“I was fortunate enough to be in 20 world title fights, I was an assistant coach with Scott [Harrison] and head coach with Ricky [Burns] – Winning 16, drawing two and losing two. The only two people we were beaten by were Manuel Medina who is a five times world champion and Terence Crawford who is pound-for-pound number one. It’s not a bad record, is it? Not bad for a Scotsman.”
Billy Nelson, Scotland’s most accomplished and successful boxing coach, boasts a world championship record that speaks for itself and it goes without saying that it far more than just “Not bad for a Scotsman”. In his own words, when talking about the drive and motivation to coach at the highest level, Nelson said “I’m not looking for praise, I don’t really care what anybody thinks as long as my fighter is happy.[…] I love seeing improvement in people. I love teaching somebody something and they recognise straightaway the difference between the way they were doing it and the way I have shown them what to do”.
Martin Bakole with trainer Billy Nelson | Daily Record
Nelson’s passion for seeing development in others is probably best exemplified by his role as a young people’s residential care worker. While COVID-19 has brought much of the country to a standstill, Nelson has played his role as part of the army of key workers who have continued to faithfully exercise their duties.
Back in the gym, COVID-19 and the resultant restrictions have had an effect as they have on most gyms, but Nelson remains buoyant as he talks about the fighters in his charge and what the future may hold. With a stable consisting of an amateur welterweight prospect still a couple of years from turning professional, 6ft featherweight Craig Morgan (7-0) working his way through the domestic ranks and a soon to be announced unbeaten super featherweight, Nelson is guiding a plethora of fighters at various stages in their respective careers.
When asked about his method of coaching his current crop of fighters and how previous experience has shaped his approach, Nelson said “I don’t treat any of them any differently. I teach them all to their strengths and weaknesses, but I wouldn’t have trained Ricky [Burns] any differently than what I would train a 4-round fighter. They’ve still got to get the same time and application in them for their development.”
The future looks bright for Nelson’s stable, but the brightest hope may well be Nelson’s man of the moment – Heavyweight Martin Bakole. Nelson has a depth of knowledge and a breadth of experience that makes him more than fluent conversing about any aspect of the fight game, but its undeniable that Nelson’s heavyweight charge is never far from the forefront of his thinking. Bakole, brother of WBC cruiserweight world champion Ilunga Makabu, boasts a record 15-1(12KO) with his only loss coming against American Michael Hunter. Bakole’s TKO loss to Hunter brought some criticism upon trainer Nelson with many claiming Bakole should have been pulled out sooner having suffered an injury to his shoulder during the fight. Whatever the opinions of onlookers though, none of it has any bearing on the connection between Nelson and Bakole which remains unshaken, as proved by the comeback trail with Bakole stopping all four of his opponents since the Hunter bout.
Hunter puts the first and only blemish on Bakole's record | GiveMeSport
“Let me tell you something, two days before the Hunter fight, Martin received some shocking news from his father and he kept it to himself. Martin Bakole got hit by more punches in the fight with Hunter than in the previous 2 ½ years that I’ve had him and he still didn’t look like going down against Hunter. His mind was everywhere bar that boxing ring that night, unfortunately. I knew in round 1 that there was something wrong because leading up to that fight he had fantastic sparring with Hughie Fury and Anthony Joshua and he looked the Governor in both.”
With the internet awash with behind-closed-doors and no-cameras-allowed sparring stories, which are usually disputed by both sides, I ask Nelson what it is really like seeing Bakole in sparring and if he can take much from such sessions – “Oh, you can when there’s such a gulf in class. Derek Chisora couldn’t get out of the ring quick enough… Let’s just say, he’s done four rounds with Derek Chisora, four rounds with another guy who has fought for a British title and then another guy came in. So, he’s on round nine or ten and the third guy that came in got knocked out cold with a broken nose. I’m talking about where he got hit is where he landed. Down the way he went, not back the way. Straight down.”
Bakole has a well-documented working relationship with heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua with the two-time champion offering his guidance both inside and outside of the ropes.
