Lockdown has forced small hall fighters to find new routes back to the ring; to think outside the box. Gone are ticket sales, foreign opponents and sadly also crowds. Some have taken the risk of TV shots at stable prospects, so far this has largely paid off for the stable. Some have stayed fit but dormant which while understandable pays off for no one. Some have sought glory and gain farther away.
John Brennan was just days away from a shot at Linus Udofia’s English Middleweight Title when Covid kicked in. While Udofia was able to defend the title on Sky Sports on October 4th stopping Team Southpaw Jab’s John Harding Jr. in the 9th round, Brennan was forced to look elsewhere. His next fight is one of the more intriguing moves of any boxer in the new-normal world dominated by behind closed doors blockbuster events.
The Slough super welterweight flies out to Tanzania to fight Yusuf Bangu for the WBF International Super Welterweight “trinket” on October 16th in Dar Es Salaam, former capital of the country. It will be live on Azam TV which is broadcast in Malawi, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania and as well as a belt, a win would mean a bump up the Commonwealth rankings. Belts are currency, a bargaining chip, one Brennan will gladly use should he attain it.
As a youth John was “fart-arsing around on the estate and got banged up”. There followed a spell in the cells at Feltham Young Offenders Institute. Realising he “had aspirations to be something else and boxing was part of that” led Brennan to a professional boxing career stacked with terrific tales entertaining fights. Our time on the phone was full of these stories.
Although with five defeats on his record, John has not, however, lost since being halted in a blisteringly exciting fight for the Southern Area Title with Asinia Byfield in 2017. His other defeats came early in his career to much more experienced fighters; Glenn Foot, Ahmat Patterson and Anthony Fitzgerald among them. Brennan admits a certain amount of naivety led him to take those fights but that he learned lots from them.
“If I knew then what I know I would never have taken them. At the end of the day I’m a scrapper, I’m a fighter, but I took those fights guided wrong. But it’s made me a bit more battle hardened in the long run.”
Byfield, a man he now has a friendly relationship with (“it’s a fighters’ thing, it’s done now”), he says is the best he’s faced so far. “You’ll have him on the ropes then he’ll spin around and catch you with a backhand, he’s so awkward”. Brennan is never in a dull fight and his career is filled with the exciting and the bizarre. He halted Kevin McCauley, he points out, something only a few have in McCauley’s over 200 fights.
“If I had a pound for every time I got told I wouldn’t stop him I’d have been able to buy all of York Hall a pint! When he went over I thought thank fuck for that!”
There’s also an ill-tempered no contest with another canny opponent, Sonny Whiting, who “knows the dark arts, he ain’t daft”. After an encouraging start, Brennan “opened up and saw his eyes widen… he’s hit me after the bell and I thought right I’m gonna crack him one. I should have had more decorum”. This forced referee Lee Every to wave the fight off, much to a boisterous crowd’s chagrin.
I mention that I’ve noticed how loud John’s supporters are, “Mate that’s their remit! They’re vociferous, I want people to enjoy themselves but hopefully it doesn’t spill over. I’ve got a good following”.
He tells a good story does John, entertaining in and out of the ring and I enjoyed his one about what happened after the loss to Glenn Foot,
“I was weight drained. Funny story, I’d had to lose about ten pounds; I get on the tube dying, hadn’t drunk water in hours, and after the fight my mate bought me a couple of cocktails and I was cattled! I spent the rest of the night sitting in the changing room talking shit to Scott Quigg and Anthony Crolla.”
This exotic Tanzanian opportunity came around through Brennan’s “well connected” manager, Dereck Waddell, “If he told me the grass was purple and the sky was orange I wouldn’t look out the window to check”. Now 35, Brennan knows his time left in the sport is limited, but he’s “fresh as a daisy” and “likes to think I’ll know when to quit”. Yusuf Bangu is ten years younger and boasts seven stoppages in his nine victories, with just one defeat. Without wanting to disrespect Tanzanian boxing, impressive records can flatter to deceive. John agrees and has done his research,
“You do get surprisingly quite a lot of footage from their national TV. I’ll be honest I’ve not been impressed; his seven stoppages aren’t much kop are they.
He’s upright, throws down the middle. Technically he looks quite astute but once you catch him, which I’m hoping I’m going to do, he’ll go. I do love a bit of violence.”
It’s why we love boxing, the organised violence, but this is organised in an arena on another continent, with home fans. These are factors which could favour Bangu, but Brennan isn’t bothered, “I’d like to think that no, being the away fighter won’t make any difference. I won’t get overawed, I’m used to a lot of it now, the fans, seeing stars… all of it.”
Winning means a higher Commonwealth standing, the super welterweight belt will be held by either James Metcalf or Jack Flatley, who will contest it on October 10th. John wants in,
“If I get the opportunity to fight for and win the title then I could get a deal with Matchroom or whoever and I’ve got the opportunity to cash in a bit. There’s got to be a pot of gold at the end of one of my rainbows!”
With so many rainbows already, so much hard work and intelligent risk taking, it is hard not to hope Tanzania is one exciting step closer to a pot of gold for Brennan.