Michelle Joy Phelps: Life In Lockdown

Michelle Joy Phelps: Life In Lockdown

In just a few short weeks Michelle Joy Phelps went from being ringside in Las Vegas watching Tyson Fury dismantle Deontay Wilder to complete his own redemption story, to being in a Manchester hospital suffering from the Covid-19:

“I had it in late March, early April. It was when we all first got put into lockdown. I had a test which came back negative, but this was in the very early stages when the testing wasn’t very good. From my understanding, the testing was 60% faulty at that point. So when I went back to America and I was still feeling a little ill I went and had the antibody test, and they said you have had it in the last two months. That worked out when I was last in the hospital back in England. I wasn’t on a ventilator but I was on breathing treatments because I couldn’t really breathe. You have to understand I am one of those people they talk about on the TV, those with underlying conditions. So I am not the average person when it comes to Covid. Anytime there is pneumonia around I end up in hospital. It doesn’t matter if it is Covid, pneumonia or bronchitis it triggers my asthma. When I was in hospital, I had Covid, pneumonia and a lung infection, so I had all three. So when I look back I am the classic case of the people that die from this.”

In more normal times Michelle flits between living in Manchester and California, and with everything in life suddenly stopping, Michelle made the decision to go back to her parents for her life in lockdown:

“I went home 10 days after getting a negative test from the hospital. I went back to America, and it didn’t seem too different at first, there was less traffic, stores were still open, you could still go shopping, there were still things happening. Probably within 3/4 weeks of my return, the full lockdown started to happen and you couldn’t even walk in to get food anywhere. It’s definitely worse in California than it is here in the UK.”

Michelle is the founder and owner of Behind The Gloves, a project inspired by a lack of women in boxing at the time. Without live events, without anything approaching normal boxing life, the sport was in limbo and with it the numerous YouTube boxing outlets also suffered without what drives the views:

“We dropped 70% in revenue and that was a significant hit for us. At least in California, it was practically impossible to get access to go into any gyms, I think people in the UK are a bit more relaxed about the situation, you are still able to go into camps which is why I actually came back to the UK to see what I could do in terms of getting work back up and running.”

Lockdown was difficult for the boxing outlets that are out there. For writers nothing much changed, phone calls remained the same in the search for that all too elusive quest for that hidden gem of a story. But for the video channels, it was different. Zoom calls became the new normal, some evolved, others went for repetition and quantity over quality. Behind The Gloves took the initial hit with Michelle taking a back seat, resisting the temptation to follow the path other channels chose:

“Everything has the potential to return it is just a matter of when, we can only do so much. I think Zoom calls can get regurgitated, I think people like to see people interacting with one another, I think you can get more banter that way as well. It’s not only me everyone is taking a hit to some degree but things are getting better I have noticed in the last month, things have gone up for us on our YouTube channel. I am not worried but we have to re-strategise if we can’t attend the fights what else can we do. The only thing we can do is go into camps and do interviews with people who will allow us to be around them and I find people in the UK are a lot more receptive to that.”

Michelle has opened up previously on her mental health problems, and was determined not to suffer similar problems during the National lockdown:

“I have definitely seen myself evolve as a person over lockdown. I think having gone through everything I went through in hospital being in an isolation ward in the hospital without my family present. Every time you switch on the TV you see reports of people that are dying. So I try and keep that mentality that you are not going to be afraid of this, you are going to continue to live your life and continue what you need to do and outliving the fear. Some people might read that and say you don’t care about Covid but that’s not the case at all. I am very much aware of what’s happening but I refuse to let myself get caught up with it and find myself in a deep dark place and that’s easy to do when if you fall into what the media is trying to tell you. I’m just trying to focus on what’s ahead of me I can only do what I can do and be smart about the decisions that you make.”

Seeking solace in solitude, Michelle like many, adapted and turned to new skills to fill the void left by the lack of normality:

“In terms of evolving I think I have come out of it a completely different person and with a different mentality, it’s hard to explain exactly how, it’s a sort of peace I have with myself. Initially, I was terrified of what was going to happen with the business and now I understand the whole world is feeling this way, it’s not just me we are all in this together. Why should I freak out over something I have no control over. The only thing I can do is trying to maintain a good head on my shoulders, staying calm and find ways to keep me mentally sane. When I was back in California there were no gyms open so I bought myself a workout bike to put in the garage so I would use that. I started gardening and now I am such an amazing gardener, I am now growing literally 27 different vegetables at my parents out. They laugh about it now because I have left them with the maintenance of all these vegetables. But it definitely grounded me, I would get up in the morning and I had to attend my vegetables for half of the day.”

With boxing taking an unplanned break, Michelle decided to do the same even though she had to resist the temptation and the panic not to:

“I had to be ok with not focussing on boxing, I could take a step back. The more I tried to make these random Zoom calls where nobody had anything to talk about in the first place, there was no news except for Covid. I had to allow myself a break, and you have to understand I have been doing this for nearly 10 years non-stop, it was very hard for me to do. It was hard for me to take that step back because in my mind I was saying you gotta go you gotta go, I have to do something, I am not doing enough, I am going to fall behind. I had to come to terms with the fact that the only way I was going to survive mentally I had to leave boxing behind. In that, I found a sense of peace about myself and I felt that for the first time in nearly 10 years I was able to sit still and I have never been able to do that.”

The normal way of life for Michelle is one of living out of a suitcase, life on the road, which has over the years affected her personal life and restricts the time she gets to spend with her family and friends:

“The silver lining for me of lockdown was the amount of quality time I had with my family and friends, the many great memories I got to build. I got to go to my friends wedding which I wouldn’t have been able to do if I had been travelling all the time. So there were a lot of good things to come out of it.”

Anyone who has been to a press conference or been backstage at a live event will be fully aware of the never-ending queue to interview the likes of Eddie Hearn, Frank Warren and the fighters they promote. Every outlet waits in line seemingly in search of the exact same interview. Michelle, maybe surprisingly to some, doesn’t worry about interviewing the exact same people her fellow YouTubers do:

“I have found that if you are uniquely different then the interviews will be the same. So if I continue to be who I am then I don’t think it will be the same if say Kugan went in right after me to interview the same person. So I don’t really worry about that, I don’t feel as though I am competing with anybody, I really don’t feel that way. People try to portray us as rivals, but most of us are really great mates, we all hang out outside of boxing, and we all do different types of interviews. So when people ask my advice on how to do this, I say find your own unique voice and you will never have competition.”

YouTube outlets live or die by the number of views they get, the more people see their work, the more they earn. With a well-established outlet Michelle is lucky enough to be able to concentrate on her own content without looking over her shoulder too much:

“I don’t pay a lot of attention to what other people do, I am not fixated with other peoples work or the views they do or don’t get. I couldn’t tell you who has gone up or down. One month I will have big interviews, the next month I may not. We all sort of have our timings on things, if I had that mentality that I wanted more views than anyone else, I would drive myself insane and I wouldn’t be happy with my own work.”

Since conducting this interview the self-imposed hiatus from the day job is over for Michelle. Back on the road, returning to what she loves, a difficult year is now becoming to form what was expected. That incredible night in Las Vegas may seem a lifetime ago, but this annus horribilis of a year might end as it began with the trilogy fight between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder. Michelle has undoubtedly enjoyed the break, but you sense, her family aside, boxing is what she lives for, and the return to boxing normality can’t come soon enough.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s