Lee Simpson: Paddy Fitzpatrick, George Groves & Beyond
By Chris Akers
The first time that I heard of Paddy Fitzpatrick, was when he trained Jamie Cox. Cox had just won Commonwealth Games gold. From that he became to George Groves’ chief second. How did that leap happen?
“What had happened is that he had been working with Jamie Cox and a number of others and Paddy knows Adam Booth,” explains Simpson. “So Adam was training (David) Haye and Groves at the time and he invited Paddy over to London, just to take part in helping with some of the sparring, different parts of the training, as they helped each other from time to time.
“He went over and he’d been observing what George was doing, what David was doing, offered his thoughts and him and Adam were bouncing ideas off each other. George knew Paddy from that experience.”
Booth was initially the trainer for Groves’ first fight with Carl Froch. Yet nine weeks before the fight, Fitzpatrick was named the new trainer. During the build up, Groves said to Froch that he was going to land two right hands on him in the first round. That was the idea of Fitzpatrick as a way of getting into Froch’s head. It demonstrates another facet of Fitzpatrick’s training skills, knowing the psychology of fighters. It’s a thread, as Simpson explains, that runs through the book.
“Everyone I interviewed I did so independently. Some questions that I would ask were similar or the same because I wanted to establish whether something else had happened. So rather that ask Paddy, I wanted to get it from the horse’s mouth, as it is far more credible. I asked Lamon Brewster, Laila Ali, James Toney, Eammon O’Kane and others, how scientific was Paddy as a coach. I also asked them about his interest and understanding of psychology, as well as the obvious things like nutrition. They were all really clear that they thought he was exceptionally analytical and scientific in his approach to training and to tactics and game plans, and that he was really top notch when it came to psychology.”
What inspired that idea was a fight between a future Hall of Famer who was perceived at the time as on the slide, and a boxer who was arguably on the pound for pound list at that time.
“Paddy talks about (Bernard) Hopkins vs (Kelly) Pavlik and how Hopkins is way older at the time of that fight and he’s already established in his own mind that Pavlik, being the younger, fitter and more mobile man, will probably win the early rounds. So Hopkins tells Pavlik ‘You will win these rounds,’ almost suggesting he will allow him to win these rounds. But them Hopkins says to him ‘In the sixth round, I’m going to start touching you. And then when I start touching you, I’m going to start hitting you. And then I’m going to start dominating you.’ It was this idea that you could control the fight by controlling the other guy’s mind.
“There’s a bit in the fight where around about the sixth, Hopkins does appear to be talking to Pavlik. And Paddy’s was telling me, ‘I bet he’s saying ‘I’ve just touched you there haven’t I?’ and putting that idea into his head that Hopkins is in control here.
“So he tried to use that method with George. Paddy felt that George’s jab was stronger, so he thought that George would dominate the opening. By telling Froch that they were going to dominate the opening, which was what was going to happen anyway, that was controlling the way Froch responded. In his autobiography, Carl Froch does say that it did influenced him and did cause him problems.”
After the first fight, with the controversial ending still fresh in people’s minds, there was a lot that took place. But the main thing from the perceptive of Groves and Fitzpatrick, was to try and get a rematch.
“Many people considered the stoppage in the first fight to be controversial and many people think it shouldn’t have been stopped. I’m not saying it should or shouldn’t have been stopped, because I actually think referees have a difficult job. They’re looking to support and protect fighters as much as they can. But it was stopped, and George felt it shouldn’t have been stopped. Paddy felt it shouldn’t have been stopped and much of the public felt the same thing. Paddy and George knew then that would need to try and get a rematch, because Paddy’s view was that Carl Froch had been really pushed and nearly lost his titles. Why would he automatically want a rematch? It might make financial sense but not in terms of keeping the belts.
“In the book we detail how Paddy and George had to put an appeal together in order to secure a rematch. In order to get the rematch, they had to go to the IBF in New York and prove that the decision to stop the fight was doubtful and debatable – which was the grounds for asking the sanctioning body to enforce a re-match.”
Part of that appeal says Simpson, involved an action by the referee the day before the fight, and how that could have affected the stoppage.
