Gary Young has seen a lot over the years, from being a stand out amateur to moving into the professional game and then working out of the Wild Card Gym in LA only to be told by Freddie Roach he wouldn’t quite make it at the top level. Gary did go on to become a Scottish Champion but lost his love for the most brutal of sports before coming back as one of Scotland’s top coaches. We caught up at Leith Victoria Boxing Club in Edinburgh where he is now helping others change their own lives and he talked me through his early days.
“As an amateur I had 98 fights and won 81 with 56 stoppages, I won seven national titles as a youth and gold two years running at the Gaelic games. When I turned senior the lottery funding was stopped as a guy called Colin McNeil was also competing at my weight (welterweight) and he was being funded. They could only fund one person so for me to get any help I would need to win the finals of the Scottish Championships. I was still only 17 years old but that was my main goal, I got to the final but was beaten on points by Colin. I thought that’s it, Manchester 2002 won’t happen (Commonwealth Games) and once I knew they would definitely be sending Colin I made the decision to turn professional. I had a really great set up which was the same as Scott Harrison and Alex Arthur with Frank Warren at Sports Network. Frank Maloney (now Kelly) was my manager so it all kicked off pretty quickly and he was such a good mentor to me. He kept saying to me, try not to knock everyone out as it’s going to be really difficult for me to match you if you do and you will end up fighting less. I didn’t really take that advice on board though and I would look at the records of whoever I was fighting and think right, Ricky Hatton or Naseem Hamed has stopped him so I’m going to stop him too. I would set myself goals in order to make it a risk for me and say I need to stop this guy in three rounds or whatever. In all honesty, it’s not the ideal way to go about it but I had it in my head that I need to get them out of there. I ended up taking my foot off the gas and not respecting the opponents or the training. You need that fear to get you going and I didn’t have it. You need to know that all your chips are in and if you get caught then you’re in trouble as that’s what brings out your best. I didn’t have that and if you are fighting someone that you know is petrified of you it is bad to see. I’d go to the centre of the ring and sometimes my opponent looked like they were going to vomit.”
Things were going well with Gary amassing a 14 and 0 record over his first four years with eight stoppages before coming up against his old amateur foe again, Gary continues.
“I lost my 15th fight to the same guy that beat me in the amateurs, Colin McNeil. I was at my absolute best but he knocked me out in the first round. I had a ten round plan to win the fight and it was all going great, I split his eye early on and I thought I had nothing better to do than force the attack when I walked onto a shot. It was a well-timed punch and I was completely out, to this day I actually have no recollection of the fight. People were saying to me you did well to get up three times and I had to ask, how many times was I down!”
Whilst having a couple of rebuilding fights he injured himself, as Gary explains this in itself led to his journey to LA.
“I broke my hand in a fight with David Kirk which was my second bout back after the defeat so was doing some personal training. Through one of my clients I got the opportunity to go out to LA, I went out for an initial six months and was at Freddie Roach’s Wild Card gym every day. When I was over there training, I hadn’t really made any kind of impression on Freddie at the time as I was out of shape so knew I had to work harder. I managed to get myself back into training and got my conditioning back and I was chosen to be a sparring partner for Manny Pacquiao as he was preparing for the Ricky Hatton fight. It was brutal and I was so out of my depth but I tried so hard as I wanted to prove my worth. I kept thinking if I can hold my own with Manny then something is going to happen. It was desperate measures; in fact, some would call it self- harm”, laughed Gary. “I would land two shots but he would just have this little smile as if to say this is great and then come back with eight rapid punches and you were getting hit from all angles. It was the most amazing experience but crushed my confidence at the same time although he never put me down. It’s amazing what punishment you can take and still stay on your feet. Out of the ring he was a really nice guy and would come over and talk or try to do his impression of a Scottish accent which was hilarious”
“It wasn’t just Manny that the spars were difficult with, all the spars were tough out there and I did my best but, in the end, I think Freddie recognised that I maybe had a similar style to him and that I was taking too many shots. At that high level I wasn’t going to make the grade and he said to me this is going to be tough for you and you are going to have a few hard fights out here. It was a sore thing to take and I was so deflated but I respect him for it now. He was basically saying that what I was doing was dangerous, if I wasn’t going to move my head more, I would have a short career, or worse. Bravery is a cheap commodity in boxing and he would rather have a skilful boxer than a brave boxer”
Licking his wounds Gary came back to Scotland and resumed his career.
