Pele with punch

...and introducing Britain's latest young heavyweight hope
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The Independent Online
The entrance to Brendan Ingle's little kingdom is a plain, blue door on a back street in Wincobank, on the tatty outskirts of Sheffield. As doors go, it's not much to look at, but one man has already passed through it to the glory and wealth of a world title and, if you believe Brendan, another may be close behind.

The St Thomas's Club is about the size of a basketball court. There is a boxing ring at one end, and punchbags swing limply from the ceiling girders. The wooden walls are peeling and splintered, soaked with 35 years of perspiration. A boogie-box throbs in a corner, and the air smells sweetly of sweat. Last Thursday afternoon at four, Ingle was crumpled into a corner next to the ring, his far-from-new training shoes propped up on the canvas. He wore a tweed fishing hat, and every few moments barked orders to his boys.

"I've had some right nice kids in here," he said in his quiet Dublin brogue. "And some 'orrible bastards. But this chap here is one of life's gentlemen."

The chap - 6ft 3in, 16st - was working on a punchbag, his soaked "Brendan's Boys" T-shirt clinging to taut musculature like a coat of paint. Pele Reid, 23, heavyweight. His professional ring career has so far amounted to 10 and a half minutes, in which time he has knocked out six opponents.

Hyperbole is as much a part of boxing as gloves, but Ingle is unusually insistent that Reid is the genuine article. "Now I could be wrong, and I have been. But if Tyson is still around in two years, this fellow will beat him. And I should know what I'm talking about." Ingle glanced across to another corner of the gym, where a wiry figure was noisily changing into T-shirt and shorts: Naseem Hamed.

Ingle's gym is communal, so that old sweats work out with young tyros, world champions with 10-year-olds just off the street. It is not an approach that has endeared him to the authorities, but it produces a great sense of camaraderie: youngsters draw strength from the confidence and achievements of the stars; they in turn are constantly reminded of their roots and deterred from self-indulgence.

Not that luxury plays any part in the life of Ingle's fighters. His training done, Pele Reid led the way to his "palace", a nondescript semi-detached house two minutes' walk from the gym, which he shares with three other fighters from the Ingle stable.

The sitting-room was spartan: three plain chairs, a television, a much- thumbed copy of The Vitamin Bible. Through the window, training kit hung on the washing line. Reid, in a shiny black track-suit, stretched his long frame into one of the chairs, and told his story.

He qualified as an electrician, and recalls with a shudder sitting on buses before dawn on the way to building sites. His escape was martial arts, and for 11 years he was a kick-boxer, eventually winning the world title in Atlantic City in 1993. But he lacked recognition, and money. "I had got as far as I could with martial arts," he said. "And I learned a lot. But you need some financial gain. When the opportunity came, I took it."

The opportunity was the chance to spar with the former European cruiserweight champion Johnny Nelson, another Ingle protege. "It was awkward. He was hard to hit, his timing was so good." Reid was embarrassed, and surprised when Ingle decided that he had seen something he could work on.

Reid moved from his native Birmingham up to Sheffield, and was immediately set a test by his trainer. "He marched me down to the bus stop and said: 'There you go, find your own way. And be back here at seven tomorrow morning'. My digs were miles away then. But I passed the test."

He has passed some tougher examinations since in the ring, most recently upending the Spaniard Eduardo Carranza in Milan. But he knows that he is not the finished article. "That last fight taught me that people don't always do what you expect them to. I'm a counter-puncher, but I couldn't make Carranza lead. He was very defensive, very awkward." So much so that Reid couldn't knock him out until the second round.

But he is not cocky: it would not come naturally to a man who - out of the ring, at least - is mild-mannered, and touchingly delighted at his own good fortune to be doing what he loves for a living.

He bristled only once, when asked about "Pele", which some might take to be a flashy monicker adopted for publicity purposes. "It's my name. My father was a big fan of Brazilian football." Quite a responsibility, such a name? "I know it. When I was growing up, people thought it was funny to ask 'Can you play football, then?' I used to say 'No'. Now I say 'No. But I can box.'"

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