The Written Word

07 August 2008 – by Cormac Campbell

Acclaimed boxing writer Brian Doogan is used to telling the stories of the great and the good in the Sunday Times and Ring Magazine, but in an exclusive interview with the Fermanagh native proves his journey has been every bit as entertaining.

The history books will not remember 1980s Ireland favourably.

At the time the North was embroiled in the Troubles whilst the Republic was crippled with the type of economic gloom that makes todays financial problems appear miniscule.

There were silver linings of course. People who were bringing pride, honour and glory to their people or maybe just offering a diversion from the drudgery and indeed fear that went hand in hand with the issues of the day.

The positive influence boxing made during this period has been extolled at great length. But while historians and sociologists explore how fighting brought Catholic and Protestant communities together, people who lived through the era will just talk about what happened in the ring.

Growing up in a border town, Brian Doogan, like many of his peers, was a schoolboy hooked on sport. Despite playing Gaelic football for Lisnaskea Emmetts Doogans real passion lay in boxing.

It certainly helped that one of the biggest names in the sport lived only miles from his front door.

Barry McGuigan was without a doubt a major influence behind my interest in boxing, he said over the telephone.

Im from Lisnaskea (Co Fermanagh), which is just up the road from where he was living outside Magheraveely maybe 10 miles away. So, to have a local man excelling in that way was wonderful.

Two decades on, Doogan is one of the most renowned boxing scribes in the business. No mean feat considering the depth of talent and competitiveness in the industry as well as the fluctuating popularity of his signature sport.

Ive never just reported on boxing because, for one thing it isnt far enough up the agenda of newspapers to warrant. No newspaper would employ somebody just to do boxing. So Ive always covered other sports, mainly football.

I did a Journalism and history degree at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston. I finished on a Thursday and started at the Lancashire Evening Telegraph in Blackburn on Monday the day Kenny Dalglish moved upstairs at Blackburn. So it was a good initiation into daily journalism.

I spent just over two years in Blackburn before moving to the Daily Express for five years covering football in the midlands mostly Aston Villa and Leicester City. Martin ONeill was the Leicester manager at the time and the team was doing really well. Eventually, I started doing their boxing coverage and in 2002 I joined the Sunday Times.

At the Sunday Times Doogan continues his football work but has also been afforded tremendous scope to explore his main passion. This is a dream that he took his first steps to realising aged just 16.

I started writing for Ring Magazine when I was 16 and was studying for my A-Levels while I was at St Michaels College in Eniskillen he said, reflecting on his big break.

I used to buy Ring in a local newsagent and basically it stopped arriving. Then I was told that I would have to subscribe to receive it. So I sent off my subscription for a year. About 30 which was a lot of money for a 16-year-old schoolboy. A classmate, Brian McKenzie, then told me that the Ring had actually gone bust. So I thought that not only would I not be getting the Ring but that my money was also down the drain.

The company that then took it over in 1989 honoured the old subscriptions so round about November 1989 I got a copy of the Ring dated January 1990. At the time Ron Oliver, who did all the British boxing for the magazine for a long number of years, for some reason wasnt contributing any more and there was no UK section.

There was none in the February edition either so I decided I would write off to the editor, who was Steve Farhood, and said I would cover UK fights for him. He wrote back to me and said I could write the reports.

I met Steve in September 1996 for the first time in Grand Central Station in New York and it was only then that he realised how young I was.

Since those early days Doogan has worked with just about every big name in boxing, analysing their performances and grilling them on their hopes and dreams. As such Doogan has accumulated many memories, both good and bad.

I think the best fight I have been at, which combined the best and worst of boxing was the Nigel Benn v Gerald McClellan fight in February 1995. Id never been at a fight where for the entire duration the crowd was on its feet.

Unfortunately it ended with McClellan in a very bad way. It was what Frank Bruno called a terrible, beautiful, unbelievable fight which summed it up really.

It really showed what boxing is. It is compelling but the reality is that what they are doing to one another is hugely harmful and does leave you at times wondering about what you are looking at. We always go back and I guess we always will because we are hooked but you dont lose sight at what it is.

