Boxing coach Maree lived out his dreams throughout career

For many of us our most exciting and enlightening dreams will only ever be played out in our heads. But there are those that have experienced those fantasies without being in a state of semi-consciousness.

Sunday, 15th October 2017, 10:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 7:08 am
Kevin Maree (left) with super-middleweight fighter Mark Heffron

Former boxing coach Kevin Maree is one of those ridiculously fortunate individuals. In fact the retired trainer once awoke from his slumber to witness the bubbles of his imagination being played out on the TV and out of the window of his hotel room.

It was June 2008 and the Dubliner was bunking up with two-time British super-featherweight champion Michael Gomez in the Midlands just hours before a blockbuster evening of boxing.

Having announced his retirement from the sport in controversial circumstances two years previously – walking out of the ring in the middle of round five having been dropped by a series of unanswered punches by Peter McDonagh – the “Irish Mexican” had the opportunity to resurrect his career against rising star and Olympic silver medallist Amir Khan.

Yassine El Maachi

The pair were going head-to-head at Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena with the Commonwealth strap at 135lbs on the line.

“As things happen later on in their career, because you get so used to it, it’s kind of not as important as it was at the beginning,” said Maree. “I remember the first time that Gomez fought Amir Khan. We were in the hotel room. We always shared a room before fights.

“It was the night of the fight and we had to go to the arena. We heard all this noise outside. I opened up the curtains and we looked across and Amir was getting picked up to go to his fight.

“There was a convoy of cars, photographers, press. It was like a Rocky film. And then we were getting picked up by a taxi! We were laughing.

George Groves (left) and Kenny Anderson

“We went back to the beds, turned the TV on, and the adverts came on. ‘Tonight, big fight live, Gomez versus Khan’. I was thinking, ‘This is big’.

“That was in the early stages of my career and they are the ones that I have more memories of. It was a big thing. The first time at the MEN Arena, where you’ve seen concerts. The early memories are the ones that will stick with me the most.”

Whatever your walk of life, wherever you go, whatever you do, there’ll always be that one defining moment, perhaps an epiphany, that elevates one achievement above others.

Maree’s crowning glory is arguably the time when he helped Yassine El Maachi achieve his full potential, transforming the Moroccan southpaw from an underwhelming journeyman in to a spectacularly confident and impressive champion.

Yassine El Maachi

Despite his flashy style, “The Showman” suffered a mixed start to his professional career.

However, following a chance meeting with Maree, that all changed as he went on to win 13 bouts in succession as he became the Prizefighter champion at Welterweight at York Hall in 2011, beating Peter McDonagh, former British champion and IBO World champion Colin Lynes and former British supremo and WBC king of the world Junior Witter.

“Everybody has something different but I’ll always go on about Yassine El Maachi,” Maree said. “He was the worst case of a talent that was never fulfilled. People will laugh at that but I saw him do things in sparring to top, world-class fighters. It was stunning. I never saw anybody else do it.

“He just needed the doors opening up for him at the right time. He won Prizefighter then he was out injured and that was him done. He was incredible, amazing, but people didn’t take him seriously.

George Groves (left) and Kenny Anderson

“We got a phone call from Frank Maloney asking if Yassine would fight Kevin Conception. They were building him up, he was one fight away from a British title. We went to London to the York Hall, a beautiful, iconic building. There were 15 of us in this horrendous dressing room.

“Frank was doing his rounds and he said, ‘All good?’ Yassine looked up and said, ‘I’m good but you’re not. Tonight your boy is going to get beat’. Frank said, ‘Yes, good luck to you’. It started as banter but then it started escalating. Yassine said, ‘I bet my whole wage that I beat your boy tonight’. The whole room has gone quiet now.

“Then he said, ‘I bet my whole wage that I knock your boy out tonight’. They shook hands on it. When Yassine went out to box the whole dressing room followed him to watch. He gets in the ring, tells Frank to get his money ready, and in the second round he knocks him out. The whole dressing room was bouncing.

“Yassine winning Prizefighter was a really emotional one for me because I’d got that lad from being a serial loser – though it wasn’t by design that he was losing – to winning these fights, getting a big pay cheque and almost turning his life around. That meant a lot to me.”

Tragically, El Maachi was not the only case of unfulfilled potential to have a career catastrophically cut short at Maree Boxing.

Maree facilitated the pathway for one of the best of British super-middleweights, Kenny Anderson, to claim the coveted Lord Lonsdale strap.

His only professional loss came at the hands of George Groves when the pair fought for the Commonwealth title at the Manchester Arena in 2006, a contest the Scot took at a couple of weeks’ notice.

The Commonwealth Games bronze medallist certainly gave the Hammersmith fighter a scare, earning a rematch.

However, as Maree explains, that did not come to fruition as “Saint George” became a sinner and caused a whole host of problems.

With Tony Quigley’s injury ruling him out of a fight with Anderson and Charles Amadou’s failed medical rendering him unfit to face Groves, their worlds collided.

Headliners David Haye and Audley Harrison needed an act to play chief support and with Anderson having sparred with Carl Froch the honourary Lancastrian fit the bill.

“There are also unfulfilled potentials like Kenny Anderson,” he said. “He had this freakish power. He won the British title, fantastic, but I think he would’ve gone on to more than that.

“The Anderson-Groves one was a real sickener for me. It was really heart-breaking. Kenny was training here for a long time and we were waiting for dates.

“We got a phone call asking if Kenny would be interested in fighting George Groves. Kenny said he had to do it.

“It was the closest I’ve ever come to stopping a fight. He had to be 12st the day before and he was well over 13st the week before. I had to watch it. We had to be careful. It was morally wrong. Kenny was fragile.

“He splattered George Groves, he came back from the second and I thought we were going to do it. I thought he was going to pull it off. But he came back and told me that his ribs had gone. He’d battered George Groves from pillar to post. It was like a computer game, the energy levels just went. Groves sees Kenny’s power go, jumps on him and the referee stops it.

After that we had a year’s battle to get George back in the ring again.

“They promised us a rematch. We built our way back up to a mandatory position, Groves pulled out three times, which was disgraceful. On the last time, when he pulled out injured, they finally stripped him.

“We fought Robin Reid for the title. We had a whole year of wasted time because of George Groves. I begrudge him doing well now. He was playing the system. Kenny was never the same after that.

“Then when we did fight Robin Reid he wouldn’t hand the belt in. Kenny won, amazing, we finally got our hands on the British title, we got back to the dressing room and the British Boxing Board of Control told us that they needed it back.

“George Groves didn’t give it back. They took the belt off us.

“George Groves had a picture up on Twitter that night of him putting the belt in the bin. That’s just ridiculous. Kenny was sickened by it.”

In the end circumstances altered Maree’s priorities. The seasoned pad man, who cornered Carl Frampton’s first six professional appearances, missed his son, Liam-Sean, crawl for the first time and that prompted his decision to call it a day.

Maree, who will continue managing Mark Heffron and Alex McCloy, said: “It’s a long time and you can fit a lot in to 10 years. Some of the stories are brilliant and I could certainly write a book with some of the funny things that we’ve done. It would be very entertaining.

“There were some great stories. They’ve all got different stories and different personalities and I’ve got a reason for liking every single one of them.

“I’ve been involved in world title fights all around the world and in big arenas in this country. I look back on it, I look at the photographs and they were a lot of good times. I’m really proud of what we’ve done.”