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Bradley Skeete: Happy Fighter

On June 4 in Sheffield Bradley Skeete will resume his career after it hit the rocks nearly two and a half years ago.

December 15, 2018: Skeete walked to the ring inside a near empty Brentwood Centre to take on Diego Ramirez. A young Argentine southpaw with 18 fights under his belt, two defeats and the unknown factor surrounding him. A fight against Ramirez was part of Skeete’s rehabilitation programme after a shattering second round loss at the TNT hands of Kerman Lejarraga eight months earlier in Bilbao.

In between Lejarraga and Ramirez came a confidence boosting win against Fernando Valencia. A six-rounder that did exactly what it said on the tin.

“Come on, Brad’!” “Go on, Brad’!” Familiar cries of support from friends and family could be heard loud and clear just before Skeete and Ramirez were about to fight. Skeete was stretching, on his toes displaying the familiar pre-fight routine as the formal introductions were made. The vacant WBO International welterweight title could have been Skeete’s reward that night but more importantly there was another chance to begin climbing a world title ladder which he almost scaled before Gary Corcoran pipped him to a shot against Jeff Horn in 2017.

Nicknamed ‘The Farmer’ Ramirez had been victorious in the ring seven weeks earlier and took just two minutes in the second round to floor Skeete with an overhand left. Round one had shown no preview of the nightmare that was about to befall the huge betting favourite. Skeete, unsteady, felt his body involuntarily move towards referee Bob Williams like he had drunk one too many. Ramirez wasted no time. He wailed away, Skeete had little resistance other than to hold on knowing that he was clinging to his survival in the fight as well as his career. In a corner bewildered and not facing the right way, Skeete appeared to not know where he was. Referee Williams tried to turn the fallen fighter into the correct path of the job still at hand. The response from a fragile looking Skeete gave the referee cause to wave the fight off. The usual sporting handshakes and photographs with the winner followed. Skeete’s smile remained but it was fading. He had already fallen out of love with boxing. In his own words, it had become a “chore”.

Skeete spoke to Boxing Social recently about next month’s comeback in Sheffield but the conversation begins with the night of the Ramirez fight and his head going walkabout.

“I got to the Brentwood Centre and it was empty, there was no one in there. I looked around and it just seemed like it was my friends and family there and it had no vibe, no atmosphere.

“I should be switched on; I shouldn’t be worrying about things like that. I remember exactly what I thought in my head, I looked around and thought this is going to look so bad on TV. I needed a change. What happened, happened. No disrespect but that guy (Ramirez) shouldn’t be lacing up my boots let alone dropping me and stopping me. I got back to the changing room and I felt my life was over, [that] my whole career was done. I didn’t see where I was going. I just felt like I hit a brick wall.”

At his height, while promoted by Frank Warren, Skeete was a welterweight mover with long arms that kept the domestic division at bay between March 2016 and July 2017. The efforts of Sam Eggington, John Thain, Shayne Singleton and Dale Evans were in vain as Skeete picked up the British title and claimed it outright after succeeding in the customary three defences to keep the title. Despite a loss to Frankie Gavin, Britain had been conquered. There was nothing else to but to take on Europe and then the world.

Skeete looked set to face Jeff Horn for the Australian’s WBO welterweight title which ‘The Hornet’ had famously won against Manny Pacquiao in 2017. Horn v Skeete Down Under was looking a goer. The opportunity of a lifetime for Skeete.

“At one point I was ranked three with the WBO and on the verge of a fight with Jeff Horn,” Skeete recalled.

“He [Horn] swerved the fight and picked an easier option. I’ve been there, I want to get back to there and push myself and get as far as I can.”

Horn would go on to out-fight and defeat British bruiser Gary Corcoran, also promoted by Frank Warren.

Skeete suffered two defeats in eight months including one against Kerman Lejarraga

Instead of Australia, Skeete’s passport would be needed for Bilbao, Spain. A formidable test in Kerman Lejarraga lay in wait. The Bilbao Arena was bristling, baying for Skeete’s blood. The definition of a lion’s den. A fever pitch atmosphere the equivalent of a football stadium ready for kick-off in a local derby.

Skeete was wary in the opening three minutes. Each man looking to establish a jolting jab that would rock the other. Skeete was battling a local hero while trying to remain concentrated at the task in hand despite the devastation of a personal tragedy that took place during fight week running through his head. A right hand from the Spaniard in round two dropped Skeete. The raucous crowd roared on their rat-tailed rock as he swung wide and high but eventually a body shot would force the Brit abroad to take a knee. He bravely got up and suffered an onslaught upstairs and downstairs that would be finished off with another clout to his mid-section. The fans celebrated the vacant European title victory with the type of din that could have been inside the city’s San Mamés stadium after a 90th minute winner.

“I could have had the option to pull out the fight, but I didn’t. I’m a fighting man, it’s no excuse. I lost to the better guy and that’s it. I’ve never made an excuse,” Skeete reflected.

