After years of success in the amateur sphere, brothers Paul and Mick Stevenson have quietly constructed one of Britain’s brightest pro stables at their Everton Red Triangle gym, just outside Liverpool city centre.
Five of their fleet appear on the undercard of Saturday’s big ‘Thoroughbreds’ promotion at Aintree Racecourse and BoxNation subscribers can watch the whole card live and exclusive in the UK by tuning into the Channel of Champions on Sky Ch.437/HD 449) and Virgin Ch.546.
Remaining tickets are available from Eventim on 0844 842 5005 or www.eventim.co.uk
On Sunday evening, boxing writer Glynn Evans caught up with Paul Stevenson to hear the brothers’ story and delve into the secrets behind their success.
Give us a little bit of background on yourselves. When did you first become interested in boxing?
I’m 41 and used to teach art at college and university. Our Michael (Mick) is 40 and went away to sea when he was just 16. He then worked as a data engineer. Today we both work full time at the boxing gym, with the amateurs, pros and MMA lads.
We first got interested in our teens. Growing up ‘Hoko’ (ex WBC featherweight king Paul Hodkinson) was the big name on the Liverpool pro scene and we all looked up to him.
Did you lace the gloves yourselves?
Yeh, from the age of 15 I boxed out of the Red Triangle gym. I sparred very good lads at the club like Ian Lang and Dave McNally and got to an NABC final and the ABA semis but, at the age of 19, I suffered a detached retina which put me out of the game for a while. Mick also trained there before going away to sea.
How did you become involved in coaching?
When I was about 26, I went to an amateur show and my old coach Joe Curran said there was no one to train the lads and asked if I could help out.
The gym – formerly Everton Lads – had been going for about 100 years in Liverpool city centre but, to be honest, it had suffered from neglect and, when I took it over, it had no fighters of note. It was still operational but had no leadership. The coaches didn’t have the time needed to make it successful. It was just drifting.
It took time and a lot of hard work to turn things round and build it back up. After a while our Mick came on board, we started to have a bit of success and word spread. All told, we must’ve had about 50 national titles over the last 15 years.
From that, I got involved in coaching at the England set-up for a few years, working with the lads not quite good enough to get on the Team GB squads. I ditched that once I started working with pros.
To what do you attribute the gym’s success in recent years?
It’s taken a lot of hard work from a lot of committed people; not just the coaches but a lot of backroom staff as well.
I’d like to think we’ve developed a good coaching system from bringing the lads through. We teach very solid basics but we also encourage individual flair and like our boys to put their own stamp on their style. That said, we do encourage all our lads to box in a certain way which is easy on the eye.
But the gym’s like a brotherhood. You have to have certain strong values and character before being accepted here.
How did you become involved in the pro game?
I first became aware of it when Georgie Schofield used the Triangle gym to train Shea Neary for his WBU title defence against Andy Holligan back in 1998.
To be honest, our club’s style never really suited the amateur scoring. The skills we encouraged such as good head movement, hand blocks and clever footwork were more likely to bring fruition in longer fights. In the amateur sprints, less skilled lads could succeed by throwing a few fast shots then running away.
Two of our senior boxers, Kev Satchell and Ryan Farrag, were getting to the latter stages of the ABAs every year but, once eliminated, they’d have nothing to really focus on until the next year. They started to get disillusioned and made noises about going pro.
But they’d heard horror stories about the pro game – boxers being ripped off and beaten up – and wanted to go with someone they could trust so we agreed to look after them. It all started from there.
As a coach, is it difficult to constantly switch between the codes?
We still train amateurs at different times of the day. I don’t mind the amateurs being around the pros but I don’t really like them doing too much sparring together. The pace is very different between the codes.
Though amateur boxing and pro boxing are hugely different sports – the fights are longer and you have to hit far harder – our teaching is pretty similar. The art is still to hit and not be hit back. You still need to outsmart the opponent; identify his weaknesses and capitalise upon them. So switching between the codes is not as difficult as you might think.
Historically, Liverpool has always had a successful amateur game but presently the pro scene in the city is really vibrant. How has that come about?
Decades back, top pros from the city like John Conteh and ‘Hoko’ were almost mythical figures. Alan Levene, Dave McNally and Colin Dunne were all top amateurs in my day but not many Liverpool lads went pro back then. It just wasn’t the done thing. But there’s always been plenty of good gyms in the city and plenty of talent. As one or two dabbled with the pros and started to enjoy a bit of success, others decided to have a go and it’s just snowballed. Today, I think the pros and amateurs mix more. Also, there’s not much money about these days and pro boxing provides a way lads can earn.
Personally, I think it makes financial sense for lads to stay amateur as long as possible because of the fabulous grants they can receive at top international level.
Over the last couple of years Mick and yourself have assembled and developed one of the brightest rising pro gyms in Britain. Give us the low down on the personalities and potential of the leading prospects on your roster signed with Frank Warren:
Kevin Satchell (reigning British and Commonwealth flyweight champion, 25, 11-0)
‘Satch’ has been with us since he was 12 years old. He’s the oldest of a big family of kids and, though he’s a quiet, understated lad, he was always getting dragged into fights protecting his younger brothers and sisters. I swear he must’ve had 50 street scraps before he had his first amateur bout!
Kevin’s got a solid gold character, lives his life to certain disciplined values and he’s hard as nails. He won’t back down and is always prepared to go the extra mile to get the win. He’s a proper worthy champion, in every aspect.
