Renald Garrido

Dean Gillen

When you go to your boss at work looking for a promotion, what are your reasons?  Money?  Career aspirations?  Ability to get punched in the face more often?  Chances are that most may well not choose the latter option, but for Dean Gillen his career as a fireman has given him the opportunity to push on with being a professional boxer.
“I applied for promotion in the fire service - I wanted progression at work, and as a side benefit it would take me off shifts and give me more regular days working so I can fit my training in” Dean tells me “They offered me a temporary promotion within community safety – they have been really supportive of my career as a boxer, I was really quite surprised. You don’t know how they’re going to take things but in all honesty as an employer they have encouraged me and pushed me to go for it.”
Gillen (1-0-0) is a man who clearly thrives on danger.  Prior to the promotion he was out on front line shifts risking his own life for the safety of others.  Now he may have a less risky Monday to Friday role temporarily, but it’s out of the frying pan and in to the fire for the 33 year old from Nottingham.  He embarked upon a professional boxing career later in life, making his debut back in May of this year at the age of 32.  But that wasn’t his first experience in the ring.
“Back in 2013 I took part in the World Police and Firefighter Games in Belfast.  I had been training since 2010 with the idea of going pro sooner rather than later.  I had some injuries that set me back, but I thought if I could win gold here it would set me up.”  Although vital experience to gain, how did the standard compare to someone who would have come through the more traditional amateur routes?  “It’s not the same standard as the ABAs, but it’s firefighters that are tough guys anyway travelling from around the world who will fancy their chances.  It is run by the ABA and I won the gold in 2013.  I knocked out every opponent en route to winning it, including a Canadian that I knocked out in the second round.  They came over to British soil and I sent them packing!”
It may not be the type of national representation that we are used to hearing about from new professionals, but it is this grounded preparation that makes Gillen think that age is not a hindrance to his secondary career.  “I’m a bit more seasoned than some lads.  I was asked when I went for my licence why I had left it so late when most people are retiring in their 30’s.  I said to look around, some of the other lads that were there applying were really wet behind the ears.  Not me – I know my contract inside out, I’ve read it and understand it where they probably don’t, I’ve got a career outside of boxing so it’s not as if I need it.  I think they respected that.”
The respect from the Board when granting his licence isn’t entirely reciprocated amongst his work colleagues, who Gillen admits have been quick to keep him down to earth:  “I get quite a bit of stick!  A local paper did a piece where they made it a bit more flamboyant than I made it out to be – making out about going from exploding buildings to a professional boxing ring – I got a bit of stick for that but it’s all good natured and I quite enjoy it!”
So how does a man who turned 32 decide that he has a future within the professional boxing ring at middleweight?  Again, it is intrinsically linked to his other profession:
“I’ve boxed for a long time but never took it seriously, then we did some charity boxing events for a firefighters charity and Help For Heroes – it was firefighters versus police.  It was a bit of fun, three one minute rounds, but it was of course competitive.  I fought an ex pro who had 90 amateur and 12 pro fights – it was only a bit of fun but I did really well against him.  I thought to myself after that “I’m going to do it, I’m setting my stall out and going pro” and that’s what I’m doing.”
It was after he had set his mind to it that his training became more serious, eventually linking up with Carl Greaves.  Greaves has become a key figure in the boxing career of Gillen, he informs me that his role now is as “Manager, Promoter and Trainer”.  Training out of Greaves’ gym in Nottingham, Gillen is working with another coach in Andrew Lowe whilst also being exposed to boxing life amongst a number of other professionals including Jamie Williams, Nathan Mcintosh, Adam Cattlebrough. 
When it came time to make his bow as a professional, he was handed a fighter in a similar position to his own in Shaun White.  White had also never fought professionally, although had been fighting on the unlicensed scene.  Gillen had managed to track down some YouTube footage of his opponent in preparation for their fight – but it didn’t quite go according to plan as he explains:
“He was a debutant as well with nothing to lose and wanted to win equally as much as I did.  I’d seen him online and studied him a bit but it didn’t pay off for me!  When I watched it he was a couple of weights heavier on the unlicensed scene and on the footage he was holding his feet when he was punching, so I came up with this plan to do a layback and counter.  He looked slow and unfit, and he probably was – at that point!  When he turned up as a pro though he had realised he needed to be at the lightest weight that he could but his strongest, and he came super fit.  He was nothing like in the footage and that first round was a bit of a shock!!”
