‘I can’t understand why there aren't more pro boxers in Portsmouth’ – trainer and manager Michael Ballingall

They might all be at different stages on their boxing journeys.

Monday, 8th March 2021, 1:20 pm
Updated Monday, 8th March 2021, 1:24 pm
Lucas Ballingall pictured after beating Harvey Hemsley at Olympia London in February 2017. Photo by Leigh Dawney/Getty Images.

But Portsmouth-based trainer and manager Michael Ballingall's current crop of professionals share a common drive of wanting to push themselves as far as they can go in the sport.

Whether it be one of the biggest boxing hopes ever to come from the city, unbeaten holder of the WBO European, WBC silver international and WBC Youth world welterweight belts Michael McKinson, or Elley Booth - the first woman from the Portsmouth area to turn professional - the gym is bursting with hungry and determined fighters bidding for their own slices of glory.

Vastly-experienced Ballingall, 46, who together with Miles Harding and Gav Jones make up the training team, is excited by the group of professionals currently under his tutelage.

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Connor Edney, who has not fought since November 2019 due to the pandemic, poses for a portrait during a photo session at Brown's Gym. Photo by James Chance/Getty Images.

Once part of former Commonwealth and WBU world light heavyweight champion Tony Oakey's camp and spending seven years with ex-promoter Frank Maloney, Ballingall holds a wealth of knowledge with 19 years as a trainer.

Doubling up as father and trainer to 'Pompey Problem' McKinson - currently preparing for a massive Battle of Britain bout with fellow undefeated fighter Chris Kongo at the end of this month - Michael senior does the same, along with taking on management responsibilities, for his other son Lucas, who has won 13 of his 14 pro bouts and is mandatory challenger for the English lightweight title.

Ballingall's boys are the ones within his stable currently pushing for world and national recognition.

But there is another crop eagerly awaiting their opportunity to start making their way up the boxing ladder.

Mikey McKinson poses for a portrait during a photo session at Brown's Gym. Photo by James Chance/Getty Images.

Both Matt King and Harley Hodgetts - still to make their professional debuts amid the pandemic - and Connor Edney, with just a solitary pro bout in the bag, back in November 2019, are bringing a lot of promise to the gym.

The only downside for Michael Ballingall at the moment is the fact he is unable to put his emerging prospects on shows for the people of Portsmouth to see more of their own on the big stages.

‘I can only imagine (how hard it’s been without fights),' said Ballingall.

‘I take my hat off to them because they’re still coming up the gym, they’re still training; even though they’ve got nothing in front of them, they’re still doing it.

Elley Booth poses for a portrait during a photo session at Brown's Gym. Photo by James Chance/Getty Images.

‘I can’t sit there and moan and say, ‘they’re not turning up this, that and the other,’ because they want it.

‘I’ve got some good fighters and I’m happy with the team that I’ve got. I just want to get them on some shows doing what they’re meant to be doing.'

Ballingall believes the Pompey boxing scene should be much more fruitful in terms of professionals being produced.

Despite a high number of amateur fighters and clubs across the city, he is adamant there should be a lot more turning pro.

But he believes son Michael's rise in the sport - he is currently ranked the second best welterweight in Britain - could help bolster numbers of elite boxers emerging from the area.

Ballingall says McKinson's success is at least helping raise the level within his gym as everyone bids to match, if not better, his accomplishments so far.

‘There should be more professional boxers from Portsmouth to be truthful,' added Ballingall.

'There are a lot of amateur fighters and a lot of amateur clubs. I can’t understand why there isn’t a bigger scene of professionals in our town.

'There’s no-one in the gym that’s playing about at it, that’s pretending and just happy to fight at small shows, they all want to get to the level where Mikey is getting.

‘The good thing about it as well, when a young fighter comes to the gym from the amateurs, they’ve got everybody in the gym. They’ve got their manager in the gym, their trainer in the gym so they’re not speaking to their manager on the phone once a month; if something’s happening, they know a couple of days later.

‘Also, they’ve got the experience of having an experienced trainer that’s been about and been everywhere.

‘But the main thing they’ve got experienced fighters and, at the end of the day, fighters relate to each other.

'When the young debutants finally walk into the ring, they’ve got the confidence of the people that are walking with them. Their team-mates have been there and done it and it makes them feel more confident that they’re with the right team.'

Along with his thriving group of male fighters, Ballingall reckons big things could be coming for the two female boxers he's working with.

Horndean-based Booth, 28, made history by recently becoming the first woman from the city to turn pro.

Meanwhile, former Team GB and national youth champion Ashleigh Pond is another operating out of the gym - although the 22-year-old has yet to acquire her pro licence.

‘It’s a massive thing for female boxing at the moment with the likes of Eddie Hearn getting title shots for girls and stuff like that,' Ballingall added.

‘I’ve got a little stable of female fighters building, but I don’t want a massive stable.

'Elley came to me a few years ago, she had a lot of work going on and that but she’s managed to free herself up.

‘She’s basically been full-time training with me at the moment.

'She’s so skillful, very, very skillful. She’s been sparring girls like Rachel Ball, who fought for the world title a few months back, we went up and done some rounds with Rachel.

‘She’s been doing a lot of rounds with Bec Connolly, who is an army girl but she’s a professional who has boxed on Eddie Hearn shows, she’s a really tough, durable girl.

'I’ve also got another girl who was on Team GB, Ashleigh Pond, she was at HOP (Heart of Portsmouth) and came back for one senior bout a few years ago with HOP. She’s a real prospect.

‘There’s a lot of opportunity out there for good female fighters, and I believe I’ve got two in the gym at the moment.'

As elite athletes, Ballingall has been able to continue operating out of their bases at Greg Allison's Cosham-based martial arts gym, LAB99 in Petersfield and Brown's Gym - all venues they use for training.

But he is now hoping all of his fighting crop can have bouts to look forward to at some point this year with vaccinations continuing to be rolled out amid the pandemic.