By Lee Costello
At the end of 2019 my boxing club, City of Belfast Boxing Academy, sought out the help of legendary boxing coach Billy McKee.
McKee founded Midlands ABC in North Belfast and dedicated the last 40 years of his life coaching boxing.
His dedication led to many successes but not least the discovery and development of Northern Ireland’s only 2-weight world champion, Carl Frampton.
Despite retiring in 2018 he agreed to help out at my club once a week in an advisory role.
After coaching fighters of Frampton’s calibre, it goes without saying that taking a novice such as myself was something of a step-down for the North Belfast man.
But nonetheless his wisdom, charisma and enthusiasm instantly struck a chord with me.
The very first thing he told me to do was run a few laps around the ring to warm-up and I had no sooner completed one lap had he stuck his hand out for me to stop.
“Lee…” He said with a tone that transported you back to a school-boy mind frame, in which you are gingerly shuffling your feet and hoping that whatever you did won’t get you in too much trouble.
“Even when you’re running, you need to keep your chin down.
“If you have it hanging in the air out here, then you will have it hanging in the air when you’re in the ring.
“And when you leave it hanging in the air in the ring, you get knocked out”.
A simple but effective lesson, taught less than one minute into the training session.
Call it a journalistic habit or the fact that I’m just a bit of a nerd but I took to writing down in a notebook these little nuggets of wisdom from the pugilist pioneer.
Once when sparring in Monkstown he pointed out my unfortunate fondness of looking down while trying to roll under shots.
He took me to the corner and simply asked “How do you keep finding money on the canvas?
“You must have found money, because there is no good reason for you to be looking at the floor when you should be keeping your eyes on him at all times.”
No money pocketed for me that night but another priceless lesson instead.
His wit was as sharp as his coaching skills and on one occasion when asked about his opinion on a big upcoming MMA fight he replied; “Don’t come to my club to box if you have ever done MMA.
“Because if you COULD box, you would never have done MMA.”
In his time at our club, which was cut short due to lockdown last March, he often filled the room with laughter, wisdom and an infectious smile that would convince you boxing must be the ultimate source of happiness.
Midlands ABC, City of Belfast Boxing Academy and the world of boxing will miss him dearly.
By Lee Costello