Don Broadhurst: “I had a lot of bad things go against me.”
By Chris Akers
Don Broadhurst was one of a number of boxers in the mid 2000s in the Team GB Squad who was predicted to have a promising career.
Joining Erdington Boxing Club and having his first fight at eleven years old, Broadhurst seemed to have boxing in his blood, as a relative, PJ Kelleher had boxed as a lightweight for Ireland in the 1924 Olympics in Paris.
“My great grandad was from Cork,” says Broadhurst. “I didn’t know this growing up. You hear things. People talk about your family and you think it’s crap really. But as the years went by and I spoke to my great aunty, it’s true. There’s a plaque in Cork with his name on it. A commemorative plaque with his name on it saying that he boxed in the 1924 Paris Olympics.
“He has the same name as my mom’s maiden name Kelleher. So when I connected all the dots in my searches on the internet, I realise that boxing was in my blood from the beginning.”
People really began to noticed Broadhurst’s ability when he won the ABAs in 2003 against Matthew Marsh. Indeed, his amateur record is littered with boxers who as professionals became champions at different levels of the sport, such as Martin Gethin and the aforementioned Marsh, who became British champion at lightweight and super bantamweight respectively. Yet when asked who his hardest opponent was as an amateur, Broadhurst chooses someone who was a world champion both in the unpaid and paid ranks.
“I probably say Rau’shee Warren. He boxed for America, went to three Olympics Games. He was a world amateur champion and he was a world professional champion. So he’s done more than most and there’s not much more he could have done. He was only 17 when we fought. He’d just come back from the Athens Olympics and I thought ‘No 17 year old gonna beat me.’ But on that night, he was better than me. So fair play to him and he’s had a remarkable career since.”
The obvious highlight from Broadhurst’s amateur career was the gold medal won at the 2006 Commonwealth Games won in Melbourne. Ironically, the day of this interview taking place, it was 16 years exactly since he was triumphant Down Under.
“Just to get chosen for the Commonwealth Games was a big deal for me, as there was me and another lad called Stuart Langley, who were number one and number two,” Broadhurst explains, the enthusiasm in his voice a tell-tale sign of the happy times at that event. “So I weren’t 100% sure I was going to get picked. In other weights, there were no number twos or number ones that were so far ahead. But with me, I was doing well in competitions, but you never know really.
“Me and Frankie gone the plane down from Birmingham, had our Commonwealth Games tracksuits on and getting loads of attention. It was just a mad experience on the other side of the world. Just somewhere you dream of going. There were 11 of us out there, training and making weight. I was confident of getting a medal out there. I didn’t know I’d get gold, but thought that if I got a good draw, then it was possible. But I didn’t go out as a hot favourite to get gold.”
His first opponent was a home fighter, Bradley Gore, who had been to two Olympic Games and was participating in his second Commonwealth Games.
“He had 300 amateur fights and I was boxing him in Australia, in his own back yard. I came back to my corner at the end of the first round three, four points down and thought ‘Shit!’ Thankfully I boxed better in the second round and pulled away in the final round.”
From there, he fought and beat Ryan Lindberg, who had secured his spot for the Games by beating Carl Frampton. Next was victory in the semi-final against Jitender Kumar, whose brother went on win gold as a bantamweight.
In the final Don was up against Jackson Chauke from South Africa. Some kidology before the fight helped tip the scales in his favour.
“I knew one of his South African teammates from a tournament years ago. Some of his teammates said ‘You think you’re going to beat him?’ I said ‘Yeah I’m gonna smash him up. I’m gonna beat him easy!’ In the final I beat him so easy. I didn’t think about it at the time, when I saw his friend, he said that I intimidated him before the final. So he lost already, before he’d got into the ring. I can be cocky, but it actually worked that time, it was a good thing as I intimidated him, scared him and he froze in the final.”
Soon after winning gold, the decision was made to turn pro. Broadhurst always had one eye on turning professional if he won gold, to ‘strike while the iron is hot.’
“I would have loved to stay for another two years for Beijing. But another two years and I thought ‘Being on a squad for a year up in Crystal Palace and then Sheffield five days a week.’ I just wanted to try something different. I think I’d just gone a bit stale.”
