The death of legendary Irish boxing trainer Brendan Ingle in May this year temporarily brought the spotlight back onto boxing in Sheffield, where Ingle trained world champions including Johnny Nelson, ‘Prince’ Naseem and Kell Brook. However casual boxing fans may be unaware of the crucial role that the city of Sheffield, and particularly the English Institute of Sport, has played in the resurgence of British boxing on a global level.
Most students will recognise the EIS, based in east Sheffield, as the home of Varsity events, BUCS competitions and the University Athletics Club, but perhaps not of British boxing. Since 2009 GB boxing has been based at the purpose-built facility with Rob McCracken MBE at the helm as the performance director. McCracken has drawn on his own mistakes, turning professional prematurely before the Barcelona Olympics, as motivation for his role in coaching Britain’s best young boxers. 48 medals later at 16 major international competitions, including topping the medal table at London 2012 with three gold, one silver and a bronze, it is safe to say McCracken’s work has been a success.
However, it is behind the scenes in the professional set up that the EIS has made the greatest impact. McCracken has coached unified super-middleweight world champion Carl Froch and now Britain’s most marketable athlete, Anthony Joshua, from the Sheffield base. Joshua praised the set up in a BBC Documentary, stating “a lot of good fighters pass through Sheffield on the amateur system. It’s a phenomenal place and I would not change it for the world.” The IBF, WBA and WBO world heavyweight champion lives alone in a Sheffield flat during his 12-week training camps for the worldwide events we adore at a packed-out Wembley Stadium. And Joshua’s not alone in his love of Sheffield as a training base. World cruiserweight challenger Tony Bellew trained at Dave Coldwell’s gym near Rotherham, which also houses Anthony Fowler, before his loss to Oleksandr Usyk. Even Deontay Wilder has fought at the Sheffield Arena in adding to his inflated record.
With six current world champions from Britain and record ticket sales for fights, it is safe to say that Sheffield has played its part in British boxing’s boom. In an interview with The Observer’s Paul MacInnes, Joshua was asked about the appeal of a fight in America, and said ‘’no, not any more. Come here. Come and fight us. British boxing is booming. It’s amazing how the tables have turned. Not only for me but I’m telling you that the guys coming up are phenomenal fighters as well.’’ If you aren’t lucky enough to catch Joshua on a 10km run in the early hours, then GB boxing host a championship for potential Olympic talent each December at the EIS, which is well worth a watch to gauge which star will emerge next from the Steel City.