At his own request the tragic news Skeete received on fight week is not one to go into here and now. His family and friends know what happened and for him that’s what matters. The news came 72 hours before the fight and truth be told Skeete would have had every right to withdraw.

“I should have pulled out of the fight. I didn’t, I got the fight and I got beat by the better man on the night but now I’ve dealt with that.”

Skeete never officially retired after Diego Ramirez gave him his second defeat in three fights. There was no statement or goodbye, instead the former British champion chose to take a break. His professional licence was renewed each year to remove any thought of retirement, leaving a door open should he have chosen to return.

There then came an 18-month period where Skeete had to get on with his life. Professional boxing was locked away until he said otherwise. A career sabbatical, perhaps. Either way Skeete had to get used to everyday life without doing the one thing he had done since he was 7 years old.

Looking back on that time in his life, Skeete said: “It was hard. It was so difficult. I went from feeling on top of the world to nothing, nothing at all. It was all done and for what? I was thinking I’ve given my life to this sport for what. The phone wasn’t ringing, I didn’t hear anything from people who I thought were close to me. It was bad, it was depressing, and I probably suffered a bit of depression. I was arguing with the missus. Boxing is all I know, and it was very hard. Then lockdown happened, boxing gyms had shut, boxing had stopped. I just thought that was it. At some stage I did think that was the end. As much as I look back at what I’ve achieved in boxing and done really well and people dream to have what I got, I’m not happy, I’m not satisfied.”

Personal training would be Skeete’s new venture. Bills and food still had to be taken care of and without the purses of boxing, he admitted that there were financial challenges.

“My mum and dad were very good to me. It was hard, don’t get me wrong. Boxing gave me a good life. I did do well from boxing, but it soon goes. If you’re not sensible, it soon goes. It was difficult and it was hard.”

Skeete has a friend called James Baxter to thank, too, for ensuring that an income could be sought in personal training. Baxter’s gym in Romford became a place of work for Skeete who got a set of keys to let himself in. A former boxing champion who had witnessed ‘friends’ disappear found loyalty in one who simply wanted his pal to get out of the house and start doing something with his days.

A life changing meeting was near for Skeete. A trip to the Nemesis Gym, owned by Tony Pettitt, father to one-time super bantamweight prospect Lewis would eventually lead to Skeete training a young fighter called Lightning Junior.

“Lewis wanted to do a bit of training with his friends and then I had some more work coming over that way,” said Skeete. “He got me a few clients, so I started using Tony’s gym and settled in really good. I was getting busy and that’s when I started training Lightning Junior.”

Lighting Junior, a star name if ever you’ve heard one, would work with his new coach at a gym called Reflections, a place that Junior’s father used. A boxing gym was to be built upstairs giving Skeete a free run at it. Clients were coming in from the area but another encounter, with Skeete’s boxing idol, would put an end to the time out from boxing and commence a new chapter in his career.

“I was in that gym, based there in Dartford, and that’s where I was doing my training, my sessions with Lightning.

“I got in contact with Naz [Naseem Hamed], Lightning loves Naz, and said would it be possible if he could come down and watch Lightning spar one day and he said yeah, and I didn’t really think nothing of it. A few months went past, and he came down to the gym and watched Lightning train and spar. He come down with his two boys who at the time were training up in Sheffield and they said why don’t you and Lightning come up to the Ingle Gym and do a session there. I said yeah, speak to Dom’ [Dominic Ingle] and see if it’s all good so they spoke to Dom’ and they said yeah, it’s all good. It wasn’t for me really but I always idolised Naz.

Dominic Ingle will now be in Skeete’s corner

“I knew all about the Ingle Gym. Brendan’s a legend and I knew of Dom’ and the fighters too. I took it upon myself to take some training stuff with me and get involved. I literally walked through the door and I just felt a buzz about it, and I felt a good vibe. I had a few sessions, and it was hard because it was the first proper bit of training I done in a long, long time and although I was keeping fit and doing the personal training it wasn’t boxing and wasn’t what I used to. Midway through the week I asked Dom’ for a chat and I said I’m not retired; I’d like to give it another go, I’ve had a long time out and what did he think. He said, listen, you’re 33, you’ve not got time on your side so it’s now or never. He said do you want to be a personal trainer, or a professional fighter and I said I want to be a professional fighter. He said, well you’ve started now, why stop, come up and train and see how you get on. He didn’t have to tell me twice. I stopped working and upped and left and come up to Sheffield. The time’s gone so quick up here and I’ve been buzzing to be back in the gym.

“I fell out of love with boxing, and I think it showed in my last few performances. Something wasn’t going right; things were going on out with my control. I just fell out of love with boxing. It became a chore. I’d been enjoying it a long time and I just didn’t have what I used to have. The time off’s done me well. It wasn’t ideal but it’s done me good. I’m back here and literally I’m going to the gym buzzing. I feel like a kid again. I’m learning new stuff in the gym every day. I’m enjoying the training. Like I say I’m with a world class coach and surrounded by world class fighters. I’m so happy, I’m buzzing, I’ve finally got fight news and a date to fight. Just going to put it all in now and all the training I’ve been doing is going to pay off and I’m going to get back to where I was if not bigger and better.”

