Ryan French

Ryan French is making his own path in life.  A thoughtful, articulate man, not one you would immediately associate with having spent time serving his country in the army and who now spends his time as a Personal Trainer.  On top of that, he is reversing the standard rules of boxing; he is going from journeyman to prospect.

Long written is the rule that once a boxer's record starts to drift into a losing one, he is likely to take his career out on the road and become a 'test' for upcoming professionals.  For French, he decided to start his career in that vein, fighting as the away fighter in his first two bouts and losing both.  From that point onwards, most will accept their role and continue to travel, picking up the occasional win but primarily knowing they will be coming home with another defeat to a prospect.  The influence for his choice came from a book by the author Mark Turley, which he explains gave him the expectation for life both in and out of the ring before he took up the profession.

"What I am grateful for is I have seen both sides of the business, and I do appreciate it is a business.  I was reading the book Journeyman when I made the decision to go on the road.  It's a great book, I couldn't put it down, it's very well written.  He's very considerate in it, didn't portray the boxers in a bad light.  If journeymen didn't exist the sport would fall apart; prospects need those learning fights."

The decision had wider implications, with one family member in particular finding it a hard pill to swallow.  

"It's interesting, my brother has never been a boxer" says French.  "He had ability, but he was more of a footballer.  Whenever I boxed my brother was always there.  I used to go out and fight.  I could box, but I always liked to go and put on a show.  My dad and my brother would always be at the front screaming their heads off.  So when my brother found out I was going on the road as a fighter, he really took that bad.  It was a big pride thing for him too.  I accepted, I had made the decision, so my pride was alright.  If I could make a few grand doing it over a couple of years it would put my son through private school.  That was my rationale for doing it, and I really tried to explain that to my brother.  But he didn't understand it.  For about six months it was like I lost my brother.  I couldn't talk to him about boxing at all, as it would remind him the role I had taken on in the sport."  

Whether is was the strain on relationships or the nagging feeling in his head that this wasn't all there is to boxing, French had an awakening - quite literally.  Something clicked.  "I woke at about 4 in the morning and had this realisation, I wanted to step up to the line and say 'how good are you?  How far can you get if you try?' - so I spoke with Steve (Goodwin, Manager) and explained it, asked if he would be OK with me selling some tickets.  He was fine with it."

That was at Christmas time 2016.  He's given himself some time to make adjustments before he starts his new journey to the home corner on March 11th.  A new Trainer has been sought, a fresh start.  Ryan was previously working with Barry O'Connell, but with a vast array of prospects to look after it wasn't the ideal place for a man who was becoming a journeyman.  "My first two fights, I wasn't really training properly.  It's no disrespect to Barry O'Connell at all, he had his prospects in the gym and I was becoming a journeyman so I completely accept that.  If Barry had the time he would do pads with me, but I was just running and doing pad work.  I felt fit, I was a bit heavier than I will be in my next fight, but I just felt comfortable.  Now, I'm in a different place.  I'm enjoying my boxing, my Mrs is on board with it most of the time, it's just good."

The man he has linked up with now is a font of knowledge and experience in the sport, John Cole.  But it's not just a marriage of convenience and experience that appealed to both, there was a back story too.  "John's a good bloke, he used to be my amateur coach 15 years ago so there's quite a lot of history between John and I" says French.  "I originally turned over professional with Steve Goodwin just to go on the road, earn a few extra quid.  When Steve told John that he had signed me, John told him that I was too good to go on the road, he remembered me from our old amateur days which surprised me as I'm 29 now, a bit long in the tooth.  I thought that's a big compliment."

It wasn't the first time the two had touched base since the amateurs.  Prior to the two losses French suffered, Cole had taken the time to message him on Twitter and wish him luck.  It was a sentiment French appreciated.  "What I respected most about it was he didn't try to talk me out of going on the road, he just wanted me to know he was thinking of me.  When I told John I wanted to have a go he told me it was music to his ears.  What I respected about John is I didn't know he had said these things to Steve about me in the past."

