A sham-sport and excuse for brutes to batter each other black and blue?
Or a sweet science whereby its students physically and psychologically perfect discipline, courage and perseverance?
I caught up with Ben Duff, Head Coach at the Guernsey Amalgamated Boxing Club, to talk everything boxing. By the end of this interview, you may well have decided which description fits one of Guernsey’s fastest growing sports.
How did Ben Duff get into boxing? “I started when I was 18,” he tells me, “at the same time I started my job in accountancy, just around the corner from a boxing gym. No intention, I went in with an open mind, just for fitness really, and ended up boxing within four months competitively!” Ben says, laughing.
Quite late to start and quick to start competing! “I was always in the gym because both my brothers boxed, so even when I wasn’t competing anymore I was still always training. I stopped competing when I was 24. I’ve been involved with boxing for over 20 years, started coaching 12 years ago, and I’ve been head coach six years now.” Transitioning from competitor to coach to head coach, Ben remains active in sparring, an uncommon and valuable quality of his coaching.
Boxing in Guernsey
How many competitors are up at the Amalgamated Boxing Club now? “We’ve got about 40 nearing on competing,” Ben tells me, ranging from young girls to men in their late thirties (under AIBA rules, amateur boxers can only compete up until the age of 40).
And a couple of professional boxers have been through the gym? “We’ve had two pro’s in recent years, Bradley Watson and Tom Duff, who both trained up the gym a lot when preparing for pro fights. Tom was training out of a gym in Bristol and Brad trains in a gym in Essex, but when they were in Guernsey we helped them out as well.”
Tom Duff is Ben Duff’s brother, who fought a fantastic four fight late-in-the-day professional career at middleweight with a record of 3 wins and 1 loss, and Bradley “Glamour Boy” Watson came from behind to capture the English Super-Flyweight title in a stunning knockout victory against Loua Nassa last February 2018. (If you are a boxing fan and haven’t already, I highly recommend you watch the fight here.)
White Collar Boxing
Although boxing can be seen as a brutish blue-collar sport, white-collar boxing has seen great success in recent years, too. “Boxing in the right hands is probably one of the safest sports going, but in the wrong hands it can be very dangerous. There’s white-collar in the UK where they don’t have the strictest medical controls. But from what I’ve seen of the white-collar over here they have very strict procedures: matching, using 16oz gloves, paramedics on site; it seems to be very well ordered, well organised, well matched.”
The white-collar boxing event at the KGV last summer, organised by Christy Leavey of CL Fitness, put on 16 bouts and attracted over a thousand spectators.
“I guess white-collar’s a bit like your Sunday social league of football, for those who’ve retired from their other sports, in their 30s, it gives them something to do in their later years,” Ben tells me. “And because it’s a low impact sport, you’re not running around so much, it’s easy on your knees and your ankles, there’s quite a lot of longevity with it. You see a lot of people in their forties at it.”
‘Low impact’ and ‘longevity’ aren’t terms one would associate with boxing. The sport certainly gets impactful if you are competing, but injuries are in fact more common to mainstream sports such as football and rugby. Very few sports have both the intensity and longevity of boxing, hence why Ben and so many others supplement their training with boxing.
“The community classes are thriving, and its pleasing to see so many people of different ages and social backgrounds coming together and enjoying boxing.”
What about for juniors?
“We take them from 8 years old, really just from when they can concentrate properly. My son’s up there, he’s 8 years old, and he really enjoys it.”
“We’ve got quite good youth setup there at the moment. On Tuesday nights we’ve got 40, 50 kids training. To cater for the numbers we have split the age groups, and keep the gym open for longer so we don’t turn any child away.”
“The first group’s 8-11 year olds, that’s the first class between 5.30-6.30 on Tuesday, and then we’ve got a second class between 6.15 and 7.15 for 12-16 year olds. We also run a specific class for juniors on a Saturday from 1pm to 2pm, and once they’re ready to box they get invited up on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday as well. So basically the ‘feeder’ sessions are Tuesday and Saturdays, and once they’re ready we say you can come up everyday of the week.”
Let me play Devil’s Advocate. Is it not physically and psychologically dangerous allowing children so young to box? Would they not be better off with a normal sport?
“It’s not normal, you’re putting yourself in an uncomfortable environment, because our subconscious will tell you to run—fight or flight—so to put yourself in a position where someone’s throwing punches at you is naturally uncomfortable.”
“Part of the art of boxing is getting comfortable in an uncomfortable situation; it’s psychologically challenging. In training we take as much of the hurt out as possible and develop techniques and defences through conditional sparing and drills which build confidence in the ring. Boxing teaches you how to relax, keep calm, think about your actions and solve problems in a difficult situation, which I believe develops key skills that can help you in other areas of your life. You’re choosing to put yourself under unusual stressors that you’re mind would usually tell you to steer clear of, which is part of the buzz—and the addiction of it!”
Fight or flight is a factor for normal sports too. Overcoming the fight or flight response is certainly a factor for rugby, where physicality is foundational to the sport. Fight or flight for footballers? Fights are too often with words, and too often with the referee; flights are dives to the turf, and too often with the cringe-worthy crying and clutching of an unscathed limb.
Many of the things Ben discusses sound more like the ideal outcomes one would expect—or hope for—from a school education: “It teaches respect, improves focus and listening, memory and retention skills,” which all “help their behaviour to improve in other situations like at school or home.”
“As a result, some of the kids who come to us are now recommended by Le Voie School, youth workers and social services.” Ben tells me that children with Asperger’s, autism, ADHD and other social and behavioural problems are members of the gym; many just for the training, some compete, and a few very successfully so.
