“Fighting On The Inside”
The first time I met Johnny Nelson (now MBE!), was in Cardiff for Anthony Joshua’s fight against Joseph Parker in March 2018. Johnny and I ended up crossing paths in the lift of the hotel that was hosting the after-party. I asked him for a selfie, he gladly accepted and I then proudly posted this boastful content, tagging him as Chris De Gale. Ooops.
Fast forward many months to March 2022, I’d met Johnny more than a handful of times, taken note of his enviable record as the longest serving cruiserweight champion of the world, sent him some of our performance clothing and organised an event with him at Bermondsey Boxing Club. I had a few more selfies to boast of by this point. And once I’d agreed to change the tag on the first post, Johnny then approached me to ask if I’d be interested to help fund a podcast with him and a well-known boxing afficionado called Jamie Jewitt, as co-hosts.
Jamie and Johnny were going to donate all profits to a charity called “Gloves Up Knives Down”. The clue is indeed in the name and on top of this, the idea was to discuss the mental side of boxing and the mentality of combat with guests. With a specific slant on how boxing could help shape the hopes and prospects of young people today. Is there anything more ‘REAL’ than that?!
Jamie Jewitt is well known for his former modelling career (ahem, and contesting in Love Island) and more importantly, as an advocate for mental health. The guest-list touted at the time of mention was unrivalled. Given Johnny’s elevated position within the sport, coupled with Jamie’s notoriety, the access to high-profile guests was assured.
So Johnny asked and I replied; yes.
The first day I journeyed down to the studio in Epping was a cold one. Plenty of snow meant customary delays everywhere and full closure of the central line was the reality I was faced with having walked a freezing 15mins to the nearest tube station. Did I mention it was cold? Turning my plans on their head, I jumped into an Uber rather frantically and crossed every bone in my body I’d be on time… I couldn’t miss meeting Billy Joe-Saunders nor Joe “The Juggernaut” Joyce nor Fabio Wardley; three giants of the sport who were in the studio that day.
As I sat in the studio, trying to stay quiet while the live-recording was in process, the noise I remember was that swishy fabric-on-fabric sound that puffa-jackets make… everyone was trying to stay warm and wrapping their arms across their body. No heating!
Johnny and Jamie’s energy radiated enough to distract us all from the cold, while they drew Billy-Joe on a number of topics surrounding his approach to training, where he’d come from, why he chose fighting and that he was getting ready for another fight. I hasten to add that Johnny and Jamie were both clothed in my ‘System’ joggers, which are built to battle the British winter …even indoors!
The symbiosis between Johnny and Jamie was fantastic. They both have the knowledge and know-how to ask questions that provoke topical and meaningful answers from their guests. And as soon as the moment presents itself they are never shy of a word-or-three to drown the silence and dial-up the excitement for their audience, normally by injecting some humour and boy were there a lot of giggles.
The next time I journeyed to Epping, was to meet the doyen of boxing, none other than Mr. Eddie Hearn. The excitement invoked in me resulted in a faster-heartbeat and clammy hands for the duration of my journey West-to-East on the central line, all the way back to Epping. This occasion was a made-it moment for me and pat-on-back for Johnny and Jamie. The momentum they had built was punctuated by Eddie Hearn being in the studio that day.
That day we heard a lot from Hearn. He does after all have a lot to say (about a lot) and as far as I am concerned a lot to say that I wanted to hear. Credit to Johnny and Jamie in this context for giving Eddie the oxygen and the platform to display his articulate ‘gift-of-the-gab’. He’s a family man. I assure you he’s a caring man. He really believes in the sport and the value this brings to the young. Boxing has the power to shape and embellish so many, with so much, particularly for those who start with so little.
Eddie Hearn was better than I could have hoped for. This episode really typified the genesis of the FOTI podcast. Between Jamie, Johnny and Eddie, there wasn’t an angle omitted on how boxing has the power to change the world physically, mentally and emotionally. Boxing makes you a King or Queen of your own kingdom. By kingdom I mean your own body and mind. If you’re in control of your ‘kingdom’, it is then that you can help others. What other meaning is there to life than to help others.
