Johnny Nelson: “Brendan Ingle would make me spar with murderers”

05/26/2023 - No comments

Former cruiserweight world champion Johnny Nelson has told William Hill’s new podcast, Up Front with Simon Jordan, that Irish trainer Brendan Ingle would make him and other well-established boxers, including the likes of Herbie Hide and Prince Naseem Hamed, spar against prisoners – and in some case murderers – as part of their training.

Speaking on William Hill’s Up Front with Simon Jordan, a brand-new podcast hosted by the former Crystal Palace owner who speaks to sports stars and celebrities and challenges their opinions whilst scrutinising their careers, Nelson, who held the WBO cruiserweight title between 1999 and 2006, said: “Brendan [Ingle] needed his fighters to believe in themselves, so he’d take us to working men’s clubs, full of ex-miners and other big fellas, and we’d spar them.

“Every Sunday we’d do this, and he’d say if we got hit, we weren’t allowed to hit them back, and that the worst people to fight are people that don’t know how to fight, because you don’t know if they were going to throw a left or a right. He told us if you can figure those people out, you can’t lose!

“Then Brendan ramped it up a bit – he brought us to Doncaster Prison”, Nelson continued. “Everyone would do it – Clifton Mitchell, Herbie Hide, Prince Naseem Hamed, Ryan Rhodes, Fidel Castro Smith – we’ve all done it over the years. Eight prisoners were picked each, and he’d ask us to tell everyone about themselves and what our stories were. He’d then ask the prisoners to introduce themselves – all gloved up and vaselined up – and he’d make them tell everyone their story. I had to spar with a murderer – he was this big guy from Manchester – I was thinking, ‘why have I got him?!’

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“At the time, it was a good laugh for us lot, because we could fight, and most boxers who can fight don’t need to show off or beat people up. Fighting and boxing are two different things, so if you get in there and you have a pair of gloves on, we could beat anybody. We had that confidence and we’d laugh to ourselves saying, ‘you’ve got that big fella there!’”

Herbie Hide almost started a prison riot, so Ingle started singing

Speaking in further detail of his exhibition training in Doncaster Prison, Nelson noted how the unconventional Inglis, who trained four world champions at his Wincobank gym in Sheffield, once had to calm down a group of rowdy prisoners by singing Irish folk songs.

“Herbie Hide once came to one of the exhibitions with us and he had already been world champion,” he explained. “We were in a prison that absolutely stinks, and you had prisoners there who were jeering and shouting. Herbie got in there and still wanted the respect of a champion. He gets in the ring with a prisoner and Brendan tells Herbie, ‘you’re not allowed to hit him.’ So Herbie’s getting out of the way, but then the guy caught him with a shot, so Herbie turned around and started battering him.

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“The prisoners then started getting up and shouting and going mad, and the prison officers had to come in to try calm it down. Brendan went absolutely mad at Herbie, and then started singing ‘Big Strong Man’, this old Irish song, to the prisoners to calm them down. Initially they just looked at him and thought, ‘what is he doing’?, but it took all the steam out of the room and they started sitting down. By the time he’d finished singing this song, they all started cheering and clapping. Only Brendan could be such a circus master in massively multicultural gyms and prison environments, he just understood it.”

You can watch the full episode here:

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