By Richard Hubbard
Every successful boxer needs a top operator in his corner and Bradley Skeete has one of the best in the business in the hugely respected Alan Smith, proprietor of the thriving iBox Gym in Bromley.
Smith, who recently reached the milestone of 50, somewhat typically, deflects most of the credit for navigating Skeete to title level away from himself, choosing to pass most of the plaudits towards his amateur mentor.
What Smith will wax lyrical about though is his pupil’s most natural asset, his range-finder, which also happens to be his most potent weapon.
British champion Skeete is back in action on Friday at the Brentwood Centre where he makes the second defence of his title against mandatory challenger Shayne Singleton.
Smith is expecting an even more polished performance than in his first defence – against John Thain in November – when, due to an injured right thumb, he eventually took his opponent apart left-handed, with very sparing use of his right.
“If you look at Brad he has got an incredible jab, a bit like Larry Holmes, Virgil Hill – those type of fighters,” reasoned Smith, who also has Lewis Pettitt, Danny Carr and Jake Pettitt – Lewis’ younger brother – fighting on the Brentwood card. “Everyone has got a punch that suits them more than others and that is his key weapon.
“His left hand is so strong that a lot of people don’t get close. Sometimes his right hand hurts and he just does it with one hand. That is Brad and I don’t think you should change him because he has come all this way.
“He has got such a good jab and he can chuck it in so many different ways then, if you walk onto that right hand, it is a bit of a weapon too. It is his biggest attribute and his biggest advantage.”
Smith insists Skeete possessed all of his favourite tools before he took over the reigns to plot the Penge man’s professional journey.
“I’ve known Brad since he was 11 years old when he boxed a few of my amateurs. He was always a nice boy, a very, very polite boy and always a nice neat boxer. He came from Earlsfield with Sid Khan, who is a bit of a growler, but probably the most caring amateur trainer. He just doesn’t pretend he is like that.
“He was well, well schooled and, if you know Sid, you know everything is straight – one-two, right hook, uppercut, left hook – he had everything nice and straight and came here polished. He was an England international and Sid had taught him the fundamentals brilliantly.
“When he turned pro I didn’t think he was going to be strong enough, but he has worked hard. Dean Powell (his late manager and Frank Warren’s matchmaker) was instrumental to him and did everything bit by bit and matched him through the steps.
“With a kid like Brad you haven’t got to say too much to him. You tell him once, but he won’t chuck a shot when you tell him to, he’ll chuck it when it suits him. He knows he has got fantastic timing.
“I don’t care if he knocks someone out, although it is great for the fans, as long as he wins. He has got better, if you look at his first 15 fights he was maybe a little bit boring, but the old saying is 20 for learning, 20 for earning.
“I know the game has changed – it has fundamentally changed because of TV – and in his first 15 fights he wasn’t exciting, but now he is exciting when he needs to be.
“I’d rather him be like someone like Clinton Woods and be a good all-rounder, rather than just good in one department.”
When it came to crunch and his biggest fight to date in beating Sam Eggington for the British title last year, Skeete did box to orders when it appeared he would much rather have let his hands go and forced a stoppage.
Those thoughts were drummed out of his head by Smith between rounds and a points victory was duly added to his now 25-1 record.
“Do you know what, I could’ve made a mistake there because if he’d carried on he could have won it easier than he did,” admitted Smith. “I’m a massive fan of Sam and I really like him and Jon Pegg, but you could do that and get caught and end up thinking ‘what did I do that for?’. It is all hindsight.
“With the Sam fight I said you are not going to be able to run for 12 rounds. He held his feet when he needed to and moved when he needed to. If you watch it he adapted more in that fight than any other.”
With his second defence now looming, Smith does go along with the train of thought that Skeete has become hostage to his desire to have custody of his British title belt for keeps, while spurning offers of bigger fights in the meantime.
“He is really, but he wants to keep it and he’s in control here,” he conceded. “Frank, myself and Andy (Ayling) sometimes get frustrated, but you’ve got a young man who is more proud to hold the British title than making bigger money that is on the table.
“He’s not old, he’s fresh and has never been in a hard fight, so will him being patient for another six months make a lot of difference?
“He wants to win it for his legacy and for his little girl, so I appreciate that. I can also understand where Frank and Andy are coming from, but in six months that big fight is going to be there.
