Ben Dirs squares upto Frankie Gavin
"Stepping into a boxing ring with Britain's only ever amateur world champion while his mates, and fellow Olympians, heckle you from ringside"

That's not the Oxford English Dictionary definition of 'intimidation', but I can now tell you with confidence that it ruddy well should be.

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The venue for the spar, if you can call it that, was the sparkling English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, where British boxing's Olympic hopefuls are sandwiched in a hall between the judo lads and lasses and the snooker boys.

Which immediately begged the question: who would win in a fight between the boxers, the judo lads and lasses, and the snooker boys? If you've ever seen that old British movie Scum, you'll already know the answer.

My opponent on the day was lightweight Frankie Gavin: approximately four stone lighter than me, eight years my junior, gold medallist at last year's World Amateur Championships and with a rare gift for making experienced opponents look a proper wally in the ring, let alone a fat mug from Essex.

The 24-year-old Brummie is one of eight British boxers to have qualified for Beijing under the tutelage of head coach Terry Edwards, and that's more than qualified for the previous three Olympic Games combined.

Gavin, a graduate of Hall Green Amateur Boxing Club, is the man most likely to strike gold in China, but light-welterweight Bradley Saunders, bantamweight Joe Murray and light-heavyweight Tony Jeffries also qualified via last year's Worlds.

Then there's middleweight James DeGale and a couple of precocious 18-year-olds - welterweight Billy Joe Saunders and flyweight Khalid Yafai - who booked their places at February's qualifying tournament in Italy. Super heavyweight David Price was the last one to make it, at the final qualifier in Athens.

As D-Day loomed and Gavin, looking dangerously bored by now, got vested up, a couple of the chaps offered me some pointers. "Jaffa" Jeffries, a 22-year-old from Sunderland, was polite enough to make encouraging noises as I had a go on the pads, but I was acutely aware I looked and sounded like an old maid plumping up a pillow.

"Jaffa" then engaged in a 'skip-off' with London's "Chunky" DeGale, and together they managed to make an exercise beloved of primary school girls across the globe look like the hippest pastime on the planet.

Dave Pocknell - out of Bermondsey via central casting - is the GB assistant coach, and I didn't like the way his chirpy Cockney patter gave way to a more sombre timbre as he pulled on my gloves and fastened up my headguard.

"Where's your gumshield?" he whispered as Gavin mugged for his mates behind him. "I haven't got one." "Make sure you keep your gloves up."

Nice kid Gavin - when he's not fixing you with pantomime villain stares and asking if you want to play his favourite game, "Eat My Leather".

But then I can see why he seemed so up for it: between the intensive bursts of training, an Olympic athlete seems to spend an awful lot of time in various states of repose chatting with his or her mates.

Anything, therefore, to relieve the ennui, and that includes giving a doughy journalist a boxing lesson for the viewing pleasure of his team-mates.

Many things pass through your mind when punches are pinging off various parts of your body like hailstones off an inflatable bed. Some ludicrous, like "what if I land with a haymaker?" And some entirely understandable, like "I really should have filled out a risk assessment form..."

But I couldn't suppress a smile after the first salvo of punches ricocheted off my headguard, in admiration at what I was witnessing at close quarters and because I knew I was dealing with a man in complete control of his fists.

As for his movement, I now know why Mickey had Rocky chasing poultry before his rematch with Creed. "If you can catch this chicken, you can catch greased lightning!" roared Mickey back in the day. Like Balboa, I ended up feeling like a Kentucky Fried idiot as Gavin slipped and slid just beyond my reach.

At several points, The Pocknell implored Gavin to "stop mucking about", but I'm now convinced this was in fact code for "do that thing where you touch your foot with one glove before whacking him in the face with the other".

Unerring accuracy and appreciation of distance spared me from any punishment, even though at times it felt like I was being subjected to one of Joe Calzaghe's fabled two-fisted flurries.

I even managed to touch him once (I've always had problems with southpaws...) and when the two minutes were up, everyone apart from Frankie, Frankie's mates, Dave and the camera crew agreed that I'd given a pretty good account of myself.

Frankie, all pre-fight trashtalking consigned to history, gave me a smile and tapped me with his glove and, for a fleeting moment, I imagined us holed up in an East End boozer, discussing the finer points of the fight over a couple of beers.

The truth is I was just another duffer trying his hand at arguably the hardest game. But at least I was able to nod in agreement when Frankie, glint in his eye, drew me close and said: "Harder than it looks - innit?"

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Ben Dirs is a BBC Sport journalist focusing on boxing. Our FAQs should answer any questions you have. If they don't, you can contact us.


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