Paddy Fitzpatrick
‘Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)’ wrote Marvin Gaye back in 1962.  The sentiment of the song was a man who wouldn’t settle in one place and subsequently was dealing with the heartbreak caused for the lady who fell in love with him.  He roamed.  Fast forward to 2014 and a man who had done his fair share of roaming was quickly coming to public consciousness, hat and all, as Paddy Fitzpatrick took up the coaching duties for George Groves after his surprise split from the long term guidance of Adam Booth.  To many hardcore boxing fans Fitzpatrick was already a known quantity, having been involved at the top level for two decades training fighters.  But for those who engaged in boxing due to being engrossed in the rivalry between Groves and his nemesis Carl Froch, Fitzpatrick was a new face in the sport.  What they didn’t know was the story behind the man who took charge of the Groves corner for the two famous fights last year.
“I met Freddie in 1996 when Steve Collins was getting ready for his rematch with Nigel Benn and I moved to the States on February 9th 1997” says Fitzpatrick, when asked about his link up with Freddie Roach out at the Wild Card gym in Las Vegas nearly 20 years ago.  “Freddie asked me if I would come over and work with him. It was great; he’s a very educated man and you can only improve when you are around educated men. I was obviously very grateful for him bringing me into the gym at a high level and I owe him a big thank you for that.”
The Wildcard has of course become synonymous over the years with the Hall of Fame trainer Roach, the place where Manny Pacquaio has spent his time fine tuning his skills and more recently Miguel Cotto has been preparing for his title fight with Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez.  I speak with Fitzpatrick about his own fighting career (“I was a fighter, but a bad one!”) and he recognises that it was an episode while at the Wildcard that made him realise where his own flaws as a fighter may have been:
“I couldn’t take what I was doing in the gym into the ring. It wasn’t until I was working with James Toney when he was with Freddie that I realised where I was going wrong. There are a lot of distractions and you always need to be focussed upon yourself and what you’re doing. James would come into the gym overweight having left a gentleman’s club at 4 o’clock in the morning, smelling of cigar smoke. He would still take four fresh men through three rounds of sparring apiece and do it with ease. I would be watching him thinking ‘I know he’s exceptionally talented but he’s not showing that right now’. He was still controlling these men and whooping them – I realised James would talk so much smack to them that they would either freeze because they would think he was nuts or they would get so wound up they would try and kill him.
Either way they would end up thinking about him and not focussing on themselves. I realised then it was all mental. Toney was a world class fighter but also a world class smack talker! James would find anyone, just look at his record and you can see he’s an all-time great. Everyone carried themselves differently. Behind closed doors after training had finished me and my wife would go out with him and his wife for dinner or the movies and he was a totally different character. As soon as it came to fight time he would switch it on.”
Fitzpatrick rattles through names of great fighters with nonchalance, to him all part of his own learning journey and part of his makeup today.  It is clear that he approached each experience with open eyes and mind, embracing the opportunity to further his boxing education in a hub of boxing activity.  How much was he able to absorb of what he saw?  “You’d be an ignorant man if you didn’t learn something every day from every person you come across. Even people you think you could never learn from will be able to teach you something. I’ve been blessed enough to be around great trainers and exceptionally talented fighters and would like to think I’m not an ignorant man, I pay attention around these people.”
Fitzpatrick spent a long period of his life in America, but it was family life that forced a change.  10 years ago when living in Vegas with his wife, their son approaching his first birthday, it dawned upon the Irishman that a change of scenery was required.  An offer was on the table to make the move back to Germany, working with a stable of five fighters on a three year deal.  Things didn’t work out as planned though, and soon another change of scenery was sought as Fitzpatrick and his family relocated to England.  However after experiencing family life in the bright lights and glamour of Vegas, the family knew that a move to London was not the way they wanted to bring up their child.  Therefore it was a more country based location that provided roots for the Irishman as he tells me.  “I didn’t want to go to London as I may as well have stayed in Vegas, it’s a big city and I wanted to raise my kids in the country. I had ties in Swindon because I’m always travelling, I made connections here from when I first arrived in 1986. I decided to come back here.”