Gillen came through the challenge, scoring a four round points victory at the Britannia Hotel in Nottingham.  He is now due to give up the fire hose this weekend and take on his second opponent, Lewis Van Poetsch (4-25-0).  Van Poetsch has taken on the role of journeyman over the last few years, but there is still enough left in his tank to give Gillen something to think about come Saturday night at Chilwell Olympia Sports Centre:
“I’ve seen him fight twice now – he lost one against a top up and comer but then he went and beat my stablemate Moses Smith” says Gillen.  That win came back in March this year and was a rare victory for Van Poetsch.  There is an eerie similarity between Smith’s record and Gillen’s – both fighters at the time having a single fight and single victory.  So how does Gillen feel heading into the fight?  “I’ve learned my lesson that just because he’s lost, his style may not suit me.  I’m avoiding focussing too much on him and paying attention to what I’m doing, that’s the lesson I’ve learnt is to do what I do well in the ring.  I know what I have to be a bit wary of, leopards don’t change their spots, but I’m confident.”
If he does come through the test on Saturday night, Gillen accepts that he has to stay busy.  He has promised his wife he will be out of the fight game by the age of 35 (although 36 got whispered down the phone line) – with such a small window of opportunity, where do his aspirations lie?
“Initially I just wanted to turn pro and say I made it as a professional athlete in my chosen sport.  I achieved that when people doubted me and I won my debut, then I have this next fight.  It will be a good leveller to see how I get on against him compared to others.  He took Curtis Woodhouse and Sonny Upton to points, so I can see how I do against him.  I’m the kind of person to look forward and want that little bit more.  An Area title would be an absolute dream, but if I got that I wouldn’t be satisfied!”
Gillen is realistic about his potential though – without an esteemed amateur background or a large following, tickets have proven difficult to sell.  Like many fighter in that position, there may be a requirement to take his career on the road as the ‘away’ fighter.  How does he feel about that proposition?  “I will probably have to take a leap in opposition if I go on the road, I’m quite aware of it.  I know the score and what I’m getting in to.  I can’t afford only having a career of 3 years to wait for home shows, maybe only fighting 3 or 4 times.  I had one cancelled early part of this year in March so really this should be my third fight, but it’s my second but I’m not afraid of fighting anyone.”
Gillen is planning on having a busy 12 months ahead of him.  With one eye on being out of the sport in three years time, it is important that he gets as much ring exposure as possible.  So what kind of calendar is he looking at?  “I’m not going to go over the top as I have to be a little bit careful with work – I can’t keep turning up with black eyes and bruises! I’ll be looking at one every six weeks or so.  If it’s an easy one I’ll take one sooner, if it’s a hard fight I’ll have to wait.”
He is quite clear though that he is in this sport to be a competitor, not an opponent.  “I’m not just going to be some journeyman that will take a fight every weekend – if I’m travelling I’m going to win.  I may be against younger more experienced fighters who may be better technically, but it still doesn’t stop me believing I can win.  You get your man strength in your 30’s – I’m hitting harder now than in my 20’s, I’m fitter and stronger and I have a good chin and can grind people down if I have to.”
It is a difficult sport for even the most hardened amateur with years of experience, so for a man in his 30’s to take a leap of faith and look to establish himself in the professional ranks has to be admired.  Gillen has already ticked one career box of turning professional – Area titles are the immediate target providing all goes well Saturday night.  With a career to fall back upon once his in ring days are numbered, it may well be that the short window of opportunity and drive to succeed with the odds stacked against him that give Gillen the passion to extinguish his doubters.
Dean wanted to thank a number of key sponsors who have supported his transition in to boxing.  These include
American Fire Apparel – “Based in America, they got in touch and were impressed I was a firefighter and a boxer and offered to sponsor me.  That meant a lot as they were overseas and it was really touching.
“A new barbers in Nottingham called Jack’s of London who got in touch and said they would like to sponsor me, and they’re really supportive.”
“Town House Bar and Kitchen in Nottingham – they’re brilliant as their food is quality.  I wouldn’t take sponsors I don’t believe in, and they are great.”
You can follow Gillen on Twitter @teamdeanopro