On 11th February, Hereford Sixth Form College hosted the 8th annual International Charity Boxing Gala, organised by the South Wye Police Boxing Academy and sponsored by MK Car Finance.
Over the years, the show has gained recognition for the quality of boxing showcased as well as for the spectacular evening for those who attend the black tie event. This year’s show saw UK Armed Forces and UK Elite Select teams fighting for the Jim Smith Memorial Cup. The sell-out event was attended by a number of big names, including the Mayor of Hereford Jim Kenyon, and raised over £2000 on the night. With HSBC giving a further £1000, over £3000 was donated to the Little Princess Trust, a charity providing real hair wigs for children suffering hair loss. The programme was broadcast on Sky Forces Channel and it is one of four televised shows in the country with last year’s viewing figures over 2.5 million.
South Wye Police Boxing Academy was represented by Lee Blake and Yusuf Abdallah. Coach Vince McNally said: “We’re so proud to have our elite senior squad members in this special event. Yusuf’s opponent from the Armed Forces has over 30 bouts experience and 11 years in boxing. Yusuf has 13 bouts experience – he works full time at Hereford Hospital while training to become a doctor. He lost on a split decision, meaning that one of the judges awarded him the fight. Along with many in the audience, I thought he won the fight.”
“Yusuf did box on his back foot and made his opponent miss an awful lot. I can probably count on one hand the number of clean punches his opponent landed in each round, while Yusuf was landing clean work and countering with more punches. But that’s boxing! Even though he didn’t get the decision, Yusuf behaved with respect and dignity, he is a boxer destined for great things.”
Commenting on heavyweight Lee Blake, coach McNally said: “Lee forced his way through the win, also a split decision, with his work rate increasing in the last 30 seconds of the last round. He landed heavy shots on his RAF opponent and produced a well deserved win. Lee is a very popular squad member who walked through our doors weighing 108kg last September, and now weighs 88kg. From the beginning he was determined to box on our show and displayed such strength of character that it was an easy decision for our coaches to give him the opportunity. We would like to thank everyone involved in the show for making it such a massive success.”
Interview By Andrea Slivkova. Photography By Steve Fratson www.stevefratson.co.uk
What brought you into boxing?
Lee: I’ve always been interested as a kid but never had the opportunities to develop or fight, until I was in the army, and at the age of 26 I was selected. Due to work I had to stop boxing, but ten years on I found myself in a bit of a hole, overweight and unfit, and drinking too much. Then my friend Nath told me about the club and I came to have a look. Five months on and three stone lighter, one fight at the gym put a huge smile on my face. I have really enjoyed being part of a team again! The club is full of great people, everyone is very friendly and goes out of their way to help you.
Yusuf: My parents used to slog me from sport to sport from the age of 3, hoping to get me into shape and keep me occupied with something positive. I was quite lazy so my mum decided she had enough of me slouching around and I found myself signed up to a boxing gym back home in Egypt when I was 18 or 19. I met my current coaches through Hereford Sixth Form College where they did a box-fit type of class and the rest is history, as they say.
How would you describe your boxing style? What has boxing taught you?
Lee: I am a novice boxer but I have been very lucky to have the support and training by top people. I have learnt so much but I need more head movement and skills to improve in the future.
Yusuf: I’ll quote Bruce Lee to answer this question:
“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water, my friend.”
Boxing is often referred to as the toughest sport. What is it about boxing that appeals to you?
Lee: Fighting as part of the team. Wearing the team badge and winning my fight so that the team wins at the end.
Yusuf: It’s the one on one competition, mano-a-mano. Nothing quite compares to testing yourself the way boxers do when they step in the ring against each other. The satisfaction you get from putting on a boxing clinic and doing what you do to get the win is immense, incomparable to anything else.
What part of the training are you most passionate about?
Lee: To see how much you can push yourself so that in those last few seconds of a fight you can make the punches land, and score. Skills in boxing, footwork and speed of punching with accuracy interest me the most. Every day is a lesson for me, being taught by the best at the club. I am truly thankful for the effort of the coaches.
Yusuf: I probably enjoy sparring and mitt-work most. I hate the roadwork but the satisfaction you get after doing a sprint or a run at 6am when everyone is still asleep, is great.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Lee: The will to go on even if hurt is my strength. My weakness is my head movement and speed. I need to have more confidence to let combos go.
Yusuf: My boxing IQ has to be my greatest asset. What’s a weakness anyway?
How do you motivate yourself?
Lee: The team at the club keep each other going but being the oldest I have to keep up with the young ones, otherwise I’d never hear the end if it!
