Savage hitting Sedgefield light-welter Bradley Saunders is fast establishing himself as one of the most coveted prospects in world boxing.
The 28 year old former World and Commonwealth Games medallist has blitzed to nine straight victories since shedding his head guard and singlet in February 2012 and seven victims have failed to reach the finishing post.
This Saturday, on the undercard to Stuey Hall’s IBF bantam defence against Paul Butler at Newcastle’s Metro Arena, England’s most seasoned amateur of the millennium makes his championship debut when he squares off with Finland’s Ville Piispanen over 12 rounds for the vacant WBO Intercontinental strap.
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The lad from County Durham boasts a CV that would entice most of the globe’s leading tutors so a few eyebrows arched when bad Brad opted to base himself at the MGM (Macklin Gym Marbella), Spain, under the guise of fledgling young trainer Seamus Macklin.
On Monday evening, boxing writer Glynn Evans tracked down the 24 year old Brummie – younger brother of triple world middleweight challenger Matt Macklin – to discuss the set-up which all of British boxing is raving about.
What was the extent of your own boxing career?
I was in the Small Heath amateur gym from the age of five, training alongside Matt, and had my first amateur bout at 11. I actually lost my first six!
But I gradually improved. In my first year in the schoolboys, I got to the national quarter finals and the year after made the semis before finally winning them in 2004. I beat Paul Butler, and well beat him, in the semis so really hope he wins the world title on Saturday. Something to tell me grandkids! The following year I lost to Michael Maguire.
I boxed for England schools, ironically against Ireland much to my father’s disgust, and won 12-1. I’d have had a lot more international contests but was really light, 39-42 kilos, and they just couldn’t match me up. I had somewhere in the region of 60 bouts and won roughly 45.
How did your career inside the ring end?
Like so many kids, I packed up between the ages of 16-19 then came back at (Joe) Gallagher’s Gym in Manchester whilst Matt was training there. I had an additional three bouts, winning two, but just got fed up. I was sparring the likes of Anthony Crolla, John Murray and Femi Fehintola. Given I wasn’t affiliated to a club and bouts were really hard to come by, the training was too hard, too extreme. I jacked it and went travelling to Oz!
How close were you and Matthew growing up?
As close as any set of brothers could be, which is surprising given he’s seven years older than me. He’s always looked after me, always looked out for me.
I used to miss days at school to watch him train at the gym!
How did your interest in coaching develop?
I always sensed I was destined to be a better coach than I was a fighter. Growing up, I really loved boxing and, as a teenager, I’d hold court with the likes of Billy Graham and they’d listen to what I said, acknowledge the points I was making. We’d talk on a level field. I always knew what I was watching, understood the game.
As a coach, I get exactly the same buzz I did as a fighter, without starving myself to make weight or getting smacked around the earhole!
Tailing brother Matthew throughout his nomadic career must have created loads of opportunities for you to expand your knowledge. Which coaches and gyms particularly influenced you?
That’s true. Matt got a lot of stick for constantly changing his trainers but I probably benefitted more from it than anyone. I got the chance to work for extended periods with the likes of Billy Graham and Joe Gallagher in Manchester plus Buddy McGirt and Freddie Roach over in the US. It was always a case of hear all, watch all, say ‘F*** all!’
Despite the critics, I have to say that if Matt hadn’t tapped into all such a broad and talented range of coaches, he’d not be the rounded world class operator that he is today. We both learned lots from all of the coaches that we had the good fortune to work alongside. All four allowed me to pick their brains and I’m greatly indebted to them for that.
Buddy was probably the most knowledgeable, technically and tactically, whereas Joe Gallagher was the most meticulous and hard working. Unlike Buddy, Joe was always on at the fighters and Matt probably had his best performances under Joe.
Billy Graham was extreme, brilliant at teaching that Hatton style ‘pressure fighting’, very good at establishing a rhythm. Freddie Roach could graft and was possibly the best all rounder. Personally I try to incorporate elements of all four into what I do myself today.
How did the MGM facility come about?
Basically Matt spent ten weeks prepared for his world title challenge to Sergio Martinez over in New York and the weather was freezing. All he did was train and rest. The cold weather placed an unnecessary hardship on him and boxing’s a hard enough game without adding to it.
