The boxing world's a stage for home town boy Stevie Bell though he plans to be treading the boards in a different theatre from the cramped Wythenshawe Forum once his Commonwealth Games mission is completed. The England featherweight Bell, already a double ABA champion and veteran of more than 135 bouts wants to make a professional career not in the ring as a boxer, but on the box, as an actor.
Bell, the 27-year-old captain of the 12-man English team is a part-time lifeguard who would like to be a full-time thespian once he is finished with the gloved game, which could be by next weekend.
He has already made one film playing the lead role alongside Roger Daltrey in the Channel 4 movie Like It Is. His part was that of a gay bare-knuckle fighter who works in a bar. "Not typecasting,'' he laughs. "I'm married with two kids.'' Bell, who trains at the same Manchester gym as the local Hitman Ricky Hatton was picked by producers from 600 who auditioned for the role and it has given him a taste for the footlights. "I've always been interested in drama and I took to acting like a duck to water,'' he says. "I even had to snog a bloke, but it didn't worry me.
"Actually acting is easy compared to boxing. You see some of those luvvies having fits of temperament but when you look at what they do it is all bollocks. They just have to learn a few lines. It's a piece of cake compared to getting up in the ring and getting knocked about in front of thousands of people.''
For a while Bell tried to combine an acting career with boxing but it didn't work out. "Both require total dedication,'' he says. "I've had loads of offers and I tried out for a part in Coronation Street but I've set myself the target of winning a gold medal here.''
Bell went to the last Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpar but made an early exit. "Four years ago I was a weed. I looked like a chicken I wasn't really good enough to be there. But I've been working on the weights and I've matured mentally and physically I don't think there's a featherweight here that can beat me.''
He will be the last of the England team to take the stage in the tournament when he meets Devon Jones of Trinidad tomorrow evening. He promises his Games performance will be more than a walk-on part. "I feel I'm the best I've ever been and it is good to have all sorts of options open to me. I could go on to [the 2004 Olympics in] Athens and there might be offers to turn pro but my real ambition is in acting.''
So, when he has thrown his last punch Bell could reactivate his quest for a Street role. A "gay'' barman who can fight would certainly liven up the Rover's Return.
Outside the track and pool, boxing generates greater quality in the Commonwealth Games than any other sport so it is totally inappropriate that Bell and his fellow competitors should have to box in the preliminary stages in such a tiny, totally unsuitable arena which seats only 538 spectators with the boxers themselves having to watch on television in an adjoining room. True, the semis and finals will he held at the vast MEN Arena but having the early phase here has been a rare organisational cock-up which has displeased the sport's international body.
It is a situation which has led to lightweight Andy Morris, who lives close to the arena, having a harder fight to get tickets for friends and family than he did in the ring yesterday. Morris, a 19-year-old tree surgeon, delivered a sustained body assault which caused such severe discomfort to Jamaican Courtney Harvey that the bout was stopped 19 seconds into the third round.
Some of Morris' relatives even became Games volunteers at the venue to ensure they would see his fights. "It was brilliant to have them here and to be fighting in Manchester,'' he said. Small it may be but the arena generates a fantastic atmosphere which, with the razzmatazz and professional-style presentation, encouraged some sharp performances from the obviously well-conditioned England squad whose coach, Ian Irwin, has promised a return of eight medals to protect the sport's £13m income from the National Lottery.
On Friday the big hitters, gold medal hopes Courtney Fry (light-heavyweight), David Haye (heavyweight) and David Dolan (super-heavyweight) all reached Tuesday's quarter-finals in impressive fashion.
They will be joined in the next round by Morris, Liverpool bantamweight Mark Moran, who yesterday comfortably outpointed David Munyasia of Kenya, London light-welter Darren Barker, a points winner over Northern Irishman Paul McCloskey, and Paul Smith, a 19-year-old Bootle tax office worker who stopped Welsh light-middleweight Lee Jones in the third.