love the sport, I can’t not love it. I also know that I can bring fighters through. I will miss that buzz of walking to the ring, but I know that whoever I bring through will benefit from my fan support and have more support than most people coming through. Everyone will get behind them to see us working the corner.
“You get drawn in just watching a fight on TV, don’t you, so imagine the buzz from doing a corner. If I get half the excitement that I get from walking to the ring then it will be good. That’s what I miss the most, the entrance walk — I still listen to songs on my iPod now and think: ‘I’d love to walk out to that’. Then I realize that it is over, even though I’m only 22, so they’ll be good days and bad days.”
When Farrell sat down for a consultation at Manchester’s Hope Hospital on January the 9th, he suspected that his doctor was going to give him some bad news. He prepared himself the best he could yet was taken aback when he was told that he couldn’t even spar anymore.
He said: “The doc said the Board wouldn’t licence me because it was one of the worst subdural hematomas that you can get. It was brutal sh*t, so I asked him about training and sparring. He said I wouldn’t be able to spar and I thought: ‘I’d have loved to be able to put the gloves on in sparring again’. I thought I could still earn a few quid through sparring because I’m a good sparring partner, I push people hard, but he said I couldn’t do it, which is tough. Now I’ve got to think about my baby daughter when thoughts of sparring go through my head.
“I put a quote on my Twitter: ‘Put your hand on your chest. Can you feel that? That’s called a purpose’. I know God has a purpose for me and believe that, so the avenue I’m taking is the one I’ve got to take.”
Still, Farrell, in pursing a pro career, has achieved more than most. Armchair fans can be brutally dismissive of any boxer who doesn’t win a world title, sometimes to the point of obnoxiousness, but “Vicious” can be proud of his career. Farrell dared to dream and pursue those dreams, how many of us get to say that?
“Yeah, I know,” he said when reminded that avoiding the pitfalls of adolescence life and making it to that first pro fight is an achievement in itself. “I’ve had the time of my life in boxing. There’s been ups and downs, shows getting cancelled, different managers and promotional companies, so I know how the game works.
“John Breen has told me to bring lads over to his gym and he’ll bring them to my gym. John’s 62, I’m 22, and we’re training buddies now — that did make me laugh! John’s got 40 years on me in the corner and he’s just a phone call away, so I can learn from people like that.”
He added: “I’m glad I’m not in a wheelchair, some people expected that. No disrespect, but it is a good job I was in with Anthony, who isn’t a massive puncher, because one big shot and it could have been like that for me. One punch can change it all in that ring. It can be fatal, but I came through.”
Farrell knew that something was amiss on the night; he could feel that his head was swollen yet thought it had been caused by a head clash or punch. He did what most fighters do in the heat of battle and bit down on his gumshield, unaware that he was straying into dangerous territory.
“I’ve had the same feeling before, like water on your head,” he said. “I had it in my fifth fight against Jason Carr, where we head clashed a lot, and it felt like there was water on top of my brain. This time, the swelling was greater and any little tap gave me that cringing pain — it was hurting. I didn’t say anything to John between rounds because I know he’d have pulled me out. I wanted to see the final bell. I even said I’d go out on a stretcher to get there. It wasn’t nice to leave the ring that way, but I didn’t get knocked out.”
Farrell appeared to applaud his fans as he left the ring, it would have been a hell of a gesture if true, but he told me that he didn’t even recall leaving the arena. “People told me that, but I was out of it,” he said.
“I don’t remember anything after coming down from John’s shoulders. Our Nathan said: ‘Are you alright, kid?’, and that was that. I think my hands were just moving on their own. My mum said it was scary because I was sick in the ambulance — there was froth and all that. It was bad.
“Nathan was really shaken, he knew there was something not right even when people were saying I was just tired and dehydrated. He said my eyes were rolling in my head and it was hanging to watch. Nathan is still shaken up by it. I’ll be crying and then he’ll be crying because he doesn’t like to see his brother like that.
“We’ve been best mates since we were little boys. I remember my eighth fight, it was at the Doncaster Dome, down the bill against Jason Carr again, and all I could hear in the corner was Nathan shouting at me in this empty hall. I turned around and said: ‘Will you shut the f*** up!’ — it gave the little audience a bit of a laugh.
“I’m in good form today, though, because I woke up and realised that I’m lucky to be here. It is upsetting for my man and dad to see me the way they did when I wanted to go down the gym. We’re a close family, they don’t want to see me like that and I don’t want to upset them.”
Farrell’s family found the aftermath of the Crolla fight especially hard to come to terms with despite a shared love of the sport. “It is a bit harder for my mum and dad because the first thing I did after getting out of hospital was switch on my iPad to watch some fights,” he said.