However, his initial experience of boxing as a professional could be described as demoralising.
“When I first turned pro, I was training with Tommy and Paddy Lynch. I trained at their gym and until I moved to Richie’s gym, I was basically training myself. So from being on the national team with world class lads and world class coaches, to basically training myself in a gym on my own, one trainer there on the bag next to me. No pads, hardly any sparring. When I did get sparring, it weren’t the best sparring either. It’s crap really.
“Then I was fighting journeymen, no disrespect to them, but none of them were nowhere near my level, when I’d been fighting all these world class international boxers. So it was a massive step down and it was hard to get up for the fights. Crap training. Fights against people who weren’t in my league. It was really hard.”
‘Richie’ is Richie Woodhall, the former world super middleweight champion, whose gym Don moved to.
“When I moved to Richie’s gym and started fighting for titles, that’s when I started loving my boxing and relishing it again. So a hard start for me really, I just didn’t start on the right foot. I know I did well, but I didn’t get to the level I would have and should have under different circumstances.”
Woodhall was someone who could relate to what Don was going through. Both of them had represented England at amateur level and both won gold at the Commonwealth Games.
“Richie was renowned for doing the basics really well and been really fit. And those two things are the bread and better to me. It’s like building a house. If you haven’t got good foundations, then it will fall down.
“He used to give me the same fitness program as he used to do. The same runs. So I used that as a template. Every time I went into the ring, I was super fit. Most times I made the weight easy enough. Sometimes I think I lacked the education when it came to nutrition. England Boxing have much better nutrition on board. When I look back now, some of our diets were shit! We were a bit behind the times with nutrition at the time. I’ve learned a lot more now and it’s something I’m going to pass on now to the boxers that I’m now coaching to make them more successful.”
Broadhurst picked up the Commonwealth title by stopping Isaac Owusu. Two successful defences followed before signing to defend his title, and fight for the vacant British title, against Lee Haskins. A points defeat followed and he struggled with the aftermath of that mentally.
“I didn’t know what depression was,” explains Broadhurst. “I didn’t know I was depressed at the time. I wouldn’t get out of bed for weeks at a time. I’d be in the same bed all week, then I’d go out all weekend and get pissed and try and forget about it. I was massively depressed for ages. Another thing is, because I didn’t fight for nine months after. If I’d had a fight about a month later, to get back on the horse, then I would have been happier. I think if someone loses, I think the best thing is to get back in the ring and get a rebound win, to really help them get back on the horse.
“For me not to have fought for nine months, being depressed for nine months, it’s ruined a big part of my life. It changed me in some aspects as a person. Things like that, even though I’m over it now, I still get little bouts of it now and again. I’m a human being. It’s hard when you’ve been at the top most of your life and when you are top, there is only one way and that’s back down. It can be hard but I’m positive, happy and healthy as are my family and am happy for that.”
His first fight back after the Haskins fight added a second loss to his record. Then a couple of things happened. Firstly, he moved to Manchester and stayed with Frankie Gavin. Secondly, he entered Prizefighter. Why did he say yes to it?
“For me, it was to propel my career at that stage. I got to the final, fought Lee Haskins again and he beat me. But it got me back out there. After that, Eddie Hearn took me to one side and went, ‘You know what Don? You can fight Ashley Sexton for the English title, in a month or so.’ I’ve never said this before. But before the fight I’d perforated my eardrum again. I must have perforated my eardrum a few times during my career. I knew I couldn’t fight Ashley because of my eardrum.”
So away Don went. Not just from boxing, but from the UK.
“I went travelling around Thailand. I went out to Australia. I spend New Years at a Bondi beach party. I thought that I’d given so much of my life to boxing, I have enjoyed it along the way, but there were things I’d missed out on. There’s a lot of people who don’t realise the birthdays that I missed, the Christmases I’ve missed out on, the parties I’ve missed out on, weddings.
“People don’t realise that I’ve given a big chuck of my life to boxing, with dedication and sacrifice. Some people don’t get that. They only see the end product in the ring. They don’t see the months of training, dieting, running six in the morning in December when it’s minus two. There were a lot of things I missed on, but it was worth it, but I didn’t get the end product that I thought I would get. Such is life.”
