WITH four amateur champions plying their trade under his wing it’s clear to see why former professional boxer Brian Roche believes he’s blooding Burnley’s future stars.
England internationals Jack Steff and George Drinkwater are two of the jewels in Roche ABC’s crown, while National ABA champion Oathey Jones and North West ABA title holder Owais Majeed also decorate the books.
“All the lads here are very decent prospects,” said Roche. “There’s some great kids coming through. But of those who have fought for the club we’ve got Jack Steff, an international and ABA champion, George Drinkwater, also ABA champion and international, Oathey Jones who is a national champion and Owais Majeed who won the North West title. I focus on all my lads but there’s one or two that stand out.”
The Roche enterprise was established in 2006, housed at Newtown Mill in Queen’s Lancashire Way, and that’s where it developed as a recognised gym in Burnley for four years. However, in May 2010, Roche’s focus switched from a fight inside the ring to a battle to keep his franchise afloat when Lancashire Fire and Rescue and the council served the premises with a closure order due to health and safety reasons.
“It all started six-and-a-half years ago on Queens Lancashire Way,” he said. “I wasn’t going to do it at first, I was just going to help another club out. It just happened and we ended up in an old mill and a load of lads wanted to get on the boxing ladder.
“I started out by keeping them fit until we opened an amateur boxing club. I was hoping to get in to the professional side but the lads were urging me on to get them a fight, such as Nicky Perry, Jack Steff and Shaz Hussain, so I decided to do it.”
That closure could have lacerated Roche’s dreams, torn away the foundations that had been constructed for his young fighters, but instead, galvanised by a desire to succeed, the group continued to train outdoors until a new venue was inherited in Briercliffe Road.
“We’ve been in the new gym for about two years,” beamed Roche. “It’s a cracking little setup because it’s quite open so you can work on different people at different times in different areas of boxing without interruption. It’s a very good gym.
“We had to train at Towneley Park for a while when looking for a new venue. We had to do that for three months before we found a place to train. It could’ve easily stopped at that point but I’m happy with how things have turned out.”
And now that the club has been bestowed with a solid base in terms of bricks and mortar, Roche believes he can continue to nurture his young protégés and turn more of them in to champions, polishing them with strict regimes including bag work, pad work, skipping, sparring, floor work, group work and warm downs.
“In terms of boxers it’s not how many I’ve got it’s about who I’ve got,” he smiled. “I’ve got about 15 boxers with medical cards but out of those there’s about eight that I’m confident can win titles. That’s some going is that. I’m just trying to bring these youngsters through, get them to do well in the sport and hopefully help them win a title.”
Roche added: “I don’t just think this club stands out in Burnley, I think we stand out in Britain. We’ve got some cracking lads coming through and they’ve all been trained the right way. Wherever we go other coaches are always commenting on how well our lads equip themselves and how good they are. There’s some excellent fighters.
“We’ve done really well over the last few years. We’ve got three national champions that are still with us and there’ll be more that come through. To say that we’re a relatively new club having to deal with the hardships that we’ve had in having to close down and start up again we’re doing great.”
And Roche is confident that after a lifetime of discipline he has the necessary pedigree and experience to rein in his voracious army of students and help them achieve similar success to what he had in the professional ranks.
Roche, who fought for a BBBofC Central Area title in the lightweight division as well as a Commonwealth and British lightweight title, said: “When I was younger I was an amateur fighter and eventually turned professional. I won a couple of amateur titles and boxed for England a few times. I travelled abroad as well, all over the place.
“I had a load of knockout victories in comparison to winning fights on points. As an amateur I had 84 fights and lost just five. I was the Northern champion, the North West champion, I got to an ABA final, I boxed as an international and was international champion, I fought in Greece, Denmark, Finland and Holland.”
He added: “As a professional I had 22 fights and lost seven, competing for an area title, the Commonwealth and British title twice but I started getting cut and that’s why I didn’t win them.
“I fought six world champions and beat two of them. I went the distance with the best world champion at the time - Victor Callejas. He was a top fighter who knocked everybody out except me but he beat me on points at the Royal Albert Hall in London.”
For one of his young guns the target has already been set. British number one George Drinkwater, who has set tongues wagging with his burgeoning talent in the 58-60kg category, is determined to mimic Anthony Joshua’s London 2012 success by winning gold at Rio 2016.
The 16-year-old said: “I’d just love to get to the Olympics, that’s what I want to do. I’d love to get there and see how things go after that. I watched the Olympic boxing this year, wishing I was there. I’d hope to be at Rio at the next Olympic Games.”
George, who has been a part of the gym since its baptism, added: “I’ve been involved in boxing for about six years. I was getting in to trouble at school and my mum decided to send me somewhere so I could sort myself out, so I went boxing.
“It’s helped me out a lot and given me something to focus on during week days and weekends. I’m not hanging around the streets, I’m always inside doing the things I need to do. Boxing gives you good discipline, I’ve been doing it for a long time and I’ve enjoyed it all the way through.
“Brian is a good coach, good to get along with and a good laugh. We’ve got a very good partnership and I think I’ll go all the way if I stick with Brian at this gym.
“I’ve had 34 fights as an amateur and won about 20. I only won three of my first 10 fights but after that I just seemed to progress and develop and I won a lot more.
“Doing all the technique work makes me a better fighter and coming down to the gym nearly every night. I work hard.
“I’ve won the North West title, English title and British title. I’m British number one at the moment and it feels great.
“There’s the Junior Championships this year so I’m hoping to move on and win them. I feel I can be successful in them. I’ll start training towards them now. I need to keep training and working hard.
“I like the style of training here and everyone is great to get along with.”
Anybody wanting to find out more about the gym can contact Brian Roche on 07749 903771.