Once the decision was made, Fitzpatrick knew that he wanted to open a boxing gym and look to train his own set of fighters.  “When I opened my gym I opened the doors and there was absolutely nobody in it!” he reminisces, but business picked up.  “I’ve been running it eight years in September and it’s going great” he says contendedly.
With his gym setup in the Wiltshire Town, Fitzpatrick set about making a stable of fighters that he could mould in his own way, his unique style.  The people he attracted and trained were not gym hardened individuals, but novices.  “From the beginning all of the fighters I have now bar Eamonn (O’Kane) had never boxed before or put on a glove so I was starting from scratch. I always wanted to do that because men like Brendan Ingle who I look up to, or Kevin Cunningham who had Corey Sanders and Devon Alexander, they started their fighters from scratch. I wanted to be able to do what those men had done and start a fighter from seed, not take someone on who had a background behind them. I said to my fighters last year when they just turned pro that finally, after seven years, we are at the beginning.”
He tells me how those who first came through the door trained without role models, were taken to different gyms around the area for sparring experience and were trained not in the traditional route of the amateur setup to turn professional, but to be professional boxers.  “Now with the gym, in the last say year or two, we have fighters that the new guys can come in and look up to. That means the guys coming through the doors are developing quicker because they have the likes of Luke Watkins and Garvey Kelly to look up to. Those guys didn’t have the fighters to look up to. I trained Jamie Cox for ten fights, his fourth fight to his fourteenth and Jamie was a good example of a fighter for them to watch and pay attention to but it’s nice now that other guys are coming in and paying attention to them.”
Cox is that talented super middleweight from Swindon, a fighter that Fitzpatrick helped to guide in his early days.  Now at 20-0-0 in his career he is more active than at any point before in his eight year professional career, having taken long gaps between fights in a trend that seems to have ended this year, having recently won his third fight of 2015.  In a recent interview Cox seemed to indicate that all was not well between himself and former trainer Fitzpatrick, labelling the Irishman as “talking garbage” when it was suggested a fight between Cox and Fitzpatrick charge Eamonn O’Kane was not one that would be happening soon.  Fitzpatrick is quick to clarify how his words to Cox were meant to be anything but offensive and instead, laced with the highest of respect:

“I didn’t say that at all, that’s Jamie’s feelings being hurt. I never said that whatsoever. There was an interview put in the paper here with John who is now Jamie’s head trainer, from when Jamie won back his intercontinental title in May, that they would like to fight Eamonn and it would sell out the Oasis Leisure Centre which is a 12 or 13 hundred capacity. Well my cruiserweight Luke Watkins sells out the Oasis Leisure Centre and he’s had four fights, so my exact comment, which obviously got lost in translation, was that we don’t need or want that fight. Jamie doesn’t bring nothing but danger. I’ve got the highest respect for Jamie and he’s an exceptional talent and I think that if he fights Fedor Chudinov he would become the world champion. He’s made comments that nobody wants to fight him; he’s 100% right!” laughs Fitzpatrick.
He goes on to explain the business side of boxing, and that a fighter like Cox doesn’t necessarily have the correct equilibrium between danger and reward.  “If you want to fight someone as dangerous as Jamie there has to be something there, there has to be a title or money. Jamie wanted to fight Eamonn to get his title and his ranking, but Jamie doesn’t bring any money to the table so for those simple reasons we weren’t going to take that fight, it didn’t make any sense. You have to either be getting a ranking or getting paid but when the fighter who is asking for the fight brings nothing but danger then you can forget it! Eamonn said he would fight anyone but I said ‘I don’t care, I’m not letting you fight just anybody’. This is a business and we’ve got to conduct it as a business. Jamie is a super middleweight now and I wish him all the best.”
O’Kane is currently between fights, in October taking a gruelling fight with middleweight Tureano Johnson as an eliminator for the IBF title currently held by Gennady Golovkin.  Going in the underdog, Northern Irishman O’Kane did himself proud in the famous Madison Square Garden in New York and lost a 12 rounds points decision.  In his corner that night, Fitzpatrick is animated looking back at the matchup and reflecting on how things could have been different that night. 