“We were even contacted by Le Voie School to run an 8-week course. Le Voie is a school for children that experience social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.” The course was successful and very beneficial for the participants: “The teachers said the kids were a lot calmer after they attended the sessions. Several of the kids continued to train after the course was complete.”
“One of our best senior boxers attended Le Voie for a short while. He came to us aged 16 and boxing has changed his life. He’s developed into a positive member of the community and has one of the best win ratios of all our active members. I rate him as one of our most promising prospect and he is an inspiration to other children who struggle with similar difficulties.”
There are few domains in modern life where these seemingly ungovernable energies can be productively directed, and tamed. Boxing’s one. And seeing this young man box, it really is something to behold; the intensity, the work rate, the concentration.
“Our focus isn’t solely on producing boxers,” Ben tells me. “Some of our members will never be able to enter a boxing ring but we hope we can help them in other ways, such as improving confidence, self-esteem, social skills or reducing anxiety.”
“We also work regularly with the Youth Commission. We are involved with their Get Active projects, aimed at encouraging young people to manage their emotions through positive activities.” The gym is by no means competitors-only, and sparring is optional for those not competing. And with the wide age range and dedicated volunteers, no young person would feel uncomfortable in attending a casual session.
“The clubs richest assets are the volunteers involved,” Ben says, he among the core of dedicated volunteers. “The passion and drive has resulted in the recent successes inside and outside the ring. We have a strong coaching setup and committee to keep moving the club forward.”
And move forward it has: “7 years ago the club was only open 3 nights a weeks, on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with juniors and seniors training together. Back then we had 12 registered boxers and roughly another 8 recreational boxers.” Now with 40 registered and dozens of others training recreationally, therapeutically and otherwise, Guernsey Amalgamated Boxing Club is thriving.
Quick Fire Qs
- What do you think of Tyson Fury’s comeback and how he’ll fare against Wilder and Joshua?
I think he is technically the best heavyweight out there. Both Wilder and Joshua are very dangerous punchers, so I’m stuck on the fence with what’s going to happen. Fury could win every round against Wilder and then get chinned in the twelfth round.” Not unlike how it went with Fury and Wilder’s first meeting: Fury outlanded and generally outclassed Wilder over twelve rounds, but was knocked down in the ninth and final rounds, before being ruled a draw. “It could be the same with Joshua. Fury isn’t as big a hitter as either Wilder or Joshua; both are very dangerous. They’ll be good fights.”
- And the Joshua v Ruiz rematch?
“Joshua could turn it around,” Ben reckons. “He’d have to know why he lost, his team must’ve analysed it and will probably correct it. Everyone writing Joshua off, but he did put Ruiz down first in the fight, and I think he could claim those belts back.” Joshua suffered his first—and to most a surprising—knockout defeat to Andy Ruiz in June.
In the third round a straight right from Joshua put Ruiz’ rear to the canvas. Ruiz quickly rose, cracked Joshua with a left hook and returned his favour with a flurry of punches. Joshua never seemed to fully recover and was eventually stopped in the seventh. “Ruiz is obviously very dangerous. I’ve seen training videos; you can definitely see why he’s won 90% of his amateur fights. But Joshua’s also very dangerous… so it could be another rollercoaster of a fight!”
- Best thing about living on Guernsey?
“Not having to commute hours to work. I’ve always enjoyed my sports over here, so having them at your doorstep is really beneficial. I can leave work and be at the boxing gym in 10 minutes, same with football. You don’t have to travel far to get anywhere.”
- Something Guernsey needs to work on?
“We need to look at the housing licenses. Seems like a lot of businesses are struggling. You hear of hotels, bars and restaurants closing due to staff shortages; seems like Guernsey has really shot themselves in the foot there. Maybe the government should look at reclaiming some land and increasing the population—this is controversial—I just think reclaim some of the land, make more room for development, and methodically upping the population by 10,000 will give Guernsey more of a competitive edge.”
Whether thinning margins in hospitality and diminishing numbers out for a pint or meal on weekdays will be helped by upping the labour pool is hard to say. In the finance sector, the wide range of licenses available in low-level roles certainly seem to indicate a shallow labour-pool.
“Between Guernsey and other financial centres, I think some of the businesses are swaying toward the Isle of Man and Jersey because it’s easier to find staff, and better transport links and infrastructure there.”
- What are kids nowadays missing out on?
“They’re probably not doing as much outdoor stuff as they once did, staying indoors on their iPhones, laptops and computers. When I was a kid we were out kicking a football, socialising. I think they could do with a lot more social interaction now. Now I guess social interaction is on social media,” Ben says ironically.
With education overwhelmingly classroom-based and only so many other hours in the day, what activity is better suited for a child to positively spend excess energy whilst developing discipline, learning and earning respect in an environment of peers all promoting personal responsibility and perseverance, whilst improving physical fitness and physique?
Guernsey Amateur Boxing Club Training Sessions:
- Monday – Seniors: 5.00-7.30pm
- Tuesday – Juniors: 5.30-6.30pm 8-11yrs / 6.15-7.15pm 12-16yrs
- Wednesday – Seniors: 5.00-7.30pm
- Thursday – N/A
- Friday – Seniors: 5.00-7.30pm
- Saturday – Juniors: 1.00-2.00pm
- Sunday – N/A
Guernsey Amateur Boxing Club v Home Counties:
More than 20 bouts and boatfuls of beer to enjoy at the 12th Oktober’s Slugfest!
One thought on “Islander Interviews #1 – Ben Duff @ Guernsey Amateur Boxing Club”