Michael Ballingall

Reece Macmillan
In all walks of life you start from the bottom and work your way up.  That's how it works, right?  Hard graft and sticking at something leads to more prospects and opportunities, that's just how it is.  But for Michael Ballingall, his boxing journey doesn't take the standard route from bottom to top.  There is no linear story of boxing rags to riches, instead he found success early on and is now looking to work his way back up the ladder.

Starting in professional boxing back in 1999, Ballingall found himself in the privileged position of being a part of the team that handled former British and WBU world champion Tony Oakey.  "From the very beginning I was in the deep end!" laughs Ballingall.  "Oakey had already become the WBU champion and I was basically helping in the corner, the silent trainer.  Tony Oakey had Ronnie Davies as his trainer at the beginning but Ronnie couldn't do training with pads because of his elbows.  I was pretty young, only about 24 or 25, and was the young lad in the gym looking to help out.  Also I used to spar with Tony when he couldn't get sparring partners.  Basically I did everything in the gym!"

The jack of all trades was finding his feet in the sport, happy to wander the gyms of England as he found his niche.  Still though he continued his work with Oakey as the Portsmouth fighter was taking steps to pastures new.  "When he left Ronnie he went with Frank Maloney and that was when I started working with Frank.  We used to do all the back and forth together, we would drive to the Old Kent Road, the old Fight Factory, and he would do his sparring there.  We used to go out to Maloney's place in Portugal as well and then Maloney split from Frank Warren and was looking for a house second, which he gave me the job of for seven years.  I went all around the country, plus Italy and Dublin, but at the time I had a lot of things on in the week and would meet lots of different people in the sport, ending up at different gyms and help out working in them."

The mixture of being able to sample other ways of working in boxing, coupled with Ballingall's desire to absorb knowledge, meant that his appetite for learning helped him find his feet.  "I was a very, very keen enthusiast; you can never learn everything even if you have world champions.  The moment someone believes they know it all, that's when they have problems.  We're not alive on this earth long enough to be able to learn everything.  I'm always learning, even if it's a young lad coming in I will try and pick up things from them.  There's been a lot of people I look up to in boxing and always listen to the stories form the old times, those stories get passed down and we can pass them on too."

Today, Ballingall is a successful trainer in Portsmouth as well as taking his first steps into the promotional side of the sport.  As he tells me though, building an empire for professional boxing is going to take its time in a city that traditionally has had its boxing fix outside of the paid ranks and with his unique insight to the top level, he knows what it is going to take to get back there.   "Portsmouth is really an amateur and unlicensed town for boxing, that's its forte.  There are some good amateurs and I wanted to turn it into a professional scene.  It's very difficult.  So I stopped the work with Frank Maloney and opened up a small gym in Portsmouth which is where I started off, that's about five or six years ago now.  It's hard.  Unlike a lot of other trainers that come into the game I was spoilt from the start, from day one.  When you come into it you normally start at the bottom in the unknown and work your way up but what happened with me is the other way round.  I started with the higher end domestic fighters and then found I had to go back and start again from square one.  I believe I know what I need to do to get back to the top and it's just a matter of getting the right people and the right fighters.  A lot of people try saying they have someone and they're moving in the right direction but really they're moving to the unknown as they've never been there before but I've been there, they just weren't my own fighters, I was a cog within a massive engine but I got to be there and see it.  When those lads went out and performed great in the ring I got to share a bit of that success and then they go home to Leicester or Derby or wherever they were from and I would go back to Portsmouth so I never really got to build those great fighters.  People like Craig Watson, I learned a lot from him.  I was only there a lot for the night of the fight, I never got to build them."

One fighter that Ballingall has had the chance to build is Floyd Moore.  Having been with him from the start of his career, the two time southern area champion has build a huge following in the Portsmouth area.  An appearance on the Sky Prizefighter tournament, aligned with his all action in ring style have seen him become a fan favourite and often bring in excess of 400 fans to his fights up at York Hall in London.  It is a tight relationship between fighter and trainer and Ballingall sees in Moore something that is key to being a successful professional boxer; determination.  "With Floyd, if he picked the easy life nobody would know who he is but in our world and our area everyone knows who Floyd is and he's getting opportunities now to fight on the David Haye undercard and things like that"  Ballingall says.  It's not all been plain sailing for the likeable Moore, losing on his debut to journeyman Johnny Greaves it could all have gone a very different route.  "Who would have thought a lad who had his first fight and got beat by Johnny Greaves would be on a David Haye undercard and selling thousands of pounds worth of tickets?" questions Ballingall.