Yusuf: Motivation is overrated. Some days you are motivated but some days you are not. It is the discipline that matters most – it ensures you put in the work needed, even on the days where you are feeling sub-par.
How often do you train and what kind of training do you do?
Lee: I have done two to three sessions a day for the past five months. This includes a morning run, speed hill reps and gym air bike, then evenings at the boxing club with a coach, plus pad work and sparring.
Yusuf: If I’ve got a championship lined up, I tend to train 12 weeks out on a 10 to 12 sessions a week basis. That consists of 3 to 4 runs, 6 nights in the boxing club and 2 strength sessions in the gym. If I’ve just come off the back of a championship like I have now, that winds down to about 4 to 7 sessions a week where I box 4 nights a week and run 2 or 3 days. I don’t ever take time out of the gym unless I physically have to.
How do you prepare mentally for boxing matches?
Lee: My attitude is to relax. What will happen, will happen!
Yusuf: I don’t do much to prepare mentally. The more emphasis you place on the event, the more you get nervous. Having said that, watching Muhammad Ali shouting ‘I shook up the world! I shook up the world! I’m a bad man!’ in the post fight interview after dethroning Sonny Liston in 1964 always makes my blood race.
How do you juggle your boxing career with your other commitments?
Lee: My family have been my great support. Another reason why I fought again was to be a role model to my kids.
Yusuf: I study medicine at Birmingham University so juggling that with boxing is difficult at times but not impossible. You just have to see your training as a break from the studies and vice versa, otherwise you’re working all day and viewed that way, it can be a bit too much.
Which qualities developed through boxing do you find useful outside the boxing gym?
Lee: Respecting people and speaking to others how you want to be spoken to. Also team effort and helping other members.
Yusuf: Boxing teaches you to be a calmer person outside the ring. You don’t feel the need to prove anything to anyone, people can hate you and try to talk you down but the confidence you develop from a sport like boxing means you quite frankly don’t care. So in that respect boxing has kept me grounded. The discipline, grit and determination comes in handy too. If life throws an obstacle in your way, just pick it up and throw it back.
What is next in your boxing calendar?
Lee: A coaching course. The rest is unsure due to my two hernias which came before my last fight.
Yusuf: I’ve got university exams in April. Then, as a Muslim I am observing Ramadan in May/June so with the boxing season ending in June, my 2016/7 season is over for now. My next match of the new season is hopefully planned for September.
What do you aim to achieve in your boxing career and in life in general?
Lee: To be a great father to my children and assist others who want to learn to box.
Yusuf: In terms of my boxing career, my long term goal is to go to the Olympics one day. I’ll be 28 for the 2024 Olympics and will have boxed for a decade so I believe that with hard and smart work it is achievable. In life, well, I just want to be able to balance my commitments as a medic and a boxer. Further down the line when I’m done with my boxing career, it would be great to give back to the next generation and hopefully inspire them the way I was inspired by others.
Whose support do you find crucial to your success?
Lee: First of all I praise the whole club, all the coaches and every member, it’s an honour to be part of such an organisation. During the past five months I had the club’s support, the boxing squad and coaching are second to none. There aren’t any ring wars! It’s also great to have links to other clubs such as Tamworth. When my home club was shut due to refurbishment, a great friend Deno went out of his way to coach me so I was able to train every day and drain his knowledge! I’d like to thank my family for their support and also to Nath for taking me to the gym – boxing would never have happened for me otherwise. Lastly, a big thank you to the South Wye team and coaches, for letting me be part of the club.
Yusuf: I truly believe that without Allah (God in Arabic), my success would not be possible. You can work hard and put in all the hours you want to but some people are unfortunate in that they get hampered by injuries or they work night shifts and it ruins their sleep cycle and training balance. I feel blessed to have come from a great family with a solid upbringing and where I am well supported by my parents. The coaching team at South Wye Police boxing academy are brilliant and I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for Tony, Rich and Vince and their commitment to the club and the boxers. I feel that my team-mates also push me in several ways including the standard they hold me to – they know my potential and they never let me deliver anything but 100 per cent in training.
SOUTH WYE POLICE BOXING ACADEMY is a fully inclusive club, welcoming both men and women of all ages, abilities and backgrounds, to improve their fitness through the art of boxing. Separate Children’s Classes and Ladies Only Sessions are also available. For more information on please contact the coach or visit the website.
Address: Hinton Community Centre, 21 Ross Road, Hereford HR2 7RJ.
Tel: 07525 452 110 – Vince McNally
Facebook: South Wye Police Boxing Academy