Features

Tommy Frank: I want to fight the best

Talk of a ‘Drive-in Show’ might conjure up images of Arthur Fonzarelli on his Triumph motorcycle or Richie Cunningham bunting to first base up on Inspiration Point in the 1950s-themed tv series ‘Happy Days’, but to Sheffield’s Tommy Frank (13-1, 3 KOs) it means something altogether different.

This particular drive-in show didn’t feature ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’ or Frankie Avalon hamming it up in ‘Beach Blanket Bingo’ but instead led with Frank at the top of the bill, in what was likely the first boxing show of its type. Enterprising promoter Dennis Hobson had identified a way through the block on audience attendance – a restriction that has put the entire small hall scene in the UK into suspended animation – and utilised the new concept to generate some atmosphere back into live boxing.

Headlining a home card from the unfamiliar location of the Sheffield Arena Car Park, it should have been another step forward for the then unbeaten 27-year-old’s uninterrupted ascent through professional boxing. Faced with a late change of opponent – both Harvey Horn and Kyle Yousaf had previously been in the frame – Frank battled Rosendo Hugo Guarneros for the vacant IBF Inter-continental flyweight title.

The expectation was that the Mexican would provide a solid test, but one that Frank would readily overcome, on his way to establishing a foothold in the New Jersey-based sanctioning body’s rankings. However, midway through the third round, after an impressive opening, Frank’s best-laid plans began to unravel. “I threw a jab and I felt it go,” he tells Boxing Social.

“I tried to give it a little shakeout and tried throwing it again. It were just a weird feeling. It weren’t like I dislocated it. It weren’t like I was in agonising pain, but there were just no strength in my shoulder to throw anything. It gradually got worse and the more the fight went on the more it seized up.

“At the end of the third round, I told my corner and they tried to do a bit of work on it to see if it would come back, but unfortunately, it didn’t.”

However, an undeterred Frank tried every means possible to navigate the remainder of the fight with just his right hand at his disposal. “I tried experimenting to see what would work. I thought I had some good rounds. I had a very good fifth” he reflects. “But I think it took him a couple of rounds for the penny to drop that I weren’t using my left. Once he realised that he upped the pace and it felt like he were outworking me. For every five punches, I threw with my right he were throwing ten altogether.

“I could feel the rounds slipping but I would have stayed in there till the very end to try and find a way. But obviously, Glyn [Trainer Glyn Rhodes MBE] saw something and pulled me out.”

After the fight and the adrenalin had flat-lined, Frank remembers being in absolute agony as his arm completely seized up. However, subsequent scans revealed that he had not torn any muscles and a significant strain to his rotator cuff was diagnosed instead.

Although he is now fully on the road to recovery, Frank admits that the ongoing lockdown situation in the UK has somewhat hampered his progress. “I’ve not been able to see my physio face-to-face, so I’ve been having to do my own work on it. I’m getting there but it’s not been as fast as it would have been if I’d been able to have proper physio. It’s not quite there yet, but fingers crossed it won’t be much longer now.”

With the British Boxing Board of Control once again mandating an opportunity for Frank to contest the vacant British flyweight title against fellow Sheffield resident Kyle Yousaf (16-0, 7 KOs), he is desperate to be back in action as soon as possible. It is the latest attempt to schedule the fight following aborted attempts in September and December [due to a positive Covid-19 test for Yousaf]. “The British title is the one I really want,” admits Frank, not surprisingly. “It’s a brilliant fight for the fans; for Sheffield, being a local derby. So, a little treat for the fans, especially in the smaller weights, I am really looking forward to it.”

Despite Yousaf’s unbeaten record and obvious potential, Frank is confident of getting the result when they do finally meet. “I think the best of me will come out. Someone like Kyle will bring the best out of me and give me that platform to show how good I am and what I can do.”

Clearly, the 27-year-old is desperate to plough on with his career and to not only expunge that recent loss but also to continue the trajectory he had in 2019 – where he picked up a Commonwealth title and assorted belts from the WBC and IBO – before the Coronavirus stalled his plans.

