YOU could easily miss Tony Sims’ boxing gym. Tucked away down a quiet lane in the wooded Essex countryside, only the sound of a heavy bag groaning beneath the weight of punches identifies it.
Inside, two-weight world champion Ricky Burns, laced with sweat, batters the bag. Dominated by a large ring in the centre of the floor, gleaming new bags hang along the walls as well as conditioning equipment. Burns is soon up in the ring, shadow-boxing with a weighted vest and small dumbbells in his hands. There is a rhythm to life in a boxing gym. Sitting back in his office just off the gym floor, Sims explains, “It starts early on a Monday. Fighters normally do two sessions a day here. They’ll come in in the morning, they’ll do their running through the lanes, sprint work up the hills on Sundays, we’ll just vary it in the mornings. We’ve set out a room next door, like a lounge [to rest], if they want to sleep they can sleep.”
When Boxing News went to the gym, before John Ryder did a 12-round spar with Lee Markham, Kevin Mitchell reeled off 12 four-minute rounds with young prospect Ohara Davies. Davies went after him, heaving in long straight rights. In the break, Mitchell spoke quietly to Ohara, offering advice, though presumably it would only make the next round trickier for him. “It helps,” Kevin smiled. “It makes it harder but when you’re sparring you’ve got big gloves, a big headguard. And I’m quite tough.
“I used to spar with Colin Lynes,” Mitchell continued. “I’d always try to tear into him. He’d tell me things. Over the years I realised he was trying to help me and guide me through things. As you get older you do it yourself.”
After their spar, Mitchell and Davies do strength work on the TRX device, and an assortment of abdominal exercises before warming down.
For most of his stable, Sims handles all their boxing and strength and conditioning training. He works as their manager as well. “I like to be in control of who their opponents are going to be and financially what they’re getting and when they’re going to be fighting,” he continued. “That’s another side that comes after the gym. I go to the office, talk about opponents, talk about money, talk about shows they’re going to go on next and then I go home, then I have my dinner and then I start watching opponents on DVDs.
“The difficult part of it all [is] levelling it out so you spend a decent amount of time with each individual. Picture those boxers out there, they’re not in a team. They want your individual attention every single one of them. It’s very demanding sometimes. Kevin doesn’t think about what Ricky or John’s doing that day. He thinks what he’s doing and that’s how a fighter’s got to think. Because he thinks that way he demands your 110 per cent attention, and so do all the others and I understand that and I want to give them that. That’s another reason why I won’t overload my stable .”
Now working exclusively with Matchroom fighters, Sims has come a long way since his early days as a coach. “When I started out training, I had a few club-fighters. Looking back I probably never thought I was going to be in a good position, because there were so many big promoters in those days and I was just chucking my fighters on little, tiny shows at the Elephant and Castle, just club shows, dinner shows, average fighters,” he said.
“I learned a lot in those days, corner work. I was fortunate enough to do a bit of cut work with [legendary coach] Ernie Fossey,” he continued. “Sometimes I was in the changing room with [handler of journeymen] Nobby Nobbs because they were the calibre of fighters I had. I picked up a lot of good tips in those days. I worked in the changing rooms with Jimmy Tibbs, I worked alongside Jim McDonnell for a few years. You pick up a lot of experience along the way. I’m probably now in the prime of my training.”
Sims learned key lessons as he progressed. “Being patient. Because I think patience has a lot to do with being a top coach. You’ve got to be patient with kids. You can’t expect kids to learn everything overnight. And also you’ve got to have experience as well. You’ve got to know when to push a fighter and when to hold him back. That’s really important. I’ve found through working with a lot of different fighters over the years that the last week is really important. The week of the fight is important, when to push and when to hold back. Because you can overtrain fighters on the week of the fight,” he said.
He feels his own work as a trainer is coming together now. “You have to hit a level where, I think, your experience has to come in, where you’re still youthful and not when you’re too old. That’s the line you’ve got to realise. You want the experience at my age now, not when you’re 80 or 90. Then I can be really experienced but I can be too old to do anything with a fighter physically. I think now I’m probably in the prime of my life. Physically I’m in good shape, mentally I’m in good shape and I’ve got a lot of experience. I’m hoping to develop my fighters and try to snare a couple more world champions along the way in the next five or six years, which is what all trainers are trying to do, every single one of us.”