“I regrouped in Edinburgh and did win a Scottish Title in my comeback fight against Gary McMillan. That was something I could really train for as it was made very personal. The more he spoke to the press about me the more it motivated me to get out and train or do my running. Even after the win nothing was really happening and it sounds mad but if someone you have really looked up to in Freddie Roach tells you that you’re not going to make the grade its really difficult. The flame just went out and I stopped enjoying it. I had also maybe gotten a little bit bitter watching other guys getting bigger title fights. Added to that it was the start of social media and I was reading derogatory comments about myself and I just started thinking what am I doing this for and sort of fell out of love with boxing. I did go to Denmark to have a fight but I trained for that fight with the objective of just getting some money in the bank. It was the wrong thing to do and I ended up getting stopped in the first round. I could never kid myself in this sport and I knew I was on the slide, then I realised I was going to be getting used as the B side and become the journeyman for other up and comers. It’s a very difficult sport and if you are not giving it 100% or have the big promoters then it’s a dangerous life and you end up taking fights you shouldn’t.”
Having what would be his final fight against Duncan Cottier which he won on points Gary opened up on how advice from a Scottish boxing icon made him see sense.
“After the Cottier fight, I had been stopped for a while and I was taking a lot of asthma attacks as I’d put some weight on. I decided to try and get fit again so I could beat it, I was really heavy and I asked Bradley Welsh at Holyrood if I could come in and hit the bags a bit. He agreed to help and said I could come in anytime I wanted, he started doing some pad work for me and I really enjoyed that side of it. He could see I wasn’t coping with the cardiovascular side and was very good at getting me to slow things down, overall, he really helped me to lose the weight. It went a bit too far where I started thinking about fighting again but I was being deluded. He was the one who got me to see sense and admit that I would have been getting used. He gave me some great guidance as when I was talking about making another comeback, he talked me out of it. He would say why, you are going to make a lot of money for other people but not for yourself, you are doing it for the wrong reasons and he was right. After having the conversation with him the penny finally dropped and I vowed then that there would be no more comebacks, Bradley basically saved me from myself. My transition from being a boxer to civilian life wasn’t so easy, I had a couple of years where I got quite a bad bout of depression. It was difficult to find something that gave me what boxing has given me. I remember going a year without even watching a fight on telly and I just wanted to disappear. One of the biggest things that changed my outlook was the birth of my son Ruben, he was born on Christmas day in 2012 and it was when everything changed and I was able to let go of boxing. He is the biggest inspiration I could ever have and now I’m in this game to help others and make a difference to them”
Looking fit and healthy when we spoke, Gary recalled a time when partly due to his asthma he developed worse symptoms.
“At my worst I couldn’t walk upstairs and my lungs were terrible, I ended up in hospital with Pneumonia in 2015 and it was at the same time that Tyson Fury was fighting Wladimir Klitschko. I actually left the hospital to go watch the fight and got a taxi up to my parents’ house as they lived nearby. When the hospital realised I was missing they phoned me and I explained that I’d be back soon. What I didn’t know was that they send the police when you go missing from hospital for a welfare check. The police turned up at the door to check on me and I said there’s only two rounds to go and I’ll be going back down! When I got back to hospital my oxygen levels were so low I had to stay in for another three days but it was worth it as I got to see Tyson winning the world title”
Turning to his life as a coach Gary confessed this is where he has been at his happiest, working with both amateurs and pro’s and how he came to take over training Jason Easton.
“I’ve been at Leith Victoria for around three years now and I love working with the amateurs, I’m one of the high- performance coaches with Boxing Scotland so I don’t have a lot of time to work with many pro’s. I am doing some work with Craig Morgan and John Joyce over in Airdrie at Billy Nelson’s gym and I’m also training Jason Easton now. He came to me after his incident in town and I told him to keep training or he would find more trouble. Having known first- hand how easy it can be to slump into depression I could relate to how he was feeling about the limbo state his career was in. If someone had stepped in and helped me during my time it could have been different. All I was trying to do was help keep him busy when he split with Kenny McCartney as I was thinking they had been so close they would make up and when they do at least his fitness will still be there. That never happened so now we have agreed to work together. With Jason we have mixed things up a bit in terms of recovery sessions, resting more and evasion training, it’s a short career so I’d like him to put everything into whatever time he has left when he comes back. I’ve already told him that it’s amazing how quickly doors can close on you and I thought myself it would last forever so he has to make the most of it.”
“Jason gets a name for being very brave in the ring but I have explained to him that he and Josh Taylor are just as brave as each other. The only reason that people talk about Jason’s bravery is he has had to show it where Josh has used skill and not needed to show it. Bravery is great when you have to call on it but I’d rather just keep it back and use skill first. I believe that you are always learning so I’m also getting him to study other fighters more. One night a week we watch videos, it could be Pernell Whitaker, Oscar De La Hoya or someone with the same long armed frame as Jason like Diego Corrales and watch how 12 round fights are won and how to pace them. We made a deal that there would be no alcohol until he wins a Lonsdale belt. I don’t drink but when he wins a Lonsdale belt I will sit down and have a drink with him. He is obviously still waiting on his licence coming back and we are expecting to have confirmation of that very soon but when that happens, he will be back out there and trust me he’s going to be jumping back into the scene and people will take notice.”