The large, gloomy shadow cast over North Kensington serves as a painful reminder of the trauma that blazed above its less affluent, yet highly-populated streets over two years ago. The derelict remains of Grenfell Tower are a symbol, as much as an eyesore. Amongst those lost during the severe fire in West London were children, parents and elderly relatives; trapped tens of stories up, starved of oxygen and second chances. Shortly after its renovation a few months earlier, the reception area and stairs which led to the first floor were slapped in white plastic décor – reminiscent of a hospital.
It was painted and plastered, gleaming white when I’d visited just weeks before the devastation. Ultimately its residents would pay the price for a government keen on pinching pennies, papering over its cracks. On arrival, I was greeted by the thudding sound of fists on leather, with heavy bags squeaking as they were battered continuously. Feet danced up and down the newly-laid laminate flooring, with skipping ropes desperate to trip up their owners, but arriving a split-second too late.
Dale Youth ABC are a historic club and they were deserving of state-of-the-art gym that occupied Grenfell’s first floor. The framed pictures of former world champions, George Groves and James DeGale hung above the mirrored walls where young boys would watch the positioning of their lead hand. I filmed a short documentary inside the gym which burned down only three weeks later. Its subject was then-unbeaten professional, Dan-Dan Keenan, explaining how this community of fighters had shaped him as a man. It was an education – soon up in flames.
Gary McGuiness, one of Dale’s head coaches had been buoyed with Grenfell Tower’s redevelopment, raving about their prospects and their ethos as a boxing club. He spoke of their former champions’ success, and now finds himself heading up the career of Britain’s most exciting, new heavyweight talent. As expected, Dale Youth ABC has emerged from the ashes of their previous residence and entering the new year, Ladbroke Grove-raised talent, David Adeleye (1-0, 1KOs), prepares to tear a hole in the British rankings.
Remaining loyal to McGuiness, the man who has led him to amateur championships and national acclaim, the twenty-three year old speaks of education, elite sparring and eventually squaring off against former gymmate, Daniel Dubois. But it was David’s memories of Grenfell that forced him to accept that life was bigger than boxing.
“It was a good setup,” explained multiple-time ABA champion, Adeleye. “The gym had two rings, it had a few nice bags. We were only in there for, god knows, two months, I think maybe a month? There’s videos of actually me training in there about two weeks before the Grenfell fire. So yeah, it was the gym that I was a part of.”
“I heard of during the night. I was in university and I kept getting phone calls, and then I remember my brother called me, so I just answered that phone call and asked, ‘What’s going on?’ He said, ‘Grenfell tower’s on fire.’ I thought, ‘No way.’ So my coach called me, Gary, he told me the exact same thing, and more or less just said, ‘Look, the gym’s burning down.’ But you know what, that was never really a fear of ours, it was more for the actual victims of the tower that lost their houses or worse.
“I knew a few people that actually boxed at Dale Youth that lived in there. It’s so hard to take in, because it was so close to home. I knew so may people in the actual tower that lost their lives. May they rest in peace. But yeah, I wasn’t really thinking about the boxing gym at the time, it was more about them. So, it was hard, but I mean the community did come together to help out as well, so it was good to show unity within our area.”
Since the re-opening of Dale Youth at their new facilities only a few hundred yards from the ruined tower, the man known as ‘Big Dave’ is putting in work. His debut, on Frank Warren’s December 21st show was short-lived as he bombed out the experienced Dmitrij Kalinovskij. It was a display of power and raw aggression – eager to please the paying public.
That evening, fellow Dale alumni Daniel Dubois headlined, punishing a simply over-matched Kyotaro Fujimoto. The quiet giant has been climbing the heavyweight division for the last two years, collecting highlight-reel stoppages and a meaningful win opposite Nathan Gorman, but for Adeleye, boxing could wait until he’d completed his University degree. He had taken the decision to study, preparing for life after boxing, a sport filled with uncertainty.
“I was up at Uni training literally by myself. I’d come down on the Christmas breaks or certain periods, or when I had a fight I’d come down and train, but the majority of the time I was up at Uni just jogging, and listening to my coach telling me what to do whilst I was up there. I went to University of Wolverhampton and studied Business Management, because I knew boxing would be there anyway, so I thought, ‘Let me get my education out the way now, and then focus solely on the boxing.’
“I just didn’t want to do both at the same time and have any distractions. So, I literally just studied, did my three years, and came back, and that was it. I focused solely on boxing. I’d do the jogging, I’d do the shadowboxing, I’d hit the bag, I was listening to my coach. I did the university championships as well, so luckily one of the sports teachers at my Uni found me a good gym there in Wednesbury, which really isn’t far from Wolverhampton and they had some good trainers there.”
David has become an expert at escaping distractions, ensuring life as a teenager on the streets of Ladbroke Grove never resulted in jail time or gang violence. The move to Wolverhampton allowed him to continue on his path, tucked away from people or places that could have derailed him. Others haven’t been so lucky, dabbling with boxing but becoming drawn to the whispers of the street.
With a wise head on broad, young shoulders, he spoke of the importance of family and remaining grounded. Though, if he’d been wandering the corridors of my school, I wouldn’t have proposed confrontation. The moniker ‘Big Dave’ isn’t ironic – it’s literal. He’s always been far bigger than his peers, even as a young teenager living with his parents and two older siblings in West London. But boxing wasn’t the obvious choice in an area where Chelsea or Fulham play their football at home. A career playing Sunday league came to an abrupt halt when their team folded, and so Adeleye was forced to look for something else.
