An Interview With Boxing Trainer Jon Pegg
By Chris Akers
Ten days before the Midlands Mayhem event taking place at Arena Birmingham, I’m sitting inside the warmth of Eastside Boxing Gym on a bitter night in Birmingham.
What is noticeable is how much has changed since I last entered the gym. On the walls next to the ring are posters of televised boxing events and near the entrance are photos of boxers receiving trophies. In some ways, these are reflections of not just how the gym has changed, but also the Birmingham scene.
Jon Pegg is one reason why this is the case. Though best known as the trainer of former British, Commonwealth and European champion Sam Eggington, Jon has also promoted local shows and has been part of the Birmingham boxing scene for a number of years.
I first asked him how he started to become a boxing trainer.
“When I finished boxing, I was kind of a little bit bored of boxing, I had been doing it since I was a young kid. Stayed away from the game for a bit. Always been a big fan though, so I was watching fights.
“Then I started helping out a few boxers, just with a bit of knowledge on who they’re fighting. I’ve always followed the game quite intensively. Helped a few lads train for fights but not officially. Met Ken Purchase in 2006. Started promoting in Birmingham. Asked me to help out with the shows and do a bit of matchmaking. Then I got my trainer’s license with Ritchie Woodhall and just went from there.”
I first met Jon ten years ago in the same gym. In the time that has passed since, boxers like Frankie Gavin, Don Broadhurst and the Yafai brothers have made a mark nationally and internationally at amateur and professional level. Yet how else does Jon think the Birmingham boxing scene has changed?
“It’s improved a lot. We have some really good lads coming through on the amateur side and there’s a good developed grass roots level now to get through to the bigger fights.
“We’ve got regular shows, more pro trainers, more pro shows from different promoters. It’s a lot better. It’s got to improve a lot more. But it’s flourishing to be honest. It’s still tricky cos it’s not the greatest of support. It’s hard to get the support compared to other cities. But it’s definitely on the up, it’s definitely getting better.”
Moving on from Birmingham for the time being, how does he feel that boxing has changed in the last ten years?
“It’s has changed. Boxers are almost making fights themselves by calling people out of social media which isn’t the same as going it in a newspaper, because you can literally get a reply in 5 minutes before anyone has had a chance to plan it.
“Promoters are using social media. Eddie Hearn has been massive behind social media becoming a huge thing in boxing. And as for the fans it’s good because of the chance to interact and ask questions. It’s also bad cos it gives the chance of not so nice anonymous people to stay stuff that doesn’t really need to be said. It’s been said cos people are mean. And I always say to the lads that when someone’s been a bit of a clown on social media, they haven’t got a very good life.
“You don’t see happy people choosing to attack people for being a success or for doing something. They’re not leading very nice lives and I say always keep that in mind. I don’t feel sorry for them, as there are people leading not very nice lives who just get on with it, but I don’t let it bother me. If you’re leading the life where your only release is to attack someone on social media, you’re not someone who I’m bothered about to be honest.
“You are not someone whose opinion I’m that bothered about. But their the plus side, there are people we’ve met on social media, people who’ve come the gym, people who’ve become fans and it’s really good to interact. So for those few sad anonymous people, there are loads of happy people getting even happier and boxers mixing with people getting to know something more about what they’re interested in. So I think it’s a massive positive on the whole.”
As mentioned earlier, Jon has promoted his own local shows. So what did he made of the recent KSI vs Logan Paul and is there anything that boxing can learn from it?
“To be fair, they earned a lot of money and they earned the people on the undercard a lot of money. It is a fight but it’s not a fight. It’s two guys who are massive in something else having an earner while putting boxing gloves on. They could have done a race car competition, they could have done a mountaineering competition, they could have done a fishing competition. Those two would have generate whatever numbers.
“They used boxing cos they’re both quite athletic lads. So it wasn’t really oh they’re gearing towards it or you could learn from it, cos what they’ve done is use YouTube to build a massive fanbase that would follow them wherever they are. And if boxers done that kind of stuff……….I don’t know if good boxers who have to concentrate on training have got the time and kind of the lack of focus to build a huge fanbase on gaming doing the stuff they do on their You Tube channel.
“So you can always learn and the boxers got paid well on the undercard, but they could have done anything and they would have had a huge following. It weren’t like they done it cos it was boxing. They already had the following built from doing years of stuff and their sponsorship and all that. So for boxers to do that kind of stuff, they’d have to stop being boxers. If they stop being boxers, they’re going to get beat, then it doesn’t matter how much following they got.”
You Tube is of course a platform whereby people can create their own videos. Though Jon has doing his own independent film making outside of that avenue, so much so that he has gained recognition for some of the films that he has made.
“[Film making is] Just a hobby that I enjoy doing and with me I’m quite competitive, so if I enjoy doing a hobby, I want to push myself to where I can do it. So I make short films”.
This has gone so well that he has won awards for a film that was acclaimed in Venezuela and which featured a cameo by former WBC super-middleweight champion Ritchie Woodhall
“I made a feature film The Quiet One that got an Amazon release and done quite well on the film circuit. And I’m just in the process now of doing a film series and the first two pilot episodes have won 15 awards at different film festivals. It’s a post-apocalyptic series. It’s the end of the world and it’s a group of survivors just trying to survive and get out the country. It follows their journey and follow their trials and tribulations.”
Finally, which other Birmingham boxers could do really well in the future?
“There’s lots. From ones just starting to crack the scene now like Shakan Pitters and Ryan Kelly. Ryan’s had a few title fights. He’s lost one or two, but he’s also had some good wins. Shak’s unbeaten. Just won the Ultimate Boxer and English title. There right there ready to set up.
“On the next show, we have two Midland title fights with Matt Windle fighting David Seymour. Then we have boxers who have just won Midland titles that are coming through like Casey Benjamin, could be a great fighter. That’s all up to him, how much he puts in and how much he wants it.
“Then we have lads like Ryan Hatton. Very good lad. There’s another boxer I have who I think could be the most successful I trained since Sam Eggington called Lewis Coley I really think he’s destined for big things. His younger brother’s coming through.
“And that’s just our gym. Errol Johnson, Tommy Chainy, they all have prospects coming through. A kid called Shaka Thompson who’s with Tommy Chainy. Errol’s got [British super middleweight title challenger] Lennox Clarke. The region’s really thriving. It’s competitive and we helped each other out when we need to and sometimes our lads box each other. It’s making even better fighters by making these fights.
“The scene is thriving and I don’t think it’s going away any time soon. I think it’s building even more if I’m honest. We have also started to train our first professional female, a woman called Kirstie Bavington. She just had our first fight with us. She won in good style, stopped her opponent. She’s strong as an ox, very aggressive and a light welter. We’ve had some good female amateurs. A woman named Tori Ellis Willets was one of our amateurs. She joined the army, won two ABAs, been to a world championships and she’s on GB. It’s exciting times”.
Leaving the gym, it seems like Birmingham’s boxing scene, while not on the level of those in cities like Manchester and London, is only improving, attracting more interest and will become more prominent in the years to come.