Once memorably described as ‘show business with blood’ by Frank Bruno, boxing is still sparring with the age-old question – how do we get more people involved in the sport?
Formally launched in January, the Hatton Academy is Ricky Hatton’s proposed answer to the question.
Together with Jon Eade, the Academy’s training and education director, he has crafted a new, fitness-centric boxing course as a potential solution.
Perhaps Bruno is right. As a spectator to the sport, it is easy to get caught up in its dirty glamour, its intense thrills and ability to turn men into legends.
However, this comes at a price – blood. Underpinning boxing is a sense of constant violence, something which may put people off donning gloves themselves.
For many, to be involved in boxing is to sign up to a sacrificial pact – you will get better, but there’s going to be punches and pain.
Yet speaking to MM, Eade argues this doesn’t have to be the case – any passionate fan can get involved on the other side of the ring-rope, if they take it at their own pace.
To him and the Hatton Academy there is a step between casual fandom and full-contact sparring – that of boxing fitness, which can provide an insight into fighting without the deterrent of pain.
“In my view boxing is such a huge and popular sport – people love watching it – but they get put off trying it because they think the only way they can do that is in a contact environment,” Eade said.
“What we’re trying to say at the Hatton Academy is that people who are interested in the sport should come and try a boxing class for fitness.
“If you like it and want to take it to the next step, you can progress into contact.
“But if you don’t like it you can always come back to it knowing you can still do all the training and stay within the sport – this is the message we’re really trying to show.”
Though the course can provide a route into the fight game, to Eade and Hatton it is much more than that – it shows how boxing is for everyone, not just elite fighters.
On its completion, participants are given two certificates and the chance to join TEAM Hatton, allowing them to deliver Hatton boxing classes.
Those taking part are usually fitness professionals who showcase the techniques learnt to their own classes, providing an easily-accessible avenue for boxing at grassroots level.
But of course, in order to best pass on boxing to the public, the course must strike a balance between accessibility and proper technique.
And Eade is in a good place to provide it – with 14 years in the fitness industry, he regularly trains with Hatton’s professionals to find the best exercises.
“Every day when Ricky’s training the lads I’ll go in there, watch the different sections and jump in with the professionals, so I know what it feels like.
“I’m a big believer in that – if I’m going to prescribe certain exercises to people I need to know how they feel myself.
“Only then will I know if what I’m passing on will be too difficult or too easy for an hour’s class later down the line and whether the message will be lost.”
But though Eade is highly qualified, what gives the course its edge is the input from two-time world champion Hatton, who regularly takes workshops.
Having coached Belarusian Sergey Rabchenko to a European title the Hitman has already marked himself as an excellent coach, and Eade admits his insight gives the exercises an added bonus.
He said: “Ricky understands really what it’s like and what’s involved because a lot of people don’t realise that he’s such a good boxing trainer.
“I believe he will be as successful as a boxing coach as he was as a boxer – his knowledge is world-class already even in his early days of coaching.
“To be involved and have his input and to have him there on a daily basis to talk about the progression of the Academy is unbelievable.”
With world champion super-bantamweight Scott Quigg taking an Academy workshop last weekend and world-title contending middleweight Martin Murray getting involved next month, the Academy is spoilt for expertise.
Also, as the only boxing for fitness course in the UK with official accreditation from the British Boxing Board of Control, the Register of Exercise Professionals and the Amateur Boxing Association of England, it sits in a privileged position.
Before the course’s launch Hatton’s companies had already trained 2,000 new coaches, but what pleases Eade is that these courses are opening up boxing to a new kind of audience.
He showcases the number of women joining the academy – the latest intake was 70% female – as an example of its trailblazing nature.
Boxing remains an intense, gruelling sport but Eade is positive this more fitness-centric, softer approach will open the sport up to previous untapped social groups.
“When people work 9 to 5, finish work and go to the gym they don’t want to get whacked in the face,” he said.
“They want to go out and have a bit of fun, go out and train like a boxer but it’s got to be kept safe and effective.”
Picture courtesy of Jon Eade, with thanks.