Michael J. Jones visits Shotton ABC
Shotton ABC; giving North Wales boxing a much-needed kick-start
By Michael J Jones
Boxing in North Wales has been all but dead in the last two decades. The last time there was any interest in local fighters was back in the late 90’s when Flint boxers Mal Rice and Shane Thomas regularly sold out the Springfield hotel in Pentre Halkyn, near Holywell. It’s ironic that one of those fighters is now chiefly behind a resurgence of professional boxing in the area.
Head of Shotton ABC Shane Thomas currently trains a small stable of local fighters who all look exceptional talents. After many years training amateur fighters, Thomas is now perfectly poised to give his young pros the educated push onto title level. Shane, 46-years-old, is grafting his lads hard for the next big show at Deeside Leisure centre on July 14. Almost all of his promising young pros are featured on the eight-bout bill in what is sure to be a sell-out in the Shotton bosses first promotional venture.
I caught up with the former pro in Shotton club just as he was completing a gruelling spar with Chester’s Joe Lovell. Thomas was a rough-and-tough fighter in his day and brings that grit to his training sessions. Lovell is gasping for air but trying to land to the body-pad his coach is wearing. It’s absolutely baking in the gym and I spare a thought to the two men slugging it out between the ropes. “Come on, don’t stop” Shane implores his exhausted pupil. Lovell takes a skip back and digs the body again. Although the 21-year-old has no stoppage wins on his 3-1 record, he seems to carry a fair bit of power in his left hook. “You didn’t turn me” gasps Shane after trapping Joe in the corner. “Go on do it again.” Lovell backs into the corner and in seconds has turned his mentor and pummelled him vigorously with fast shots from either hand. The time is called by co-trainer Clive Doran. “That’s ten rounds I’ve just done” rasps the fatigued Thomas. “Make no mistake these lads train hard” under-states the Welsh trainer.
There are four young pros who currently train at the gym. The combined record of 10-3-1 doesn’t quite do the boxers justice. Take Lee Quinn for example, last March in the Old Colwyn fighter's second and third contests, he drew and lost to Rob Hunt and Mitch Prince respectfully. The two opponents had a combined record of 22-2-2 in giving “The Mighty” Quinn the first two blemishes on his 1-1-1 (1) record. One website even nick-named big-punching Quinn “balls of steel” after holding Hunt to the four-draw.
“I always ask the match-makers to give the lads good tests” says Thomas. “I don’t want them just going in and bashing everybody up, I want them to learn and develop. They have the talent so they don’t need any protecting” adds Shane confidently.
The confidence of the gym is genuine and infectious. All of the lads know their quality and are eager to prove it.
The still-perspiring trainer confides in me that a former star of the gym has decided to stop his boxing career for the time being. “Tom Doran has decided he doesn’t want to box anymore” says Thomas before adding sadly “he didn’t even tell me, just sent me a text message.” Doran hasn’t boxed since May last year when controversially stopping recent British title challenger Max Maxwell in the first round. The former amateur stand-out has been scheduled to make his comeback on several occasions but appears to have lost all interest in pursuing his promising career.
I grab a word with Joe Lovell once the stocky fighter has towelled-down. Joe has been boxing for 13 years, despite being only 21-years-old. “I started with Steve Goodwin, I was with him for nine years. When I turned pro I spent a short time with (Chester trainer) Peter Buckley before joining Shane.” Lovell only had two fights in his first fourteen months as a pro but, like stable-mate Quinn, fought twice in March. The light-middleweight edged tricky William Warburton over four rounds before losing his unbeaten record in Glasgow to tall Edinburgh prospect John Thain.
“Warburton was a really difficult opponent, he’s got those long arms and I just couldn’t seem to land flush” admits Joe, who won a 40-37 decision. The ring-rust showed in that fight for Joe, who looked good in spurts. The young Chester fighter reminds one of a young Matthew Hall in build and style, though the boxer doesn’t quite agree. “I’m not just a brawler, I can move, box or come forward” he insists.
I ask Joe about his last fight, when 5-0 Thain beat him by a single point over six rounds just seven days after the Warburton contest. “It could have gone either way with Thain, but I feel I’ve come-one and improved a lot even since that fight” promises Lovell, who has yet to find an opponent for July 14.
