Tony Borg: A Life On Both Sides Of The Ropes
By Will Lott
Originally from Cardiff, former pro boxer turned trainer Tony Borg spent a lot of his time growing up around his grandfather, who took part in bare knuckle fighting in the 1940s and taught Tony the idea of sorting out your own problems.
Fighting became common place for Tony in school.
“The first place was at Moorland’s, round the corner from my mum’s. I got in trouble quite a bit there and when I went to junior school we moved to another area in Cardiff where I also got in a lot of trouble. I got told to leave the school in the second or third year and I went back to Moorland’s.”
By the time Tony started getting in trouble again he had already turned to amateur boxing and was already a Welsh champion on his way to becoming a British champion.
“At one point, I walked in the gym and got told to jump on the scales. The coach told me it was the championships this weekend. I weighed 47kg. He told me I could fight at 45kg so I starved myself that weekend and ended up feeling really rough but I made the weight. I went to box for the Welsh title still trying to do 45kg. It got to the point I thought I won at the weight they told me to do so I’ll keep doing it. I spent most of my amateur career listening to people giving me very bad advice.”
Tony’s mum played a big role in his amateur career, encouraging him to return to the sport when he quit and attending most of his fights.
“Unless I was fighting somewhere like North Wales, she would always find a way to get to my fights, including the British final in Derby. She didn’t drive but she’d get there with my sister. They went everywhere.”
Sadly Tony’s mum passed away when he was just 17 prompting him to turn professional.
“She went into hospital and we were told it would be a day or two, then it was a week and before we knew it she’d be in there seven or eight weeks and she never came out. It was out of the blue. I had no dad, no brother, no uncles or anyone around me. It was just me and my sisters. We were on our own so I just decided to turn pro.”
Borg would go on to have a 13-11 record in the professional ranks.
“One of the problems I had was I didn’t understand the business side of the sport which is something I tell all my boxers now. At the time I thought I was very mature but in reality I was actually quite immature. I’d have my manager telling me I want you running this far on one day and this far on another but all I thought was p*** off.
“My first year I went undefeated and just thought to myself who are these people to tell me what to do. My first daughter was born just after Christmas and I took a fight on short notice. I was well ahead first round, second round and then I got stopped in the fifth by somebody who shouldn’t have beaten me. I was angry with myself for taking the fight and angry with my manager and trainer for offering the fight to me.”
Towards the end of his career, Borg had a short stint in prison.
“When I went to court I didn’t dream I’d be sent to prison. I’d been to court before for assault and things and been fined so I thought if I did get found guilty it would just be another fine again. I got sent to prison and it was just a smack in the face.”
Post prison, Tony began a career as a doorman at many pubs in Wales.
“I was originally working as a handyman selling kitchens when I bought my first house in Newport. My wages weren’t always enough to cover it. A head doorman in Cardiff offered me to work for them one night when I was out. I was 9 stone 4 at the time thinking I was too small. The money was good at an hourly rate. I was there about a year before I became head doorman. I enjoyed it for a few years and when I went to Newport I set up a small security service supplying doorman to pubs and clubs.”
In 2008, Borg found himself back in the courtroom, facing a charge of GBH with intent after the person he fought with as a doorman ended up in a coma and could have been facing up to ten years in prison.
“I was working in Chepstow. He was kicking off outside the door, blocking people coming in. As we were talking on the step he grabbed me and pulled me just out of sight of the camera and there was an altercation on the corner. He hit the floor and ended up in a coma. The judge advised the prosecution to lower the charge because there was no intent. He was in a position where he could have walked away. I was found not guilty and I just decided that was it.”
In 2015, Tony also had to deal with the tragic passing of his 19 year old step daughter Xana in a car accident.
“I’ve never been so shocked in my life. Obviously I lost my mum at a young age but it was shattering what Emma who is now my wife had to go through and had to listen to.”
Now Tony is a well-established, successful trainer and best known for training Lee Selby to the IBF featherweight title.
“I was always a trainer, even when I was a doorman but it was 2011 when I had my first real breakthrough when Lee Selby won the British and Commonwealth title and Gary Buckland won the British title. Lee came across to me and said I want to turn pro, will you train me?
“Initially I said you don’t train hard enough but we started working together. I told him look around you, these guys don’t have anywhere near your natural ability but they can hold their own with you because they’re so fit so if you can get as fit as them where can you go. He’s now won the Welsh, British, Commonwealth, European and now World title. He’s a credit to Welsh boxing.”
Tony also trained Selby’s brother Andrew.
“His brother is probably more naturally gifted and if he could just have a portion of Lee’s dedication we’d have another world champion.”
Tony currently has 18 fighters on his books but with the pandemic, few have been able to fight.
“Of my fighters, only two of them have boxed, that’s Lee Selby and Gavin Gwynne who won the Commonwealth title last. Lee fought an eliminator for the world title which we expected him to win and thought he did win but didn’t get the decision. If he’d have won we’d have gone onto a massive payday and been walking through the pandemic smiling but it hasn’t worked out that way.”
With restrictions beginning to ease and life looking like returning to some form of normality, boxing shows should be able to return as frequently as they were before.
“All my fighters have been training and keeping their spirits up. Some of my fighters are waiting for their debuts but if you look at them now you’d think they’d had four or five fights.
“We’re just hoping the promoters take the risks and put on the shows now.”
Spirits are beginning to rise again and with the roadmap out of lockdown hopefully boxing can come back stronger with Tony able to unleash his debutants and experienced pros sooner rather than later.