Lee Simpson: “Boxing gave me something which I didn’t have before.”
By Chris Akers
Like a high percentage of people who are involved in the sport in some capacity, be it through competing, coaching, writing or another pursuit, Lee Simpson was attracted to boxing by factors outside the mere watching of it.
Boxing has given Simpson, who has written the book Hats, Handwraps and Headaches: A Life on the Inside of Boxing, about the life of trainer Paddy Fitzpatrick, something which he never had before.
“When I was about 10, 11 years of age, my dad was into boxing and I got involved with it a little bit, but not too seriously,” said Lee. “I fell out of the sport and wanted to be a rock star, then went to university and wanted to be a poet. None of those things I wanted to do fitted with boxing, so I moved away from the sport. Because I have a stressful job (as Director of Learning at a secondary school), I found myself at almost 40 going back to boxing and choosing Paddy’s gym.”
The more Lee trained and got involved with the sport, the more he became a better person.
“It’s made me more peaceful, calmer, and improved my relationships with other people. Boxing gave me something which I didn’t have before. It may sound weird, but it gives me a sense of peace.
“For me, what’s been interesting is that there’s so many hundreds of things I’m dealing with all the time. Other than with my family, it’s really only in a boxing gym where I’ve felt such peace around me. Everything else melts away and all I want to focus on is movement and technique. That’s a fascinating thing for me as my life is never like that normally.”
It would be accurate to say that boxing, as it has for many people, provided a sanctuary for Simpson. A place away from the stresses of what is going on. Which makes the current pandemic hard to take, especially for Fitzpatrick’s gym, which Lee attends.
“It’s been really tough,” Lee explains. He explains how Fitzpatrick’s gym has had to adapt. “As a gym owner, your income is dependent on people coming in. Now there’s outside space, but there isn’t a massive amount around the gym. We have to move out of the gym to find that.
“At first, Paddy couldn’t open and that was difficult. Then he worked out a way of opening but doing the training outside. Some there were some people coming. It wasn’t huge, but me and others were attending.
“Then when the restrictions were released, he put in place Covid compliant measures in the gym and cleaning and changed to two evening sessions instead of one long evening session. Just as that was running successfully and you were getting 10,15 people at a time turning up, so you would have 30 a night, the restrictions came back.”
Yet as frustrated as he is with the restrictions the gym he attends currently has, there are other aspects of the sport that interest him. Such as the background of those who choose to earn a living in the ring, in particular those in which using their fists is perceived to have given them the only way out. This is reflected in the boxers that Lee looks up to.
“I’m a huge fan of Roberto Duran, and not just because of the excitement he brings as a fighter, but because of his background,” Lee enthuses. “I read Hands of Stone and also read I am Duran. I’ve always found that the way he had to live and grow and fight just to exist fascinating.
“His passage and the likes of Mike Tyson’s passage in boxing interest me more than fighters like Sugar Ray Leonard or Muhammad Ali, who are athletes who could have become anything in sport they wanted to be. But to me when you look at a figure like Duran or Hagler or Tyson, it’s also like they were born to be able to do this.”
One fighter in particular than encapsules this for Lee more than any other.
“But the person I’m most interested in is James Toney. Again because of the background and the character. I was fascinated by the idea of how you maintain that persona and keep that going without exhausting yourself.”
Toney is an example of a fighter who can be brash to the point of making the most outspoken person blush. And in an age of media training, where a tweet can get an athlete fined or the wrong opinion, the modern day fighter can still demonstrate a raw honesty with their words online and in interviews and their deeds in the ring. Does this in Lee’s opinion, mean that boxers are more realistic, that they wear their heart on their sleeve more?
“I think they do,” he states. “I wonder if part of that is the process of what they have to go through in order to become successful.
“I’ve been fortunate enough over the last three years to spend a lot of time with a lot of pros, and the most successful of the pros I’ve spent time with is Luke ‘The Duke’ Watkins, who has been Commonwealth and Irish champion. But most of the pros are working pros who haven’t achieved that level of success, and the amount of work they have to do to sell tickets and promote themselves, to talk to the community to persuade people to come and watch them perform, you have to be grounded to do that. I suspect there is a point in which you can leave that behind when they become a superstar. But that takes a long time to get to. It’s not overnight.”