The trainer reveals how he identifies and develops champion boxers such as Anthony Joshua
A professional boxer until he retired in 1994, Sean Murphy went on to coach at the celebrated Finchley Amateur Boxing Club in London. He has produced amateur champions up to Olympic level, many of whom have gone on to become world-rated pros. He is credited with introducing Anthony Joshua to the sport and honing his considerable raw talent. Sean was given a £60,000 personalised BMW before Joshua’s victory over Wladimir Klitschko in April, as repayment for offering him a different path from a life of petty crime, and seeing something truly special in him where no one else did.
Sean on his own background
“I lost my childhood through boxing – but not in a bad way, in a good way, because when you get to 16, 17, you might drink or smoke. All my mates were going out clubbing and partying. I was always in bed by ten o’clock, from the age of 16. As an adult I always made sure I was in bed at ten, because I wanted to be the best in what I was doing. So you’ve got to have that discipline.
“There are a few coaches that have never boxed. They’re never going to understand what it’s like to go down in the trenches and have to fight their way out – not on ability, but courage. I don’t think you can train that; that’s got to be in you. I had a boy come in, train, and then he disappeared. I bumped into him in the street and I said, ‘You’re wasting your talent, you could be a really good kid, you need to come to the gym,’ and I got him back in and he became a national champion. Sometimes kids need a push, so you’ll become a father figure to them. It’s like being a social worker.”
On spotting a special talent
“It’s the way they hold themselves, their confidence; a bit of cockiness as well is not a bad thing. It’s every little mannerism in what people do. When I have a kid come in the gym for a little while, I like to see when he gets caught: what’s he going to be like when he’s been hit? Is he going to shy away? You’ve got to see what he’s got in the tank.
“I might put a better boy in and say to the better boy, ‘Put it on him and let me see what he’s got,’ and the better boy will keep up pressure, and whether this kid can withstand that pressure for two minutes, three minutes, whatever it may be. The ones who are going to get anywhere, no matter how many times they get hit, they’re not going to give up, they keep going. That’s what you want in a boxer. No matter what’s thrown at them, they’ve got to keep their composure and stay calm the whole time, and then they’ll come out a winner.”
On the mental side of boxing
“The main thing is determination – you’ve got to have a little bit of heart. You’ve got to be a thinker as well. You can’t just be a forward fighter, you’ve got to be able to box on your back foot, and that’s the difference, that ability to adapt. If you move away and he’s still coming at you, there’s going to come a time you’ve got to plant your feet and try and hurt your opponent to discourage him from coming at you, or he’s going to keep coming.
“If I hit someone and I know I’ve hurt him, it’s having that instinct to jump on him and not let him off the hook. I’ve boxed and I’ve been winded in a fight, and I’ve had the instinct not to let the opponent know he’s winded me or show it, and just move away and survive and get over that.”
On physical gifts
“The art of boxing is hitting your opponent and then not getting hit yourself. I’ve had some kids who’ve just got that movement – they’ll throw punches and just move out of range, and then they move back in and hit. That’s an art in itself and all about balance and footwork. It’s about looking at everything: their mobility, movement, hand-speed. I can look at a boxer and think, ‘They look really good, their movement’s nice,’ and I might never have trained that.
“We work on their footwork to start with and then we get them throwing punches correctly – but above all you’ve got to have that heart. You’ve got to have that little bit of killer in you, or nastiness.”
“The running side of the sport is very important. It’s very important that a fighter does his roadwork, because that helps him with his stamina in the ring. When you’re working, you’re hitting a heavy bag, you’re not just touching it. You can’t just go through the motions, you’ve got to push and push and push and push until you’re ready to explode.”
On coping with defeat
“A winner’s got to be confident. A lot of parents put pressure on their kids to win – I always say to my fighters, ‘Forget about winning and losing. You’ve just got to get in there and do the best you can.’ I say, ‘Above all, if you’re getting in the ring and you box the best you can box on that day and you get beat, then you’ve been beaten by a better man and you shake his hand,’ and that’s the sporting part of it.
“No one likes getting beat. I was the worst one for getting beat, I used to hate it. You’ve got to learn from it. If you don’t, then you’re never going to progress to becoming a world champion or the top of your game. I’ve seen fighters never be the same after losing, and then you see some where it makes them a better fighter, and that’s what you want.”
On pride in a job well done
“To start from a kid from the age of ten, bring him up and see him progress and become a champion – you can’t get a better feeling than that. You’ve taught him how to throw a jab, how to throw a right hand. They’re doing what you’re training them in the gym, in the ring, certain moves, and it’s just the best feeling in the world. “When you get a kid who goes through the ranks, becomes a national champion, you feel like you’ve achieved something with that boxer.
I had one boy go on to GB and the Olympics, but in the summer he came back and asked me to work on a few things. So they’re always part of you, they’re always going to regard themselves as a Finchley boxer. “I might have a minibus full of kids, ten boxers, and I might have nine winners, then I’m not happy for the one who’s lost. It’s like I’ve lost myself. So, if I’ve got those ten boxers, and I get ten winners, I’ve won the lottery. You’ve taught them from nothing, not even able to hold their hands up, move their feet. Whether he wins or loses he’s gotten in the ring and he’s done what he can, hopefully he’s performed to the best of his ability – then I’ve achieved my goal, I’ve done what I set out to do.”