“Eamonn did far, far better than the scorecards said. We had them sent back to us and Eamonn won the 5th, 6th, 11th and 12th rounds so it was eight rounds to four, but then with the double knockdown in the first round the scorecards were wider than that. On the night I remember thinking I would probably give him the second round as well. Usually I would have watched that fight 20 or 30 times by now to analyse it and see what we need to improve on but bless my wife, she didn’t record it properly and I haven’t had the chance to see it!”
TV recordings aside, Fitzpatrick plans to assess the performance in more details when his charge restarts training camp.  “I’m hoping to catch up with it when Eamonn comes over and he’s going to bring me a DVD. On the night the first round couldn’t have gone any worse, he got dropped twice and all I wanted at that time was for him to make it back to the corner so I could see where he is and give him a bit of direction.”
Even without seeing the action again since that night on October 17th, Fitzpatrick is able to recall in intricate detail the action in each round and the words exchanged with his fighter as the rounds progressed:
“In the second round I remember thinking Eamonn wasn’t doing much because he was recuperating. Tureano wasn’t doing much because I think he had spent his load in that first round, and Eamonn finished that round quite strong so I thought we could have nicked that. Rounds three and four were Tureano’s but then five and six were Eamonn’s then going into the seventh round, I’ve watched five or six fights of Tureano’s and not once have I seen him go backwards, then round seven he does. I started to think maybe he has run out of energy and we have a chance here. In a brutal fight like that from a coaches perspective I’m always looking for an excuse to stop it and by that I mean I don’t ever want to leave a guy in a fight he has no chance of winning, there’s no point. If you think there’s a chance of him winning or if the fight starts to change direction in any way then you have to understand these are fighting men and you have to give them the opportunity to do exactly that, which is to fight. After round six it was two rounds to four, possibly three three, but then after round seven when we saw Tureano going backwards and Eamonn started pinning him against the ropes for a period I thought ‘we are ok here, Eamonn is still strong and not pushing his shots’ – when I step up after the bell goes at the end of the round I throw my hands in the air at Eamonn to see how he would react and he fired his hands up into the air and was focussed on me. I knew he was still with me, still cognitive and listening to what I’m telling him. Round ten he got back and had taken far too much head punishment in that round – I told him if there was another round like that I was pulling him out. He asked me why and said ‘I’m good I’m good’. I said if the next round is like that I’m stopping the fight, then rounds eleven and twelve he went out and won them!”
The main aim of the night was to get the shot at the IBF title for O’Kane; that may not have come off but there was a secondary goal that Fitzpatrick is confident that they achieved.  “We wanted to take advantage of the big platform we had with HBO pay per view and Box Nation at Madison Square Garden and put on a performance which would sell Eamonn to the public and open the door to other fights. We didn’t get the win but I do believe we achieved one target” he tells me. 
He assures me that O’Kane isn’t too despondent in the loss (“he’s not that type of character”) and realises that without the two first round knockdowns the outcome could have been different.  Fitzpatrick is also realistic enough to know that as it stands today, the talk is all “coulda, woulda shoulda” and that there are still positives to the outcome.  “He’s proved in his last two fights that he’s a 12 round fighter. He won the last three rounds against Lewis Taylor to get the IBF intercontinental title and he won the last two rounds in this fight, which was brutal. Most other men would have been hanging on, so he’s not despondent. The loss only serves to piss off a man like him and fuels his fire, not dampens it.”
O’Kane has a date in the diary now for his next outing, which will be back in Swindon at the Oasis Leisure Centre where he will defend his IBF intercontinental title.  No name is booked for the opponents corner as yet, but Fitzpatrick has some opponents in mind.  “I watched Nick Blackwell the other day I put a call in to Mick Hennessy because I understand Chris Eubank is the mandatory to Nick (for the British middleweight title).  I don’t see in any shape or form Eubank wanting to take that fight. He’s turned it down twice and he’s fighting at world level now. Even if he loses to Spike I don’t see him wanting to step backwards as far as British title level, so I think Eamonn and Nick would be a great TV friendly fight and would serve a purpose for both men, because the other middleweights are all busy right now. Who knows, we might be able to get that going for March 5th?”
