By Paul Zanon
“Training has changed a bit and we’ve all moved on as athletes. I was lucky to have been brought up with my dad and his style of boxing training at The Royal Oak, but now, with my own fighters, I’ve been to Loughborough university and mixed with strength and conditioning coaches, so I’m able to take bits and pieces of knowledge from them. I then use what I believe works for my fighters, which might not work for everyone. I’m caught in the middle between the old school and the new school, so I feel lucky. I take from both schools of thought because I don’t purely believe in one method, plus I also think some of it is nonsense.”
In our previous article, BVB was honoured to interview boxing royalty, Jimmy Tibbs. One month later we’re back with none other than his son Mark who is also firmly ingrained into British Boxing history. The 52-year-old East Londoner explained his route into the square circle. “I started boxing when I was six at Repton Boxing Club in Hackney and then when my dad came out of prison a couple of years later, he took me to West Ham. I trained there for a couple of years and then dad took me back to Repton.”
Shortly after donning the gloves, Tibbs started to amass a very respectable collection of silverware. “I won my first schoolboy title at West Ham, then I went to Repton and won the NABC’s, London Championships, Essex Championships and Junior ABA’s. I also won a gold and a silver medal at the Multi-Nations tournament in Oslo and I represented England a few times.”
Tibbs went on to rack up 80 wins in 86 amateur contests and at the ripe age of 19, on 15 November 1988 he turned professional. In a career spanning five and a half years, he only lost twice in 25 contests, which begs the question - why did Tibbs pull the curtain down on a successful pro career in his mid 20’s? The affable trainer explained. “When I started to find my strength and my own style, I was about 25. At the time my dad was away training Nigel Benn and I decided for whatever reason, I was going to take a year out from boxing. Then a year turned into 10 years.
“So, here I was now at 35 years of age, fit and strong and sparring at The Peacock Gym with young fellas about 20 years old who were fighting for top amateur titles and I started to feel my age. You hear people saying when you’re younger, ‘Don’t take your youth for granted,’ but we never listen. We always think our youth is going nowhere and it will be there forever. That’s when the realisation kicked in that my youth had gone.”
Running parallel to his professional boxing career, Tibbs also dabbled in acting, starring in a cult classic, ‘Fighters,’ directed by Ron Peck. The film hit the screens in 1991 and is possibly the grittiest behind the scenes documentary out there, shining a torch into several dark corners of boxing. There’s some great footage of Canning Town and the old East End, featuring a number of fighters such as Tibbs, Mark Kaylor, Jason Rowlands, the late Bradley Stone and a number of others including of course, the maestro Jimmy Tibbs. Mark explained the merits of the production. “There’s a lot of history in that film. It seems like yesterday we made that it, but so much has changed since then. If you watch it, you’ll see what I mean. Ron Peck came and asked us if we’d be willing to take part and we all did. We believed in what he was doing, he did a great job and he became part of our boxing family. He followed us around the gyms, came to shows, went to each fighters houses and did interviews and became part of our world. I haven’t seen the film in a while, but the world has really changed since them days, especially in boxing. Nowadays you’ve got all these sponsorship deals, a number of promoters and so many different fight channels for fighters to be seen on.”
Five years after ‘Fighters,’ Mark and Jimmy Tibbs starred alongside each other in another Ron Peck production called ‘Real Money,’ which looked at the darker side of boxing and the temptations for fighters struggling to make ends meet. With ‘The Wapping Assassin,’ Jimmy Flint playing the baddie, once again, it’s another nostalgic masterclass worth viewing. Tibbs recalled. “It was fun, but I can’t watch these film because I get embarrassed! I’m laughing just talking about it. At the time though, we loved it. We were improvising the lines with guidance from Ron and the whole process was very enjoyable.”