“I was six-foot-one when I was fourteen, so at the age of fifteen I just walked into the gym. I remember one of my teachers telling me to get in there. So I thought, you know what, let me give it a go. I walked in there and it was actually Gary I met at the door, literally I just started taking steps from there. Within a year, I won the Junior ABAs, so I thought, ‘I might be alright at this.’ And as time went on I started winning more titles and more championships.”
“When I first walked into the gym I actually got sent back home. I walked in there on the Monday and Gary asked me, he said, “Where did you come from? The old nick?” I didn’t even know what that meant at the time, and then he told me, “Look, come back on Wednesday.” So I got sent home, and I thought, “Oh, damn.” I remember I went to Sports Direct and bought some kit; bought my boxing boots, bought my gloves, and then just started shadowboxing from there. But everyone there was welcoming as well, or maybe it was because I was bigger than everyone, but yeah, I stuck out.”
Determination and a sense of intrigue kept the hulking youngster returning to the gym in West London. His healthy obsession over technique, natural fitness and overcoming fear allowed Adeleye to grow up under the watchful eye of Gary McGuiness. The pair tore their way through the amateur circuit, turning heads and becoming the subject of whispers from small venues and events. On the two occasions I’ve bumped into David, he’s been reserved, with no element of bravado. In fact, at first meeting, I hadn’t realised he was a fighter himself until it was brought to my attention.
The similarities between Adeleye and undefeated British champion, Daniel Dubois, were obvious. Both extremely well-conditioned, strong athletes; both quiet, keeping media conversation to a minimum; both products of Dale Youth ABC, young and keen to succeed. With Dubois approaching world rankings and headlining cards screened on subscription channel BT Sports, the recent debutant will attempt to follow suit. The pair had sparred hundreds of rounds as amateurs, chasing the same goal wearing the same colours, but almost inevitably an element of rivalry had developed.
“I’ve watched him [Daniel Dubois] knowing I could do the exact same thing as a heavyweight. I just think the perfect time will come and I’ll be doing the exact same thing. So it’s more of a waiting time where it’s like, “My time’s coming soon.” We were initially meant to spar at the beginning of last year, but then it canceled about a day before, so we don’t spar no more. We’re both heavyweights, we both want to stay major, we’ve both got the same promoter, I think it’s one of them ones where it’s just like leave it for the pro game now. I’m not fussed, to be fair.
“You know, when I fight these heavyweights – I was doing it in the amateurs as well – I’m only weighing about 94kg, 95kg and I was fighting kids in the ABAs that are 110kg, and I was doing more than hold my own. I was throwing them around. Even in sparring, I don’t feel like a light heavyweight anyway, I hold strong and whatnot. So a lot of it will come naturally. I mean, I’m assuming I’m going to fill out the older I get, so I don’t think I’ll stay this weight for long. I know I just started in the pro game, so I’m not going to start running before I walk, but it is a good feeling to be amongst these guys.
“I just love it. I mean, it’s only a matter of time before I start fighting them. I’ll wait my turn, and when the time’s right it will happen. There’s so many UK heavyweights now that the heavyweights game’s booming – especially in the UK. So it is definitely good to keep everyone interested in the domestic fights. I mean there’s a lot of heavyweights that are just started as well, they’ve had seven, eight fights, but I mean those fights could happen as soon as. I look at these heavyweights now and know I can beat them.”
‘Big Dave’ has his sights set firmly on the meaningful, domestic contests that will catapult him towards titles. At time of writing, he is sharing rounds with WBC-heavyweight title challenger, Tyson Fury, gaining an education at the hands of one of the division’s greatest technicians. Based in the USA for this part of Fury’s camp, Adeleye has been blessed with some unforgettable sparring experiences. As a teen, he was drafted in by former world champion, David Haye, making an impression at Haye’s Vauxhall facility. He’d also spent time with another Fury, spending time in camp with Tyson’s cousin, Hughie last year before turning professional.
Whatever Frank Warren has planned suits him and coach, Gary. They’ll follow the blueprint created by a promoter who’s proven himself time-and-time again, especially in recent years with his direction of heavyweights Dubois and Fury. His debut was a display of brute force and machismo, yet there was so much more in Adeleye’s arsenal. I’d spoken to a trainer familiar with David, who told me the twenty-three year old loved a tear-up and would feature in ‘plenty of exciting, fan-friendly fights’, something to look forward to for those reading.
Expecting his second contest to take place between February and April, he has no interest in taking time out of the gym. He’s only interested in learning from his peers and perfecting his craft, whether it was decoding the ‘Gypsy King’ in America or sparring Joe Joyce in London. The Business Management-graduate is fighting for himself and for his community – previously beaten to its knees in the wake of mass tragedy. David loves fighting, he explains, whilst having his haircut in the barbers, apologising if the clippers have interfered with my audio. But Adeleye remembers clearer than most, that life is bigger than boxing.
“I want people to think I’m entertaining, and I’m a man that’s willing to risk it. I’ve got a lot of bottle, and a lot of people will see that when I do start fighting, anyway. But yeah, as long as I entertain everybody and keep everyone happy whilst I was fighting, then I can’t complain.”
Interview written by: Craig Scott
Follow Craig on Twitter at: @craigscott209