There has always been much more than mere boxing blarney about Brendan Ingle, the trainer who runs one of the most productive fight factories in the land. His legendary gym in an old church hall in Sheffield's Wincobank, where Naseem Hamed, Herol "Bomber" Graham, Junior Witter and Johnny Nelson famously honed their skills, has long reverberated to the up-tempo beat of thudding fists and the exhortations of the little Irish guru to "dance and move, dance and move".
But now there is a difference. For the first time, amateurs and pros can be seen officially throwing punches at each other. Ingle explains: "It's really all down to Richard Caborn [the local MP and former sports minister who is now president of the Amateur Boxing Association of England]. He brought the pro and amateur bodies together. Now the amateurs can train and spar with the pros. It's all completely changed and I think this will be terrific for the 2012 prospects. What a difference from the Eighties, when I got barred and our amateur club disaffiliated for doing something similar. Now we have about 40 amateurs and 20 pros training together, everything's flying."
Nearly all the fighters Ingle has nurtured have been indoctrinated with the same Fancy Dan strategy. Dance and move, hit and hop it. "I've always said that the art of boxing is to hit and not get hit, like Muhammad Ali, fabulous."
Prince Naseem Hamed was his flagship fighter but, alas, one who became more of a show-off than a showman. "Shame about Naz," muses Ingle, who split with him in 1997 after nurturing him from novice to world featherweight champion in five years. "People never saw the best of him. To me, he underachieved. I honestly believe he could have been a world champion at every weight from flyweight to middleweight.
"The trouble with Naz was his family. A complete pain. He didn't sack me, I walked. He had become a nightmare. The way he spoke to people in boxing, like Frank Warren, it was scandalous. He couldn't handle the wealth that came to him. Money became his god. He started to talk down to people. He wanted everyone to become a Muslim. He even tried to convert me, a good Catholic boy! I gather Naz is doing very little with his life. He's 35 and walking around at 12 1/2 to 13 stone."
Could, or should, he fight again? "Nah, any talk about it is crap. He doesn't have the motivation. He'll tell people he's back in training but it's all rubbish."
Ingle enthuses about a new Naz, the unbeaten British welterweight champion Kell Brook, 22, whom he originally schooled but who then left him for a while. Now Brook is back in the Ingle camp and being trained by Ingle's sons, Dominic and John. "I had him since he was nine and I turned him pro at 18. Now everybody's raving about him. He's a terrific prospect but when he left I felt he was rather disloyal, so when he came back I told my sons to train him and I am happy about that, because I've had a great craic and I'm not going to be around forever."
Ingle, who is 68, was in London last weekend to receive an award from the Ex-Boxers' Association for his services to the sport. This followed similar recognition from the Boxing Writers' Club and an MBE. He is an ex-pro himself, and since he became a trainer and manager some 900 amateurs and 200 pros have passed through his hands at the Wincobank gym, an emporium with a wide ethnic mix, including many Muslims.
"They come because they aspire to be another Naz or Amir Khan," says Ingle. "We have open discussions on religion, no holds barred. It's something I know about, having been brought up an Irish Catholic who arrived in England in 1958. At school in Dublin you were brainwashed with Catholicism and Irish politics. You know, burn everything English except the coal. But when I got here I found people were all right, and it's the same with the Asians. We've got more in common to agree with than to disagree.
"I've trained Muslim kids for years, but there's more to it than just boxing," he adds. "I tell them how important it is to get a good education and to be a decent person. Yes, we've talked about the terrorism, and I tell them about the IRA and how we lived through that. Sometimes they mention suicide bombers, though none of them say they condone them, and their belief about going to paradise. I say to them, 'Do you know where paradise is? It's here in Sheffield'."Reuse content