It is hard to believe that it is eight-years since Dean Powell took his life after a long battle against depression. Powell was Frank Warren’s long-time matchmaker. He inherited the job after the death of the legendary Ernie Fossey in 2003 and had served his apprenticeship under Mickey Duff and other fight figures at the old Thomas A Beckett pub and gym in London.
A Black Country boy, Powell had been obsessed with London and boxing as a young man and made his way to the Capital to find a role within the sport. He did exactly what he had set out to do. Powell worked tirelessly to put on shows and shape careers, his matchmaking for Ricky Hatton became an exemplar of how to guide a fighter to the world title.
One of Powell’s first pieces of advice was, “Ears and eyes open, and mouth shut!”, and he stuck with this mantra throughout his career. Powell ended up as a man of all trades: matchmaker, manager, trainer, cutsman — you name it he did it. Over the course of time, with the demands of the job growing harder and harder, Powell had to balance his full-time role in boxing with his constant battle against depression.
Powell only told a few people about his struggles; he was intensely private and at one point told me that the hardest part of dealing with his illness was the fact that he would have to tell his parents about it before going public. Sadly, Dean never went public, and in what must have been an extreme moment of personal pain and anguish he stepped off a platform as a train approached and took his own life.
Dean was supposed to be visiting Gary Lockett’s gym in Wales that day. Powell thrived in that environment and despite the ups and downs, falling outs and all that goes with working in this business full-time, he never lost his passion for the sport and even those he had tough times with remember him with great fondness.
One thing Powell always pointed out was that the work of a matchmaker was never done. Grabbing a few moments away from his Blackberry to have a sandwich on the eve of a fight was his only respite yet even this wasn’t guaranteed. On the 15th of July 2005, he received a call from Danny Williams’s wife to let him know that Williams wouldn’t be able to fight Matt Skelton in Bolton the next day. Boom — he had lost his main event.
Powell put his sandwich away, racked his considerable boxing brain for a few moments, drew up a list of active heavyweights with either fights on the horizon or who would be in the gym and brought in Mark Krench, who agreed to the fight at about 6am the next morning. His work was never done, but despite the pressures involved he loved the sport and was dedicated to his role.
If you are in and around boxing gyms, you would often get told: “You’ll like this guy, he’s a boxing man.” As soon as you heard the words “Boxing man” you knew you were going to meet someone who lived, breathed, slept, and dreamt about the sport. Powell was the epitome of that.
The first time we spoke, I was told in advance that he was phoning me to give me a rollocking for being an arsehole on the Internet and making childish jokes about him. His number was passed on so that I could brace myself for the call. I texted him to ask if he could phone me after I’d watch that night’s episode of The Apprentice. He me called moments after the credits rolled.
Before he got into his stride, I admitted that I’d acted like a childish idiot, which deflated his rollicking mood, and an hour later he was telling me stories about watching former WBO middleweight titlist Chris Pyatt sparring.
Looking back on that one-hour call, I can only imagine how many missed calls Powell had during it, and how many messages and emails he had to reply to after it was over. He was incredibly generous with his time that night and had started to give me what became a crash course in how top-level boxing works.
It wasn’t a one-shot deal, either. We met when he visited Manchester a few weeks later and he even forgave me for wearing a Rod Stewart t-shit when I turned up for a coffee (long story short: he was a huge fan of The Faces and never forgave Stewart for leaving the band). Dean operated on boxing time and boxing talk, he would sometimes disappear halfway through a sentence to sort something out then reappear and take up the conversation again without missing a beat.
No matter how mithered he was, Powell always had time if he sensed that you had a genuine love for the sport and that is what made his death so difficult to take for the people who knew him even better than I did and had the opportunity to work with and learn from him on a daily basis.
His battle with depression was one he constantly struggled with. When he divulged his illness during a late-night phone call, with an eye to making it public in order to help others, Dean’s main concern was he would have to let his parents know that he had been struggling with the silent scream for so long and he was worried that it would hurt them.