Next I speak to Paul “Discoball” Davies from Prestatyn. I saw Davies’ last contest at Chester back in March and was impressed with his authoritive boxing-ability. Taking on late-sub’ Liam Ellis over four rounds, “Discoball” stayed firmly in the driving seat through-out and looked on the verge of stopping his out-gunned opponent in every session. A skinny lightweight early in his career, Paul is now a strong and ripped light-welterweight. The Prestatyn fighter moved up a weight immediately after suffering his first defeat to unsung Scott Moises early last year. “I was just too tall for a lightweight” concedes the 5-1 (0) prospect. “I had to diet hard and with the pressure of selling tickets it just all got to me for that fight.”
The 25-year-old fights cagey Syrian Youssef Al Hamidi over six rounds on “The Boys are back in town” card at Deeside. “You look at his record and you may think he’s just a journey-man but he’s a decent test” reasons Paul. “He rarely gets stopped and he’s beaten some good boxers like Jason Hastie.”
Davies was scheduled to take on the experienced Syrian in March before a late opponent-change saw him facing Ellis. “I felt great in (the Ellis) fight, really strong. In the amateurs because I was tall, it was all about point-scoring and moving but now we’re working on being more aggressive” reveals Davies. The work seems to have paid off as the Prestatyn boxer looked a spiteful puncher against Ellis, raking both head and body with a good variety of power-punches.
“It was my fault he lost” Shane Thomas interjects. “I was boiling him down and he should have moved up sooner” states the trainer with frank honesty. “Paul’s the goods and I’d match him in a heart beat with Chris Goodwin. We got offered the fight the other day and jumped at it, but they said no straight away” adds Shane. Chris Goodwin, from nearby-Chester, is far more experienced at 14-2-1 (0) and has only just taken renowned puncher Carl Johanneson to a ten-round split decision. It seems an ambitious match-up on paper, but both fighter and trainer exude self-belief. “People might say I’m a novice after six fights but I’ve been boxing for 16 years” says Paul firmly. “If the fight is made I’ll show what I can do.”
The boxer has given up any hope of a rematch with the only fighter to beat him as Scott Moises has moved down to super-featherweight; meaning there are two divisions between the two boxers now. “Al Hamidi will be a good tester for me to find out where I am with my career” states Paul. “After this fight I just want to keep busy and move up to eight and ten rounds. I’d consider moving back down to lightweight only for a title fight.”
“He’s so, so strong at light-welterweight” enthuses Shane. “I’d put him in with nearly anyone even now.”
I have to ask where the unusual nickname stems from. “In my second fight I got my new shorts and they had sparkling sequins on them” explains Paul. “The name ‘Discoball’ just stuck.”
Thomas’ other star pupil is Mold’s Cameron Halfpenny. The school-boy star turned pro late last year at 18-years-old with a decision over Sean Gorman. The welterweight is due to fight fellow unbeaten Richard Bitner in Halifax this weekend (June 30) after seeing a series of contests fall through in the last six months. “I’m not worried, I’m still only 19” says Cameron. “I’m fighting Bitner in Halifax, I don’t know much about him but I don’t mind because I know I’m ready” he says, eyes gleaming.
“He’s a real nasty little s**t of a fighter is Cameron” says Thomas matter-of-factly. “It’s his work-rate, it’s unbelievable, and he hits hard too.”
The gym has recently been renovated thanks to funding from the National Lottery. The fighters have also been kept busy between fights sparring the likes of Matthew Hatton thanks to Shane’s contacts in the fight game such as close friend Bob Shannon. The Welsh trainer has also just signed two further promising youngsters in super-bantamweight Eddie Gallagher and light-heavyweight Kai Johnson. Both are set to make their debuts in the pro ranks at the end of the season as the gym continues to go from strength-to-strength. The club looks set to put North Wales on the boxing map in a big way over the next few years; you heard it here first fight fans.
The big show takes place at Deeside Leisure centre on July 14. The card also features top prospects in the well-supported Sean Lewis and Sean “Masher” Dodd. The Birkenhead duo are unbeaten in one and two fights respectfully and, like the Shotton boys, are exciting, all-action fighters. For ticket details please call show promoter Shane Thomas on 07833942337. You can also contact any of the above fighters via Facebook.
Footnote: Tom Doran has subsequently been quoted as saying he intends to take a break from boxing but insists he hasn’t retired. The unbeaten Connah's Quay boxer, formerly promoted by the Hattons', is said to be taking a break for “work commitments