Frank is keen to call out and credit promoter Dennis Hobson for all of these opportunities. “After winning the Central Area [title vs Craig Derbyshire W10], I had a couple of six-rounders and we were probably looking at an English title, but Dennis always has something up his sleeve and I ended up having a final eliminator for the Commonwealth. I won that and straight after the title fight got made,” says Frank.

“It all happened really fast. I was over the moon boxing for a top title in only my 10th fight.”

Frank (centre) credits Hobson (right) with his early career opportunities.
Photo: Dennis Hobson Promotions.

Of all his recent accolades it is the Commonwealth strap of which Frank is most justifiably proud. In what was tipped to be a steep challenge for him against Luke Wilton, everything fell into place on the night as he stopped the former British and Commonwealth title challenger in just four rounds in what was an accomplished performance.

The icing on the cake should have been an opportunity to fight Maximino Flores for the full IBO flyweight title in March of last year. But with the world going into a Covid-induced lockdown at the same time that Frank was returning from his Fuerteventura training camp, the fight was ultimately postponed.

Inactive for a year, the Sheffield man utilised the time to fine-tune his technique and remained positive in the face of a growing list of cancelled and rescheduled fights. “I weren’t worried about different opponents, but when a fight keeps getting pushed back it has its challenges,” reveals Frank.

“I must’ve been training full-on, dieting and everything for about five months. It weren’t ideal, but, then again, it weren’t for anyone else, was it? So, you can’t complain.”

The last statement is indicative of Frank’s temperament and mature attitude. His is a glass-half-full mentality and, in this toughest of sports, he is grateful for what he has. He benefits from having a solid team around him and loyal sponsors who have enabled him to focus full-time on his career.

Frank credits his original interest in boxing to the 2005 US television series ‘The Contender’ where Sugar Ray Leonard and Sylvester Stallone put a group of aspiring fighters including Peter Manfredo Jr, Sergio Mora and Alfonso Gomez through their paces. It was a path that led him as a 12-year-old to the Sheffield Boxing Centre and he has remained there ever since.

Frank (left) won the vacant Commonwealth flyweight crown by halting
Luke Wilton in four in March 2019. Photo: Dennis Hobson Promotions.

Despite only winning one fight more than he lost as an amateur and a best showing of an ABA Quarter-final at Elite level, he always felt that he had the technique to transition effectively into the pro ranks.

“I always had my eye on turning pro and knew that’s what I wanted to be. The style is more fitting to me. Sheffield Boxing Club has always been an amateur and pro gym. So, I am very proud of the fact that I’ve never been to another gym. I started here with Glyn and I’ve never been anywhere else,” he says with obvious pride.

“A lot of fighters when it comes to turning pro, they have to up sticks and find a new gym and trainer, but fortunately I’ve done it all in-house with the same team.”

A proud Yorkshireman, despite 14 professional fights, Frank is still to box outside of the White Rose County; his furthest trip being a 30-mile sojourn to Leeds. Fully aware of Sheffield’s boxing heritage, perhaps encapsulated by the Ingle Gym in Wincobank, he is seeking to make his own history. “Glyn was an Ingle boy,” he says eagerly.

“He trained with Herol Graham, Ryan Rhodes and all of them fighters. I’ve watched all the old Herol Graham fights and heard all of the stories. He was definitely the frontrunner. Your Prince Naseem’s and your Ryan Rhodes and Johnny Nelson’s all followed suit. People in general look at Sheffield boxing now and think of Nas and Kell Brook, but originally it all started with ‘Bomber’ and fighters like Brian Anderson as well. We have got a long history here.”

With a Commonwealth title safely in his locker, Frank has already made his own imprint on the pugilistic history of the ‘Steel City’ but is determined to go further. He sees a victory over Yousaf and the capturing of a British title as the perfect platform for an eventual assault on world honours.

He is also confidently eyeing up the small yet talented pool of domestic flyweights and nods in agreement when Boxing Social suggests future match-ups with the likes of Joe Maphosa, Harvey Horn and former WBC title challenger Jay Harris.

“I’m hoping to fight all of those names,” he counters. “In the next couple of years, you are gonna see some good fights between us all. There are some great matches out there. I hope they get made. I want to fight the best because I want to be the best and that’s the only way you can prove it.

“The cream will always rise to the top.”

Main image and all photos: Dennis Hobson Promotions.