British bantamweight champion (photo by Philip Sharkey).

From the moment Martin Power walked into St Pancras ABC, he was a proper little fighter with the face of an angel who always wanted a tear-up in sparring.  He was a naturally gifted boxer with a lively personality and his trainer used to say he had muscles like Popeye.  He weighed barely four stone for his first bout.  He had 62 altogether, winning 57, including seven national championships (three schoolboys, three NABCs and one Junior ABAs).  He represented England and won eight gold medals in Box Cup tournaments around Europe, making him the most successful St Pancras boxer ever.  The club voted him their Millenium Boxer of the Year and then, at the age of 21, he turned professional and became British bantamweight champion.

Martin was born on 14 February 1980.  “So I’m a real Valentino!  I’m a traveller cockney.  I was born way inside the sound of the Bow Bells in Whitechapel Hospital.  I have three sisters and one brother.  We lived in a trailer until I was 21 years old on a site in Camden.  To be honest, the conditions on the site wasn’t the best.  Outside was just plywood on the ground over mud.  If we wanted a shower, we’d go outside to the tin toilet and run a hosepipe in there from the cold water mains.  We never had hot water until I was about 17.  My brother, Sean, still lives there and it’s all modernised now.  Sean was a good boxer too.  He was schoolboy champion, he boxed for England and won gold medals.”

“All traveller children box, and it was handy for me that St Pancras was round the corner from where I lived.  The showers never worked properly and they were lukewarm, but that was luxury to me.  None of the other kids would use them, but I’d be in there thinking ‘This is amazing!’  I was about six years old when I started going down the gym, but I started boxing properly when I was eight.  I was only titchy and I had these skinny little arms, but I had big biceps.”

“When I was growing up, there was a fella who used to train at the gym who used to call me Skeletor.  His boxed under the name, Adrian Dodson.  Adrian was American and he was the Golden Gloves champion.  He was ABA champion and he represented England in the Olympics in Seol and Barcelona, and he was an unbelievable fighter.  He’d be on the speedball and he’d ask me ‘Can you time me?’ and, just for that alone, I felt privileged.  He was a great fella and I used to look up to him massively as a kid, and that’s what he used to call me, Skeletor.”

Martin after his second amateur fight, which he won by first round stoppage.

“I went to primary school around the corner from our camp.  I wouldn’t say I was a good little boy.  I’d say I was very good at being bad.  Me and school didn’t agree, but I was liked by all the teachers.  I was never going to learn, but I was always polite.  When I turned 11, I left school and went to work with my father doing strong manual work like construction and rubbish removal.  I reckon that helped me mature quicker than what normal kids would have.”

Angel Face: Martin pictured with his first trainer, Big Phil Pierson, and his dad.

“My first trainer at St Pancras was a man called ‘Big Phil Pierson’.  Phil’s character was as big as him and everyone loved him.  When I reached 11, I started as a junior with Brian John.  Brian was in my corner right the way through.  He must have been in the amateurs now for 35 years and, back then, he was the youngest coach about.  Brian loved it as much as we did, and he was so dedicated.  He used to drive us about all over the country.  Back then, St Pancras never had no money and the majority of everything was out of Brian’s own pocket.”

A Proper Little Fighter: Martin in the ring with his longstanding amateur coach, Brian John.

“I actually remember my first amateur fight.  It was a Dale Youth show against a kid called Barrett, who wasn’t a bad kid, but I’d been sparring with lots of older, stronger people than me.  I think I weighed about 27kg, which is tiny.  After that first fight, I stopped a lot of kids and, at that kind of weight and age, you don’t really stop many opponents.  It was hard to match me, so the majority of my fights were in the championships.”

Of all his championship victories, Martin’s favourite was the schoolboys, holding the title consecutively from1993 to 1995.  “The schoolboys was the number one championship to win.  I won three and I reached a fourth final.  All the travellers were home tutored and I think some of their birth certificates must have got mixed up.  I remember Docherty fighting Rooney and the doctor had to ask Doherty to have a shave before the fight!  In my first two schoolboy finals, I fought Gareth Monaghan from Wales, and the second one was my toughest fight until I was 16, which was the first time I got beat after winning 33 in a row.”

“I used to love going away and boxing for England.  I boxed four times in Northern Ireland.  I’ve still got lots of family in Ireland and they all came and watched, and they came over to England on them occasions when I was a schoolboy.  I was multinational gold medallist in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and France.  The trip to France was my favourite.  We stayed in log-cabins in the middle of a forest.  It was like a Center Parcs.  The England squad I was with included David Haye and Carl Froch, and there was a little fella, Gary Jones, that I’ll never forget.  He was a 5ft 1in light-flyweight and, whenever we were out clubbing, he’d always find the biggest man to pick on that you’d ever seen in your life!  I had some amazing times, and Brian John paid for all them trips out of his own pocket.”