With his last professional fight over 25 years behind him, Tibbs explained his passion from the other side of the ropes. “I really enjoy training fighters, especially when they give me their time and attention. I enjoy bringing out the best of them and that’s only been possible because of the people I’ve been around in the past. I’m really enjoying training the prospects I have around me right now such as Johnny Fisher, Johnny Hedges and Tommy Fletcher who is only 19, 6ft 7inches tall and punches hard like Dillian Whyte or Richard Riakporhe.”
Mark Tibbs and Dillian Whyte
One other fighter under the training and management wings of Tibbs is none other than BVB’s very own Charlie Duffield. Tibbs discussed his light heavyweight charge. “Charlie’s main asset as a boxer is his strength and punch power. That man can punch. I’ll tell you a story. One day I was in Loughborough with Dillian Whyte and I’d just started to train Charlie at the Peacock Gym. I’d only had him a couple of weeks but I thought, ‘He’ll be alright to spar Dillian, ‘He’s a bit small, but he’s been an ABA finalist, he’s sharp, fast and he’ll give Dillian some good rounds.’ I said to Dillian, ‘Where are you on Monday? I’d like you to spar a guy called Charlie Duffield. He’s a light heavyweight, he’s sharp, but he can punch.’ What I was saying was he’s smaller than you and you should be able to move him around, but he’ll make you work during the rounds.’ Dillian said, ‘No problem. I’ll be at Miguels gym in Brixton.’
Mark Tibbs with Charlie Duffield on the pads
“When I was coming home on the Friday from Loughborough I briefed Charlie and he was happy and keen. Monday morning we met and got a train over to Miguels. I’d brought a few fighters to Miguels before and it took a while for the guys there to warm up to me. I’d had Fabio Wardley and Tom Dallas sparring Dillian at the time and now it was Charlie’s turn. I warmed Charlie up and got him in with Dillian and I was doing Dillian’s corner whilst one of the trainers from Miguels was in Charlie’s corner.
“Charlie and Dillian got at it straight away, no messing about. They were going at it like cat and dog. I shouted out to them, ‘Stop, stop, stop.’ I was worried about Charlie, but I needn’t have been because it was genuinely a 50/50 spar. That was the best 20 seconds I’ve ever seen Dillian and Charlie look in a boxing ring. Charlie clocked him and made either Dillian’s nose or lip bleed. They’re at it again and I’ve said, ‘Stop, stop.’ Dillian went, ‘No Mark. He’s got to learn.’ Duffield turns to me and says, ‘No Mark. I want to carry on!’ So, I let it go and they had a brilliant spar. Dillian walked back after the first round and said to me, ‘He’s bled my nose and I’ve never had a nose bleed,’ or lip, whichever it was.
“I loved it. It was a really competitive spar and I was really proud of Charlie walking over there and trading with him, which he had to do because Dillian stuck it on him. They had four good rounds and there was really good respect between them. As we’re walking out the gym everyone patted Charlie on his back and when we got out I felt like doing cartwheels. Both Dillian and Charlie were both my boys and I was very proud of them both, but on that day Charlie particularly gave a great account of himself against a much bigger and experienced opponent. Charlie and Dillian became good mates after that.”
Mark with his dad Jimmy Tibbs
For those following Mark Tibbs’ social media handles, you may have been privy to seeing photos of Jimmy working alongside him at the gym. Tibbs signed off with some warming dialogue about his father. “Having my dad in the gym is what you call ‘treasure.’ He doesn’t say a lot when he’s there but when he does, it all makes sense. I love it when he’s around and so do the fighters. He does their hands up, gives them instructions, tells them things they need to hear, but also things that boost their confidence in a way only he can do. As I said, he’s treasure.”
Paul Zanon, has had nine books published, with almost all of them reaching the No1 Bestselling spot in their respective categories on Amazon. He has co-hosted boxing shows on Talk Sport, been a pundit on London Live, Boxnation and has contributed to a number of boxing publications, including, Boxing Monthly, The Ring, Daily Sport, Boxing News, Boxing Social, amongst other publications.