Terry Dooley remembers Brian Hughes, one of Manchester’s finest boxing sons, who passed away earlier this week.
Legendary Manchester boxing trainer Brian Hughes MBE passed away in the early hours of Tuesday morning, aged 82. His protégé, Pat Barrett, often referred to him as ‘The Godfather of Manchester Boxing’ due to the influence Hughes asserted over his fighters, some of whom went on to become trainers themselves.
Hughes established the Collyhust Lads Club in 1964 and, within years, ABA and then professional titles started to roll in. Hughes moved to a new location in the 1970s, but the name remained the same and he retained the ethos of developing highly technical fighters, with the odd maverick such as Barrett and Thomas McDonagh thrown into the mix.
Hughes worked with a number of boxers including Tyson Fury, who spent a brief spell with him, and, more importantly, developed world champions such as Robin Reid and Scott Quigg from scratch. Hughes retired in 2011 yet continued to keep his eye on the sport. He didn’t just train fighters, he taught them life skills and authored a number of books about his favourite pros.
In an age where trainers spend more time talking about themselves rather than talking to their fighters, Hughes will remain a throwback to a different time, a time of teachers who wanted to impart their knowledge to everyone and anyone.
For example, I walked into Hughes’s gym for a few sessions as a teenager. My father was using a bodybuilding gym a short distance away so would drop me off. I didn’t know who Hughes was at the time, so I just worked on the bags — switching between my natural southpaw stance and the orthodox one.
During one session, an old man came over to me and told me that I needed to work on my fundamentals. He asked me to get into the ring, brought another boxer in and, for the next half-an-hour, he made me work on my one-two-three — a jab, right hand followed by a left hook to restore my balance and keep my chin in check.
I threw that combination over 20 times. It was frustrating because it seemed such a simple thing to get right, but the old man kept making adjustments and criticisms until he was happy with my technique. By the end of the session, I was much more balanced and left the gym feeling like a mix of Muhammad Ali and Lennox Lewis.
It was only a few sessions, yet that experience informed my knowledge of the sport and the technicalities of it. Years later, I was watching a fight on TV and saw the old man who had spent time with me working the corner of a professional fighter. It was Brian Hughes. Looking back, he was a renowned trainer when he took the time to teach an amateur the fundamentals, and he had no real reason to do it apart from the fact that he was a teacher first and foremost, not just a trainer, so when he saw someone making mistakes he would step in and fix those mistakes just for the sheer love of passing his knowledge on.
Boxing has lost one of a kind and one of the last of his kind. However, his spirit lives on through his former fighters and the ethos he instilled in them and others. Hughes lived and breathed the sport of boxing, and his loss represents the dying of the light of an old ethos — a desire to not only train a fighter, but also develop them as a person.
Everyone at Boxing Social sends their condolences to his family.
Main image: Hughes pictured with Zelfa Barrett in 2016. Photo: Black Flash Promotions.