“Being on the England squad, most weekends we had to go to Crystal Palace, and I hated it.  I loved fighting, but training wasn’t my thing.  You’d get all the boys from up north, Liverpool, Manchester.  It would be snowing, and they’d come downstairs with little shorts and vests on to go running in the morning.  I’d be wrapped up in a big jumper, and they used to call us ‘southern fairies’.  My father used to tell me to train hard, fight easy, but I was my own worst enemy.  If only we could have time back again.”

“I reached two senior ABA finals against Steve Foster Junior.  The first one, I was way ahead going into the third round, and then he pulled it back and he beat me by two points.  Joe Gallagher was Steve’s trainer and, every time I see Joe to this day, he always congratulates me.  He says it’s the best amateur fight he’s witnessed in the corner.  Steve won the second time by a wider points margin, but both those ABA finals were great fights and the atmosphere was brilliant.  I wasn’t in many dull fights.  I was always exciting, even if I was on the receiving end.”

Martin sharing a moment with his professional trainer, Johnny Eames.

“Then I turned pro.  Pretty early on, Johnny Eames became my trainer.  Johnny is a gentleman.  I wanted to be with the best and Johnny had the best stable in London.  My two main sparring partners were Lee Beavis and Matthew Marsh.  Me and Lee both boxed out of northwest London and, as amateurs, we were two of the best in England.  Matthew and I were around the same weight, but he used to walk around at about 11 stone, so he was massive compared to me.  Those two fellas brought me on so much and, to this day, we’re all the best of friends.”

Stablemates: Martin with Lee Beavis.
Stablemates: Martin with Matthew Marsh.

Martin won his pro debut on points at York Hall against Sean Grant, who weighed in 8lb heavier.  “I came in at super-fly and he was almost a featherweight.  He was much taller than me and, by the time he’d rehydrated, he was massive.  Another huge one I boxed early on was Anthony Hanna.  We ended up having a proper war and it was a very close fight.  I should have got on my boxing more and moved around him, but, because he was so big, it was like hitting a heavy bag.  I was often matched against much bigger guys, and I’m not actually sure why that was.”

“Quite often, I’d be boxing late replacement opponents.  The fight before I won the British title, I boxed a Mongolian fella who lived in Oldham called Shinny Bayaar.  He was a late replacement.  I was meant to fight a fella called Joseph Agbeko for the Commonwealth title.  I heard that he got medical money off the promotor and he done a runner.  He ended up going to America and he won world titles, so it would have been a hard fight anyway.  I was on top form against Shinny Bayaar.  I well beat him on points, and he went on to be British champion after that.”

In his eighteenth fight, Martin fought Dale Robinson for the vacant British bantamweight title.  “Dale Robinson beat me in the NABC finals.  He was about 5ft 1in, and I thought ‘I’m gonna smash this fella to bits.’  I give him a bit of a hiding for the first round and, halfway through the second, I just died.  When we fought for the British title, it was very close.  He put me down in the eleventh round, but I never got put down.  He come into me and he lifted me up by my shoulder.  But I heat-butted him in the second round, so I reckon that was a bit of karma coming back at me.  If I hadn’t seen that fight on tape, I would’ve sworn on my life that I didn’t head-butt him.  But, when I was in there, I’d do anything to win, and that was just an automatic reaction.  Dale was flyweight Commonwealth champion and he’d just stepped up in weight and, that night, I thought ‘I’m winning this fight whatever happens.’  When they wrapped that Lonsdale Belt around my waist, I was so happy that I think I even gave Frank Maloney a kiss!”

Martin won his first British title defence via a split decision against Ian Napa.  The ringside mood at York Hall was fierce, and there were anxious moments when the referee halted the action during the sixth round. “It ended up kicking off in the crowd, and all I kept thinking about was a friend of mine called Gokhan Kazaz.  He fought the week before at York Hall under a different promotion.  All his crowd were Turks and they were all fighting, so his purse was suspended.  I’m in the corner thinking ‘As bad and as hard this fight is, I’m not gonna get paid!’  But me and Ian had a great fight that night.  In the interview afterwards, I said ‘There was only one winner.’  But, when I watched it back, it was a very close fight.”

Martin returned to York Hall to defend his title against Isaac Ward, a fellow Irish travelling man.  They were both unbeaten and ferociously supported.  Martin put Ward down in the first and rocked him in the fourth.  Ward knocked Martin’s gum-shield out twice in the third.  Martin put Ward down again in the eighth and the fight was stopped.  “The night I defended my British title against Isaac Ward was my favourite fight as a professional boxer.  I was in the best shape and the performance came out and showed.  It all clicked into place.”

