Lee Simpson: The Story Of His Book On Paddy Fitzpatrick
By Chris Akers
Boxing more than any other sport has spawned a number of wonderful authors. From those who cover the sport for a living, to others who write in metaphoric ways about their love for the sport and their admiration for boxers. Simpson was no different.
“I’m quite interested in F.X Toole, who wrote Million Dollar Baby,” says Simpson. “I was quite interested in his story, turning to boxing at 48 and the fact that it can’t possibly work but he does it anyway.”
This inspired Simpson to join a boxing gym at a later time. He called a few of them up and eventually ended up speaking to Fitzpatrick.
“I spoke to Paddy and told him that I was 40 years old, and asked is this a stupid idea turning up, wanting to train, to learn. He was really grounded and down to Earth about it and respectful. I thought I would be laughed at. But it was the exact opposite.
“He said ‘We’ll look after you on these levels and in this way.’ Because we had that initial connection, over time I became friends with him.”
As they became friends, stories were shared about each other’s past, which made Simpson explore the possibility of writing Fitzpatrick’s autobiography.
“Over time I started talking to him about his career, and I had no idea who he had and hadn’t worked with other than the crop he was currently working with.” explains Simpson. “Over six months, as we started to have more conversation. He started telling me little snippets about his career before he worked with George Groves.
“That inspired me to say ‘I think there’s a story in this that people might like.’ There’s also a human story as well, as anyone who’s read the book will see he’s quite honest, about how some of the challenges and difficulties he has faced, how boxing has helped him overcome them.”
Compelling stories that Fitzpatrick told, taking him to Vegas, LA, Germany, London and even the Channel Islands. He really lived a life, though a catalyst for how it would play out, was when he was bullied as a child. Like a lot of young people and as explained in the first part of this interview, boxing became Fitzpatrick’s sanctuary. Though in truth, any structure was good for him at that time.
“The bullying didn’t drive him into boxing per se, but it did push him to find something that would provide structure and certainty and order.” explains Simpson. “He had that it wasn’t necessary boxing that had to provide those things. It could have been a different martial art. But boxing was around him, he fell into it that way and it provided a huge amount of structure for him.”
He also attempted suicide at one point when back home in Ireland. More than once in fact.
“There’s a story he tells where he faked appendicitis and actually went through an operation so he didn’t have to go to school, which was obviously a difficult situation for him.”
He left Ireland as a teenager for England, but as a young person on his own, with no family nearby, he got involved with the temptations that a large town’s nightlife offers to a young man.
“Part of that for him was the idea that when he left his hometown and come to what was a large town, there were things that he did that he wouldn’t have tried back in Ireland. It was just unfortunate for him that exploring what was out there and the things you can do, also happened at exactly the same time that he decided to enter the pro game.”
His pro career didn’t last long. He has five fights. All ended in defeat. Even Boxrec doesn’t list his record.
Following on from his career, he settles in Swindon and sets up his own business, as a doorman. He runs a number of doormen in the Swindon and Wiltshire area. The money’s decent, but the lifestyle isn’t. All nights surrounded by temptation. At the same time, struggles with his mental health returned and he again attempted suicide, as Simpson explains:
“He really seriously attempted it. He details in the book exactly how it happened. For all intents and purposes it should have worked, but I think his constitution must be that of a horse.
“He leaves Swindon and goes to the Channel Islands, as he has a connection there, in order to have some kind of break and try and refine what he wants to do.”
That works to a point. Fitzpatrick decides to come back to Swindon and try again. It still doesn’t quite work out in Swindon and he decides to leave and go to the Channel Islands, staying with a friend there who lives there. His next choices become stark and minimal.
“He’s between joining the Foreign Legion or he doesn’t know what else. So he’s about to sign up for the French Foreign Legion, because he’s been having suicidal thoughts, as he thinks that if he joins them, though it’s a dangerous thing to do, then possibly the Legion will decide on whether he lives or not. Either he’ll survive or he won’t survive.”
What happens next sounds too coincidental to be true, yet happened. While in the Channel Islands, Fitzpatrick bumped into Freddie Roach, who was training Steve Collins for his WBO world title defence against Frederic Seillier. From there, he arrives in L.A and it all happens so quickly. He goes to the Wildcard gym and help Roach with some of his fighters. As would be expected, his time at the gym was a big part of his education as a trainer. There were so many quality fighters in the gym at that time, that he couldn’t afford to be starstruck.
“There were so many quality fighters in the gym. You had Shane Moseley, James Toney, Roberto Duran was in at points. You had Lamon Brewster, before he was heavyweight champion. Lucia Rijker, who was exceptionally high quality as well. If he had been starstruck, he couldn’t have done the jobs that he was employed and trained for, and he wouldn’t have been an effective assistant to Freddie.”
Fitzpatrick was a second to some of those fighters, helping them prepare for their fights, as Simpson explains:
“In sparring for example, he’d be in the opposite corner to Freddie with one of Freddie’s fighters or their sparring partners. Sometimes he’d take the training if Freddie wasn’t there. And he worked quite a lot with those high-calibre boxers at The Wildcard like James Toney.”
The Wildcard became Fitzpatrick’s home away from home, in more ways than one.
“Freddie helps put him up somewhere with a friend. It’s a bit of a distance between the Wildcard Gym and where he’s staying. So he ask Freddie if he could move into the gym and he lives in the gym for a while. Once training is finished for the night, he cleaned up and his bed is the actual ring.”
Fitzpatrick’s time with Roach took place over the course of two years, before he decided to set up on his own. He moved to Las Vegas and opened a gym called The Mindset, which he described as ultimately a large garage. One such boxer he helped train there was Laila Ali.
“Lamon Brewster was involved there as well. He originally got into working with Laila as a strength and conditioning coach, because he knew Laila’s husband at the time. Roger Mayweather and Buddy McGirt were working with Laila but over time, she gravitated towards Paddy as a Coach.”
Laila was affectively the top dog in the gym, and Muhammad Ali would come down to watch his daughter train. When talking to Laila, Simpson says that she was ‘exceptionally positive’ about Fitzpatrick as a trainer. So much so that they are still regularly in touch.
Though based in the US at this time, there were times that Fitzpatrick came back to Europe. For instance, he was in Germany at times and came back to Britain to work with Glenn Catley on behalf of Freddie and went back to the States. On and off, Fitzpatrick was in the States for nearly eight years in the US, before embanking on the next stage of his coaching career, which would involve training a Commonwealth Games gold medallist, and a trip to Wembley Stadium.