New boxing promotional outfit Black Flash Promotion’s primarily showcase the next generation of professional boxers from the Collyhurst and Moston Boxing Club in Manchester and give them a stage to perform, while finding the next great champion from the famous gym, that was first opened nearly 60 years ago by Brian Hughes MBE, known as the Godfather of Manchester boxing.
“How I first got started and opened the club was when I saw these two lads fighting underneath the arches in the old Collyhurst flats and it was a real vicious fight and I went over and stopped them, broke it up and I said, if you want to fight why don’t you go into the lads club? – Brian Hughes
Pat Barrett now head coach at the gym and Black Flash promoter credits everything to Brian Hughes and dedicates all the professional boxing shows to him, the man who had a massive impact on his boxing career and on his life. “If it wasn’t for Brian there would be nothing, I wouldn’t have achieved what I did in boxing and I don’t know where I would have ended up. Brian Hughes will always have my respect and all the shows that I put on and the fighters I produce will be a tribute to Brian.
Hughes retired from boxing a few years ago, leaving his prodigies Barrett and Thomas McDonagh, two champions he had trained from kids, to take over the reigns and keep the old gym going. It wasn’t easy for the lads at first and they had to build the club back to it’s lofty heights after many of the old guard had either retired or moved on when Brian called it a day. Hughes doesn’t have any involvement with the gym now but still keeps in-touch with Barrett and McDonagh and they often visit him at home. He was to have come to the show on Saturday night but recently had a fall and isn’t too well. So our thoughts and best wishes are with him.
Since he retired in 2011, the club has gone through a big transitional period. Four years ago there was just one amateur boxer on the books, some in and outers and a few keep fitters, today they have 8 professional and 23 amateur boxers with plenty more prospects coming through and amateurs wanting to turn pro. These are good times for the club and the future looks bright.
Like Pat and Tommy do now, Brian Hughes was not only a coach to the boxers and wayward strays who entered the Collyhurst and Moston Lads Club over the years, at the old time premises above the Co-op in the tough North Manchester district of Moston. Hughes was also a father figure a friend, confidant, youth correction officer and a guiding light for many talented pugilists who climbed the stairs to his boxing domain on Lightbowne Road.
“My first priority was teaching defence. Taking the teachings of Jack Bates, Fred Hampson, and Tommy Proffit and Billy Tansey as my guide I emphasised defence as the first policy.” – Brian Hughes
Now in his 70’s, Hughes announced his retirement from the game after 50 successful years in the hurt business. From his humble beginnings and the struggles to maintain the gym over the years and his dedication to the game, he left a legacy that is still going strong with a new generation of boxers coached in the same traditional methods that the gym was famous for ‘Everything starts behind a good defence.’
Hughes was a boxing man through and through, from a young boy, became fascinated with the noble art after watching a Newsreel about the the great American world featherweight champion Willie Pep and started boxing himself when his neighbour, Andy Lambert took him to Lily Lane youth club, just around the corner from the current gym, it was run by Fred Hampston and Ronnie Furness.
“Brian cared for every fighter he ever trained, champions or not and turned lads off the street into champions and his knowledge of boxing was unbelievable. He looked after his boxers and instilled in them defence first and foremost. He would say before a fight to the boxers, now look in the mirror, no marks on your face, I want you looking like that after the fight. He would never let his boxer take unnecessary punishment and my education under Brian was second to non.” – Mike Jackson (former Hughes assistant coach now Ricky Hatton assistant)
“Mr Hampston made a great impression on me, he came to see my Mother and asked if she had any objections to my boxing and I began to dream of being World Champion.” said Hughes. Hughes had a few amateur fights, but it was clear early on that his boxing career would not be in the ring, but has a trainer in the vain of his peer, local world class trainer Jack Bates who Hughes idolised. “I’d stand gazing through the window of Harry The Barber’s on Rochdale Road Collyhurst where Jack Bates trained his lads and can remember clearly the day when Tommy Fynan let me go into the gym. said Hughes.
“Brian Hughes paved the way for people like me and put Manchester boxing on the map. He was like a father figure to his boxers and I aspire to be like Brian Hughes was and if I can be finish boxing and people say half about me as a coach that they say about Brian I’d be very happy.” – Bobby Rimmer Manchester boxing coach
In the early 1950’s legendary Manchester fight figure Bates moved from his gym on Rochdale Road and opened the Rainbow Gym on Queen’s Road. This became like a second home for Hughes and the legacy began.
“I used to sweep up and watch all the greats preparing for fights. Former lightweight champion Frank Johnson, his brother Jackie Bradock, Tommy Proffitt and Stan Skinskiss, were among the many who trained there.
After cutting his teeth in the fight game under Bates’ guidance, who concentrated on the defensive aspects of boxing as the building blocks for fighters, Hughes went on to open his own boxing club in 1965 – and the The Collyhurst and Moston Lads club was born.
