Angelo Dundee Saved My Life
by Neil Perkins
The voice of Angelo Dundee was in my head, my visual mind was playing the fight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy ‘Hitman’ Hearns and the inspirational speech that Angelo delivered between rounds
‘Your blowing it son, your blowing it’
I was sat crippled in pain on a hotel balcony in Cape Verde, my tired body was broken, my mind was all over the place and I was having a word with myself. The playing of this video in my head and it’s words inspired me so much that as I rose from my balcony chair like it was a stool, then I took two steps onto the balcony like I was taking centre ring and began to shadow box – that was before my back reminded me why I was sat there in pain reflecting on my life, I quickly sat back down.
Boxing changed my life, the lessons I have learnt and that I have utilised have transpired to other areas of my life. I may not be a black American who is oppressed and rose from the projects to Olympic gold and world glory, I may not be from an eastern-block country raised near communist Russia who sought a better life through the pugilistic art and I am not from the Accra in Ghana fighting through tournaments to one day become world champion – my story is very different, but equally true and real.
The analogy of my situation in relation to boxing enables me to rationalise and solve problems, to win a boxing contest is simple – you have to hit someone more or harder than they hit you, life and business can be a little bit more tricky? To think of life as a ‘fight’ or a boxing contest enables me to solve the problem, a good boxer will always beat a good fighter (strategy and skill over mindless aggression), but a good boxer will have to be able to grit down and fight at times.
The first year in business at Henrietta Street Gym had taken its toll on my body and mind. I’d had a tough year and in the last 6 months of it I’d lost my desire to fight, I wasn’t thinking strategically how to box, and I wasn’t in the contest -If a referee was in the ring he would have stopped the fight as I had no desire to be in there. I could whinge about the issues in business that I faced with staff, council, landlords, customers, work load and bills – but the reality is that is problem others have faced and others have solved. When you run a business, like in boxing you are in control of your own destiny – the ring is a lonely place. Yes, you might employ a trainer for advice (many people in business use coaches or are inspired by blogs, books, podcasts or google), you may use an S&C coach (specialist) and yes you’ll need staff (no comparison) but ultimately you live and die by how you apply strategy and how much fight you have in you – my strategy had gone and I had no desire to fight.
I recall contest or spars I have had when an opponent runs at me at one-hundred miles an hour swinging punches. The round would be a blur and my strategy and plan would go out of the window, I’d trade on emotion reactively swinging, at times feeling my legs buckle and a punch would catch me on the temple making my vision blur – this is what my first year in business was like. A holiday to Cape Verde was a welcome break and it was like the end of a bad round. As I boarded the plane to fly abroad it was like returning to my corner in between rounds. As I jelly-legged stumbled back to my stool, I was trying to analyse what had happened to me in the first round – it was all a blur and no sense could be made – I was just glad the bell had gone to save me.
From April to December I’d dropped from 118kg to 104kg, that however wasn’t something that should be celebrated, stress had taken its toll on my body. As my patterns and lifestyle changed by November I’d regressed to missing breakfast and starting the day with coffee, surviving off flapjacks and take out food, my days where unproductive and then a new escapism habit crept in – alcohol or drugs. What started as a few beers or a joint on a Saturday night escalated into either/or/both been consumed every night of the week. When you lose count of how many days consecutively you have smoked or drank, you know there is a problem. Staying up watching shit TV (Teen Mum was my favourite stoned, and Family Guy with alcohol) until 1pm and then getting up at 5.30am every day took its toll. The lack of ‘ying’ reserves (sleep and rest) led to me dosing up and ‘Yang’ every day – I was drinking 10-12 cups of coffee per day. My holiday was needed, but unlike a boxer returning to his corner for advice, no-one knew the depth of my problem, no-one could understand the loneliness of my predicament. This break just gave me breathing time.
My daughter inspires me and fills me with joy. On the third day of the holiday and after some head space I decided to set out on a beach walk with her. Fifty meters into the walk and surprise, surprise she is tired, the logical solution is her dads shoulders to piggy a ride. Our destination was the next resort, a mile and a half down the beach. A beautiful day and some time with the most special person in my life is what I should cherish? A further 50 meters and I aborted the walk, the two-year old had crippled my back, a beach walk was too much for my body and I was broken. I limped back to the hotel room with a disappointed two-year old in tow and went in search of ibuprofen. Neil Perkins, former two-time midland heavyweight champion and sparring partner to multiple world class heavyweights, the owner of Britain’s coolest gym, the man who has a ‘straightener’ with a man dubbed Britain’s hardest man was broken – how the mighty had fallen.
I returned to the hotel room with my daughter, took an ibuprofen and limped out onto the balcony alone. I sat with a notepad, a coloured pen and began to mind map. I started with the centre of the mind map and wrote the words
‘What makes me happy?’
The arms that spun of this mind map enabled me to make sense of this predicament I was in. I am sure many words others would resonate with family, friends, debt free and success. What I missed is the key word in that sentence.
I had forgot what it was to wake up feeling fresh, to share what I had learned, to make others achieve and to be a positive influence on those around me. I had less talent than many boxers I boxed with as an amateur, but my burning desire to achieve enabled me to out-perform them. I had a clear vision for Henrietta Street Gym when I launched – to make my gym the best in the UK, I’d forgot my strategy (tactics) and the ability to grit down and fight. Before I could put my plan back into place, I had to get the bounce back in my step. Henrietta Street Gym was never meant to be solely about cool decor and reanimated space – that is the shell. The soul is and always will be its staff and its members. This culture and that heart beat must resonate from the owner, the heart had stopped pumping and figures showed it. For my business to succeed, I needed to put an organic smile back on my face, get my mind clear and think strategically (box) and still grit down (fight) when I needed to.
My decondition was greater than it had ever been and I needed help. It was from that hotel balcony that I sent out two SOS texts, Paul Gough and Steve Foster responded. Both are glad that I didn’t tell them I was looking to box again – that would have been a long project. What they have done is started to rectify the damage I’d done to my body. I couldn’t believe how deconditioned I’d allowed myself to become and am still along way off the physical condition I was in 2007, but my mind feels sharper, fresher and more motivated than ever before. I never asked for a discounted rate and if I’d have realised the positive effect that they’d have had on my life they would have been value at £100 per session, I can not praise them both enough.
In 2018, I have so far not consumed more than two cups of caffeinated drink per day (I live on de-caff), I’ve not consumed one drop of alcohol, I’ve taken one cannabis capsule, I’ve trained consistently three days per week, I’ve ensured I eat breakfast very day and I’ve made and effort to drink more water. My mind has been clear, and this has had an organic effect on business, we are less than 50 members off capacity, week on week we enrich something that enhances our service, we are more focused on improving customer experience. My business debt has reduced significantly, and I am planning my life. I have booked a holiday to Turkey in July, this isn’t me coming back to the stool after a terrible round, this round I took at a canter. This is just a routine sit down, wipe of the towel, swill of the gumshield and bit of water before the next round. There is a long beach where I am stopping, I look forward to walking with my now 19kg daughter down the beach to the next resort, if she want to get on my shoulder that’s cool – thanks to Paul Gough and Steve Foster.
I don’t know if Angelo Dundee saved my life or my business. But Angelo, I hope you can hear me when I say to you, thanks for the inspirational words. – I’m back and fighting.