A DATE WITH “THE DARK DESTROYER”
When you get a text “Do you want Nigel Benn to teach at the gym? What do you text back?
This was the text I got in July and it sent me into a spiral, thoughts of the ex-world boxing champion standing in the ring at the AFC, teaching how he became one of the most exciting fighters in the world was just too good to pass up so I said yes.
The Day was to be split into 2 parts;
1. A masterclass; teaching all the little details of movement of this skilful, powerhouse of a boxer.
2. A question and answer session; answering all the questions you care to ask about his life and the fights he has had.
After discussing the pros and cons of getting an event like this organised, along with the head of admin (my lovely wife Kerry), we started to ask people if they would like to be part of this unique event.
We need a lot of money to pay for the day, but Kerry and I went ahead thinking that even if we covered the event or even made a slight loss it would be worth it to have Nigel Benn at the gym. The places filled up for the Masterclass slowly, but we told them it was a chance of a lifetime experience not to be missed but the Q & A tickets were not selling well and things started to look very grim.
We had done the usual for this day and age, whacking up a Facebook Event and in-boxed every gym from boxing to kickboxing, MMA, and martial arts in the area. Thinking that they would love to come to the gym to meet Nigel; how wrong I was.
I got a poster designed for the event and sets of tickets for both parts, with no feedback from any other gym I was desperate to not fail at this event. If you know Kerry and I we always set goals and work our hardest not to fail at them we have a wish list and a tick list in everything we have done in our lives together, we never fail. We are either stubborn or determined (you work out which one), but we always do what we set out to do, that is why we make such a great team. A few weeks out from the event we had only sold 4 Q & A tickets and I gave a ticket to my brother Marty for his 40th Birthday.
Our Dad was a boxer and we would all watch the old fighters such as Ali, Sugar Ray, Tyson, Eubank, and Benn, so a chance to meet him was the perfect gift and it would be a once in a lifetime day not to forget (I am such a cool brother). As part of Marty’s birthday celebrations, we went out for a few drinks in North Shields and Tynemouth, where we used to work the door together and we chatted and talked to a lot of people that we knew from our `Door Time`. One of which was a lad called Steve who as we chatted he asked how the gym was going and I told him about Nigel Benn and he said he could help as he works on the sports desk at the Evening Chronicle, was this a chance meeting or the universe helping me out when I needed it to?
I sent him the information over and it made the newspaper the following week and we did get a few people contact us for places, we were still on a knife edge whether we would lose money.
What did not help was every time we put a poster up they mysteriously vanished even though we share a communal building with a Boxing Gym no-one came to support the day. Sometimes I begin to lose my faith in human nature. I had in-boxed coaches and friends in the Martial Arts community, a select few passed on the information, but I know a lot just did not bother and all I can put it down to is jealousy. As the day approached and the slow drip, drip of adrenaline made sleeping a problem and mine and Kerry’s nerves were hanging by a thread; could we pulled the day off or should we hide under the blankets and not play out?
The fateful day arrived, we had cancelled our Saturday group classes but I was up and out my 7am to teach some private classes as normal, my head spinning thinking of the day ahead.
I set myself up with a Gregg’s sausage stottie and coffee (a Geordie institution), then settled into the gym teaching a private class with one of my blackbelts Sean then as we finished I got an emergency phone call for sharpies for the glove signing, so Sean nipped out for me as I waited for the people to arrive. Re- enforcements arrived in the shape of my wife, Kerry, and Robbie to help things run smoothly. Tony arrived after some on the phone guidance around Newcastle’s one way system, me running down the stairs and guiding him into the courtyard next to the gym like some manic Anika Rice racing against the clock to find the clue, in my case the promoter and all the auction items and gloves. We just needed the people and the Dark destroyer; me worried …YES!
I had just popped outside Nigel Benn walks in through the door, take about stars struck, we walk upstairs and I show him into the gym when the motley crew of AFC members were putting wraps on and chatting, he had a look around and said he loved the gym as it had an #old school feel about it!