"I phoned John, and that's when I found out he'd been in contact with Steve about me before.  This will sound really cheesy, but I was a bit choked up about it.  He believed in me.  Obviously it strikes of low self esteem from my point of view, which is interesting as on my journey to this point I've done a lot of work on mindset, having a positive frame of mind when it comes to my business, my wife, my kids.  Everything in my life I have a positive frame of mind.  But for some reason it didn't translate into my boxing, I didn't have that belief."

John Cole is a man who can instill belief, make a fighter back themselves each time they walk into a ring.  Of course, he's a physically demanding man too as French tells me.  "I'm running every day of the week, ridiculously, illegally early runs!  It's a good way to start the day and most days I'm training twice a day, getting in and doing some work with John.  Training's going really well at the moment, I've been with John again for about four weeks now.  It's a pleasure to be training with John, an absolute pleasure."
The new job role, coming out in the home corner and being the favourite, it all requires a paradigm shift, a new mentality.  "What I'm experiencing now selling tickets, it's so much more pressure, there's so much to do outside of the ring.  There will be people there that aren't booing me this time like in my first two fights!" Laughs French.  "It all comes down to belief.  It was an easy option for me, not have the pressure of selling tickets, just go out and get paid.  I wasn't putting my bollocks on the line.  But now..." He pauses for thought.  "Now, if I don't win it's because I'm not good enough."

It means that French is starting to believe in himself as a boxer, growing in his career.  But there is still some growing to be done.  "Having that belief is still new.  It's only been there a few weeks.  Sometimes it will just be me and John in the gym doing a whole session on one drill and then next time I'm in, it just comes naturally.  I just can't wait for 11th March to come around now.  I'm not that bothered who I fight, I'll fight anyone."

The new role for French has not just given him confidence and belief, but has also opened up new avenues.  "We know unless you can sell a ticket and get a following it's hard to earn a few quid in boxing.  But with my business as a Personal Trainer, it's all boxing orientated.  I hadn't even mentioned it to them before - I was out on the road losing every week, I didn't want them knowing that!  But I floated the idea to a few of them and they're snapping at my heels for tickets.  The bigger picture down the road, if I could earn a few quid over the next few years and have some nest egg for my son, that's what's giving me the motivation to do it.  I know that's cheesy, but it's the truth."

The end goal, says French, is to pick up some silverware.  "A Southern Area title would be my world title" he says.  "If I can do that I would love to go over to coaching.  I've been a Personal Trainer for eight years, I love seeing people develop and I would love to be able to do that with pro boxers.  But before I do that I'd want to get the experience, be able to say that I have done it myself.  I'd liked to have lived it and breathed it - I've got experience of being on the road now, where you have to have thick skin for it.  I knew that, I accepted it.  The book Journeymen had pre-warned me!"

French acknowledges his new path may not work out.  "If I give his a go and find out I'm not that good, I can always go back and do it, the road is always there to earn a few quid.  But why pick that first?  Why set your goals so low?  I've set myself higher goals now and I'll see what happens."

The story of Ryan French wouldn't be complete if we didn't round things off with his brother, the man who gave the silent treatment at the thought of his brother not maximising his skill set, failing to fulfil the promise he showed as an amateur.  So has life gone back to normal now the road trips are stopping?

"I phoned my brother and said 'I'm having a go at seeing how far I can get' - I wanted people on board to try and sell some tickets.  I rang the whole family, but after I'd cleared it with my wife!  My brother was, in a blink, back in the room with me and we could talk about boxing again!  For people who haven't read that book Journeyman I can understand why that role doesn't make any sense.  I asked him to read it but he just didn't want to.  But now bang, he's telling people his brother is a pro boxer and he's getting some vicarious glory!  It's lovely."

It's gone full circle, from the exciting amateur with full support, to journeyman without. The brother is back on board with his career and we can expect to see him ringside at York Hall on March 11th cheering on his sibling.  French says other family members have been in touch too, "the people you see at wedding and funerals, but this time without being buried" he chuckles.  It's a great story of a man who is making the most non-traditional of career changes within the sport of boxing.  How far he goes may be down to the skill he possesses, the ability to build that winning mentality and become the home fighter.  For now though, the one thing that won't hold Ryan French back is the ambition.

Ryan wished to thank his sponsor Capstones Facilities Services Limited who have assisted him in the purchase of vital training equipment and supporting his career.