You would have required 20-20 vision to predict the events of 2020 and, even if you did predict them, you wouldn’t believe your own prediction. It has been a completely and utterly mind-bending year.
A few boxers started to lose their shit early doors. For many, the sport is a chance to channel their energy elsewhere and, without it, you either go off the rails or in the case of former pro Tyler Goodjohn post photo after photo of your admittedly impressive manhood on Twitter for, erm, reasons. Then things started to ease up and the main question became: ‘How do we reopen boxing gyms in the age of social distancing?’
“Once we got the guidelines, everything had to be managed properly and I didn’t want to take any risks,” answered Salford-based trainer Jamie Moore when speaking to Boxing Social. “At that time, the impact of the virus was massive — a lot of people in hospital sick and poorly — so we just got the lads back in for short sessions to tick over.
“I said to the lads that we could have four or five in at a time, as we’ve got quite a big gym, and that the main thing was that they brought and used their own equipment and made sure they wiped down anything that they used and kept their distance. It meant that, although I was in the gym, I didn’t properly interact with the fighters for about five or six weeks.
“It was just about opening the gym up, allowing the lads to train and getting them to the point where they were good to go if they got a fight on four- or six-weeks’ notice. I’ve been lucky because I’ve had six fight nights. It is so, so sad for others because they’ve not been able to get out.
“I did take coming back seriously because the safety of a lot of people is in my hands. Don’t forget, at this time of year there are so many colds and flus going about in general, fighters are obsessed with staying away from people coming into a fight as they don’t want to catch anything from anyone. In a way, fighters prepared themselves for the first lockdown for 10 to 15 years.”
“I know what you mean about fighters in general being warm, friendly and tactile, but in the weeks leading up to a fight they have to make sure that they keep themselves healthy,” he added, when Boxing Social asked how you move from a culture of handshakes, fist bumps and hugs to maintaining your distance.
“Jack [Catterall] and Martin [Murray] have had fights coming up so they were conscious of who was in the gym, what time people were coming and going, and all that type of stuff. They’ve done the job for me, really. Everyone has worked well together. We are all on the same page looking out for our well-being and we will be alright.
“Look at [Moore’s co-trainer] Nigel [Travis], he’s the most tactile person I’ve ever met. He loves giving a hug, being friendly and shaking hands and all that, but he’s had to hold himself back. It is frustrating the longer it has gone on because, for me, we are nowhere near where we were in April, yet the guidelines are still so strict. We had that early storm, but now it is affecting lots of people in lots of other areas and the treatment of other illnesses — I feel sad that this has happened. From a personal, sporting and boxing point of view, we’ve been able to carry on to some extent where some people haven’t.”
Moore had touched on a touchy topic. The 42-year-old is open on Twitter and in other mediums about his views on Covid, arguing that the lockdowns are doing more harm than good while remaining sceptical about news of a vaccine. Some argue that he has a big influence on Twitter so should stick to boxing, raising the converse version of the argument made by some boxers, not Moore, that fans who haven’t fought don’t have the right to an opinion.
The former British, Commonwealth and EBU light-middleweight titlist argues that he is entitled to express his views online as they are indicative of what he sees in the world around him and are shared by members of his boxing, social and personal circles. “Everyone is entitled to an opinion,” he said, referring to the Twitter debates.
“I understand that if people are just following the news and listening to the government then they are going to be angry, but if you look deeper into it, do some research of independent virologists, who talk about viruses not doing second waves, then it makes you wonder what the government are doing. People have got all different theories. I just take the information in myself and make my own decisions. When hospital admissions are normal for this time of year yet we are being told a pandemic is still going on it doesn’t sit well with me.”
Covid has turned the world on its head as well as creating even deeper divisions in an already divided world. I disagreed with former professional Stevie Bell recently when I commented negatively on people gathering en masse for anti-face mask demos. Some feel our personal liberties are being eroded; others, this writer included, would argue that they were a façade in the first place.
When the lockdown kicked in, some people applied their own logic to it by tweaking the rules. Others, including an 81-year-old I know who was immediately categorised as high-risk, watched the news all day every day and became increasingly isolated. In the case of the person I know, you could see an immediate deterioration both mentally and physically after a week of isolation. After they were persuaded to watch the news a bit less and go out a bit more you could see life flood into them again.
