Tony Sims, one of the trainers of 2021, on life with Benn, Cash, Ryder Cordina, Cheeseman… and Covid

“IT’S crazy isn’t it? Boxing’s a crazy world. I got Covid. I had both jabs and I didn’t get Covid until I had my jabs, then I had the two jabs and got it, but we went like a stack of dominos in the gym. We still don’t know who brought it in, it could have been me, you don’t know, but as soon as I had it everyone had it. John Ryder, Ted Cheeseman, Felix Cash and the last one to get it was Conor Benn. He didn’t get it at the same time as we all got it. I wish he had, because he got it the week of the fight [against Granados, which was postponed from Fight Camp], but he didn’t even know he had it until they tested him. Up until that point I’d been fortunate to keep it out of the gym. I’d introduced a lot of stringent rules, like no one to come to the gym from outside… I tried to get my boys to spar with each other and I disinfected the gym every day. Where my gym’s a private gym, other people didn’t come in, so I was really strict but sooner or later it got us and we all got it.

I didn’t have it badly. The only one who did was Felix, who ended up going to hospital one night and being put on breathing apparatus but everyone else just had it for a couple of days of sweats and really that was it.

[With Covid] It’s a very difficult situation you’re in. I was spraying the canvas every day, spraying everything in the gym every day after training and it was a daily basis and then you had the protocols of all the shows. It was a pain in the arse going into the bubbles for the week, not coming out of the hotel, all the tests you’re doing constantly, you’re sitting there waiting to see whether you’ve got it or not, so it was a pain but you’ve got to get through it and still get the fights on at the end of the day. It was a bigger problem for the promoters, like Eddie [Hearn] trying to put the shows on and getting through the shows without crowds. It was a difficult situation.

[In December] Conor Benn-Chris Algieri was obviously a massive highlight. I’ve put him in with a former [WBO] champion and it was a destruction job… Joe Cordina is now in touching distance of fighting for the [IBF] title against Kenichi Ogawa, John Ryder might fight Danny Jacobs on February 12, that’s a big fight, and Felix Cash will probably go in against world-ranked opposition on the same show. Those four have come through Covid and everything around it and pushed on to bigger fights next year and hopefully they’ll all be challenging for world titles this year. The downside was Ted Cheeseman losing his British title and Martin Ward losing that eliminator [against Azinga Fuzile] for the [IBF] title but that’s boxing and that’s life, you’re up and you’re down. It’s like a rollercoaster.

Felix was due to fight in August but he had a bad split up with his wife and the three kids, so I couldn’t let him box on that show. He came back in to train for a fight in October and then four of his cousins, the Cashes, got killed in a car crash, so that sent him backwards and he didn’t fight on that show. He’s been in the gym since the funeral and he’s got a date in February. He was in the mix, it was out of him and Jason Quigley, who was going to fight [Demetrius] Andrade and I felt like maybe he needed another couple of fights before that kind of fight. I had fancied Felix to do what he did to Denzel Bentley. Sometimes you go in to fights and you think it could be dangerous but I always felt Felix would be a couple of levels above.

[Conor Benn said pre-Algieri he would stay with Sims all the way through his career]. I hope so. I’ve turned him from a raw novice to a world-level fighter so the amount of time I’ve invested in him is a lot and you’ve got to have a lot of patience as a trainer. It’s hard enough when you’re taking a kid out of [Team] GB, who’s talented and boxed world-level fighters around the world. It’s hard enough doing it with them, let alone with a raw novice, so you can imagine the amount of hours I’ve spent in the gym with Conor and guiding him through the fights to get him where he is now. It hasn’t been easy but I’m sure he’s going to repay me.

Each fight Conor has progressed and in the last fight against Algieri you see how smart he is, defensively as well as offensively. We know he can punch but he’s also a smart fighter with good head movement, a nice jab and his ring generalship is good. I’m not saying he’s the finished article because I don’t believe any fighter is the finished article, but if you take a bit of knowledge from one fight you can use it in the next one. It’s like he said afterwards, the Conor Benn you saw that night will be a different one next time. The improvements are always there to be made.

