“YOU have to make people on the course think; that is what you have to do,” said Jon Pegg.

At York Hall on Friday night, one of Pegg’s graduates, Liz Norris, had become the second woman in two weeks to make history at the East End venue.

A week earlier, Amy Pu, became the first British female to referee a professional contest under British Boxing Board of Control jurisdiction; a week later, Norris stopped a cut in a British title fight. She is without doubt the first woman to save a British title with her handy swabs and calm hands. Not bad work and it was a nasty cut.

The old walls were shaking at the ancient venue in Bethnal Green last Friday.

It was the usual night of blood-splattered losers going down in pain and the cool kids with nice haircuts delighting their fans at ringside.

Well, that was the story on the surface, but at York Hall there is always a lot more hidden in the rooms under and behind the stage. The stage is the great meeting corridor; a place where Johnny Tapia once walked and where John Tate started his last ring walk. It is a place where a hundred other lost fighters prepared for the ring.

The stage, it seems, is the magnet for the talkers, the dreamers, grifters, jibbers and people just trying to get away from the crowd and watch a fight in peace. It is often hard to find peace at York Hall.

Norris was part of Ashley Lane’s corner for the British bantamweight title fight against Chris Bourke. She was the only woman in the group, and she was in charge of any cuts, and she had to go to work early. Lane picked up a nasty inch-long cut above his nose in round one; it sat perfectly between his eyebrows, and it was wide and gaping. More a nuisance than a menace, but the blood would have ruined the fight. However, at that point, Lane was not in the fight and Bourke looked comfortable. The cut would have been a big problem, but Norris stopped it, not a drop fell, and the fairy tale finished in round six.

Norris had been on one of Pegg’s courses late last year and that saved Lane and that made the impossible dream come true. As I said on TNT, Lane went from being suicidal, to being homeless, to selling the Big Issue and then to British champion. Pegg’s graduate played her part.

“I’m at shows all the time and people are always asking me to bandage their fighter’s hands and do the cuts,” said Pegg. “Really, they all need to know how to wrap hands and deal with cuts. I came up with the course and we have done 10 or 11 now. We are accredited by the Board.”

Pegg is one of the rare boxing insiders with experience at every single level; fighter, promoter, matchmaker, trainer, manager, fixer, driver and teaboy. He’s done it all.

“I make them pair up on the course and then after the theory, we go into the gym,” added Pegg. “The boxers are there, and I take a make-up pen and draw a cut or two on a boxer and then it can get interesting. I ring the bell to end the round and the pairs then go over to their boxer. I might make two cuts; I might tell the boxer to tell the person doing the cut that they want to quit, and then I play the referee and go over and annoy them. It puts them under a bit of pressure. It’s more than just the cut.”

Well, it worked.

Moses Itauma walks like a man with no pressures. And that is deceptive, trust me. He knows what is expected. He filed across the stage with Eddie Lam and Alan Smith in his slipstream. “I’m doing what I’m doing,” he said. He no longer seems like a kid and even at just 19, he sounds and looks like a big man now.

Dan Garber and his uncle, Big Steve, arrived on the stage a long time before his fight with Itauma. It was a late-notice job. Dan knew what that meant. “Perhaps he can fight, perhaps he can’t,” Steve offered when asked about Itauma an hour before the first bell.

In 1989, at the City Hall in Hull, Steve famously pushed Lennox Lewis before their fight. They were being introduced in the ring and Steve got in his face and pushed him. Lennox was shocked, it was just his fourth fight and nobody else had tried anything quite like it. It was a little gesture for Steve to assess what the man was made of. It could have worked. Lewis won in 90 seconds.

Another time, Garber was matched with unbeaten prospect, Joe Bugner Jnr. The fight was in 1993 at the Grand Hall, Wembley, and Mickey Duff had given Phil Martin and Garber too long to prepare. That was foolish. Garber had won 18 and lost 18 fights before Bugner, and Young Joe had won all seven.  “They made a mistake – I got ready for that fight,” Garber said.  Garber went into a training camp in Moss Side, staying at a secret location in a council maisonette. He lived like a saint, eating, training, sleeping. Avoiding being shot. It was a revelation; Garber took Bugner to the sixth and last round and stopped him there.

That was a little snippet of the action behind the action on another night at York Hall. Steve Garber and Liz Norris and Moses Itauma all in one space, possibly for the first and the last time. Brief encounters on a boxing stage.

Moses Itauma after his latest win (James Chance/Getty Images)


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