On Friday, May 24, British boxing fans were saddened to learn of the deaths of two prominent members of the UK fistic fraternity. The noted trainer Brendan Ingle, who was afflicted with Alzheimer’s, passed away at the age of 77. Former boxer Dean Francis, who had been battling colon cancer, died at the age of 44.
Ingle was born in Dublin, the son of a dockworker. He was one of 15 children. As a teenager he followed an older brother to Sheffield, England, to work in a steel mill. Fighting as a middleweight, he compiled a 19-14 record during a nine-year career that began in 1965. He was stopped eight times but almost all of those stoppages were the result of cuts.
After hanging up his gloves, Ingle answered the call of a local vicar to train boys in the art of boxing. He set up shop in a gym attached to the St. Thomas Boys and Girls Club in the hardscrabble East End of Sheffield.
Ingle trained boys of all ages. His first notable fighter was Herol Graham. Under Ingle’s tutelage, the “Bomber” won British, Commonwealth, and European titles and defeated such notables as Ayub Kalule, Mark Kaylor, and Vinnie Pazienza.
Graham never won a world title, coming up short in three tries, but Ingle’s gym produced five world champions: super welterweight Junior Witter, light heavyweight Clinton Woods, featherweight Naseem Hamed, cruiserweight Johnny Nelson, and welterweight Kell Brook.
Ingle’s fighters, wrote (London) Telegraph boxing writer Gareth Davies, “were all light on their toes, in-and-out, masters of range and timing, each of them utterly comfortable with their hands down by their sides. They were ostensibly matadors with gloves. Hit and don’t hit was their mantra.”
Ingle is most famous for his work with Naseem Hamed, with whom he eventually had a bad falling out, but although Hamed became the biggest star in British boxing, Ingle was likely most proud of his work with Johnny Nelson who started his career 0-3 and was the reigning WBO champion when he retired, having reigned longer than any cruiserweight title-holder in history.
Nelson, a Sky Sport Boxing commentator, broke the news of Ingle’s death. “On this one occasion,” he wrote, “I am using social media to inform people that a good, good man has left the earth today. A good friend. A good father figure. And the best trainer in the world.”
“Boxing has lost a legend and I will look back fondly on the many great moments we shared in the sport,” chimed in veteran British boxing promoter Frank Warren.
Ingle is survived by seven siblings, five children, and 14 grandchildren. His sons Dominic and John now run the gym. (Note: The medal that Ingle is holding is the MBE, short for Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. It was awarded to him for his contributions to British boxing and his work with the boys that he mentored, many from impoverished backgrounds.)
Francis was active from 1994 until 2009 and then had a brief comeback after an absence of three-plus years. During his career he held British, European, and Commonwealth super middleweight titles. In his last start, in March of 2014, he lost a 12-round unanimous decision in a failed attempt to win the British light heavyweight belt.
Francis finished his career with a record of 34-5-1 with 26 KOs. He is survived by his wife Ghalia and their 4-year-old son.
The Sweet Science sends their condolences to the family and loves ones of Brendan Ingle and Dean Francis.
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