AFTER dominating the domestic scene in the late nineties, two years ago Bradford boxer Bobby Vanzie sought to use his experience inside the ring to help youngsters outside of it.

In January 2020, around 300 people were in attendance, including Heaton’s own Cricket World Cup winner Adil Rashid and boxing star Kell Brook, for the grand opening of Vanzie’s latest venture, a self-titled boxing gym hoping to inspire the next generation of the city’s talent.

The former British and Commonwealth lightweight champion joined forces with local businessman Wasim Rafic to create the academy based around the corner from the popular chicken shop ‘Salahs’ on Leeds Road.

Rafic, who with the help of Bobby’s son Tyrone, had a vision of creating an authentic club where ‘proper’ boxers would be trained by ‘proper’ trainers in the heart of the community.

Their ideas and plan had come to life, but then came along the Covid-19 pandemic to put a temporary halt on proceedings.

Vanzie said: “It has been an extremely challenging couple of years for us. We opened the boxing academy with hope and pride, with the intention of training the next generation of fighters in Bradford.

“We also based the boxing academy on Leeds Road because of the history of crime rate there, the intention being to try and get young people off the streets to avoid getting in trouble.

"But yes, the pandemic caused us many problems because we had to continue paying the bills despite the building being closed. And it also meant that our boxers had nowhere to properly train."

Vanzie added: "It was a tough first year for both me and the students. I found it mentally challenging, and the fact I wasn't able to act as that daily mentor to my students in the gym, it was hard. Around the Leeds Road area you can't always escape trouble, trouble can find you, and that's why I was brought into a gym from a young age.

"My students were still able to keep fit, but they weren't able to come into the gym and distract themselves from their day to day lives."

Momentum is back with the Vanzie Boxing Academy after overcoming the difficulties of the pandemic and to kickstart the year, the academy is close to being affiliated with England Boxing, which will allow Vanzie’s fighters to compete at amateur boxing shows across the region.

Vanzie said: “It’s brilliant news for us because it will allow our fighters to finally showcase their talent. We’ve got some very talented individuals at our gym and they need to be fighting because what’s the point in having a boxing academy if you’re not going to be able to fight.

“It’s a great opportunity for them. I’ve had 36 years in this sport, so it is essential that I continue to transfer my knowledge of boxing to these young stars. Along with my experience and coaching, it requires dedication and commitment from our students. If they really want it then they can get it. So, with that combined, I do believe there is a real chance for success within this gym and hopefully we can see the next Bradford world champion."

Vanzie added: “We will pick and match our fighters carefully, but the main thing is that they need to be fighting. Experience is key in this sport and I remember fighting once a week at a point in my amateur career. We will look for the best fights for our students and continue to build their records, that’s the first thing we need to think about.”