“This was in the Daily Mail and in a number of newspapers, so I’m not saying anything that isn’t common knowledge. There is a well covered debate as to why Howard Foster stopped the fight in the ninth round, and whether the stoppage was entirely fair to Groves. And in the book, you see that on the day before the fight, it appears that Howard Foster had liked a comment on Facebook that said that Carl Froch would stop George Groves in the ninth round, and you can see that’s problematic.
“George and Paddy found that out on the train going home. As soon as they did, they took a screenshot of the “like” and that was part of their argument to the IBF, to try and get a rematch, that perhaps the referee was influenced by that. They didn’t say that they thought that anything untoward had happened. They felt that Howard Foster did what he thought was right. He thought that George was in danger. But the fact that he had liked a comment saying that he thought George would be knocked out, and also that he had been exposed to this 12 week barrage of ‘Carl Froch is a warrior with an iron chin and George has a glass chin,’ narrative in the media, even though there wasn’t any evidence of that, created at least a sense of doubt around his decision. Put all of that together and it at least gave a sense of doubt around the outcome. There was a sense that the public, and the fighters, needed closure and that was why they got the second fight.”
Some of Fitzpatrick’s dealings with the British Board of Control were certainly interesting and possibly comical throughout his career.
“He doesn’t go as far as to be entirely negative about them,” explains Simpson, “because he thinks they can have some challenging circumstances to deal with and they have a difficult job to do in some respects. But he does have a laugh about how they felt that his head gear was an issue when he returned from Germany and the US. They had a real issue with the clothes he chose to wear and wearing a hat (when in the corner) for example which we cover in the book. Also he found the idea of the rules meetings interesting.
“So with George and Carl, in the rules meeting with the BBBofC before the first fight, he had it recorded by his lawyer, that he asked the referee not to listen the media saying that George has a glass chin, as he points out that George has never been knocked out. He only been put down once. In actual fact, the likelihood is that George has a strong chin. This was all just perhaps something meant to frame the way the public was being encouraged to view George. He does think that the officials don’t perhaps listen to him in the meeting because exactly what he asks them to not do, stop George the first time he is in a difficult situation in the fight, is exactly what happens.”
“Later on in Paddy’s work with Eammon O’Kane, there’s another issue with the same referee Howard Foster, where again Paddy doesn’t think that the rules are being applied fairly, and he has to really remonstrate with the official to support his fighter. So you can definitely say some of his experiences have been challenging.”
Fitzpatrick and Groves went their separate ways after Groves lost to Badou Jack when challenging for his WBC title. Currently Fitzpatrick has retired from training professional boxers in the main but is still involved in the sport.
“He currently trains some amateurs and he still runs the gym. He’s setting up a community interest group and hopefully a small school, where he’s going to use boxing as the medium to train and teach youngsters who are finding current mainstream education difficult. Just previous to that, he was training Luke ‘The Duke’ Watkins, who won the Commonwealth and Irish title with him. He was also training Ryan Martin, who had a Commonwealth title eliminator scheduled before Covid hit, among others.
“I think he’s come to the point that he’s been in pro boxing for over 25 years and is looking for something different now.
“He’s had some massive highs such as 80,000 at Wembley, working with Laila Ali, meeting MuhammadAli and James Toney, Lamon Brewster in Vegas and winning the WBO title against (Wladimir) Klitschko. Huge highs and boxing has given him those highs. That what’s allowed him to do that.”
Fitzpatrick has almost come full circle with his boxing odyssey. What boxing gave to him, he wants to give to young people in the community where he lives – the certainty, structure and order that training brings.
“I think he gets a lot of pleasure of working with the youth and helping the youth come through. I know some lads at the gym who are 18, 19, who have gone the whole way through school now. Some have got A levels. Two of them are off to university. Some were children who risked exclusion from mainstream schools. They became successful because of the coaching at the boxing gym they got, and then they applied at in the schools. He also had that with some of the ex-pros as well and some of the other fighters who were on the pro scene who’ve come through the gym in that way too. I think he wants to give back now, to do something that allows even more children and young people to experience that.”
Hats, Handwraps and Headaches: A Life on the Inside of Boxing is published by Pitch and is out now.