Skeete’s comeback begins on June 4 outdoors at Sheffield Arena Car Park. The Dennis Hobson show will be shown live on the newly launched boxing app FightZone. The night will be headlined by Charlie Schofield and Mickey Ellison slugging it out for the vacant English super middleweight title but there will be a few eyes on a 33-year-old fighting for the first time since December 2018.

The revitalised and rejuvenated Skeete will campaign at light middleweight (super welterweight in new text). His 32nd fight will do what you might expect of someone who hasn’t fought in so long. Those clichéd cobwebs and that much talked about rust will be dusted off and hopefully a few questions will be answered too.

Confidence and spirits are high within Skeete. His ambitions remain unchanged, he wants a world title shot, and says there would be disappointment if he did not win a European title at the very least. One fight at a time though, another cliché that is oh so true for Skeete right now.

“My life is to win a world title, if not box for one. I’ve been within touching distance. I was in a bad way, in a bad place. I started doing the PT, I was back in the gym, I was training people. That’s when I knew I wasn’t finished with boxing. I’d walk past a mirror and have a little shadow box, I’d hit the bag, one of the clients would do a little spar. Something was in me that knew I wasn’t done.

“Coming up to Sheffield was a big sacrifice. To leave home, leave all my home comforts and my friends and family and what not but I mean business. This is my career, that’s the sacrifice I’ve got to make to get to where I want to get. Let’s look at the list of champions that’s been in this [Ingle] gym and trained in this gym. It goes on and on. To be amongst it and to be a part of it is an honour. I’m honoured to be here and I’m in the gym every day. I’m training alongside world class fighters, I’m buzzing.”

Training with Dominic Ingle means of course the long-time association with Alan Smith and the iBox gym had come to an end. For Skeete to go through the trials and tribulations of boxing once again, new faces and new opinions were needed. Skeete and Smith parted on good terms with the latter wishing him well.

Skeete once said in an interview with me three years ago that he can’t afford to be treading water. The same can be said now. At 33, you could argue that time is not on his side, but this isn’t a man who has treated his body with the sort of abuse that would have him on paper as 33 but looking 53. Skeete looks unchanged physically, what’s different is the mind of the man himself. It’s relaxed, happy and motivated.

The career of Bradley Skeete from 2010 to 2018 is now memories and photos with some regrets. Fresh start and buzzing are the cries from Skeete 2.0. This isn’t a once retired battle-hardened scrapper who should be advised to look elsewhere for reward and redemption for the sake of his health.

Skeete says he was at his best when he fought Sam Eggington

Skeete is looking to pick up from his last British title win against Dale Evans in 2017. A tall order? Maybe. No-one knows yet but the losses to Lejarraga and Ramirez in that eight-month period were not the Bradley Skeete we were used to seeing but he lost fair and square. Reasons, there were a few. So, was that a man coming to the end of his career? Did the personal issues play a big enough part for him to suffer two second round defeats? Questions, questions and more questions to come no doubt.

June 4 will offer a glimpse into Skeete’s future. There will be no Spanish pitbull to contend with, no train of thought that potentially led to his downfall against Ramirez. Skeete will be allowed to work that jab and throw the one-two combinations that used to serve him well.

The 154lb division is deep with talent in Britain, let alone the world. Readers of this may pour scorn on Skeete’s chances within the ranks but a few wins will build momentum and with Dominic Ingle by his side there may be a shot at bigger opportunities, certainly domestically to begin with. Skeete has the happiness that he was maybe looking for in 2017 and 2018 and he’s confident that being a happy fighter will make him a dangerous one and a challenge for any of the super welterweights out there.

“I said on my social media I won the British title at 147 and the belt’s so nice I want it twice! I’d like to have a fight with Ted Cheeseman. That’s a great fight to be involved. There are some great domestic fights.

“I’m with a world class trainer, a world class team and surrounded by world class fighters. I’m here for a reason. Dom’ wouldn’t be wasting his time if he didn’t believe I could get to that level and he said it himself, I’m here for a reason. I mean business. I’m not here to just get a few wins and say yeah, I’m happy now. I’m here to get back to bigger and better things.

“The Bradley Skeete I want to bring back is the one that beat Sam Eggington. I was flying. That was me at my best. My movement, my power, my speed, everything was there. Sam beat some good names and he’s still flying now. I think that’s the Bradley Skeete that needs to be back. I want to be not that one but better and I feel being up here I’ve added some things, I’m moving well… I’m still me but there’s a few changes and adjustments. I’m really enjoying my boxing again and I think that’s what’s going to bring it out of me. The main thing is I’m enjoying it. When I’m happy and I’m enjoying it, that’s when you’re going to see the best of me and that’s how I feel now. I’m very happy.”

Bradley wishes to add his thanks to sponsors Herofix, Ignite Recruitment Services and Rocky’s Grab and Tipper Hire for their financial help and support.