“They asked me what I was doing. I just wanted to watch some boxing; they thought it would take me a long time to watch it again because it took them a bit of time. They’re watching it again. It has been a few months now so it is easier. I can’t help but watch it myself because it has been in my life since I was 7-years-old, you can’t just switch off the enjoyment. I was a professional fighter who wanted to get to the top — I wanted a Lonsdale belt and was getting there. I love boxing.”
Farrell’s passion for the sport led us into the bemusing situation of discussing the fight that ended his career. It should have been an awkward conversation, instead it was the most free-flowing part of our conversation as we put everything else aside and reverted to type — two boxing fanatics pouring over the minutiae of an off-TV fight.
“Crolla was a recognised British champion who was a fight away from winning the Lonsdale belt outright,” stated Farrell. “It was a hard-fought ten-rounds. I thought it could have gone either way. When it got to the end I thought: ‘I’ve won this fight’, but I can see how it could have gone to Crolla.
“What I don’t get is the 92-99 [from Phil Edwards] — that was wrong. Terry O’Connor had it right with 94-96 — it could have been that either way [Dave Parris scored it 93-99]. I thought I had it 7-3 in rounds on the night and still think I won it after watching it back because I think you should score for the aggressor. That’s why I scored for [Oscar] De La Hoya over [Floyd] Mayweather — there’d have been no fight if it wasn’t for Oscar. I’m a bit bitter about that scorecard. When people look back, they’ll think I got beat convincingly, but I didn’t lose 9-1 with one even.
“I took the early rounds, then I scored the third to Crolla, he got some rights off and my head went back a little bit, so I didn’t do enough to win the round. I thought I won through to the eighth and maybe lost the ninth and tenth because my head was being knocked back in those rounds. If I were scoring a fight, I’d score against the person who was getting their head knocked back at the end of close rounds like that.
“Now I have watched it back as a fan and I was amazed, I was putting six and seven shots together. They said I was hitting gloves and that, but I was pinging them off his head. You see Manny [Pacquiao] put shots together, and he has room to do it, but I was getting them off without any room to work. I thought to myself on the night: ‘This is going well’. John’s plan was based on pressure and work-rate — I stuck to it.
“It may have left a blemish on my record, but it showed the class I belonged in — I was fighting a very good former British champion. I was 22 and in with the best in the country. With some time, and I am still very young, then I would have won a world title.”
As fights go, it was a knockout and British title belt short of matching then-British 154lb champion Jamie Moore’s 10th-round KO over Matthew Macklin in September 2006. Like Moore, Crolla used his greater title experience to overcome a spirited and high-octave challenger.
“I’ll tell you what, that’s exactly what I said when I came out of hospital,” said Farrell. “I hadn’t even watched it back by then, I just had it in my head that it was that type of fight, a fight of the year like that one, and I still remembered every bit of the fight.
“That was what I always enjoyed the most, looking at the fight itself, and I thought about Jamie and Macklin. Matthew went for it and Jamie tucked up, avoiding shots, and finished it off, but I think Macklin was exhausted by then. Now look at Macklin, he moved up in weight and is fighting for world titles. I can’t put all the lessons from that night into my own work, but some young kids will benefit from my experiences.”
As time ticks on, and when the bad days come again, thoughts of pursuing a licence abroad may pop into Farrell’s mind. Both Czar Amonsot and Jermain Taylor have suffered differing levels of subdural haematomas and both men continued to fight — Amonsot in the Philippines and Australia and Taylor in the U.S.A. Farrell, though, has pledged to resist the temptation to explore alternative avenues no matter how itchy his fists get.
“I didn’t make the decision based on my health, it was taken from me, but if they’d have said I could fight then I’d have had a decision to make for myself, my daughter and my family,” stressed Farrell. “The doc told me that the Board wouldn’t licence me and that if anyone else did you’d have to think about why they were doing it and that it showed health doesn’t come first in some places.
“I have realised that boxing’s only a sport, it was hard to realize that, but I’d rather be pushing my baby girl around in her pram than have her growing up to push her dad about in a wheelchair. It would have been selfishness to carry on. We all love the sport, but I’m not out of it completely and, although it is a shame that this has happened, I’ll be alright.”
Kieran Farrell’s Benefit Dinner takes place on April 12th at Manchester’s Renaissance Hotel. Tickets will be available from January 30th at www.coldwellboxing.com and are priced at £60.
A VIP package is also available for £85 which will include waitress service, half bottle of wine per person and a front row table position. Entertainment will be provided throughout the evening and there will be guest speakers from the world of boxing.
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