BOLTON has quickly become a boxing Mecca alongside Amir Khan’s meteoric rise to the top of the sport as a double world champion.
And former boxer and trainer Tommy Battel believes the 25-year-old Olympic silver medallist has never been given the credit he deserves for helping to turn his home town into a vibrant boxing hub.
Battel says the Khan factor has inspired homespun newcomers to the sport as well as attracting professionals from all over the country.
Bolton currently boasts eight boxing gyms and there are others, including Bury ABC, where Khan famously launched his career as a youngster, two in Radcliffe, two in Atherton and one in Chorley.
But Battel remembers the era in the 1970s when he trained at the town’s only facility for young boxers – Bolton Lads Club.
While Battel and his contemporaries appreciated the Lads Club, they had to go to Manchester to receive the standard of training which would see them progress in the sport.
But, in the slipstream of Khan’s meteoric rise to stardom, and his investment of a chunk of his personal fortune into the Gloves Gym on the fringe of Bolton town centre, it is now a totally different story.
“I remember when a group of about 13 of us had to get on a bus and go into Manchester, because, with all due respect to the Lads Club, which was more of a youth club, they were better gyms,” said Battel, who has been training amateurs at Gloves since September.
“The lads who went were relatively successful, but I don’t think they would have been if they had stayed in Bolton.
“But it is totally different now. There are so many clubs around here and I don’t think there’s any doubt that a lot of it stems from Amir’s success.
Because of what he’s done and what he’s put back into the community, boxing is booming – even Bolton Council has appointed a boxing development officer to oversee the sport in schools.
“The great thing is that many of the current crop of amateurs in the gyms are going to progress into being professionals.
“In my day, if you wanted to be professional you had to go to London and get with someone like Terry Lawless who trained Frank Bruno.”
Battel is generous in his praise of Elite, which is run by Karl Ince who is honing a group of top quality fighters. Included among them are Blackrod’s Rick Godding, who stopped his opponent in the fourth round at the weekend, two-time British welterweight and light welterweight champion David Barnes who is expected to be challenging for a European title soon, Mike Stafford and Chris Johnson.
Meanwhile, some of the country’s finest up-andcoming fighters are travelling to Bolton to work with professional trainer Joe Gallagher at Gloves.
They include brothers Liam, Paul and former British and Commonwealth featherweight champion Steve Smith, from Liverpool, Zac and Hosea Burton, and Manchester’s Joe Murray as well as Bury’s British champion Scott Quigg.
“Scott is going to end up fighting for a world title, probably in Bolton at the Reebok, because it will be a sell-out,” said Battel.
“I’ve been to many professional shows, and they are drab affairs. But when you go to the Reebok for a pro show now, there’s Sky TV and the atmosphere is electric.
Battel fondly remembers Khan as a seven-year-old.
“He was just a bit of a run around naughty kid, but you can work with that,”
he said. “Ideally kids should be at least 10 before they start boxing.
“I used to think that boxing could save the world, but I don’t believe that any more. It’s like any other sport, you have to be disciplined and any unruliness must be sorted out, or they will not be successful.”
Battel hailed the work Gloves does with accredited courses and for what it does with youngsters who have been socially excluded, and across all ethnic sections of the Bolton community.
“What a lot of people don’t realise is that Amir put £1million of the money he made from his first big purse back into creating a facility which all sections of his home town can benefit from,”
added Battel. “I don’t think he gets enough credit for doing that.”