Boxing: Lockett looks forward to a sport without Tyson

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The answering message on Gary Lockett's mobile phone is as intimidating as a Mike Tyson face-off. "You'd better have a very good reason for calling," he growls. "Because if I find anything you say disturbing I'll hunt you down and slay you like a dog."

"Just a laugh," explains the 25-year-old unbeaten light-middleweight from Cwmbran. "It's really for the benefit of my mates." In fact, he is as unlike Tyson as you can imagine, except that he can also bang a bit. Quite a bit.

Lockett is the sort of lad you would want your son to be if he aspired to becoming a professional fighter; clean-cut, articulate, talented and confident without being cocky. You would also want him on your side in trench warfare against the abolitionists.

He is representative of the new breed of bright young boxers now coming into the game, kids whose future is now threatened by being tarred with the Tyson brush. "It upsets me what he has done to the sport," says Lockett. "He doesn't represent boxing, real boxing that is. He should be in a mental home, not a boxing ring."

Photographs of boxing's bête noire look down on us as we talk, alongside a signed portrait of Muhammad Ali to which he has added the postcript "Peace". Sid Siadankay, the ex-Para who runs a super little gym above the derelict Red Lion pub in Litherland, north of Liverpool, wonders if he should now turn Tyson's face to the wall. "I'm disgusted," he says. "You spend years persuading youngsters and their parents that boxing is a good, clean, character-building sport and then you get a dickhead like Tyson. He bears no relation to what we're doing here."

That's true. The back streets of Litherland are a long way from the bright lights of Las Vegas. Home of the North Merseyside ABC, the gym doubles as a training base for decent young pros like Lockett. Here are the sights, sounds and smells of the "real boxing" that Lockett talks about, which is one of the reasons he makes the four-hour drive from his South Wales home every Monday to spent the week there.

Another is to be supervised by his Liverpool-based trainer, Colin Moorcroft. "One of the nicest men in boxing," says Lockett. "He'd give you the last tenner in his pocket."

Moorcroft is preparing "The Rocket", as he is billed, for the biggest fight of his career so far, a scheduled 12-rounder against the hugely experienced Australian Kevin Kelly, a former Commonwealth champion, for the vacant World Boxing Organisation Intercontinental title at Manchester's MEN Arena on Saturday. It is the chief supporting bout to Ricky Hatton's defence of his World Boxing Union light-welterweight title against his best opponent yet, the durable Russian Mikhail Krivolapov. Like Hatton, the loose-limbed Lockett is a fearsome body-puncher, so it should be an explosive night.

It is the self-managed Welshman's second contest under the aegis of Frank Warren's Sports Network. His first lasted just two rounds, opponent Chris Nemhard becoming the latest victim of some of the hardest hitting from a member of British boxing's most productive division for many years.

Hitting hard and often is Lockett's trademark. Twelve of his 15 fights have ended inside four rounds, and as he noisily thumps the midriff of trainer Moorcroft, a human punchbag who is wisely padded up like a Teletubby, it is easy to understand why.

"I've always been a natural hitter," says Lockett. His father, Steve, took him along to the local amateur club, where he won his first bout as a 10-year-old in 12 seconds. "I think I was born with a ko punch." Of his 88 amateur fights, he won 80, acquiring 22 titles, including a European junior gold medal. With five GCSEs he was into his A-levels before deciding that boxing was his bag. Yet all seemed over almost as soon as it had begun when he was just 19, after only two winning fights.

He found he had difficulty breathing after strenuous exercise, and a Boxing Board doctor diagnosed asthma. He was declared unfit to box but two years later, after a series of blood tests, it turned out that he was allergic to common dust- mites. A piece of plastic over his mattress saved what is perhaps the most promising career in British boxing.

His upbringing was strict, his father never allowing him out after dark. "I hated it at the time but he was right. He only ever needed to smack my bum once but he kept me out of trouble and I'm grateful for that."

Now Lockett and Litherland's other likely lads are proof that boxing has to have a life after Tyson.

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