Alan Hubbard

The news that Frank Bruno, Britain’s most beloved boxing figure, wanted to make a comeback at 54 was not the best news the sport could have had at a time when it is riding higher in public esteem than for many years.

Fortunately the British Boxing Board of Control have stamped on the idea pretty quickly, declaring that he would not receive a license from them to fight again after 20 years.

Fighting fit as he may be after daily workouts in the gym, for someone who has been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and self-admitted dodgy eyesight that should be the end of it.

Sadly it may not be as there are less picky boxing authorities overseas who might pander to his dangerous dream.

I know George Foreman returned at 50 to reclaim a version of the world heavyweight title after a ten-year sabbatical but he had not suffered health or mental problems.

As I say it is a travesty that dear old Frank would want to risk tarnishing his iconic status, and it seems one reason he wishes to do so is because he is envious of the limelight in which basks the new kid on the boxing blocks, Anthony Joshua.

"I can't sit down and let these so-called promoters say Anthony Joshua can knock me out in two rounds when I'm not even dead," he says.

Sorry Frank I am afraid you must. Why not simply enjoy being who you were – and still are - and revel in the popularity now embracing the sport at all levels?

Former heavyweight champion of the world Frank Bruno announced plans for an unlikely return to boxing
Former heavyweight champion of the world Frank Bruno announced plans for an unlikely return to boxing ©Getty Images

Which brings me to an intriguing situation.

There is no doubt that the state-of-the-art facilities at the English Institute for Sport (EIS) in Sheffield have made a massive contribution to the success of Team GB in Olympic and other international boxing tournaments, as well as eventually the pro game, these past few years.

The boxing set-up, hi-tech and highly professional, is envied throughout the world. Anthony Joshua and Luke Campbell both trained there before striking gold in the London Olympics four years ago.

And apparently they still do.

Joshua’s trainer is Tony Sims, whose gymnasium is in Essex.

That’s where unbeaten heavyweight AJ, the new British champion, is officially based, yet he can be observed frequently working out with the GB squad in Sheffield under the watchful eye of his former amateur international trainer Robert McCracken, who is Team GB’s head coach and performance director.

Similarly the Hull-based lightweight Campbell, now kick-starting his career again after his first loss as a pro.

The situation is causing a few raised eyebrows in boxing, not least those of promoter Frank Warren, who asks: ”I am not sure how much input McCracken has with their preparation (Campbell’s regular trainer is Mike Bromby) but the more relevant question surely is whether they are getting this assistance for free.”

McCracken of course is an ex-pro world middleweight contender and also a professional trainer who looked after the former world super-middleweight champion Carl Froch.

Froch used to travel to Sheffield to be tutored by McCracken for several of his fights, including those against George Groves. 

The EIS is supported by Lottery and Exchequer funding - in other words public money - and the boxing facilities were purpose-built to house Britain’s elite amateurs, though of course they are no longer termed as such as they receive substantial cash from government backed UK Sport and certain AIBA tournaments, which enables them to be full-time fighters.

Queries Warren: “If Joshua and Campbell are allowed to train and use their state of the art facilities there, why not other professional boxers?”

Anthony Joshua won gold for Britain at London 2012
Anthony Joshua won gold for Britain at London 2012 ©Getty Images

It is a good point. McCracken has had an association with Matchroom via Froch, who was promoted by them.

Prize catches Joshua and Campbell both signed with Matchroom when they turned pro as did another top GB international, Birmingham super-flyweight Khalid Yafai, though other elite squad members including silver medallist Fred Evans, bronze medallist Anthony Ogogo, Andrew Selby and Josh Taylor have gone to different promoters. Team captain Tom Stalker is now promoted by Warren.

Presumably funding body UK Sport, GB Boxing, who govern the international squads, and England Boxing (formerly the ABA), who represent the clubs, are happy with these arrangements in Sheffield. We certainly haven’t heard otherwise.

One of the ironies is that McCracken can work the corner of professional fighters but not those of his own GB squad.

This is because AIBA, the international governing body of what used to be amateur boxing, ridiculously bar trainers associated with professional boxing from assisting their fighters during major tournaments, including the Olympics.

Yet this is the body which is trying to professionalise their game by introducing events such as the World Series Boxing (WSB) and AIBA Pro Boxing, ditching vests and head-guards, adopting 10 points scoring over five three minute rounds and paying boxers to compete.

So you won’t see McCracken in the corner when the British Lionhearts campaign in the new WSB series, in which they have got off to a cracking start with a 3-2 away win over the USA Knockouts in Miami.

The WSB tournament counts towards qualification for the Rio Olympics, for which so far no British boxer has won a place.

However, several are hopeful of doing so, among them super-heavyweight Joe Joyce, middleweight Anthony Fowler, welterweight Josh Kelly, light-welter Sam Maxwell and lightweight Joe Cordina.

It is probable that, as happened after 2012, several will turn pro following Rio.

It will be interesting to see which promoter, manager or trainer they go with.

Maybe with his pugilistic pedigree and knowledge, instead of risking terrible harm to his body, brain and reputation in the ring in either unlicensed boxing or bouts overseas, Bruno might turn his thoughts to nurturing a post-Olympic protégé, such as Joyce.

Alternatively he has a 21-year-old son, also called Frank, who is a promising amateur with Brentwood Boxing Club.

Whatever happens, it is vital that Frank Bruno is kept out of harm’s way. National treasures must be protected.