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13 November 2014

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You are in: South Yorkshire > SY People > Profiles > I'm not called Johnny

I'm not called Johnny

Former boxing Cruiserweight champion Johnny Nelson joined BBC Radio Sheffield's Rony Robinson for a chat about life which began as Ivanson and not Johnny. He talked about his coach and friend Brendan Ingle and why he calls himself a coward...

Boxer Johnny Nelson

Johnny Nelson is over six feet tall and what you notice before even speaking to the former boxer is his enormous beaming smile and perhaps his time keeping.

If you've ever met Johnny he might have left you hanging around wondering where he is. For some time.

Johnny admits he's always late, he even turned up over 15 minutes late for his interview with Rony, who tackled him on his punctuality...

"I'm working with the prison service at the moment and working on helping prison inmates on their life management skills, helping them to straighten out their lives and motivate them. I've been spending some time at a prison in Doncaster, meeting some interesting inmates and hearing some of their life stories. I didn't want to interrupt them when they were speaking to me and I was running late.

"I spoke to a guy who is doing a 12 year stretch. Me and this guy started together as amateur boxers, we were both the same weight - he was a much better fighter than I was. I just think, that could've easily been me."

Why wasn't that Johnny?

"I stuck at it. I'm determined and stubborn enough to let something go. He's probably thinking the same though - that could've been me."

But why is Johnny always late?

"I do not know, I'm always late. I'll be late for my own funeral. I get such a hard time about it from my friends and family. I never missed a fight though."

"Brendan said to me, 'Your not going to be good boxer until you are in your 30s' and I just thought, I don't want to be boxing in my 30s."

Johnny Nelson

Who are the important people in Johnny's life?

"I've had some many important people in my life who I class as friends. I have a lot of important people in my life that have made a big difference to me. There will be people who I haven't seen in years but I still consider them friends. It doesn't mean that they are not my friends. There are so many. I've met so many people who have influenced me on so many different levels.

"Brendan Ingle is just my best friend ever, he has been my guiding light, a teacher, a friend, a saviour. If you would ask for anything from anybody, you would Brendan. I think I would be in prison and telling somebody my story if it wasn't for him, he straightened out my life. He has made me appreciate everything.

Ivanson Ranny Nelson

Johnny was born in Sheffield and still lives in the city to this day.

"I started at St. Vincents', a Catholic school in Sheffield and was on my first day. My teacher struggled to pronounce Ivanson and she kept saying it wrong. I was a real cry baby though, my bottom lip was going…

"She saw that and then she decided to make up a name for the day. She began going through all of the names of the apostles. We landed on John but there was already three other Johns in the class and somebody shouted Johnny. All the kids started to snigger so the teacher thought that they liked it and then boom - I just remember that day in class. I used to get jokes, 'Can I borrow your rubber Johnny!?'

:: Click on the link below to listen to the full interview between Johnny and Rony Robinson

My dad

Johnny's biological father and mother split up when he was a young boy. He didn't reunite with his father until Johnny was his in 30s...

"My first real memory of my dad was when I was about three or four years old. I remember him and my mum in the street arguing, my dad had one of my hands and my mother held the other and his brown Ford Cortina was parked in the middle of the street.

"I was always curious about him when I was growing up. My wife knew that I always wanted to know more about my father, as there were a lot of gaps. Strangely her relatives knew of my dad because they were based in Huddersfield and knew of him from being in a dominos' team. She managed to get hold of him when I was in my mid 30s.

"One day there was a knock at the door and as soon as I answered I said, 'You're my dad, aren't you?' and he said, 'Yeh' and he stepped in and that was it.

"He explained that they just didn't get on and that she was his girlfriend.

Johnny Nelson

"We got in the car, we drove around Sheffield and he showed me where he used to live and play dominos. It was really hard. He kept calling me son.

"But my dad to me was Benji, he is the only person I remember as a father figure, he was my mum's husband and my stepfather who took on six of my mum's kids. He was the guy I looked up to, so when my biological dad kept calling me son it felt like I was betraying my step dad Benji."

Self confessed coward

Johnny wrote an autobiography Hard Road to Glory and admits to being a self confessed coward.

"I used to hope that the opponent wouldn't show up. I would be in the dressing room before the fight wondering why I had picked this sport and why hadn't I picked golf or tennis. I just did not want to get in the ring.

"It's only until you are through that, you can say that. My approach to fighting and most things in life were being a coward. I can say that now because I'm over it.

