By George Ogier
At the beginning of December I had the fortunate opportunity to interview Alex Reid and Martin Potter, (better known as “The Brain”) the men behind the fantastic Boxing Clever podcast. I happily admit to being a huge fan and it was exciting for me to meet them both as I’ve listened to the podcast for almost a year. It is one of my favourite boxing shows out there at the moment. It goes to show that the British boxing media doesn’t have to start and stop with the likes of Adam Smith and Steve Bunce. Scratch the surface and there are some incredibly talented boxing fans writing and recording some of the most interesting content available.
Alex and Martin met at school and as they got older it became apparent that boxing was a passion they shared. This didn’t extend to many more of their friends however. They would often find themselves left to their own devices at social gatherings arguing about the fight game for hours on end. Out of these debates the Boxing Clever podcast was born and it is going from strength to strength. A mixture of discussion, reports and reviews all generally done in good humour, (just don’t ask Martin about Tyson Fury). The podcast has an ever-growing army of listeners and 2012 could well be a massive year for Alex Reid and Martin “The Brain” Potter.
Write Cross: If pushed I would have to say that the Rocky films were my gateway into the sport but how did the two of you get bitten by the boxing bug?
Martin Potter: As a child I remember my Dad putting on the first Rocky film and I found it quite boring. A couple of years later we watched Rocky II and some real fights including Barry McGuigan versus Eusebio Pedroza. This was all a bit more interesting and at the time there were a lot more matches on terrestrial TV, although I was too young to watch the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy Hearns live. Then obviously Mike Tyson came along. For anyone in their early thirties Tyson is probably the boxing star they remember as a kid.
Alex Reid: My Dad wasn’t really into boxing, he was a big football fan and I am as well. It was the Benn/Eubank era that got me into boxing. ITV tried to compete with Match Of The Day when they started The Big Fight Live opposite MOTD. I always watched MOTD but I found myself flicking over to watch fights like Eubank against Ray Close. The Big Fight Live seemed to be Chris Eubank winning endless bad decisions against unlucky opponents. Just after I finished my A Levels I remember buying the book McIlvanney On Boxing. It is full of fantastic stories and live reports on people like Muhammad Ali and Roberto Duran. As a result I got into the history of the sport and I’ve been hooked ever since.
WC: How did the Boxing Clover podcast come to be?
AR: We started the show in 2010. I was freelancing for Sport Magazine at the time and I was listening to a lot of sports podcasts. I am a big fan of the Football Ramble but there wasn’t a boxing equivalent. As good as Steve Bunce’s show was it seemed like there was definitely a market for a fan’s boxing podcast. I mentioned it to Martin who just said “you always have these ideas but never do anything about it!”. I always openly admit that Boxing Clever did start out as a flagrant rip off of the Football Ramble.
MP: Every time we go out for a drink together there seems to be another idea from Reidy but none of them come to anything. We were at a friend’s birthday party in October 2009 and he asked me if I was wanted to do the show. I was happy to be involved but it was definitely Alex’s idea.
WC: The show seems to have grown organically. How many downloads were you getting at the start and how many do you get these day?
AR: Our marketing strategy has been non-existent and we got thirty or forty random downloads of our first show . Now before a big fight card we get a couple of thousand but generally between 1500 and 2000 downloads per week. The good thing is that it is always growing.
MP: What surprises me is when you see that people are going back and downloading the early shows.
AR. We get good feedback and it would be nice to reach a larger audience but we have been lazy about publicity. It is gratifying though. When we started I never thought that people would ever listen to me and Martin talk about boxing for an hour.
MP: None of our friends used to.
AR: Whether it’s one person or one thousand people it is, as I said, very gratifying.
MP: I’d agree with that. I was pleased when we first got one hundred listeners. Now we get compliments from people like [editor of Boxing Monthly] Glyn Leach about the show. To hear it from someone in the boxing journalism game is great, as is praise from the fans too. We must be doing something right.
WC: The Football Ramble and the Main Event Boxing Show started small and can now almost be considered as part of the mainstream. Is the show a vehicle to perhaps get yourselves in to the boxing media or would it just be a happy accident if you did?
MP: Reidy is lucky enough to already be in that industry interviewing the likes of Amir Khan and David Haye. I write about boxing too and I enjoy the show as we do it now but if we could make money from it, that would be great. I suppose it is a launchpad to get my name out there whereas I think Alex just enjoys the show for the sake of it.
AR: I do. If you’re listening to something that comes from the mainstream media there’s an inherent bias there, an angle which isn’t just independent opinion. One of the reasons I am such a big fan of the Football Ramble is that it’s four guys giving you exactly what they think, people find that refreshing. I don’t think the public trusts a lot of the media and they’re right not to. Whatever we say on Boxing Clever, whatever nonsense we get wrong is 100% our opinion. That’s what I like most about doing it.
WC: You seem to be making an impression upon many journalists. Who do you enjoy watching and listening to?