The level of trust that it took for someone of Powell’s stature to divulge this to a journalist who worked online and was only a few years into the business was staggering. Sure, Dean had told people close to him about his condition, but only if it wasn’t made public. At the end of that call, he did not make any demands, he simply asked if I would respect his wishes until he felt strong enough to come out to let the boxing community know just how long and hard he had struggled with depression.
It is only now, eight-years on and with boxing completely embracing its farcical role in the wider sporting world, that we can begin to understand exactly what we lost when the sport lost Dean Powell. He was not just a boxing man, he was a real man, a kind, compassionate human being who was doing an unbelievably difficult job.
As our relationship developed and due to my role on the news beat at the time, there were occasions when I wrote stuff that was problematic for him. On one occasion, at a time when I thought our bridges may have been left burning behind us, Powell phoned me at 10pm on a Friday night, which was our usual catch-up time for one reason or another, and he simply opened up with, “Terry, you just went out and did your job.”
That was it. That was the conversation. We ended up talking about everything else under the sun and I even had the cheek to tell him that I was feeling stressed out by the constant need to find news despite the fact that I knew he was probably going to be up into the early hours making up the time that he had generously given to me that evening.
“Terry”, he said, “just go and spend time with your girl, put on Debris (a song by The Faces that we had talked about often) and just have a proper Friday night for yourself then make the most of your weekend together. Life is too short.”
It really is. And in writing this I’m aware that when you talk about a person who has passed away you do it through the prism of your relationship and interactions with that person. After Dean took his life, I found out via his colleagues Andy Ayling and Richard Maynard that no matter what I wrote, no matter what I said and despite any problems I caused him, Powell was always the first to speak up for me and always insisted that I was a young man learning about a difficult business and doing it on the fly. I never knew it, but he was always there for me and for reasons known only to himself.
Our final conversation was a brief one. Dean was on a power walk, and I’d just got back from a trip to Israel. I’m not religious, but Powell was a born-again Christian who had talked about visiting the Holy Land. Jerusalem itself had been a bit of a let-down, it was manic, but visiting Galilee was something else — I’ve never experienced such tranquillity and stillness.
You go on holiday to forget about boxing but end up doing a few bits here and there anyway. When standing in the sea of Galilee, I thought of Dean, of his struggle and how hard his job was, how I’d caused him problems yet was just one small problem that was part of the mountains of problems that he had to solve day in and day out.
That last conversation was a quick one — he had shows coming up, he always had shows coming up — but Dean sounded tired and mithered so I said, “You should just tell everyone to ‘Fuck off’ and visit Galilee, man.’ Powell laughed and said: “I might just do that!” He never did. He never would have done. He would have never left anyone in the lurch like that.
A few days later I logged onto a forum and read the reports of his death, with rumours immediately suggesting that it was suicide. I knew that was the case the moment I read he was no longer with us. Some might see suicide as a loss, losing the fight against depression, but that is far from the case.
All the anguish, the pressure, the fear that he would never get out of that tunnel, it all must have come crashing down on him in a single moment and in that moment an opportunity came his way, and he took it. I really wish he hadn’t. I wish he was around now, and I would have loved to have seen photos of him chilling out in Galilee. Maybe in another life.
At this point, I’m supposed to round up the news: Donald Trump saying he’d beat Joe Biden in a fight, Evander Holyfield’s return to action, the usual fighter call outs and politicking. I don’t think it is that type of a day today. The saddest news today is that eight-years ago we lost one of the real ones, and he will long be remembered.
I don’t have the right words to pay tribute to Dean Powell, others do and have done, so I’ll leave you with this quote from A moveable Feast by Ernest Hemmingway: ‘Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason.’
Oh, and I almost forgot this quote Powell himself, his sign off line whenever he sent a message: ‘All the Georgie Best!’
He is still sadly missed by everyone in the trade.
Main image: Alamy/Reuters.