A special interview with one of Britain’s favourite sporting sons, the one and only Frank Bruno, on the modern heavies and the creation of the Frank Bruno Foundation
By Richard Hubbard
HEAVYWEIGHT BOXING IN Britain is very much back in vogue, with a lineal world champion, a unified champion and a clutch of potential future champions all hailing from within these shores.
The man who headed up the UK heavy mob from the early eighties to the mid-nineties, national treasure Frank Bruno, believes one prospect in particular could end up becoming the biggest star of the lot of them.
The former WBC world champion, who realised his dream at the fourth time of asking, reckons young Daniel Dubois will develop into the cream of the current crop if he maintains his obvious hunger for success.
“He is a very, very good prospect and, if he stays on his game – stays focused and stays hungry – I think he will be bigger than Anthony Joshua,” the now 56-year-old or, as he puts it himself, 56 plus VAT, told us.
“Daniel is keen, thirsty and a nice level-headed guy.”
Dubois has demonstrated devastating punching power and speed in his fledgling career, racking up seven KO’s in seven fights and is one of the most exciting up-and-coming Heavyweights in the country.
Bruno is not one – and never has been – really one to blow his own trumpet or hark back to the good ol’ days but, with a little coaxing, he did eventually concede that the brand new heavies currently dominating have got it a lot easier than in his own heyday.
Would, for example, the champions of today be boasting unbeaten records had the likes of Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, Tim Witherspoon – or even Bonecrusher Smith still been in there punching? Not to mention Larry Holmes, Pinklon Thomas, Tony Tucker, Tyrell Biggs, Tony Tubbs, Riddick Bowe to name but a few.
“I can’t really say that, but you can, otherwise people will say I’m getting bitchy or whatever,” added Bruno, doing his utmost to avoid sounding like a crotchety old timer.
“But you’d have to be Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder or know nothing about boxing not to know that, in those days, it was twice as hard.
“The people who were around then make these ones look like they are in a funfair.”
Bruno has gone through more than few tough rounds since calling time on his career following defeat to Tyson in March 1996 and continues to battle probably his most persistent opponent, that of mental health.
Being heavyweight champion of the world is one thing but perhaps the biggest accomplishment of Bruno since that glorious night against Oliver McCall under the old Twin Towers is the work of himself – and notable others – in getting the population to open up and talk about an illness that was once a taboo subject.
Pretty much from the off, when he stepped away from the bright lights and the adulation of fight fans, Bruno didn’t hide from his issues and attempted to bring issue of mental health into the public domain.
His work continues to this day with the launch of the Frank Bruno Foundation where he employs the power of sport – boxing in particular – along with exercise and communication to stimulate sufferers into sharing their problems.
“I am trying to get people suffering with mental health involved in non-contact boxing, as well as getting them to sit down and talk about the way they are feeling,” he revealed.
“It is something people are very, very shy to talk about and pride gets in the way of opening up.
“Exercise always helps in lots of ways. Anything – walking, stretching, running, hitting the pads – but talking is the biggest thing.
“Men don’t talk, they beat themselves up and, before they know it, it is hard for them to return. One problem can multiply into half a million without talking about it.”
Attitudes are indeed changing and the stigma once attached to malfunctions of the mind is mercifully eroding.
It wasn’t the case in 2003 when Bruno himself was first admitted into a mental health unit.
“When I came out after being sectioned, people were crossing the road and ducking down because it was a shameful thing,” he recalled.
“Now, people are more sympathetic because it could be your mum, dad, son, wife – anyone.
“People are now talking about it more and bouncing off one another.
“When people have a drink problem they sit around in a group at meetings and do it right, rather than feeding them with all sorts of medication that can make them like zombies.
“We need to keep talking because there are a lot of people committing suicide. George Francis, my trainer, after his wife died and his son had cancer, it cracked him up so he hanged himself and he would have been the last person who I would have thought would have done that.
“He trained a lot of world champions and he had psychology in his way of training. If only I could have kept talking to him, going for walks with him and given him a shoulder to cry on.”
Bruno is now also the proud holder of a trainer’s licence and is seeking a unit as a base for his good works, which he ultimately intends to take up and down the country.
“I will train anybody, take them on the pads and talk to them because I have got a counselling qualification.
“I am at schools with kids whose families have broken up and the parents are either on drugs or dependant on alcohol. It is people who have lost their way a little bit and I am trying to advise them,” he added, pointing out that, even though he is now a licensed trainer, his primary focus will be on sufferers.
“I am going to concentrate more on mental illness because with boxers you’ve got to mollycoddle them and have got to be there. It is a pressure and I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself.
“I will help them, but it will be more trying to build them up and improve their confidence using the skills I have learned through my life.
“If Prince Harry can get involved hitting the bag after his mum died, there is room for us here.”
Very true Frank. As Bob Hoskins told us all in the BT adverts in the year of your world title success, ‘It’s good to talk’.
For more information on the Frank Bruno Foundation, please visit https://www.thefrankbrunofoundation.co.uk/
LET ME BE FRANK, by Frank Bruno – signed copies available here https://www.frankbruno.co.uk/product/let-me-be-frank-2017-book-pre-order/