Fitzpatrick doesn’t use Blackwell’s name disparagingly, instead he is full of praise for the current British middleweight title who has got to that level the hardest of ways.  “Nick has done excellent after coming from a white collar background. He had the hardest of educations in fighting Martin Murray too early in my opinion but it was still an education he made sense of. He got a draw against Khomitsky and then lost to Mursak out in Germany and lost to Billie Joe (Saunders). Well Martin Murray and Billie Joe are class acts and Khomitsky, I don’t see anyone lining up to fight him either! The reason I mention Nick is not because I think it’s an easy touch to get back in there, I think it’s an exceptionally hard fight but they are both at the championship level where there aren’t easy fights out there.”
Fitzpatrick is helping build a busy schedule of fights down in the West country.  It was only this week that a new deal was announced securing multiple boxing dates through that part of the country over the next 12 months, but he isn’t going it alone as he tells me.  “We have seven shows over the next 12 months down here, it’s exciting. That’s usually something you would expect to happen in London, Liverpool or Manchester from Eddie Hearn of Frank Warren but Keith Mayo (promoter) has been doing promotions in the town here for the last six or seven years and I tip my hat to the man. He’s been putting his work in and grinding on it because with no TV he has managed to put on at least between three and five shows a year between Gloucester, Plymouth and Swindon. We got together last February and did a show together as a joint production and it was a great success. We had Eamonn there as the main event and Luke as the chief support, plus we had a few from Keith’s stable on there as well. The show was a big success, sold out, so we did another one and that sold out. We did our third one together in October and that sold out too. So we sat down together and realised we had learned enough about each other now to actually do something beneficial for both and should do something more longer term.”
So what does the future hold for the duo?  “We’ve committed to a seven fight deal that starts 5th December and finishes 12 months later and I think that it’s exceptional. I’m not blowing my trumpet here I’m blowing Keith’s. But it’s exceptional for the West country in a small town like Swindon where we have 220,000 people living to have grown boxing so much over the last eight years. Everybody now knows somebody who is involved in boxing. To pull off seven shows where the guys will box in December, February, March, May, June, September and December – that’s exceptional and we’re delighted.”
There is one fighter based in Swindon who doesn’t currently work with Fitzpatrick, Lawrence Bennett, who currently hold the Southern Area cruiserweight title.  His recent matchup with English title holder Matty Askin ended in drama as the fight was called off in the first round as both pugilists exited the ring when tumbling through the ropes.  Is there interest in getting the undefeated cruiserweight who fights for Goodwin Promotions onto a Swindon card in the future?  “We offered the fight to Lawrence for Luke Watkins before. It wasn’t of interest to Lawrence then and I completely understand that as Luke had two pro fights and Lawrence had around six fights at the time and was Southern Area champion. He said he was looking in front of himself and not behind. I totally respect that and agree with him too. For Lawrence to fight Luke back then would have been the same as me putting Eamonn in with Jamie Cox. Same thing, no benefit only danger. Lawrence said he wanted to move forward and get the English title so we said no problem. Now Lawrence has seven wins and Luke has five plus he’s fighting for number six in December and seven in February, eight in March. He will probably end up with an extra fight that Lawrence by March time because Lawrence will only have the English title shot by February or March – the gap is closing. I don’t think Lawrence is shy about fighting anyone, he doesn’t have much experience but he makes up for it with his character.”