Next up… errr, wait for it - we were headed to meet Floyd Mayweather (yup this really happened) in a hotel in the city of London. Floyd was here to fight for the first time in the UK and was giving a press conference the day before he challenged Aaron Chalmers. The back story to this is that Johnny was going to be doing the live-commentary for the fight and had asked Floyd a favour… Floyd said yes. Floyd said yes to giving us a private interview after the conference, in our own room, with just him …and his entourage of 25 others, obviously. Most people pay Floyd (let’s just call it a large amount $$$’s), to have an audience with him. Bravo Johnny, thank you Floyd and ‘let’s go” FOTI podcast. Another landmark moment and another sensational episode. We may’ve only got 15mins from Floyd, but he ended his interview by turning to the ‘GUKD’ banner and announcing this message to all the viewers:
It’s fair to say that I was feeling pretty smug at this point. The FOTI podcast was crushing it! The message was being broadcasted via some absolute giants of the sport and we were standing on their shoulders to make our message even louder and go even further.
I might take a moment to remind everyone that Johnny Nelson was on the New Year Honours list 2023 for services to boxing and to young people in South Yorkshire. Johnny is living proof that when you have nothing to prove, there is nothing that needs to be said. Let your success speak for itself. A virtuous characteristic that both Johnny and Jamie share, alike.
Next up in Epping we had Levi Roots and none other than Frank Bruno, back-to-back. Before going further, Frank Bruno is why I found boxing. For that, thank you Frank. When I was about 8yrs old my Dad said we could watch the ‘big fight’ and I hope you’ve already had a pretty good guess at which one I’m talking about. 25th Feb 1989 Mike Tyson fought Frank Bruno in Las Vegas. The excitement of waking up in the middle of the night, with Dad, to watch the heavyweight crown being challenged for, will forever stay with me.
First in the chair was Levi Roots. A man with an unrivalled story and a man of great integrity. He was initially told by his community “we don’t want your sauce” as a lot of traditional West Indian families tend to make their sauces at home, staying faithful to a recipe that Grandma’s Grandma used to make. But sauce he made and it was an order from Sainsbury’s (Justin King was CEO at the time) for several hundred thousand bottles that saw his stellar ‘Reggae Reggae Sauce” take-off… oh and I should mention that Levi loves boxing too. Earnie Shavers got a shout out from Levi! Levi loves the gladiatorial dedication and mentality of the great fighters.
Second in the chair was Frank Bruno. Can you hear him laugh in your mind already..? Between Jamie, Johnny and Frank there was a lot to laugh about. Jamie turned to Frank after discussing the ferocious fights with Tyson, with no love lost between the two in either and said “But with all that rivalry behind you, Mike loves you now doesn’t he..?” And Frank replied, “Well I like him too… but just not in that way”. Queue raucous, deep laughter from Frank and nose-splitting giggles from everyone else.
It’s worth mentioning that Frank’s PR team that day had given Jamie a heads-up before the recording began that there may (…just may!) be some things that would need editing out of the episode before it was published. Frank is an honest man and everything was from the heart that day. Frank is a national treasure and he still pushes the power of boxing via The Frank Bruno Foundation, using (non-contact) boxing to enhance your mental wellbeing and imbue you with purpose.
My last trip to Epping was to meet Anthony Yarde. I am a fan. I think that travelling to Russia and going to Chelyabinsk to fight Sergei ‘The Krusher’ Kovalev in his very own backyard, to challenge for the WBO and ESPN light-heavyweight titles, is more than worthy of respect. Anthony shared with us that day that we was offered the same amount of money that he would earn from this fight, to not take the fight. This offer was to make way for Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, who wanted to test himself at light-heavyweight. But Anthony in his own words said “ I had earned my right to that fight as mandatory and no amount of money was going to stand me down”. My man! That is when boxing as a business needs to be clipped by the integrity of fighters like Anthony Yarde. Take a bow Anthony!
In conclusion, it’s been nothing shy of a privilege and a pleasure to be involved with the FOTI podcast throughout. I haven’t felt excitement like it before when meeting so many of my sporting heroes. Thank you to Jamie and Johnny for creating a message that will transcend any language-barrier and resonate with those in all four corners of the globe. Thank you for bringing levity, empathy and humour to every episode. Myself and REAL are very proud to have been involved with this masterpiece.
A huge thank you to all guests, a fist-bump and a hug to Johnny and Jamie, with love from REAL.
Please go listen to the First series of the FOTI Podcast on spotify And if you'd rather - you can watch every episode on YouTube.