AR: Personally, I love Steve Bunce. He can survive by being a charismatic personality. You don’t always agree with everything he says but he’s so magnetic and that’s a healthy thing for boxing. I prefer him as a pundit to an expert analyser because he will give you his opinions straight down the middle. Barry McGuigan is the best pundit on TV by a mile, incredibly eloquent and intelligent. Boxing is lucky, it seems to attract great writers. The Guardian’s Kevin Mitchell is fantastic, as is Kieran Mulvaney from the ESPN podcast. We also have the two best boxing magazines in the world in Boxing News and Boxing Monthly.
MP: I like Bunce. Like Bunce, Glyn Leach is opinionated and he doesn’t toe the party line just to please certain boxers. After Martin Murray fought Felix Sturm, Leach sent Murray a tweet saying “great performance but I had Sturm up by two rounds”. That’s an honest opinion.
AR: After David Haye’s fight with Wladimir Klitschko there were a flood of messages to Haye from boxing journalists telling him what a great fight it had been and these went against the tide of general opinion. Haye is a huge meal ticket in British boxing and certain people were clearly thinking that if there is a rematch we want to stay on the right side of Haye.
MP: I enjoy McGuigan’s column in The Mirror. He’s a good analyst and he’s honest, even brutal at times. He’s not sucking up to a fighter because they’re British. I’d like to get more fighters on Boxing Clever and the legitimate argument that Alex has made is that we then compromise a bit of our objectivity. It’s harder to criticise someone when you’ve spoken to them and got on well.
WC: 2011 wasn’t a particularly stellar year for the “superfights” in boxing? Do you think the hype surrounding these events is bad for the sport?
AR: Yes, and I think there’s a problem with superstars being lauded and commanding too much respect. David Haye said recently that people in Germany would pay to watch one of the Klitschko brothers take a dump in the middle of the ring. It’s a crude analogy but he is right. People will watch Vitali and Wladimir, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao fight anyone and that’s killing boxing. Take Shane Mosley, he’s a big name in boxing and fans paid to watch him fight Pacquiao. Anyone in boxing with half a brain knows that’s not a competitive fight and yet it’s being labelled a “superfight”.
MP: Shouldn’t you therefore draw a distinction between super fights and big fights? Haye v Klitschko was a super fight because you had two world champions at their peak whereas Pacquiao v Mosley wasn’t. Boxing’s biggest problem is that the best don’t fight the best. If they did on a regular basis logic dictates that 50% percent of the fights would be good. If there’s only two massive fights a year and they don’t live up to the hype boxing looks bad.
AR: With all the alphabet titles in boxing we have reached a point where both Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather can exist in the same weight division, call themselves world champion and people will still queue up to watch them. Take Sturm versus Murray and Sturm versus Matthew Macklin, that’s what boxing is all about. Incredibly well matched and exciting bouts.
WC: 2012 looks like it might be a big year in boxing. What are you both looking forward to the most?
MP: Obviously the Olympics stand out. Anthony Joshua and Thomas Stalker both have a great chance of coming home with gold medals. The rivalry between James DeGale and George Groves will continue to bubble too.
AR: I think there is a really good crop of British boxers at the moment. Groves, DeGale and Nathan Cleverly are getting to cusp now of being genuinely tested which will be interesting. Internationally, Mayweather, Pacquiao and Martinez are getting older and perhaps we’ll see these guys being phased out. It’s intriguing to see who’s coming through. It is going to be a transitional year for boxing.
MP: I’d really like to see Frankie Gavin overcome his issues and go on to win a world title. He’s a huge talent. He has the physical ability, whether or not he has the mental strength is a different matter.
WC: There have been unsubstantiated reports that Gavin suffers from depression. As we move in to an era when depression is more openly discussed do you think boxers are more susceptible to mental health problems?
AR: Boxing tests you like no other sport. There’s an obvious progression in football. You play with your friends and if you’re good you might go on from there. Boxing is different, most of us don’t fight as kids. As a result boxers can be quite different people with individual personalities, that’s why they’ve ended up in an individual sport. It makes boxers compelling characters to speak to and to read about. Kelly Pavlik has battled alcohol addiction and I think it’s impossible to battle the pressures of addiction with the pressures of being an elite boxer. It’s the same with depression I’d imagine.
MP: I’m not sure I’d agree that boxers are a special case. Boxing is a microcosm of society and society as a whole has a percentage of people suffering with mental illness. Therefore it follows that a certain percentage of boxers are going to suffer too. With a sport like boxing it is quite intense, if you’re already prone to depression it’s going to push you that little bit more.
A huge thanks goes to both Alex and Martin for giving up their Saturday afternoon, (and subsequent evening) to speak to me. Keep an eye out for a new Boxing Clever website in 2012. In the meantime you can download their shows here or on iTunes. You can also follow the guys on twitter: @boxingcleverpod, @otheralexreid and @theboxingbrain.