"I was speaking to the former boxer Chris Eubank. I told him that when I was boxing, I wasn't willing to die in the ring and that's what distinguishes me between outstanding boxers such as Chris and Nigel Benn. I didn't want to be there. I had 13 amateur fights and I won three and in my first five professional fights I won one, these weren't because I was beaten by the better person but because I didn't want to be there.

"Brendan told me that I wouldn't be a good boxer until I was in my 30s and I just thought, I don't want to be boxing in my 30s. He told me that I was a mummy's boy and that I needed to stand on my own two feet and assume the responsibilities of an adult and then I'd come good. I never questioned what he said, even if I didn't understand it.

"He made me do a back flip before a fight and we had an argument about it. Brendan wanted me to do it and I didn't because I thought I'd look an idiot. He explained the opponent's corner men are country Irish men, who meant they were very manly and macho and that this back flip would cause them to go hysterical and unsettle the corner. When he was telling me I thought - one, this is the wrong time and place to be giving me a history lesson about country Irish and two - what if I don't land on my feet.

Brendan Ingle and Johnny Nelson

"I did it and exactly what Brendan said would happen did happen, the corner men started shouting and it caused disruption to their corner. I walked back towards Brendan and had a wry smile on my face and thought Brendan was a genius. I beat this kid. And that to me, set my faith in Brendan in stone."

Dark days

Johnny experienced hard times early on in his career. A difficult period which helped him grow as a sports man.

"I had to deal with it and figure it out. I boxed Carlos DeLeon in 1990 at the City Hall in Sheffield. That was the darkest day of my life. I was in front of my home crowd, friends, family and people who I had grown up with, even people who I had watched on TV were there. I just thought, 'Oh my god, these people know me.' I was so scared of losing when I got in the ring, I just wanted to survive.

"That scared me, I had a dream two days before my fight which turned out to be true.  I was being booed by the crowd but couldn't work it out because my arm was in the air. The crowd were booing their disgust at my performance because I had drawn against Carlos and had failed miserably on a national stage. It was awful and it took me over five years to get over it. I wouldn't wish that experience on my worst enemy. I couldn't go anywhere without people abusing me. I came close to giving up boxing but my stubborn streak wouldn't let me.

"I was in town with my girlfriend at the time and we were going in to a restaurant and she was trying to cheer me up. Two big burly guys walked up to me, they were talking about me really loud, not at me. We came to pass each other and they blocked our way and they carried on talking about me as if I wasn't there, pressing me and my girlfriend up against the wall. These guys just carried on talking in a really nasty way. I was heartbroken, fuming, devastated. I just thought, before this fight I was a hero in this town, doors opened and things were so so different and in one night my whole life changed, not just my career but personally among your friends and family.

"I love Sheffield, people are very straight - if people like you, you'll know it and if they don't like you, you'll know it."

:: Click on the link below to listen to the full interview between Johnny and Rony Robinson

Hanging up the gloves

"Boxing is still important to me, I hate retirement. I hate missing the camaraderie in the gym, the potential of fighting. A lot of sports men don't realise this. I think sports psychology will become big in the coming years. If you think of big sports personalities such as Gazza and people like him they can't do without it. They don't understand what has happened. It's the endorphins that stop and you need something for that fix.

"I was like a 40 year old school leaver when I retired. I could stay up late, I could eat what I wanted, I could drink. I could do all the things that I had to restrict myself from doing once I had retired, that is when life can become sticky and tricky. I've figured it out. I've resumed the responsibilities of a man."

When Rony speaks to his guests he always asks some questions which are drawn from a mysterious envelope. Johnny's first question was what his favourite song is...

"Funkin for Jamaica - it's the song I came out to when I had my last fight in Italy. It was a real nasty crowd and the song is cool and funky and it made me feel alive. It gives me some great memories

Does Ivanson Ranny Nelson pray?

"Yes I do, I pray to God, I'm Catholic. I'm not a practising Catholic but no one can tell me how I worship God. I appreciate God and respect him. Sometimes I doubt him and doubt my prayer."

Would God like boxing?

"How do you know what he'd like and he wouldn't like. People die, people starve and die of certain illnesses so how can you ever understand God."

:: Interview with BBC Radio Sheffield's Rony Robinson. Click on the link below to listen to the full interview between Johnny and Rony

last updated: 14/07/2009 at 13:43
created: 10/07/2009

You are in: South Yorkshire > SY People > Profiles > I'm not called Johnny

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