Frank Maloney is one of the United Kingdom’s top boxing promoters. He led Lennox Lewis, a boxing Hall of Fame member and one of the best heavyweights of all time, to become a ‘world’ heavyweight champion. Frank has run for London mayor, in 2004, and promotes several top British boxers and champions including David Price, Brian Rose, Tony Jeffries, Jason Booth and Rendall Munroe. Having watched his photo shoot where he practised intimidating fighters for the camera, and knowing a little bit about the sport, I wondered how open Frank might be. I needn’t have bothered worrying.
Frank hails from Peckham in South East London and has the affable cockney accent that goes with the area (it is also where I’m from so maybe that’s why I like it!) His humble beginnings may well be what have given him a personable and sensible approach, or maybe it’s just his life thus far. Either way his huge success has at times been tempered heavily with personal and professional lows, in 2009 days after a highly contentious points loss for his fighter John McDermott to Tyson Fury, Frank sadly discovered another of his charges, Darren Sutherland, dead by suicide in his flat. Frank talked openly about his ups and downs, and how they affected him, in his chat with CALM in London’s Covent Garden.
In part one of our series, Frank talks about how he got into the sport, and the run up to meeting his first heavyweight success Lennox Lewis – Frank is sure unbeaten David Price will be his next ‘world’ champion, he may just be right.
CALM: So Frank, you’ve come quite a long way, from Peckham. Well, not a long way, you know what I mean. You started with the priesthood, chef training, why and how boxing?
FRANK MALONEY: Well I think I was probably the smallest kid at school. I liked sport, and I tried many sports. At one time my dad wanted me to be a jockey, and I went away to that for six weeks. I couldn’t stand the snobbishness, and the way you got treated having to clean out all the horses shit and everything. It just didn’t appeal to me. At the end of every week they gave you an old ten shilling note, which was your wages and I could earn that on the streets of Peckham, ducking and diving and a little bit of trading here and there. So I just walked out of that stable.
I started boxing at ten years old. Because I was so small my mum kept me in short trousers longer than any other kid at the school. It’d be really cold and I’d be going in and I’d have these chapped legs and little grey socks on. My mum thought boxing was good for me because other kids used to pick on me and bully me and I used to get in to fights. I was forever outside the headmaster’s door and always getting caned. I used to say, “I’m just sticking up for myself” and he’d say, “look you’ve got a chip on your shoulder.” So the PE teacher come and got hold of me and took me down the gym.
“I went home and I said to my Dad, “I want to be heavyweight champion of the world” and he looked at me and said, “That might be a little bit impossible, have you had a look at yourself?””
At that time boxing was very big in schools in South London, in fact it was probably part of the curriculum. So I started and I actually fell in love with it, because it was a sport and you didn’t need anyone else, it was just you. Once you went in that ring, it was just you, you were all alone. You could have all the problems in the world and you could take them out on someone in front of you. You either hit him or he hit you. You trained with your trainer. He got you up in the morning and you go out on the road and run in isolation. In them days we used to run in old army boots and big old jackets, and rucksack on your back. You’d go to the gym, spend an hour and a half with your trainer there’d be other kids in the gym. But no one talked to anyone, you were so intense on what you were doing it was you against the rest of the world. If you didn’t succeed, you couldn’t blame anyone else.
CALM: So how did you move from boxing into promoting it? Was it just because you were around it and you knew the fighters?
FM: Because I was too small and would never have made it as a professional boxer. I went to see the first Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali fight at Odeon Leicester Square. I’d just started working then, I was about sixteen and I took my first week’s wages and I just fell in love with it, the feeling was unbelievable, everything, the atmosphere… Everything. I went home and I said to my Dad, “I want to be heavyweight champion of the world” and he looked at me and said, “That might be a little bit impossible, have you had a look at yourself?” he said; “but you could be a champion.”
So I decided to be a pro, I went to a gym and a good old trainer came up to me and he said “you’re so dedicated and so serious at it, but really you’re too small. You’ll never earn any money at your weight.” I was earning reasonable money, and he told me I’d earn about seventy five pounds a fight, I thought “that’s not a lot is it!” He suggested I become a trainer, so I went into the training side of it and again I did like that. Then I started a couple of amateur clubs in South East London taking kids off the street and we built a very successful amateur club. A few of the kids wanted to go professional and asked if I’d go with them. So I applied for my license and I became a trainer, then I got a manager’s license.
But most of my fighters were getting beat on other people’s shows because of the matching and I thought “I don’t really like this, turning up and keep having losers” it’s not what I really wanted I wanted to be the best manager there was, so I applied for a promoter’s license to start promoting my own fights. I started promoting and my fighters started winning so I was happy. My bank manager phoned me and he asked me to come and see him. He said “have you looked at your accounts recently?” and I said “No. Why?” I said “We’re doing alright.” He said “You’re doing alright if you like owing money. You’re a hundred and fifty thousand pounds in debt.” What! So I had to sell the pub. But I was lucky, a certain fighter walked into my life called Lennox Lewis…
Part two of our five part series is due to be online on May 11th.
Frank’s heavyweight prospect, Liverpudlian David Price, faces Sam Sexton for the British and Commonwealth Heavyweight titles on May 19th. Tickets are on sale and the fight is live on SKY sports.
For part two of the interview – “I nearly had everything, and now everything’s gone” which covers Frank’s early career challenges and disappointments, go here: PART TWO.
For part three of the interview – “I thought one of us in the camp had to be brave” where Frank tells of Lewis’ first ‘world’ title, and the sad death of one of Frank’s young fighters, Darren Sutherland, go here: PART THREE.
By Adam Laudus Thorn