“He should get past Shayne Singleton, but I take every fight as the hardest one.”
Bradley Skeete might be the star turn at the moment, but there are a few others at the iBox Gym seeking to follow in his title-winning footsteps. Here, Alan Smith gives us the lowdown on the fighters he hopes to see shine on the BT Sport-BoxNation platform in the coming months.
Danny (DP) Carr
I think you should see a bit better from Dan next time (on Friday at the Brentwood Centre) because we are a busy gym and Eddie Lam (assistant trainer to Smith) has a little bit more time where he can be meticulous in preparing someone. He boxes a bit like Eddie did so, for me, I’ve left Eddie to look after him with me overseeing things.
I think he has learned to box a little bit more, we have put him in with lighter people so he can use more speed rather than just power. I think Dan is one of those people who will always be an exciting fighter, like Joe Pigford, who is also a serious puncher.
He is still learning, but Danny Carr will always be Danny Carr. He has been a little bit slower to learn than the rest of them, but he still wants to fight everyone now. We’ll get him to 10 fights and then have a look for an Area title, so he will learn at a slightly slower rate and there is nothing wrong with that.
When it comes to it he will dig his heels in hard, but if you gunsling with him you will get caught.
Lewis has been with me the longest and is the nicest kid in the world, very educated, with a good job and a good business sense. He failed on his weight at super bantam and has moved to feather, where he now has something behind the scenes that should happen which will give him a good fight soon.
It is down to him now, he will have a nice test and then it will be make or break for him.
Lew is a nice kid, he has loads of faults, but he’s got a big heart and he knows if he controls his weight he can do something. Losing in a challenge for the Commonwealth title against Bobby Jenkinson (September 2015) was bad for him, but it was his own fault because he was cheating on his weight coming to the gym and then he got to the weigh-in and looked terrible. I nearly pulled him out and maybe should’ve in hindsight but, in boxing, there is a winner and a loser.
Losing ain’t the end of the world and Frank has been good to him. Also, the person who doesn’t get enough praise is Andy Ayling. To fill Dean Powell’s shoes is a big step for any person and, for me, I don’t see Andy take enough credit. He deserves credit he never gets.
He could have said to Lew he was finished after failing at the weight – and I know most promoters would have – but he has rebuilt him and offered us something big.
Lerrone is the most gifted kid I have ever seen in my gym by far, but he is a little bit frustrating. Lerrone is Lerrone though and he is a beautiful boxer. He is always comfortable and he made Anthony Fox – who has taken a couple of undefeated records – look like a novice in his last fight. He just needs a step up in opponent and I have agreed with Francis (Warren) in that we give him a test.
I believe that Lerrone will ignite like Brad, but he is only 24 and because he is a big and muscled, people forget he is still a kid.
He has got a pleasing style and is a purist. If you look at someone like Junior Witter, he didn’t stop one kid in 15 fights – or maybe one – but then he went on to become someone nobody wanted to box.
He will get there, it is a little bit frustrating, but he might be one of those kids who has to do it the long way for a little while. He is brilliant and it will take a really good kid to beat him.
I’d match him for an English title tomorrow.
Jake is one of the nicest kids you could meet, very polite – and much nicer than Lew! He is still very young and I give him credit because he wanted to turn pro last year on his 18th birthday. I took him around to spar the likes of Charlie Edwards, Prince Patel and they were all very polite to him and didn’t go mad.
He then admitted it was a little bit early and he rang the board and Andy to say could he wait six months and still stay in the gym. For a young man to say that you’ve got to give him serious credit for his maturity.
Since then he has matured well and stylistically he is incredible. He is not very strong, but very gifted and I think if he can stick at it, maintain his weight – where we don’t want to kill him – he will do good things.
He is boxing at super fly, but he will grow and Jimmy Tibbs told me ‘don’t kill a kid’ and just let him grow. He is beautiful for watch as you will see on Friday, he hasn’t got an easy opponent in an Ingle fighter, which is awkward, but it will teach him a few things, he won’t get hurt and should win.
He is a clever southpaw who gives everyone nightmares. He is a bit like Lerrone but that doesn’t bother me because if you knock out two in a row at bantam or super fly, you won’t get a fight.
Let him learn, he really is the politest kid and the only one who helps me clean the gym, so there you go!