“Four weeks later, Frank Maloney said ‘I want you to fight for the vacant Commonwealth title.’  So I agreed to fight this African fella called Tshifhiwa Munyai.  After the weigh-in, I seen Munyai and I thought ‘I’m gonna demolish this skinny little man.’  The bookies had me 1-66 on to win.  He was 100-1 on to stop me in any round.  This kid wasn’t meant to be any good whatsoever.  I seen him the next day and he’d rehydrated and filled out, and what an opponent he turned out to be!”

“He was tall and rangy and we had an absolute war.  It was stopped in the ninth.  He caught me with a shot.  I caught him with a right hand/left hook, but the referee jumped in and stopped it.  I was ahead on two of the judges’ scorecards at the time and the fight should never have been stopped.  But Frank Maloney was banging on the canvas, ‘Stop the fight!’  I’m not saying it was because Munyai was 100-1 to win in any round, but Munyai did leave with Frank Maloney and he became Maloney’s fighter.”

“Six months later, Maloney offered me either another defence of my British title or fight Munyai again for the Commonwealth, and I wanted to fight Munyai again.  I wanted to prove that I should’ve beat him the first time, but I’d picked up a shoulder injury.  A few weeks before we were due to fight, I had to pull out.  When we eventually did fight again, the shoulder injury was still there and I ended up retiring on my stool at the end of the fourth.  Tshifhiwa Munyai is still boxing now.  He was South African lightweight champion until very recently.”

His shoulder kept him out of action for ten months, and Martin had to relinquish his British title.  Ian Napa beat Jason Booth for the vacant title and, once he was fit enough, Martin challenged Napa for his old title.  Napa won a points decision, and Martin readily concedes the right man won.  “You couldn’t hit Ian clean.  It was unreal, the way he’d have that shoulder tucked around.  If Ian had world class punching power with the skills he’s got, he would have won every title out there, and Ian’s still a friend of mine to this day.  He’s a brilliant dude.” 

Martin had his final fight at the age of 31 against Kevin Satchell.  “What happened with Kevin Satchell was I aged.  I wasn’t fast anymore.  I remember he put me over in the second round.  Maybe, if we’d fought in our prime, it would have been a good fight, but he was too quick.  He went on to win the British, Commonwealth and European titles, so it weren’t like I got beat by a nobody.  I’ve met Kevin at shows over the years and he’s a lovely fella.”

“Growing up, I never watched boxing.  I don’t know if that was because I was around it so much or what.  But now I actually follow it.  I do personal training and I’ve got my pro trainer’s licence.  But my wife and my four kids come first.  That’s why I haven’t got any boxers because you have to dedicate 100 per cent of your time to them, which I’m planning on doing when my kids are bigger.”

Old Friends and Sparring Partners: Martin with Ricky Mann.

“The majority of my phonebook is friends through boxing, men like Ricky Mann, who I used to spar with regular at Newham boxing gym when I was a kid.  Ricky was the year above me, schoolboy champion, national champion and boxing for England.  I used to love going to parties round Ricky’s place and talking with his father, who recently passed away, about people we ain’t seen for 20-odd years, ‘Schoolboy champion this and that’ and ‘Do you remember such-and-such fight?’  To this day, me and Ricky chat about great things all the time.”

“There’s another two great men who have been in my life all the way through.  That’s Steve Hoier and Chris Mann, who were on the committee at St Pancras and I’ve known them since I was eight.  When I was about 14, I think I’d boxed in the schoolboy semi-finals and we ended up in a place called Chippenham.  That night, everyone tried to get into a nightclub and Steve Hoier told the bouncers at the door that I was the senior ABA flyweight champion and I was 21, and they let me in the club.  I was only 14.  I was tiny!  Thinks like that bring back some great memories for me.” 

“When I was boxing in France with the England squad, the bell went and all I could hear was these voices shouting for me and it was Steve Hoier and Chris Mann.  Both of them were there.  They never even told anyone they were coming and they just turned up in the middle of nowhere.  They’re that kind of people.  Even now, to this day, they still help me out and, every year, without fail, I receive a Christmas card from them and all my kids receive birthday cards with money in them, always saying ‘Take your family out and have a meal on us.’  They’re so genuine.  They never want any glory.  They never try to get their name mentioned, which is why I really wanted to mention them here.  It’s lovely to have people like that in your life.”

Martin at the London Ex Boxers Association with old pal, Peter Haymer, and yours truly.

“Me and Peter Haymer met at St Pancras.  We grew up together and we’re great pals.  When Peter started coming to the London Ex Boxers Association with his father, he was telling me to come along.  I knew about LEBA from 2004 when I got the London Prospect of the Year award, and the trophy was beautiful.  The great thing about LEBA is there’s always so much to talk about because we’re all from the same world.  I’m now on the committee, especially for recruiting younger people to join the organisation, and I’m loving it.  When you retire from the ring, there’s a massive hole in your life, but being a member of LEBA makes me feel that I’m still part of boxing. At LEBA, they have a saying and it’s so true. They always say ‘It’s nice to belong.'”