He set to work straight away asking who could hold the pads for him, everyone volunteered me (no pressure there) so up I stepped to hold the pads for the ex WBO and WBC middleweight champion of the world. This turned into a very strange experience as Nigel had me hold the pads in a very odd fashion and he told me what he was going to throw, normally when you work on the pads the pads person rules, meaning what the pad person says what to do and the puncher does. How could I argue with Nigel Benn? So, I tried to follow his movements and very personalised style. All I can say it was hard to do as Nigel style seems to have no backward step and he rushes forward with his punches and tries to smother you while he tries to take your head off! At one point, he said I looked nervous and I said “I should be I have seen how many people you have knocked out!”
Nigel then gave everyone a gruelling warm up for about 20 minutes with a mixture of sit ups leg raises, squats and push ups until the steam was rising from our bodies and a few people wanted to be sick, all along reminding us that he was 52 years for age.
Then it was on with the pads and Nigel systematically took the attendees on the pads in the ring, pointing out their flaws and faults and giving them advice or a swift hit with the pads for good measure. As the masterclass was going on and they were having the time of their lives being guided in the sweet science by a legend. I was having a meltdown due to the people arriving for the Q & A bit of the day started to mill around on the astro turf near the training area and a reporter turning up (having not confirmed his attendance) wanting to have a quick interview with Nigel, while Nigel looked like he was settled in for the day in the ring; It was watching a lion in his natural environment, there was no stopping him.
As time went on I became more and more panicked, nearly 30 people were now waiting to ask Nigel some questions and he was still going strong teaching. With only the odd break for coconut water which I gave him in the corner and all I could think of, that I was cornering Nigel Benn, I am so sad. Lol.
The master class had now been going on for 2 hours 30 minutes and I was losing the will to live; things racing around my head “what if the Q & A people want their money back? Will he have time to sign gloves and would you get a photo with him!”
His manager, Mark firstly told me to get hot towels and water for Nigel to give himself a rub down, it felt like a scene from seven brides for seven brothers with me running around rinsing out a hot towel and finding a dry one and a bowl, while Mark did his best cocky auction voice, selling framed Nigel Benn Items while Nigel sorted himself out, He was a true Arthur Daley when it came to selling things all but one item sold, a few people got carried away in the moment but went home with some amazing things ranging from a golden signed glove to Nigel Benn shorts (not the ones from today as they would not be pleasant.)
Then Nigel came out and signed gloves and photos and everyone got a chance to get a photo with him, judging by the faces of everyone in attendance they loved every minute of it! (I wish I knew this at 1.30pm I would have felt much better.) One of the highlights of the day I found out the next week was that a young lad called Deniro who trains in boxing and kickboxing got Nigel to ring his dad up to wish him a happy birthday, so he did, but he did not pick up so it went to answer phone, which worked out great for Patrick, Deniro’s dad as he now has a lasting voicemail from Nigel Benn as a special birthday present.
Everyone got changed and as I tidied up and tried to calm down it started to dawn on me that not only did we just have Nigel Benn teach a class at the gym, but with all the ups and downs of the organising we made it happen all from one text message. While counting the money from the auction and raffle (which my Brother-In-law Andrew won a lovely framed signed photo of Nigel), Kerry noticed Tony had miscounted the total and forgot £180.00, So, I ran down to stop him leaving as Kerry rang him, we caught him as he drove up the street and gave him the money. He was very shocked that we told him and gave him the money back so much so he sent a lovely text saying how nice it was to work with us and we showed our true colours by what we done, but myself and Kerry are very honest and would not have could sleep if we had have kept the money.
The World of Facebook Instagram and Twitter were full of photos and videos of the amazing day spent with the Dark Destroyer and hopefully memories that will last a lifetime.
It was a job well done by team Atkin and the AFC.
My work here is done until next time.
Big love from the AFC,