It is impossible to take in completely while we are still in the eye of this storm. Like 9/11, it will take a long time to sink in as all our personal narratives need to weave themselves into a wider one. It will all come down to personal stories. A friend of mine lost his grandmother, and he then had to fight tooth and nail to prevent her death being added to the early Covid stats. He won that one.
My dog, Marvin, hit 15 only for his legs to go. It became clear that we only had the option of euthanising him left to us. Social distancing guidelines meant we had to wait in a car on an industrial estate near Salford. When the vets came out for him, we had to put him on a gurney they had put on the floor and say our goodbyes. You could see that he sensed what was happening.
As we did this, a man in a car adjacent to us who had brought his Alsatian in for an examination only to have to sign off on having him put down had broken down in tears. Once the doors were opened to take Marvin in, the man got out of his car and attempted to bolt through them. As he was escorted away, he shouted: “I just want to say goodbye to my dog!”
We now live in a world in which very little makes sense, so we try to make our own sense of it. “I had a dog called Marvin who died at 15,” said Moore as we shared our experiences of 2020 and veered briefly from the path of boxing. “All this time and we didn’t know that about each other. I grieved for days and weeks after he died. They are part of the family. It is just an horrendous year in loads of respects.
“So many other aspects of our health are being harmed, especially mental health, and you’ve got heart, cancer and other patients who are neglected during this. In the long run, someone will be held accountable for how this has all been handled. A lot of young kids who were in a shell are going to have issues about confidence and miss out on that vital time when they start to come out of themselves. I think there will be a lot of long-term issues for us to face.
“Kids need to be in nursery to develop their immune systems, they cross-contaminate each other and get a boost. We’ve all got a form of immunity to viruses like this. Lockdowns don’t work, in my opinion, and the real problem is for people who have long-standing medical issues or are more vulnerable. I don’t think we should have shut down the world because of this. I’m sticking with my belief in my immune system over taking this vaccine.”
Whether you agree with Moore or not, you should agree that he has a right to talk and Tweet his thoughts. If you argue that he is in a position of influence and can sway people one way or another then those people need to look at themselves and how robust their opinions are.
It is a year of conspiracies, constant flip-flops from the Government and a Labour Party that I would struggle to class as an “opposition” due to the fact that they seem happy to exist in the shadows. Working in Manchester City Centre each day during the recent lockdown, what I saw was swathes and swathes of empty shops, some of them doomed, and as a result of this mass closure we will have areas of prime real estate that is ready to be swallowed up and used. People flocked into Primark this week, lots of them smoking outside with masks off and in groups, but you cannot sit down for a drink and a meal in Manchester. It does not make sense.
Conspiracies don’t work, in my opinion, as they collapse in on themselves, but there is a sense that this is a quickening, a shift towards something else that began when we started to move our lives online. We now live in a world where Moore and others are dismissed or labelled as part of the tin-hat brigade for having different opinions. The Government has got its foot on our neck and is not going to let up any time soon.
For Moore, though, the most pressing matter is ensuring that his fighters get and win fights, and that means he has had to adapt to life in the boxing bubble prior to shows. Then there is the boredom. Staying in a hotel is great when you are on holiday, but there is something soul destroying about it when you are on business, especially when you must self-isolate for a day and night after your Covid test.
“It is a strange one as the opponent can hear everything you are telling your opponent during a fight, but the weirdest thing for me is the bubble,” revealed Moore. “I know there are precautions to be taken and in place yet if you’ve tested everyone who has gone in there and they test negative it feels like madness walking around in a mask.
“Generally, you will spend a few days in an hotel before a fight, so you will see your opponent a few times, but in this scenario, you are living in the hotel with the opponent for a week. You have the same leisure, dining and gym areas — it is weird. Matchroom have set up theirs in an unbelievable way, especially this Wembley one. The worst situation they were in they made the best of. Matchroom get a lot of criticism at times, but they’ve really gone above and beyond what they needed to do.
“I feel so lucky that I’ve had six fighters out during lockdown, so I’ve done six bubbles — well, seven now — and the first time it is a novelty at first. Then you think: ‘This is getting tedious now’. The next time you do it you think: ‘Jesus, I don’t want to do that again’. I know people will read this and wonder what I’m moaning about as I’m still working, but nevertheless those psychological problems, the arguments you have with yourself in your head when locked in a room with nothing to do, can be like mental torture.