The relationship continues to bear fruit.  Moore is scheduled to defend his lightweight Southern Area title against Ben Day and in preparation has been out in Wales working with world champion Lee Selby as well as other top class talent.  It is while on his travels that I speak to Ballingall.  "I'm still in Wales now, Floyd's sparring Gary Buckland today and going running with him tonight.  This is another sacrifice, to be able to stay away and sacrifice going to work and earning a wage then coming over to a freezing cold place like Newport to try and battle harden yourself.  Floyd does what I tell him, if I tell him I need him to do something he does it because we have that kind of relationship, the trainer and fighter respect.  It's not happy days all the time but when he has to apply himself he does what I need him to do and the success comes from the bond we have together, it's a very strong one."
Sacrifice is a key word for Ballingall.  It is something, as he explains to me, that is rarely a number one priority for fighters that enter the sport and ultimately is the reason why so many exit without achieving all that they could have.  "I've had quite a lot of fighters in the past but it's all about dedicating your whole life to the sport.  No matter what your outside life is from boxing you need to dedicate yourself to see how far you can get and give it a good try.  They're all young lads and they develop family lives, get married, have kids and get mortgages which they don't have at the start.  Their interests then lie elsewhere and they don't get the chance to test themselves and try to see how far they can go.  That's the main issue.  I believe nine times out of ten if you get a lad who has had a decent or successful amateur career then deep down he knows where he wants to go.  If you get to national finals and boxed the national champions then when you turn pro you believe that it's your career and where you want to go.  A lot of fighters may say that, but deep down their career is their living, how they earn their money and that's more important than the sacrifice it takes to make it in the sport.  Professional boxing, the structure is a lot different to amateur boxing and it takes time between bouts when they could be working and enjoying the finer things in life.  Unfortunately when you first turn pro you find out the hard way you have to make sacrifices and that's the number one thing with these young fighters, some of them will sacrifice a bit and get a taste of it but think it's not worth sacrificing for because they can make their money there are then doing work like building or whatever they do.  You can't get the best out of someone doing that and they go the other way.  That's one of the reasons there are a shortage of professional boxers in certain regions.  If you speak to a lot of successful boxers they will say they never really thought they were going to make southern area champions let alone British or World champions but they stuck at it through the hard times and you find out who those people are."
There is a new venture in the pipeline now for Ballingall.  As well as continuing his training role he is now taking his first steps as a Promoter.  He is working under the Goodwin Promotions banner, the promotional outfit based out of Leighton Buzzard who has firmly established themselves as the third biggest promoters in the country.  Ballingall has taken on a south coast franchise to extend the brand to his part of the country.  So how did the linkup come about?  “My kids were boxing top level amateurs so I knew eventually they would want to turn pro.  I had done bits with Steve in the past, brushed past each other when I'd had lads on his shows and stuff.  What happened was Floyd Moore was in contact with Steve, Floyd was with me at the time.  Floyd is like another son and was looking to see what else was out there, what was best for him.  He liaised with Steve and at the same time I was helping doing a show with another promoter when we became a bit stuck.  Steve jumped in and helped do the show for us and after that we had a chat.  After that we got closer and closer.  He's a family orientated man, he's successful at what he does not just in boxing but also the other businesses that he has.  I'm only ever going to work with people that have form and Steve has form.  He's an honest man, a family man and I'm friend with his wife and kids, he makes me feel welcome.  A happy partner is a more effective partner.  I'm under the Goodwin banner, I'm a section on the south coast and I would like to say we are partners and it works great.”
Ballingall is looking to run as many shows as possible from the Portsmouth area.  As he concedes though the first step is to build his own stable of fighters that he can utilise on shows, something he is confident he is in the process of doing.  “I have other talented fighters in the gym.  If they stick in there and keep at it they will also get known within the trade.  I have some very good prospects and as time goes on the level and the quality of the fighters I have is getting very high.  They're just waiting to break out into the big time.”  There is one boxer in particular that Ballingall has his eye cast over and that is his own son Lucas.  Lucas is a talented kid, four wins from four fights at lightweight and still only 19 years old it is clear he is a prospect in the division.  But Michael is realistic about his chances and the challenges that he will face just as he is with any up and coming fighter in his gym.

“He is one that at the moment I need to get the right sponsorship as he's in full time employment” Michael tells me.  “He's a very talented young lad and I don't really like to say it as he's my son and everyone’s kid is Lennox Lewis or Pele!  But I'm a realist and that's why I can get the best out of my fighters and my kids, I will tell them the truth.  If they win a fight and they're lucky they won it I will tell them that.  I don't blow smoke up someone and give them delusions or grandeur.  Grandeur has to come from reality.  One of the best saying in my gym is 'Be real'.  Accept the truth and once you know you have a problem we can deal with the problem.  If you can't accept there's a problem you'll never be able to iron it out and deal with it.  Lucas is a good all round fighter, providing we can get him the sponsorship and get him in the same situation Floyd is in where he can come away sparring and make sacrifices then he is a British champion at least.  That's not just coming from me, that's coming from people like Tony Oakey and Lee Selby.  Selby spars my son and rates him highly.  Sparring doesn't get you known though, it takes a lot of time and patience and hopefully we will get there.”

Michael Ballingall is a boxing man.  When he isn’t with his family then boxing is his life, from running his own gym to the new venture into promoting.  His years of experience in the sport are invaluable and have come through his hard graft and determination since entering the sport.  These are the same qualities that he is expectant of from those that he works with, qualities that Floyd Moore has been able to provide him over the years.  As he looks to build a stable of fighters who share that ethos and have the same desires, there is promise for the Goodwin Promotions banner to grow on the south coast.  For Ballingall, he continues to expand his boxing empire.