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Hard Road to Glory by Jonny Nelson with Richard Coomber

Release date: 01st August, 2007
Publisher: John Blake Publishing

List Price: 17.99
Our Price: 12.59
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By Johnny Nelson with Richard Coomber
John Blake Publishing price: £12.59 saving £5.40 on rrp

Johnny Nelson always shied away from confrontation. As a child, he was a skinny, over-sensitive boy, well-accustomed to taking regular beatings from his older brothers. Even his sister, Theresa, would take him on in a fight. The notion that he would one day become a world boxing champion was ridiculous.

Nelson grew up in Sheffield during the late seventies; with a large, disjointed family, there was little money around. As one of only a handful of black children at Notre Dame High, life was always going to be a struggle and after leaving school with few qualifications, his prospects appeared bleak.

As is so often the case, however, sport provided his lifeline. Introduced to St. Thomas's gym by his brother on the condition that no-one discovered they were related, his passion for boxing was founded. Whilst his peers sought excitement elsewhere, Nelson embraced training; it was an addiction that would last a lifetime. Later, when struck down by a crippling knee injury, he describes it as feeling like someone has stolen Christmas, because nothing could give him the same buzz as being in the ring and on top of his game.

It is through St. Thomas's that we are introduced to some of the book's key characters. Inspirational trainer Brendan Ingle coaches him not only physically, but mentally and emotionally, providing support and advice in a role resembling a surrogate father. Nelson admits that without him, "I would not have become a boxer, let alone world champion". Herol Graham and Brian Anderson are top dogs, punishing the young upstarts in the sparring ring and spearheading the riotous life of Sheffield's boxing brat pack which, latterly, included a young Naseem Hamed. In time, the gym became a home for Nelson - a sanctuary in which his contemporaries were as much like family members as training partners.

This account represents the grueling progression of conviction in his career - from passivity to activity, from self-doubt to confidence, both as a boxer and as an individual. The journey from an embarrassing failure to capture the WBO World Cruiserweight title from Carlos de Leon in 1990 to eventual victory over Carl Thompson in 1999 is a long and arduous one. From his time as 'fresh meat', working as a sparring partner for the monstrous East Germans, to fights in Las Vegas in front of millions, Nelson demonstrates the power of dedication, courage and relentless determination

The narrative is straightforward and instantly accessible. He is honest about his fears and personal shortcomings, and although at times demonstrating the arrogant bravado we might expect from a champion boxer, he recounts the vast majority of his tale with a refreshing modesty. At one stage, he talks matter-of-factly about the detached single-mindedness he had to develop in order to succeed, claiming that in the last few days before any fight, he became 'completely cold'. Aware that boxing is the only sport in which you can legally kill another man, he suggests that you cannot risk allowing your emotions to make you the least bit vulnerable.

This is not boasting, but rather a candid account of a decent man who boxed for a living.

Today, Johnny Nelson is a successful, if unspectacular, journeyman boxer. When we look a little closer, however, it is likely that we can all learn something from his triumph over adversity.

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