“You feel you are just going slowly insane: drinking lots of coffee and talking bollocks with the lads. Reading, podcasts, a bit of TV — those distractions are worth their weight in gold. Social media, too, which can have its downsides but scrolling through does pass the hours.”
When 2020 kicked off and Covid kicked in few people, if any, said: ‘What we really need is for that fight between Billy Joe Saunders and Martin Murray to finally take place!’ Well, it is happening and to say it has had a lukewarm response would be saying something.
Murray (39-5-1, 17 KOs) has fought twice against modest opposition since losing to Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam in 2018. You would need a separate article to document the lack of impetus in WBO 168lb holder Saunders’s (29-0, 14 early) career since he successfully defended his WBO middleweight title against David Lemieux in 2017. For Moore and Murray, though, this fight is not just Murray’s last chance, it is an opportunity to posthumously add a world title to their former trainer Oliver Harrison’s resume as his shadow looms large over this contest.
“If Oliver took to a fighter you became a member of his family, I know there was nothing more he would have wanted than me or Martin to become a world champion,” said Moore. “Mooresy” shared a deep bond with his mentor, who sadly passed away in 2019. He thought for a second then added a rejoinder.
“I’d say more so with Martin,” he said, “because Oliver got to a world title shot with him and was heartbroken when he was on the wrong end of close decisions against [Felix] Sturm and [Arthur] Abraham. I cannot put into words what it would have meant to Oliver. This isn’t about me. It is about Martin getting what I feel he deserved twice already and, more importantly, doing Oliver proud. If he does it, Oliver will be up there with tears in his eyes and a smile on his face.
“Oliver trusted me, and I trusted him. We took our word to each other as Gospel. I think if you are going to have that proper relationship with your trainer it is based on trust. I put my life in Oliver’s hands. I do the same with my fighters and it is a responsibility that I don’t take lightly. The fact he trusted me in the same way I trusted him means the world to me. I feel that Oliver could rest easy knowing that I have the same approach to Martin and my fighters as he had to all of us.”
Moore is steadfast in his belief that Murray can pull this off. If you were looking to talk the fight up, it represents the bar beyond the Last Chance Saloon for Murray and Saunders desperately needs to get going again as he does not have enough currency with fans outside the ring to excuse failure to perform within it.
“Martin has lived away from his family for six weeks now, anyone who knows him knows that is a sign he isn’t leaving any stone unturned: win, lose or draw it is going to be 100%,” acknowledged Moore when looking at the fight. “Like you say, it came out of the blue for everyone. Martin had been toying with the idea of retiring 18 months ago then told me he wanted one last run and one where he could just enjoy his boxing. Then this came. Everything happens for a reason. Something inside Martin was telling him to keep fighting, enjoy it and to see what is around the corner.
“Another aspect is that Billy Joe will want to make a statement and stopping Martin would be a statement. Only [Gennady] Golovkin has got Martin out of there. I hope he does go for it, as it will play into our hands. I’m not saying that Billy isn’t intelligent enough to understand that is how we will be thinking, but sometimes you put yourself into a position and it becomes hard to backpedal out of it.
“Martin is in the best possible shape he can be in, we have a good plan, yet even with all that you look at it on paper at this point and think Billy Joe would nick it off him if they both perform, so we have to look at those other issues that are out of our control. If things fall into place, he definitely has a chance. If you have Martin going into the sixth-round with momentum starting to go his way in what is his last chance, then someone as driven and determined as him could make that the deciding factor.
“We are under no illusions how big this task is. As an underdog, you have to rely on certain aspects of the fight that are out of your control panning out in a way that works in your favour. Has Billy taken it seriously? Has he pushed himself in training or was he forcing himself through it? Has he been disciplined with his nutrition? If he hasn’t then we all know that can cause you problems as you get closer to a fight.
“I asked Martin to think about it like he’s fighting at middleweight but that it is perfect for us that it is at super-middleweight as he doesn’t have to think about killing himself to get down to the weight and he won’t weaken himself. He’s put himself in the best possible position to pull it off. He just needs to go out and execute it. No one is beating Billy Joe easily. If you get any success, he will adapt and negate what you are good at. I am anticipating a close fight that goes to the cards. I just hope that Martin gets the positive shake from them this time.”
Main image: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.