The brutally addictive sport has taken Doogan around the globe providing opportunity to sit ringside at fights involving Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Roy Jones, Lennox Lewis, Ricky Hatton and Joe Calzaghe as well as to interview legendary names such as Joe Frazer, George Foreman, Ken Norton, Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson and Calzaghe.

Doogans relationship with the latter culminated in the 2007 release of the Calzaghes autobiography entitled No Ordinary Joe, which was ghost written by the Irishman.

A Sunday Times Bestseller, preparation for the book which has sold over 100,000 copies in hardback and paperback, involved much co-operation between the duo, and according to Doogan, Calzaghe was easy company.

What was interesting about Joe was that if he only as much as saw a missed call from me, not even a message, he would call straight back. He was brilliant to work with despite the fact that he was training for bouts during this time.

Someone like Joe, the title of the book summed him up entirely. He is certainly one of the best British boxers that there has ever been but outside of it he is just an ordinary lad.

Somebody who could never be termed as being ordinary is Mike Tyson, a fact Doogan learnt the hard way.

I had an interview lined up with him in Vegas before the Clifford Etienne fight (2003). As you remember his mood in the build up to this fight was terrible. First he got the tattoo on his face then he pulled out, just a week before the fight before agreeing to go ahead with it.

I rang Jeff Fenech to say I had arrived in Las Vegas. He said he would tell Tyson I was coming. I went to the gym on the Monday where Freddie Roach was training Tyson and Tyson didnt show up. I went on Tuesday and Tyson still didnt show up.

I showed up on Wednesday and Tyson was there. I went in to the gym where Doc Broadus, who trained George Forman, was talking to Freddie and Tyson. Eventually Doc moved to the side and I was there, four feet from Tyson. Freddie introduced me as having met him before but Tyson looked at me like he was looking at Peter McNeely and said, I dont remember you. I said I was speaking to Jeff Fenech and Jeff was trying to get hold of him.

He said, I speak to Jeff every day and he hasnt told me about you. If Jeff wanted to get hold of me he would have called me and he hasnt so you are going to have to leave. I fumbled about in my pocket thinking I would ring Fenech but I thought better of it and left.

He intimidated the hell out of me. Freddie Roach has told people that he thought he would have to call 911. I came back to the gym two hours later with Jeff Fenech on my phone. As soon as Tyson saw me, he came towards me and I told him Jeff was on the phone. He swiped the phone out of my hands and never took his eyes off me. He said down the phone, hey Jeff, do you know this guy? then he said, What do you want me to do with this Nigger? Jeff told him that he could trust me.

Tyson said he would speak to me the next day. When we did the interview he was like a different man. The hard man from the day before had changed in to a little boy.

Whilst Tyson made things difficult for Doogan on that occasion, another Tyson related incident proved that pressure could come from other sources as well.

In 2002 I was on Jeju Island in Korea doing some pre World Cup stuff. When I was finished returned to London through Seoul. I landed there about six or seven on Sunday night and got back to the house in Luton at nine.

First thing on Monday I got a call from the sports desk saying that Mike Tyson was in Maui training ahead of the Lennox Lewis fight and if I could find out about it. So by one oclock I was shooting down the motorway and just caught a flight to San Francisco. The only detail I had was that Tyson was in Maui.

So I rang Ronnie Shields who was training Tyson for the fight and he didnt know anything about Tyson doing media work the next day but told me that Mike trained at a particular resort at 1pm. So the following morning I caught a flight to Maui. It looks a short distance on a map but it was a five-hour flight. I got in to the taxi at 12.30 thinking that there was no way I was going to make the interview.

I told the driver where I was staying and he took me there. I got out of the car to run to reception to ask where the resort was but as I ran in I heard (journalists) Jeff Powell, Paul Hayward and John Dillon shouting over. They were on a bus taking them from the hotel to see Tyson.

If I had been two minutes later, having travelled virtually around the world, I would have missed the interview.

People think everything runs smoothly but I can assure that it is often a different story behind the scenes.

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