“Martin has done hundreds of rounds with Joshua. He’s been in three or four camps with him. I’ll be perfectly honest with you, mate, I’ve seen him focused 100% in sparring only with Anthony Joshua. You see the rest of the people he spars with he’s too relaxed and he’s basically playing with them. The very first spar with Anthony and Martin, Anthony hit him with a right hand and it glazed his eyes. It was a belter. It was a thumper. Martin stuck his tongue out to him then hit him with a left hook and I thought Anthony’s head was coming into my hands. What a spar! Anthony has said on a few occasions, Bakole is a future world champion.”
Bakole is a regular sparring partner for champion Anthony Joshua | Martin Bakole - Twitter
With the British heavyweight scene booming and the envy of the world, I list some of the more well-known names in the mix including Joe Joyce, Daniel Dubois, Nathan Gorman, Hughie Fury and ask Nelson if Bakole is somewhat overlooked in these conversations – “Martin would beat every one of those guys that you’ve mentioned, I believe”. After drilling down into specifics and dangling the idea of a matchup between Bakole and Joyce, Nelson is clear on how he sees the fight going.
“Joe Joyce is a fine fighter, but I’ve always said he will get stopped by Martin Bakole. Joyce can only box in one way and that is coming forward and he won’t be able to come forward against Martin as often as he does. Joyce cannot box going back and in my opinion, he gets hit by right hands too easily and if he gets hit by Martin Bakole’s right hand, it’s not a wee fat guy called Stiverne or a non-puncher like Bryant Jennings, it’s a full-fledged 19st 6ft 6 guy that can punch hard and fast. I’ll be honest, Joe Joyce will get stopped by Martin, anytime they fight.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time the idea of Bakole vs Joyce has been proposed so Nelson has had plenty of time to ponder the possible outcome and has also had the debate with Joyce’s manager, Sam Jones, often in the public on Twitter – “I’ve got on well with Sam Jones. He’s going to stand up for his man and I’m going to stand up for my man. You only see that side of it [Twitter exchanges], he WhatsApps me all the time and I WhatsApp him, there’s no nastiness there and if I thought there was then he’d be the first person I’d speak to… Listen, at the end of the day, I know what will happen and deep down I think Sam does as well, purely because it’s not happened [Bakole Vs Joyce] since I’ve been asking for it. Sam calls Martin this, that and the next thing but he knows he’s a good fighter because if he didn’t do you think he’d hesitate to put Joyce in? How many times have I said we’ll fight him [Joyce] anywhere, anytime? It wouldn’t be about money; Martin would have been happy taking a wage for the fight and getting the adulation of beating Joe Joyce the silver medallist.”
It’s plain as day talking to Nelson that the confidence of the Nelson-Bakole partnership is sky high and Nelson hopes to see his man competing at the highest echelons in the next 12-18 months with the partnership prepared to fight anyone they must to make it happen.
“We were offered the world number 8 last year in Chicago and in the UK and we’ve said yes twice, and he’s pulled out twice. Then we were on the verge of fighting Sergey Kuzmin in March before the coronavirus happened so hopefully that’s a fight we can pursue when things get back to normal. I don’t see any British guys wanting to fight him, I honestly don’t. Chisora’s knocked it back twice, supposedly. Dave Allen won’t take it. I can’t see anybody wanting to take it. I’ve actually said to Matchroom, if Povetkin doesn’t come into the country then they are well aware that Martin is here and we’ll gladly fight Dillian Whyte because Martin believes he will stop him.[…] After the Hernandez fight, I openly said on Sky that Daniel Dubois does not have an opponent, which was a fact at the time because Frank Warren had said he didn’t, and that was early November and I said ‘We will gladly fight Daniel Dubois on the 21st December…’ Not a dicky-bird.”
Dubois and Bakole following sparring | Boxing Scene
In many ways, Nelson is a throwback boxing coach and Bakole is a throwback fighter - Longing for little more than big fight nights, success and legacy, Nelson and Bakole have their sights set and they’re prepared to go through anyone who dares stand in their path.