King of the Boxing training pads, Lenny Woodhall, who coached his son Richie to become Shropshire, England's first world boxing champion in March 1998, has died, at the age of 75.
Lenny coached in boxing for over 40 years and trained 66 other champions at every level. I got to know him very well when he worked for my training company about 8 years ago. He was quite simply the best pad man in the business (this fact was acknowledged by the late, great Emmanuel Stewart, trainer to Lennox Lewis!) Len was also really beautiful caring person who did a lot for charity and trained lots of poorer kids for free.
His finest hour came at Telford Ice Rink when he was in the corner for his son Richie's WBC World super-middleweight title win over Sugar Boy Malinga. I was in the crowd and it will always be Telford, England's greatest night!
Richie Woodhall won an Olympic bronze medal as an amateur at Seoul in 1988 (where he boxed Roy Jones Jr) before turning professional after winning a Commonwealth gold medal in Auckland two years later. Nobody can question the commitment that Len had to take Richie to the top. One of Len's favourite stories was of the Cup-a-Soup for Christmas dinner.
When Richie was just 14 years old Len knew he had to teach him about real boxing and the importance of the sacrifice involved in making weight for a fight. The family were preparing to settle down for a turkey xmas meal when Len took him aside and said: "You can't have any dinner. We've got the schoolboy championships to come. Len told me; "I said, 'I tell you what Rich - me and you will have a Cup-a-Soup and a piece of toast'. And Richie just said 'OK, dad'." He then revealed to me how later that day, after his son had gone to bed, he crept to the fridge and "ripped the turkey apart". He laughed at the story but it was a great illustration to me how much he supported his son. When much, much later Richie found out about this he said to Len, 'Dad, you cheated that day we had soup for Christmas'."
Len smiled and said to him, 'Whatever it takes to win, son, whatever it takes'."
Richie won 26 times in 29 fights. He lost his first fight in his first shot at the world title against American Keith Holmes in 1996. He bravely tried to continue to fight with a broken hand but it wasn't to be. After beating Malinga for the title that he had won from Nigel Benn he lost his WBC crown in his third defence to German Markus Beyer in October 1999. His final battle was with the great Joe Calzaghe for the WBO title in Sheffield in December 2000. Again he fought with an injury that he didn't tell anyone about but which prevented him from throwing straight right hands-otherwise who knows?
His Dad was with him for all of these fights and was crucial in all of his son's great victories. Lenny was a real life Mickey from the Rocky movies. A great character and the toughest man I have ever met. His son was the jewel in his crown and I know he went peacefully having had such an incredible career. God Bless you Lenny-you were the best!
Picture courtesy of Rob Blakeman. Richie wraps Rob's hand prior to sparring with Lenny looking on.