Trainer pulling no punches over his gym's community aim
IT'S easy to miss Gareth Hogg's Knuckleup Boxing Gym in Torquay, with no grand entrance and not even a sign indicating you've found the right place.
The way in looks more like a fire escape, positioned on one side of a narrow road on an industrial estate at Barton Hill Way near Hele Village.
The surroundings are certainly not glamorous, and perhaps not the place you would imagine title-chasing professional fighters to train.
But step inside, and the gritty background seems about right.
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Hammering blows at the various bags are as diverse a group of boxers as you can imagine, with not a grain of pretension about them.
There's a wiry, grey-haired boxer old enough to claim a pension yet who's still belting upper cuts into a pad as if his life depended on it.
At the other end of the spectrum is a teenager battling weight problems, but who is ducking and dodging as he hits a swinging punch bag.
There are also several Polish boxers, their faces deadly serious, and a thick-set Mixed Martial Arts fighter who spins powerful kicks into one of the bags.
There's also Mick Costello, an ex-pro who has refound his love of the sport and is training for the UK Masters Veterans title – a so-called 'white collar' fight as it is non-professional.
What links them all is their quiet, unassuming determination to train as hard as possible, mostly for little or no reward.
And the fact that they are trained by former IBF Pan-Pacific light-heavyweight champion Hogg.
The gym is co-owned by Hogg and Mark Camps, and in April will have been open for a year.
Most of the equipment is new, including a row of static bikes and some heavy-duty punch bags, and the place is spotlessly clean.
There's a 12ft ring in one corner, which is as big as the modest gym can fit. And as Hogg says, if you can avoid getting belted in that one, you can avoid it in a full-sized ring.
Considering the calibre of Hogg and the professional fighters who train under him, it all seems so unassuming.
About the only indication of Hogg's professional record is in the fight posters plastered across one wall, and a few small photos of him with figures including Joe Bugner.
"I've had a gym for eight or nine years," says Hogg.
"We had one underneath Chaplin's Pub at Peak Physique gym, and before that it was at the Lord Nelson pub in Kingskerswell.
"We've got people in here who have problems with drink and want to sort themselves out – it's not about Jamie Speight and the pro lads, it's about community."
The sense of community is clearly as important to Hogg as his pro connections. It's a relatively small space, and a schedule on the wall divides up the sessions with times for juniors, ladies and seniors so there is enough room for all.
He says: "We used to start at 6pm and it was rammed – but we want people to have a bit more tuition. Now that it's more structured it's been working well. Any money that the gym makes goes straight back into it – I just love boxing and love coming here."
Hogg has already taken on plenty of juniors from nearby Hele Village, who he believes would otherwise be out on the street with the potential to cause trouble.
Yet the mix of different characters shows that he works hard to keep the atmosphere positive and welcoming.
"It's just helping the community – giving the kids something to do," he adds.
"We also do women's boxing classes, circuit training. The youngsters won't spar, but can do padwork – there's nothing like it for fitness.
"We've got a good mix of older and younger people who have been overweight or have other problems. There's just a good vibe."
There's always the chance that one of the youngsters who comes through the door has the potential to box professionally, and Hogg has the calibre to spot them.
Getting affiliated status is the first step to putting boxers on amateur cards, and it is something which Hogg would like to do.
"Eventually we would like to get affiliation – but this is what I've always done, trained them up and then passed them on to other clubs. It's a nightmare really.
"But the thing that's important is that the boys are boxing.
"It's not like when you go to a regular gym and can feel out of place. Even some boxing gyms can be too regimented."
Hogg's own past is interesting in itself, which saw him swap a promising professional career for a backpack and several stints of travelling in Australia.
Hogg enjoyed Australia so much that he returned to set up home there.
His experiences range from banana-picking in north Queensland to narrowly avoiding gang-related violence in Sydney's outer suburbs.
"The first time I went to Australia I was just travelling around with my girlfriend, but and we ended up running a backpackers' hostel in Cairns," he explains.
"But when I went back, I was sparring with Anthony Mundine – some of the greats.
"When I won the [Pan-Pacific] title I was living in Parramatta, and it doesn't have the safest reputation because there are loads of Lebanese and Turkish gangs.
"There were wars between the gangs and shootings, and as I was living with a group of Turks I couldn't even go out running in case I was targeted by the Lebanese."
He has never formally retired, and even though a return to the ring at 35 seems unlikely, he refuses to rule it out completely.
"Never say never," he said. "I'm a little bit out of shape but I'm always doing something. I'll always jump in with the lads for sparring sessions."
Hogg believes young pros are not being helped by a lack of opportunity in South Devon.
Torquay prospect Torryn Pook, who trains with Hogg, is expected to return to the ring on Saturday, March 9, but after waiting for almost a year to make for his second pro bout.
"It's about ticket sales," says Hogg.
"Torryn had to turn down one fight already because they wanted him to sell 100 tickets or he didn't get paid.
"It's not like he hasn't got anything else to worry about – he's got to worry about his weight, his opponent and then ticket sales. It's sad the way it's gone."
Hogg is also brutally honest about his own record, and believes that knockout punches are born and not made.
"I just think you're either born with it or not – it's something that comes naturally," he says.
"My second pro fight I went in with a lad and ended up in a real state – cracked my cheekbone, had cuts on my face – he really handed my arse to me on a plate.
"But records are for DJs. Anyone can pad their record, but as soon as you step up in class you will be found out."