“Have you seen those James Bond films where every time he goes out, the fella in the arms room gives him two or three little things to take with him? In the films, they always save him from death at the last second,” Paul Stevenson told BoxingScene when discussing how he prepares his fighters. 

“When we go out to box, we have the things we’re doing in the gym every day, and then for each opponent we have our little box of tricks for that mission. Nick [Ball] had it for [Rey] Vargas, for [Ray] Ford and for [Isaac] Dogboe. We have it for every fight and for all our boxers, depending on the opponent and the job at hand.”

The missions are getting more and more dangerous. Fighters from Stevenson’s Everton Red Triangle Gym are now regularly appearing on big shows and are increasingly being seen in high-profile, meaningful fights.

Newly crowned WBA featherweight titleholder Ball leads the way after taking the division by storm, but there are a host of talented fighters following in his wake. Andrew Cain will challenge Ash Lane for his British and Commonwealth bantamweight titles next month. In April, the ultra-talented Peter McGrail got back to winning ways after his shock defeat against Ja’Rico O’Quinn, while his brother Joe is unbeaten in 10 fights and starting to make waves at featherweight. There are more, too. You just haven’t heard their names yet.

All of the fighters have been working under Stevenson since their teens. He was able to impart the fundamentals to them at a young age, and with them trusting his methods, he has been able to tailor and tweak each fighter individually as they have progressed as professionals.

Now the gym has its first world titlist. 

Having a crop of talented fighters come through together isn’t a fluke. It is more good management than good luck. Stevenson has done this before. He guided Kevin Satchell to the British, Commonwealth and European titles, won a European bantamweight title in Belgium with Ryan Farrag and took Jazza Dickens to the British title.

All gyms seem to go through hot spells, but Stevenson treats ERT as a conveyor belt of talent.

“It’s a continuous thing. When did the first human appear? We didn’t change from apes to humans. It’s gradual isn’t it?” he said. “Each fighter and each crop, I don’t look at them like separate entities. You know what it’s like in a gym: people retire and come and go, but we’re there all the time and the methods and teaching are always going on. It’s just one continuous journey. I don’t look at it in terms of the fighters, I look at it in terms of the club. It’s been brilliant and it’s been a long time coming. We deserve it.”

Having beaten Isaac Dogboe, been extremely unfortunate not to have been awarded a decision over long-reigning WBC titleholder Rey Vargas and then outfighting the talented Ray Ford to become the WBA belt holder, Ball is the undoubted current leader of the gym, however.

It didn’t take Stevenson long to realize that the strong but short Ball’s stature could be extremely effective if used properly.

Ball was taken the distance in his first five fights but slowly worked out how to make his physical presence felt. By the time he blew the decent Brian Phillips away in an early meeting of unbeaten prospects, it was clear he had title potential.

It would be four more years before he was given his first major opportunity, but he grabbed it with both hands by stopping Isaac Lowe on the undercard of Tyson Fury’s undisputed heavyweight title defense against Dillian Whyte at Wembley Stadium. He hasn’t looked back since. 

“Nick’s been with us his whole pro career,” Stevenson said. “He didn’t come to us like a lot do, as a champion or 19-0. He came as a raw kid who hadn’t boxed for a few years and was just looking for a way. After working with him for a while and realizing what he could be with the right guidance, I always look ahead. Although we might be on the small halls, I’m looking years ahead with what I’m teaching them and getting them ready – mentally and physically – for those kind of nights if I think they’ve got it.

“He’s very fast, very fast-footed, and he’s explosive. He doesn’t get tired which is unusual. He’s strong, physical and low. It’s finding a way to make that work against the style you’ve got in front of you.

“Nick can box a lot better than people think. He’s harder to hit than people think. Look at the three boxers he’s met back to back. People said that when he meets a puncher, he’s done. Well, Isaac Dogboe’s a great puncher. ‘If he meets a boxer, he’ll be finished.’ He’s met a boxer. ‘If he meets a southpaw. if he meets this or that.’ He’s met all these styles and we’ve dealt with them all in the ring.

“It’s common knowledge – and I’m not knocking them, because we all have to play our hand in life – that a lot of people get given stuff ready-made and all you have to do is not do anything stupid. A fighter like Nick, I take great pride in because he came to me at 18 and he hadn’t boxed since he was 15. He’d had about 25 amateur fights and he wasn’t bad, but he needed work. When he came in I said, ‘You’ve come to the right gym.’ I could see what he needed. Then I realized the animal that he was when we were giving him different tests coming through and we started developing together really well – I knew he’d be special.

“Even five years ago, I was watching him on the bag, talking to my co-trainer Anthony Humphreys, and said, ‘That’s what a world champion looks like on the bag.’ I could see it coming.”

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