Interview: Belfast Boxing Coach John Breen - Trainer Of Five World Champions

By Chris Curry

28.10 - Trainer of five world champions, Belfast Boxing coach, John Breen has spent most of his life involved in Boxing. John runs "Breens Gym" located in the heart of the city centre of Belfast, Northern Ireland. Among the fighters John train's today is former undefeated Commonwealth Light Welterweight Champion, Eamonn Magee and British Welterweight Champion, Neil Sinclair.

Upon opening the door of Breens Gym, I could hear the sounds of a lively gym before I made my way up the stairways. The sounds of punch's landing on heavy bags, young fighters jumping rope got closer and closer. When I reached the top of the staircase and opened the door, John was coaching two of his fighters, who were getting down to an excellent sparring session. John was pushing each one of them on as I waited to speak to him. Looking around, I took in the mass of pictures showing John's time within the sport. Photos of John with two-time World Champion, The Dark Destroyer, Nigel Benn and Big George Foreman with John also stood out for me. Pictures of Eamonn Magee's triumphs and John and Neil Sinclair proudly showing the British Championship belt were among the collection, along with the World Champions and other fighters John has trained. There is a great feeling within the gym for success, here is what John Breen had to say about his involvement in Boxing, his gym and fighters and his thoughts on the sport.

Would you tell us about how you got involved in Boxing John and how you got into training fighters?

JB: I started boxing when I was 10 years of age, because my brother who was 8 years old had started. I boxed for Immaculata A.B.C in Belfast. As an amateur I won 10 Provincial titles, I then turned professional when I was 21 years old, had 29 fights, won 9, Drew 1. I had won my first 6 fights, then I boxed a lad called Tony Sibson who beat me on points. I thought I won the fight, I boxed the same lad 6 months later and he stopped me in 5 rounds with a broken nose. Sibson went on to be British, Commonwealth and European Middleweight Champion, losing to Marvin Hagler for the world title.

When I retired I started training amateur boxers, until 1989 Barney Eastwood offered me a job training his fighters and I never looked back. I trained 5 world champions, Dave "Boy" McAuley IBF flyweight world champion, Fabrice Benichou IBF super bantamweight world champion, Paul Hodkinson WBC featherweight world champion, Crisanto Espana, WBA welterweight world champion and Victor Cordoba, WBA super middleweight world champion. Plus numerous British, Commonwealth and European champions who included, Steve Collins, Sam Storey, Noel Magee and Crawford Ashley.

Your Boxing Gym, “Breens Gym” is located in Belfast City Centre. Would you tell us about the history of the gym and how it all started?

JB: In 1998 Barney Eastwood told me he was closing down the gym. As I have a business as a security agent, I had been working for Tony Diver, who owns bars in Belfast. One of the bars, the Monico Bar in Lombard Street had a large room above it, which used to be a snooker hall 30 years ago. He offered me the use of the room, so some of the fighters I was training got stuck in, begged, stole and borrowed until we got the gym in operation. In 1998 the gym was opened and my first two fighters were Eamonn Magee and Jim "The Pink Panther" Rock.

John, could you tell us about the Boxers you train today and the Boxers you trained in the past.

JB: Neil Sinclair who had won a gold medal at the Commonwealth games in 1994 had turned pro with Barry Hearn in 1995, turning down an offer from Barney Eastwood to do so. Then I signed Rally Murray from Dublin, who is unbeaten in 2 contests, Mickey Quinn from Belfast also unbeaten in 2 fights. Recently I have signed two of Irelands best amateurs, Kevin O'Hara and Gerard McAuley, both I believe will win world titles. Included in this is Mark Winters, a former British light welterweight champion.

Would you recall some of the memorable moments that stand out for you with the fighters you’ve trained in your gym?

JB: The best moment for me so far is when Victor Cordoba went to France and destroyed Christophe Tiozzo for the WBA super middleweight world title. He was the first world champion I had trained. Then I started looking after Dave "Boy" McAuley a fantastic fighter, in my opinion better than Barry McGuigan who had been the darling boy of Irish boxing in the 1980's. McAuley was a hard wee man. He was on the canvas 23 times in his career, but defended the IBF flyweight world championship 6 times. A true champion.

Light-Welterweight Eamonn Magee is apart of your stable of Boxers in Belfast. Could you tell the readers on East Side Boxing the plans for the next stage of Eamonn’s career?

JB: Eamonn Magee should be a world champion now. When he boxed Ricky Hatton in Manchester 1st June 2002, Hatton did not win the title, Magee lost it. Magee put Hatton down in first, wobbled him in the second and after 5 rounds was 4 points up. Eamonn then went to sleep losing on points. Eamonn returned in September knocking out Alan Bosworth in 5 rounds. Frank Warren has told Eamonn's manager Mike Callahan, who is my father in law, that if Eamonn looks good winning another 2 fights, he will match him with Hatton. I am looking forward to that.

With Wayne McCullough’s return to Boxing in Belfast, five Boxers from your gym are featured on the bill on November 2nd. Can you tell us your thoughts on big time Boxing returning to the city and your thoughts on the future of Boxing in Belfast?

JB: Big time boxing returns to Belfast on November 2nd with the return of Wayne McCullough. Neil Sinclair is the British welterweight champion at the moment; he will defend his title on the bill. Mark Winters continues his comeback, Mickey Quinn marches onwards to title class and Kevin O'Hara and Gerard McAuley make their professional debuts. I'm really excited that Frank Warren has put his trust in me.

John, do you have a favourite fight of all time and who are you favourite Boxers of the past and present?

JB: My favourite fight was "The Greatest" Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. Ali in my opinion was the best and was superb. Being a gambler myself, I won £6,800 on the fight. I stopped gambling in 1990, thank God.

Muhammad Ali, Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler and Kostya Tszyu are my favourite fighters.

Do you think Boxing as a whole needs any improvements and what do you think about the way the sport is governed?

JB: Boxing as a whole is very well governed. People say there are too many titles, I disagree. Any sort of title makes money for the boxer, which is good.

Would you like to give a message to the fight fans around the world on East Side Boxing?

JB: To the fight fans around the world, all I would ask of you, is keep supporting the boxers. It is a hard sport and keep cheering on the "Fighting Irish". Thanks folks.

John, Thank you for taking the time for this interview. I wish you and your stable of fighters in Belfast the very best and I hope we see a lot more Boxing events in our city.

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