Barry McGuigan Gyms will be using the University campus and sports facilities as “a space to focus and to breath”, as they base their training here ahead of competitions throughout the year.
As the formative element of the joint venture, Kent Sport have converted a damaged squash court, which has been neglected for the last seven years and used merely as a storage space, into a boxing facility for McGuigan Gyms.
Barry McGuigan said: “For me, Shane, and the boxers, and all at Cyclone Promotions, it is a wonderful opportunity to work with a leading university in the UK.
“A state of the art training facility on a 320 acre campus provides fighters with an ideal environment to prepare and develop. It is still hard graft of course, but facilities and environment are important and contribute massively to the success of any involved in sport.
“We like to think the university will benefit too from the exposure to world class athletes and champions like Josh Taylor, Luke Campbell and Lawrence Okolie.”
The collaboration paves the way in demonstrating “how universities can connect with professional sport” and marks “a new chapter in the evolving landscape of boxing”.
Living locally for 30 years in Dargate, Kent, McGuigan said: “I have seen the university grow into a key player in the community and an important landmark in this part of the world.” The main Canterbury campus is only a 50 minute commute from London, making it accessible for any boxers and associated professionals in the city.
The former boxing champion received an honorary degree from the University of Kent in the 11 July 2017 ceremony at Canterbury Cathedral. The University’s Dean of Kent Health applauded the retired boxer’s “outstanding contribution” both to sport and to services for the education of young people. This partnership reiterates McGuigan’s ongoing efforts in fighting for these causes. He said: “I love the idea of our boxers mixing within this setting. The role of education in their lives has always been important to me and something I have tried very hard to instil when setting up and running the now defunct Professional Boxers Association.”
He adds: “The important thing for us is the opportunity to expose our fighters to world class facilities and academic expertise, augmenting the incredible work we already do in the field of strength and conditioning which has transformed the sport in recent years.”
Boxing has not always been understood in these more enlightened terms. “Making weight has long been a central plank of boxing methodology” and McGuigan reflects: “When I was a lad as the fight neared we just ate less and jumped on the scales until we hit the mark, there was very little science to it.
“These days the process is much better understood but the expertise in this area is still developing in Kent under the auspices of head of sport, and ex-Olympian, Mel Clewlow, who is at the forefront of that process.” McGuigan Gyms are set to develop their relationship with the University’s excelling Sports Science faculty, over at the Medway campus.
Speaking to InQuire, Head of Operations at Kent Sport, Christopher Monteiro-Sharratt said: “This collaboration will not only enrich Kent Sport specialists, such as our Strength and Conditioning and fitness and nutrition experts, but will also benefit the clubs.
“We’ve got world class boxers, world class trainers and world class nutritionists and strength and conditioning coaches, we look forward to being able to, over a period of time, develop that relationship further to ensure that it benefits all of our users here.”
Monteiro-Sharratt joined the Kent Sport team in September 2018 and, when reviewing club membership numbers, found: “A largely overlooked element of the sports clubs at the university are the combat sports. When you look at their combined membership it totals about 500, easily outweighing any of the other sports we have.”
He adds: “Predominantly, attention has always been given to the traditional sports of football, rugby and netball. For the up-and-coming sports of cheerleading and all the combat disciplines, very little of our facilities were catering for their needs.”
Responding to this, Kent Sport have fully refurbished the Balcony into a functional training facility, complete with a boxing ring and new professional punch and kick bags. Whilst the space is currently quite bare on the walls, it will be opened up to a student ‘Design Your Space’ competition. This follows on from the success of their inaugural competition to decorate one of the damaged squash courts, which has been made into a padded area for combat sports. The second damaged squash court has been converted into a boxing facility, the home to McGuigan Gyms. This boxing area is only for the professional boxers use, but they will also train alongside students in all other facilities. The boxers and coaches have already expressed an interest in getting involved in activities such as football.
Monteiro-Sharratt stresses Kent Sports’ consolidated effort to meet the needs of its members: “We are trying to provide facilities and support for this ever-growing combat sports community.”
These efforts have not been confined to purely material developments, Kent Sport have also welcomed internationally acclaimed sporting champions into the university to coach and talk to clubs. Kent Sports’ Head of Operations confirmed they will continue to do so. In March of this year (2019), Claudia Doval, four-time World Champion in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu visited the university and trained the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) club. Set to make an appearance later this month (21 September) is Pete the Greek Letsos, a Jiu-jitsu black belt under Carlson Gracie Jr., in order to provide the MMA community at Kent with further expertise.
The McGuigan Gym - Kent Sport partnership will not be one-dimensional and will continue to unfold in the coming weeks as students arrive back for the start of term (23 September 2019). Walking around campus amongst professional sporting stars will be the reality for students at Kent shortly.