Don was away for a couple of months. But coming back, Woodhall said that he’d been offered a job with Team GB full time. A return to Australia was the next step.
“When I came back from Australia I spoke to a boxing coach called Gareth Williams from a boxing gym in Brisbane. When I was out there he say ‘Why don’t you come out here and train?’ And I’d speak to him and he was giving me these good ideas. He was a good bloke and I had a good rapport and my best mate who’s an electrician was out there. So I thought that I’d try something else.
“I didn’t have a promoter at the time, as I’d asked for my contract back from Frank Warren. So I thought I’d try something different. In Australia, I would have been a big fish in a small pond, as over there they haven’t got the strength and depth that we have in boxing. So I went out there and everything seemed perfect for me. Nothing was distracting me. It was the happiest I’ve ever been as a professional. “
As happy as he was, Don was forced to come back due to personal reasons. His mom had been diagnosed with cancer and a few months later, she sadly passed away.
“I didn’t box for two years and didn’t go into a gym for nearly two years. Then when I came back I boxed for the English title in Leicester. That’s when I snapped the tendon in my shoulder. I boxed five rounds with one arm and still got a draw. I won the fight easy with one arm, but that’s how it goes. Because I snaped the tendon in my shoulder, I had another two years out of boxing.”
His comeback was again for the English title, on the undercard of a Eddie Hearn show. The headline fight was a derby fight between Sam Eggington and Frankie Gavin. Soon after, he was given the opportunity to fight for another title, this time at the weight division above.
“I got offered the Josh Wale fight at bantamweight, bearing in mind I was tiny for eight stone three. I was doing that weight for most of my pro career. I should have been eight stone from the beginning, but I got this fight at eight six.
“Josh was massive to me and I was tiny. The thing is I don’t think he’s better than me one bit. Obviously he stopped me in the eleventh round, but if I’d won the eleventh and twelfth round, I would have won the fight. So there was nothing in it. Plus I fought with a perforated eardrum. I remember he hit me in the first round and I lost my equilibrium and for so many rounds I was on auto pilot and I can’t remember a lot of it. It’s weird, because normally I think about my tactics and everything I’m doing to do. I had brilliant training for that fight.
“On my last sparring session, I perforated my eardrum. I went up to the weigh in with tissue in my ear. It just weren’t meant to be. Josh Wale wasn’t a big puncher and I’d never been knocked out in my life. It was only because of my eardrum and I was exhausted in that last round, as I was fighting on auto pilot and I couldn’t pace myself as well as I should have, not use my gameplan and my tactics.
“I had a lot of bad things go against me. That’s life I suppose. Hopefully what goes around comes around. Swings and roundabouts and hopefully life evens itself out, good and bad.”
A farewell victory in his hometown was followed by retirement. Now he is coaching and as he explains, it seemed to be the next logical step.
“My last two pro fights my camp was at Eastside, but mainly at the Combat Sports Centre in Solihull, Paul Gilmore’s gym. That’s where I coach now. It seemed like a natural fit where I’d been to training, to go into coaching. Everything just fit in place. The people around me, the location. I got a rapport with the lads from the gym, as they always ask me for advice, or I’d walked past them using the bag and say ‘get your left hand up.’ It seemed like a natural transition for me.
“I always knew I’d be a coach. I enjoy coaching. Bit frustrating with covid at the moment. Then when they’re open, it will be non-contact boxing for a bit. No sparring, no pad work.
“I’ve got my Level 1 coaching award at the moment. I would have got my Level 2 this year if it wasn’t for Covid. I would have got my Level 3 next year, then I could have been an England coach and would have liked to go to the Commonwealth Games as a coach next year. I hope I’ll be able to get fast tracked because of my experience in the Commonwealth Games and being a decent professional. So with any luck I’ll get fast tracked and still be a England coach at the Commonwealth Games. Failing that I’ll be there as a fan, supporting the England team.”
The next edition of the Commonwealth Games will take place in Don’s hometown next year. With interest on his city like never before, it would be fitting if Broadhurst was involved in a coaching capacity to help boxers strike gold in the same competition he won in 2006, as well as help his hometown become more noticeable on the international stage.