When Anthony Joshua beat Joseph Parker in their recent world heavyweight title unification bout, it was more than just a personal victory — it was further evidence of the rude health of British boxing.
British fighters are prominent in multiple weight divisions at professional and amateur level, with the latest talent off the conveyor belt in action at the Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast.
Lee Pullen has been an integral part of the process and did his bit too in the fast rise of the 28-year-old Joshua, a former Olympic champion who is now unbeaten in 21 professional bouts and a hugely popular figure in Britain.
Pullen, a full-time coach at the GB Boxing programme and with the English team at the Commonwealths, described how Joshua spends 90 minutes stretching or warming down after training.
It is that “attention to detail” that Pullen said England’s eight men and four women boxers at the ongoing Games should emulate if they want to reach the top.
“For the majority of the (coaching) team we’ve worked with Josh throughout his pro career and we trained him as an amateur so we enjoyed the journey to where he is now,” said Pullen, 59, a former amateur boxer.
“He’s so receptive it’s untrue. He wants to get better, continuously. Again, attention to detail.”
Pullen identified another trait in champions.
“They don’t whinge, they don’t moan,” he said.
“Real fighters, proper men, never find an excuse why they lost.”
– ‘More than boxing’ –
There are eight current professional world champions from Britain, several of whom — including Joshua and super-middleweight champion James DeGale — came through GB Boxing.
Established in 2008 to prepare amateur fighters for Olympics, the programme is based at a state-of-the-art facility in the northern English city of Sheffield that is the envy of much of the boxing world.
Its performance director is the highly respected Rob McCracken, who is also Joshua’s trainer.
Pullen, who works under McCracken at GB Boxing, said the man he calls “captain of the ship” is a major reason for their success.
One of McCracken’s initiatives was to put the boxers in small groups so they get more tailored training.
And the boxers are only nominally amateurs: they box 48-50 weeks a year, four times a week.
Training is “very tough”, said Pullen, who works as part of a formidable team that includes other coaches, nutritionists, a dozen sports science staff, video analysts and psychologists.
All of this takes serious money.
GB Boxing received a grant of £13.7 million ($25 million) from the governmental UK Sport for 2013-17, comprising contributions from a national lottery played by the public and the government’s coffers.
“I’ve seen the rise in the last 20 years since I’ve been involved and the introduction of lottery funding and full-time coaching has made a massive difference,” said Pullen.
But it is not purely about sport — because they will not be boxers for ever.
“It’s like a family, you get looked after. We have lifestyle coaches who teach you to cook, to clean, driving lessons,” said Pullen.
“It’s more than boxing.”