“Brian is the person who has made me the fighter I am today. He drilled into me all the time about skill, defence and to never stop learning. I don’t think I will ever train with a better trainer than Brian Hughes.” – Scott Quigg WBA world super-bantamweight champion
Hughes started out at Community Centre on Willert Street, Collyhurst with some Army kit bags stuffed with old clothing as punch bags. But despite the humble beginnings the club soon attracted dozens of youngsters from the local council estates and a boxing and football team were set up.
“How I first got started and opened the club was when I saw these two lads fighting underneath the arches in the old Collyhurst flats and it was a real vicious fight and I went over and stopped them, broke it up and I said, if you want to fight why don’t you go into the lads club? It’s only around the corner! Well they said it’s closed down now you know there’s no where for us to go.
“Well I couldn’t believe that they had closed the lads club, so the next day I went round and I saw the warder Mr Noel Sykes, he was a real character! He explained to me he had nobody to run the lads club and I ended up volunteering! We started off with the football team first and we were very successful, before building up a successful boxing team.
“Brian Hughes was a gentleman and didn’t just produce an array of champions from the Manchester area, he did so much for the community & helped youngsters get on the straight & narrow, who if it hadn’t of been for Brian would of headed straight for rock bottom. He taught me a great deal as a young rookie amateur prospect coming through & those things he taught me I still use to this day as a coach myself now. When you mention Manchester boxing you shouldn’t mention it without mentioning the name Brian Hughes. Thank you Brian for what you’ve done for our great city and I wish you love and the very very best of health.” – Ricky Hatton – Former two weight world champion
Under Hughes leadership the Boxing Team won championships year after year. National Schoolboy titles, National Junior ABA titles, England Schoolboy Internationals, Junior England Internationals, Senior champions and internationals and the football team won League and Cups and the the club went from strength to strength.
During the mid 1970’s during the Manchester re-generation scheme They were forced to flit from there original based after the bulldozers flattened the old club building for new housing developments. That’s when they moved to the current gym in Moston. Hughes kept the boxing section going but had to drop the running of the football team.
“My first priority was teaching defence. Taking the teachings of Jack Bates, Fred Hampson, and Tommy Proffit and Billy Tansey as my guide I emphasised defence as the first policy.” said Hughes, the first Manchester trainer to gain an ABA Coaching certificate.
“If I can be half the trainer and the man that Brian Hughes was, I will be happy” – Pat Barrett – former British and European champion
He was well known and well respected in the fight game and was good friends with late trainer Emanuel Steward, and would often go and stay at Stewards house in Detroit and frequent the Kronk Gym, where he and Steward would swap training techniques. Steward eventually asked Brian to be his assistant coach in the 80’s, but Hughes had to refuse his friends offer because he had a wife and two young kids back in England and didn’t want to take them out of school.
Brian Hughes talks about his boxing story and creating the Collyhurst and Moston Lads Club
Hughes over the years trained 1000’s of fighters, but his biggest success as a trainer came when he took Robin Reid onto win the WBC super-middleweight title in 1996 against Vincenzo Nardiello in Italy.
He took Barrett to British and European titles and was Scott Quigg’s first boxing trainer, before Quigg left the gym to join Joe Gallagher. “Brian is the person who has made me the fighter I am today. He drilled into me all the time about skill, defence and to never stop learning. I don’t think I will ever train with a better trainer than Brian Hughes.” Quigg said when asked about the influence Hughes had on his career.
In life away from the gym, he married Rosemarie and had four children and in his spare time became an author, writing a book about Manchester United player Tommy Taylor, who died in the clubs Munich air disaster.
“There are lots of plaudits given out about Manchester boxing and Brian Hughes played a big part in where it is at the moment. He brought kids in from the street, brought them through and turned them into class fighters. He was a student of the game and made sure the young boxers watched and learned from the old fighters. When you were trained by Brian Hughes, you wasn’t just being trained you were being educated by him as well and I don’t think you can say enough about what he did for boxing. He will be sorely missed on the fight scene now and I wish him all the best in his retirement.” – Joe Gallagher Manchester boxing coach
Since that book Hughes has had 11 best sellers printed on various other football stars and what he calls craftsmen of the boxing ring, including Jock McAvoy, Johnny King, Jackie Brown, Willie Pep, Howard Winston, Sugar Ray Robinson and Thomas Hearns.
In the Millennium honours list, Brian was awarded an MBE for services to the community. (pictured) A journey that started out in the Lilly Lane youth club and ended around the corner at the current gym is ingrained in local Manchester folklore, echoed around the boxing world, and will forever be in the hearts and minds of the many many souls who have been part of the Brian Hughes story.
“For the past 50 years I have devoted my life to the club and unfortunately it has had to end for me.” said Brian a few years back.
Barrett and McDonagh are now following in Hughes footsteps, like he did from his mentor Jack Bates and will look to continue the legacy set in place by their mentor half a century ago.
“If I can be half the trainer and the man that Brian Hughes was, I will be happy” Pat Barrett.