A lot of his mates were already over in Spain and Matt already had a few good businesses going out there. So he thought: ‘Why not set up future camps over there?’ That way, he could train in the warmth plus have his mates as company, to go for a coffee and help him switch off after training.
So a couple of years ago, he and his (business) partner Dan set it up. Now we’re really busy and have fighters coming to us from all over the world.
What are the advantages of the set up?
The sun attracts them. It’s far easier going to the track when it’s hot than when it’s pissing down. Everyone over here is happy and there’s a real good vibe; one big happy family. The facilities we have are seven star and the staff just can’t do enough for you.
In addition to myself, we’ve got a strength and conditioning coach called Jason Lowndes from Cardiff who everybody knows as ‘Taff’. I’ve spent time around the likes of Kerry Kayes and Alex Ariza but, trust me, ‘Taff’ is as good as any. He really knows his stuff but doesn’t have any ego.
We have another guy called Christopher who sorts out our food. He’s a vegan, as am I. Without pressurising the fighters, I prefer them to follow a vegan diet when they’re in camp. It really helps with getting the weight down and all the fighters tell me how energised they feel. Matt and Dan manage most of the fighters. All the boxes are ticked.
What’s your USP as a trainer? Why should talented young prospects seek Seamus Macklin out as a potential coach?
Bizarrely, despite my youth, I’ve already got good experience having been around some of the best coaches in the world at the best gyms. I’d spend all day there, surrounded by world class fighters, listening and learning. I got to second some of them in the corner.
Personally, I think I’m pretty good on the pads and I know my stuff but it’s not for me to say. Future results will determine how good I am, the proof will be in the pudding. Bradley Saunders last three fights have been with me and they’ve been the best three performances of his career.
You’re still only 24. Have you encountered cynicism from within the industry regarding your age?
Of course but people have a right to be cynical. If I was in my 30s or 40s and some young pup started getting a rep I’d be sceptical. However, when the fighters actually work with me, they’re generally impressed. They can see the benefits rubbing off, from all the coaches I’ve been around.
Which fighters have you worked with?
The first kid I trained was Michael Rooney, a lightweight from Birmingham. I got him to 5-0 but then he fell in love!
Now I work with Declan Geraghty, a southpaw lightweight from Dublin, Mark Heffron (a former European Schools and Youth medallist from Manchester) plus Bradley Saunders and Tom Stalker. Kofi Yates a light-welter from Wythenshawe spends quite a bit of time over here but back home he’s trained by ‘Arnie’ Farnell.
The two best known fighters on your CV would be former world amateur medallists Bradley Saunders and Tom Stalker. What qualities distinguish them as outstanding prospects?
Bradley could certainly win a world title. We’ve not seen him banged hard on the chin yet with the small gloves on but he’s such a quality all round fighter. I’d already put him in against any of the top light-welters and most of the top welters in Britain. (Reigning British champion) Curtis Woodhouse won’t fight him. He knows!
Brad punches hard to the head but absolutely folds people to the body. And he’s got so many other attributes. When I spar him with lighter guys he immediately adapts to their speed and when I put him in with middleweights he bullies them. His judgement of distance is excellent. He can ‘fiddle’ ‘em at range, stay in the pocket, box off to the right or left. It’s his speed and accuracy that allows him to hurt people. He’s the full package.
Thomas is more a speedster than a power merchant and we expect a lot of his fights will go into the later rounds. He’s obviously very skilful and we’re looking forward to him showing what he’s got in the pros.
He probably still needs to adapt from the amateurs a little bit more than Brad but it’ll come. We’re teaching him to sit on the ropes, and go under shots rather than lean away.
The one thing a lot of people don’t realise about Thomas, because he’s such an incredibly nice lad, is just how tough and resilient he is. He trains exceptionally hard and really, really wants it. Those are two key ingredients.
What are your future aspirations?
Just to get along with the fighters I work with and build friendships. I just want them all to fulfil their potential whether they’re operating at Area title level or fighting for European and world championships. Right now, my life is fantastic, couldn’t be better. I’m living the dream.