Steve Bunce on Boxing: Herol Graham could be a rare phenomenon – a great fighter who becomes a leading trainer


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The Independent Online

The truth is that some of the very best boxers from the last 25 years refused to fight Herol "Bomber" Graham and he failed to win a world title during a remarkable boxing career.

Graham came close on three occasions and has never moaned about having to watch Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn, his natural domestic rivals, fight each other in world title fights, beat a succession of anonymous imports and never show any interest in letting Graham join their cosy, brutal club. Graham had it much, much harder in his world title fights.

He fought for the last time in 1998 and quit after 54 fights and 20 years in the business. His smile remains, even if up close the marks from some savage encounters have left the faintest of deep-bruise reminders under his skin, while above his eyes the jagged scars from many cuts will never fade. It is too simplistic and very wrong to try to remember Graham as only a slick, elusive mover.

His journey from Nottingham apprentice to wide-eyed dreamer inside Brendan Ingle's academy of enigmatic waifs in Sheffield was just the first part of Graham's hazardous passage inside boxing. He was beautiful to watch, impossible at times to hit and that is why nobody wanted to risk being connected with him; Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard all knew his name but opted never to utter it in public.

It has been hard for Graham since he retired and he tried to commit suicide during the darkest of far too many dark days. He has gone back to the gym to find some peace, discover something that can in some tiny way replace what he lost when he quit. He is also painfully aware that success as a trainer is not an instant fix and I get the impression that it is still one day at a time for him.

However, he is ready to commit himself once again to the boxing game as a trainer. Graham can work, so he claims, with all types, not just the ones that resemble him. "They might not all want to be boxers, some might want to be fighters and I can help them with that," said Graham, who is now 54, and stopped or knocked out a lot of his opponents.

Graham has been working under the radar for a couple of years with different boxers at the Finchley gym where Dereck Chisora trains, a place that resembles in many ways the retreat Ingle created in Sheffield in the Eighties. Now, Graham is looking for his own premises and a chance to pass on what he did in the ring. However, there is a slight problem with that notion as most people believe it is impossible to teach what Graham did in the ring.

"I keep hearing that you can't teach my style of boxing," said Graham. "That is rubbish; you can teach what I did – you can teach anything and that means that I can teach boxers to fight and fighters to fight better. I was not just a dancer."

Graham is also reaching out to established boxers with their own trainers, to offer a bit of extra advice, and anybody who ever saw him fight will know that he could add extra quality in defence. "I have my eye on a lot of boxers that I could help, good boxers that could be better," he added.

It is just possible that Graham could make the difficult journey from exceptional boxer to quality coach, which is one that few people with Graham's credentials have ever completed. There are a lot of good ex-professionals on the circuit, working with superb fighters, but Graham was not just good, he was special and perhaps, just perhaps, he has what it takes to teach what he knew.

"Remember, he who fights and runs away lives to fight another day," insisted Graham. He's right, but being able to repeat it, with the power that Graham had in his punches, would truly be an achievement.