Neil Marsh is an excellent manager, who’s really good at planning the right route to move lads forward and, in Frank Warren, Kev’s now with the right promoter to deliver the right fights.
He should certainly get to European level, possibly beyond. I’d like to see him moved relatively quickly. I don’t like kids hanging around at British and Commonwealth level too long. They end up having too many wars and going stale.
Thomas Stalker (2012 Team GB Olympic captain, light-welter, 30, 6-0)
About a year before the (2012) Olympics, Tom started coming to our gym for pads whenever he was back home in Liverpool, away from the Team GB set-up. We agreed to help him and tried to teach him stuff largely because he’s such a lovely lad. We struck up a rapport and, though he went round a few gyms, he indicated that he’d like to come with us when he finally turned pro.
Tom’s got so many qualities. For a start, he’s extremely tough mentally. He really looks after himself as a professional athlete away from the ring and he’s got a great chin.
Also, he’s humble enough to learn and he’s like a sponge. The amateurs is a much different style to the pros but he picks up, then masters, the new techniques that we teach him very quickly.
And he’s a young 30 with pretty low mileage. He’s taken a bit of stick from the media for his first few pro fights but James DeGale got the same. Tom’ll get to championship level, for sure, and could even get to world level. He’s a very, very difficult southpaw to box against.
Jazza Dickens (former British super-bantam challenger, 22, 16-1)
I first came across little ‘Jazza’ when he was about 15 and I was involved in the England set-up. I took him away to a few European junior tournaments and multi-nations.
Back then, he was so boisterous; young and daft, a proper handful. Basically, I was commissioned to ‘baby sit’ him to keep him out of mischief. There was no malice in him. He was just cheeky, very funny but occasionally would take things too far. He needed guidance.
But straight away you could see his enormous potential and I loved the way he boxed. He beat Kev Satchell in the ABAs one year and he had such an individual, inventive style. He’s also got a very high boxing IQ.
Previously, he’d been around a few gyms such as Oliver Harrison’s and Arnie (Farnell)’s but we gelled from the first pad session we did so we took him on. To be honest, it took me a long time, to understand Jazza’s style but I’ve always been one to watch for a long time before adding my input. Sometimes you can correct ‘faults’ which actually makes it easier for opponents to figure your kid out.
Finding religion has been a big strength to him, as it is to many boxers but in the gym, you’d not know it. He’s just one of the boys. Trust me, he can go a long, long way.
Nathan Brough (ex World Junior bronze medallist, light-welter, 29, 10-0)
Nathan’s got real pedigree. He must have had 150 amateur fights, captained England and medalled all over the world, including at the World Juniors in Cuba.
He had eight pro fights elsewhere before coming with us about 12 months ago. He’d been really hampered by hand injuries. Then, after sorting that, he’s recently been sidelined by a stress fracture to the foot which he picked up whilst running. He’s been so unlucky.
Nathan’s a very lively lad with a wicked sense of humour. We’re like a team of brothers with loads of banter flying around and Nathan’s right in the middle of it all.
He’s a very powerful hitter who’s too tough for his own good. He’s also extremely quick at working opponents out and is a very astute student of the sport and its history. We watch a lot of tapes together and share the same philosophies about boxing.
He’ll be back in April or May and is just two or three fights away from challenging for the British title. He’s got all the talent in the world but now just needs to build up some momentum.
Ryan Farrag (leading bantamweight prospect, 26, 10-1)
Ryan had flitted in and out of the gym as a kid before returning at 17. Immediately he looked like he could fight just because of his face and the way he carried himself. For his first spar we put him in with Kev Satchell who’d already won about three national titles. They had a real ‘ding-dong’ and Ryan pretty much held his own, purely on heart and his competitive spirit. I knew instantly we had something to work with.
Ryan’s a real solid person, loyal to his friends. All our lads are cut from a similar cloth like that, really.
He’s a proper fighter. When he boxed Lee Haskins in Prizefighter there was blood spurting from his head because of a cut. He was rubbing blood from his eye with the right hand and chucking hooks with the left! That’s him all over; a huge heart.
And there’s skill there but it’s not really appreciated. He’s an aggressive counter puncher. He’s mastered the art of applying pressure and making opponents work, without getting hit himself. In the amateurs he beat John Quigley and (2012 Olympic champion) Luke Campbell who was ranked third in the world at the time.
Steven Lewis (welterweight prospect, 21, 4-0)
I first men Ste when I worked the corner opposite to him. He was boxing a club mate in a championship so his club took a backward step and got neutral coaches to work the corners. Ste really smashed the kid I was looking after!
When he was contemplating turning pro, he said he’d heard good things about our gym and asked to join up but we don’t just accept anybody. We’ve knocked plenty of talented lads back if we thought they might not share our ethos and we met Ste a few times before agreeing to take him on.
Like all our lads, I’d expect him to get to championship level. There’s a certain standard that we expect.
Ste looks like an ‘angry head’ in appearance but he’s anything but outside the ring; a real quiet, polite lad. It’s only inside that ring that he becomes vicious and horrible! He’s actually very skilled and won several national titles as an amateur. Like Stalker, he’s a very quick learner.
But above all he’s really powerful. When he physically matures and acquires his full man strength he’s definitely going to flatten a few people.