So the fight may not have materialised yet, but how much has Fitzpatrick been scouting Bennett in the meantime?  “I haven’t seen him fight yet, but every time he’s about to fight people tell me he’s not going to win it, and then he does. Then he gets another fight and I’m told he won’t win it, then he does again. I have nothing but respect for him and he’s proving everybody wrong and I think he’s surprising himself as he goes. If he gets that English title, which I’m not going to be foolish enough to say he can’t as he keeps winning, then who knows? Luke is the chief support on our Oasis show in March and then will be the headline in June so who knows? We could probably get Luke and Lawrence fighting for the English title in June all being well and good. By no means is it out of the question.”
Our conversation turns on to the issue of ranking bodies, when we discuss the future possibilities for O’Kane after his Swindon return.  Fitzpatrick is clear in his views on one of the top boxing topics of the day, the WBA and their belts.  “I was looking at the WBA ranking and I think they should get all their titles in a nice big bonfire and burn them! The IBF you have to earn your position, then you get a voluntary and a mandatory defence. WBA is an absolute joke. No disrespect to these two men but you have John Ryder and Adam Etches and I’m not talking about them when I mention this, I’m talking about the WBA. Both of them men were not ranked in the WBA, they were ranked in the IBF. They lost their last fights by stoppage, haven’t fought since and then end up in the top 15 of the WBA. Now, that’s Eddie Hearn at his best! How you end up being dropped out of the IBF rankings after losing by knockout, how do you appear in the WBA rankings?! That’s not a knock on the two men, that’s a knock on the WBA. They’re comical. The amount of people walking around with belts it’s like they have more champions in one division than the other organisations have in all 17 divisions! They’re a comical bunch.”
Before I leave the conversation with the likeable Irishman, I approach with caution the subject of his former charge Goerge Groves and how their relationship sits today.  “It’s finished, everything is temporary in life. I can’t speak on his part but I can say from my part there’s no hard feelings. I wish him all the best. These things happen, I made myself clear when I got home and got a phone call from the newspaper back home when they asked me about the fight and what’s next for George. I said ‘I don’t know what’s next for him as I’ve decided to leave’. They asked me why and I told them the same thing I say now; we had three cracks of the whip at the world title.”
He is happy to talk about their time together, and how they didn’t have the background that he has built with his current crop of fighters that he has taken from scratch, there was no opportunity to pick up a path they may have had before in more successful time.  “What was the point in going into a possible fourth world title opportunity and, as I would expect any fighter to do, have him run through a checklist in his head that last week before camp or the last day before a fight knowing he had given himself every possibility to change things and make sure he had things right. He couldn’t do that if the head man in his corner was the same person that was there for the three fights where we got it wrong.”
He talks openly about it being a collaborative process between fighter and trainer, not either man’s sole responsibility and accepts that he may have not been able to get all he could from the London based super middleweight.  “It’s not all to do with him and not all to do with me. He’s either not giving me everything that he can or I’m not getting out of him everything I can, but there’s something being lost during the fight. It’s not being lost in the gym as the improvements are there to see technically, but during the fight when I need to pull that extra piece out of him I’m not managing to do it. So it doesn’t make sense to me to be hanging around and leaving myself in a situation that I know myself is time to change. I don’t need to wait for any other man to tell me it’s time to change, I knew what I felt, that it was time to move on. I hope that he finds someone that gives him that relationship that he used to have with Adam, that can pull that out. But saying that he had never been in those types of situations with Adam either – don’t forget he’s lost three fights but that’s only to two men. One of them is our second best super middleweight that we’ve ever had as Joe Calzaghe is definitely the first, and the other is Badou Jack who I think is a far better fighter than people give him credit for.”
He sees a future where Groves meets the winner of the Martin Murray vs Arthur Abraham this weekend (which he believe Murray will be victorious in).  He still speaks fondly of Groves, almost as an ex partner who split amicably enough to wish them well.  There is no ill feeling towards him and he wishes only the best.  That view is understandable.  Fitzpatrick doesn’t need George Groves just as Groves doesn’t need Fitzpatrick.  The Irish trainer has a bustling gym and a set of fighter with whom he has built relationships, trust and most importantly, a West Country fan base.  The next 12 months will no doubt be busy for all involved over in Swindon.  You suspect Paddy Fitzpatrick wouldn’t want it any other way.