Fitzy fights on for new home

ON THE ROPES: Paul Fitzsimons needs a new training venue.
ON THE ROPES: Paul Fitzsimons needs a new training venue.

A veteran trainer could be out for the count if he cannot find new premises to mentor his boxers. Paul Fitzsimons talks to Tony Smith. 

Champion boxing trainer Paul Fitzsimons is not down for the count but the earthquake aftermath has him on the ropes.

The former New Zealand and Australasian lightweight champion needs a new home for his stable of boxers from Fitz Boxing.

Fitzy - as he is known in fight circles - used to train his charges at Crichton Cobbers' gym. However, the venerable Fitzgerald St building was destroyed in the February 2011 earthquake. The former Pro Fitness studio in Moorhouse Ave, where Fitzy ran boxing for fitness classes, is also a no-go zone.

The Fitz Boxing team members have been put through their paces at the Papanui Boxing Club premises for the past two seasons but pressure of space means they need to move at the end of the year.

Fitzy said Papanui boxing boss Mike Pimley had been "just great, letting us use their facilities" but it was time to move on.

"If someone's got a community hall or gym we could use, we'd be very grateful," said Fitzy, who is "nearly 70" but still keen as mustard despite a heart attack four years ago.

"We can't afford big money, some of these boxers can only pay $5 [a session] and some haven't got any money at all . . . but we can pay our way.

"We'd like to have somewhere for the start of next year and we might need some sponsorship to buy a bit of equipment."

Fitzy, a recent national women's team coach, is training "18 to 20" boxers, including the highly regarded Nort Beauchamp, who has won consecutive national lightweight and light-welterweight titles.

Karl Koch, a Christchurch physiotherapist who trains at Fitz Boxing with his son, Adam, hopes an organisation will offer a new home for the respected trainer to continue his coaching career.

"He wouldn't put his hand up and say he needs some help. But there will be someone out there who knows how to get funding [for new premises and equipment].

"It's quite hard to find anywhere, since the earthquakes there's no halls around any more."

Koch said he would hate to see Fitz Boxing fold but if a new home could not be found, "some of these guys will drift away because they will have to go to other trainers [to continue boxing next year]".

"It could easily fold on him and that would be it."

He said Fitzy was "old school" in the best sense of the words.

"He trains top fighters but he will also help anyone who walks in the door, whether they want to fight [competitively] or improve their fitness, confidence and self-belief."

Boxing has been Fitzy's life for more than 50 years.

He won New Zealand and Australian titles in the 1960s and was proud he "beat [Canterbury boxing legend] Dion Murphy twice" in the days when "we used to get 6000 down to watch us fight on Thursday nights at Canterbury Court".

Fitzy lost on split decisions to top New Zealand fighters Manny Santos in Gisborne and Paddy McNally in Invercargill. He fought and beat some of Australia's best pugilists, and turned down an offer to base himself on the lucrative United States circuit because he did not want to uproot his family.

Fitzy was a disciple of noted Christchurch coach Martin Maunsell, whose brother, Brian, was an Olympic Games representative in Tokyo in 1964. He was also trained at one time by the late Canterbury boxing legend Wally Darrell, and in Australia by Bob Palmer, whose brother, Ambrose, was the third-ranked amateur heavyweight in the world.

Both Maunsells had a profound impact on Fitzy's ringcraft philosophy which he still preaches to his own charges. He says the golden rules of good footwork, the basic fundamentals and quick jabs are still a foolproof path to success.

He still has "a passion for boxing" as a sport based around "technique and skill".

"People think I'm too hard but I'm not really.

"But I'm one of the old school . . . if you want to box, you have to be dedicated."

After hanging up his own gloves, Fitzy took over the Maunsell stable of 30 amateur and professional fighters at the Irish Society Hall when the brothers retired.

"But I had a young family and I couldn't keep it going, so I had a break for a while."

He returned to coaching in 1991, helping the New Zealand team at the world championships "when [David] Tua was only 18".

He ran a Salvation Army-backed boxing programme for youngsters in Aranui for seven years.

His graduates included brothers Brad and Blake Milner, who later turned pro and once fought on the same card in Australia.

Fitzy has also mentored many of Canterbury's best fighters, including former Olympian Soulan Pownceby and former Golden Gloves winner Reece Papuni, who provided him with one of his career highlights.

The veteran trainer was the Oceania coach at the President's Cup tournament in Baku, Azerbaijan, in 2010 when Papuni won a bronze medal in the 81kg class. He was beaten only 7-6 for a place in the final by a rival "who had won four fights at the previous Olympics".

Boxing has been good to Fitzy, who was an assistant coach when Canterbury's Phil Shatford was national men's coach. It has taken him around the world, to Azerbaijan, Indonesia, the Bahamas, Europe and Britain. He took part in a pre-Olympic women's boxing training camp in Wales and stayed on to watch the boxing in London.

"I reckon the whole of Ireland was there the night the Irish girl [Katie Taylor] won her gold medal."

However, as Koch says, now it is boxing's time to pay Fitzy back for his devotion.

"The New Zealand Boxing Federation should step in and help a guy like this."