Conor Benn trains with Tony Sims
Mark Robinson

We’ve got a good relationship and we always have done. I like to think I have with all my fighters because it’s not just, ‘Let’s get in the gym, train for two hours and see you later.’ It’s about the bond and building a relationship with someone you’re working with every day for years on end. They look to you and trust you and it’s outside the ring as well, they can ask me questions where hopefully I can give them advice and help them outside the ring. It’s a trust bond, because at the end of the day they are going into dangerous territory every time they fight and they need someone they trust in.

With [Ted Cheeseman’s] style of fighting, it was always going to be hard [against Troy Williamson]. Ted’s a tough kid. He takes a few to give a few and that’s his style of fighting and every time he fights, he gives and takes and the crowd loves it but longevity is never going to be there for Ted. Fair play to Troy. He’s a lot better than we thought he was going to be. I don’t know if after the accumulation of fights Ted was starting to get a bit burnt out, because you’ve got to realise, with his style of fighting, the spars are hard. It could be possible he was getting burnt out but I’m never going to take anything away from Troy Williamson because he had the fight of his life for that title, which, by the way, you have to do to win a British title. I don’t know if Ted will box again. He’s 26 years old and he’s only had 20 fights, and a lot of them have been title fights, and the last six have been hard fights… But the thing with Ted is he’s got outside businesses that go well for him. He’s got a building company with quite a few people that work for him and he’s opened a wine bar in Chislehurst that’s busy, and he probably earns more from them than he does in the ring. With Ted, because he’s not doing it for the money, it depends on whether he wants to come back and win a British title for a third time. I’m not sure he’d want that, knowing him as I know him. When he was fighting Williamson, he was ranked four by the IBF and had he won that he might have pushed on and got himself a shot. If he doesn’t fight again, he’s certainly given the British public some great nights of fighting.

[John Ryder fought just once in the year]. As great as Canelo is for the fame, and we all love watching him, everyone has to take a back seat while Canelo is unifying. They’ve all got top challenges so all those fighters have to sit and wait around to see what Canelo does and, fair play to him, he’s a great fighter, but it doesn’t help anyone else because they don’t get their shot. We were supposed to fight David Morrell in the summer for the WBA regular title, that didn’t come off, then the [Dmitriy] Bivol fight was there for December and John wanted to do that and go up a weight and Eddie said it would be in London, then it was America, then it was Russia and I didn’t want to go to Russia and challenge Bivol at light-heavyweight. I didn’t think it was a good move. So we turned that one down but we had to take a fight to get out and we took a last-minute one in Austria and now we are waiting on the Danny Jacobs fight.

Joe [Cordina’s] had a good year. He had that great knockout in Fight Camp against a tough kid [Joshuah Hernandez] and he had a tricky hand operation last year when they took bone out of his hip and put it in to his hand and he was out 18 months and he was wary of using it, but he’s closing in now on a world title and hopefully Eddie can get that for him in the New Year.

Tony Sims with Joe Cordina
Tony Sims [left] with Joe Cordina. Photo: Matchroom Boxing

I’m not looking to add to the stable, not at the moment. I’m concentrating on what I’ve got. I’ve had a heavyweight join our stable, Demsey McKean, a big southpaw Australian heavyweight who boxed a few weeks ago in the States and I’m training him with my brother, Peter. He’s about 20-0 so we’ll see how he goes but the four I mentioned [Benn, Cordina, Cash and Ryder] are all heading towards world title fights and if John wins against Jacobs I think the lure of London will be big for Álvarez and with Conor there’s talks about him fighting Adrien Broner in April, Cordina against Ogawa in early spring and Felix pushing on within the next two or three fights and maybe looking at a world title before the end of the year, so I’m really just concentrating on what they’re doing.

I’m going away for nine days after Christmas but I’ve got [former British and Commonwealth lightweight champion] Kevin Mitchell working alongside me in the gym now, he’s got a couple of young fighters but I’m going to take him under my wing for a couple of years so I’m leaving Felix and John with him while I’m away.

It has been a good year. It will be a good year if one or two of them become world champions next year, because the end goal is to pick the world title up, and that’s what you build for when you first start coaching, that’s the ultimate goal.”



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