“YOUR son is out of control, Mr. Welch,” Tommy Welch’s father was told by Tommy Welch’s teacher. “He is unruly. He is unresponsive. He is disobedient. He is keeping bad company. He is – if this carries on – going to fail every single one of his GCSEs.”
Scott Welch listened. After digesting the news that the substantial wedge of cash he was paying to put his son through private school might just as well have been chucked into the nearby English Channel, he stormed out of the classroom and spotted the father of the boy he had just been told was a bad influence on Tommy Welch.
“Your son,” Scott growled, “does not come near my son again, do you understand?”
Back at the family home in Shoreham an unsuspecting Tommy Welch, as cocksure and carefree as 15-year-olds can be, sat in his bedroom plotting his evening’s mischief. He was not a bit concerned about the parent-teacher meeting because his father hadn’t taken much interest in his performance at school for as long as he could remember.
So when Scott kicked his bedroom door off its hinges, dread and fear replaced the smugness in Tommy Welch.
★ ★ ★
When he was two years old, Tommy Welch said to his father: “I want to be a boxer like you, Daddy”. One day the former British and Commonwealth heavyweight champion returned home from a fight he’d had with Peter Oboh brandishing a huge gash above his right eye.
Not wanting his beloved son to follow him into this brutal sport, he picked up Tommy and showed him the wound caused by Oboh’s head.
“So you really want to be a boxer, Tommy?” Scott asked while stroking the 14 stitches that snaked through his swollen eyebrow. Little Tommy shook his head. Maybe boxing wasn’t for him, after all.
But for Scott, the sport was the key to everything he’d always wanted. All he thought about was providing for his family. When he wasn’t fighting, he was training. He ensured those closest to him had the good things in life even if he was rarely around to enjoy those things himself. In short, he was fighting so they would never have to.
Today, father and son sit alongside each other on a bench outside Hove Boxing Club where they train together every day. The sun makes the sea twinkle and Scott adjust his cap to escape its glare. Tommy, full of chutzpah, seems happier in the limelight. He sports dark glasses, a designer watch, broad shoulders and tightly cropped hair. Like his father, he’s an imposing physical specimen. On May 22 in Coventry, Scott will be in Tommy’s corner when the 26-year-old heavyweight aims to take his professional record to 2-0.
The Welches are good company and Tommy is at ease with his father. They laugh at the same things. They make fun of each other. It hasn’t always been that way.
“He was never around until I was seven or eight years old,” Tommy tells Boxing News. “He used to come home with different haircuts and I used to say, ‘Mum, who is this man?’”
Scott smiles awkwardly at his son’s memories before nodding to confirm them. “He [Tommy] used to call me Scott,” he explains. “He would point at my picture and say, not ‘Dad’, it would be ‘Scott’. I was always in camp. I couldn’t concentrate on being a father or a husband because I was a boxer. And when you’re a boxer, especially if you want to be successful, that’s the way it is.
“For me, I said to myself I’ll give boxing one year [when I turned professional in 1992]. I had a car business at the time that I was doing okay with. So I put that off and tried professional boxing and decided that if after a year I was earning money and was successful, I’d stay with it. That lasted seven years. Each year I was giving it more, more, more.
“I was up with Jimmy Mac [trainer, Jim McDonnell] most of the time in London. I’d leave home on a Sunday, come back on a Friday. So I’d have Friday night and Saturday [at home], then I’d be gone again on Sunday morning.”
Did Tommy hold that dedication to boxing against his father? “No, I didn’t really know what was going on,” Tommy says. “I mean, it was hard, to be honest. I had my mum there all the time, he was going off doing this and doing that, going down the gym, so I was getting comfortable doing other things.”
By the time he was seven, and with his father now retired, Tommy really didn’t want to be a boxer. Scott was no longer a fighter but more involved in the sport than ever before. He would take his son to the seafront gym in Hove – the one we now sit outside – where he would train amateurs and professionals. It was the last place that Tommy wanted to be. The smell that greeted him every time he walked in was disgusting: sweat, both fresh and old, smeared itself all over every wall, bag, glove and rope.
“I wanted to play football not be in that stinking gym,” Tommy says. “I wanted to do this and that. As normal kids do! Boxing is not a normal sport that you want to get involved in; someone shows you it or you get bullied at school or you’re fighting on the street, it’s not an everyday thing. It’s more glamorised now but not when I was growing up. The kids my dad was training were different kids to me. They lived a different life to me. Those who start boxing don’t usually have what I had as a kid.”
“I gave him everything I ever had,” Scott interjects. “I didn’t think he’d ever box.”
But Tommy was growing fast. Every year he was putting on a stone. By the time he was 10 he was already 10 stone. At the age of 14 he was 14 stone. He made the most of his physical gifts while playing rugby. Tommy liked rugby, the tackles, the skirmishes, the fat lips and the black eyes. Rugby, he soon realised, became an excuse to fight. He would fight on the pitch. He would fight off the pitch.
“I was fighting at school, I was fighting everywhere” Tommy continues. “I said to Dad, ‘This is it. I want to box.”
Remembering how boxing turned his own life around, Scott taught Tommy how to box. Within a few months he’d narrowly lost his first fight on points. A second outing was hastily arranged at the Hilton Metropole, approximately a mile east along the seafront from the gym.
Tommy was confident of impressing his friends and family who packed in to watch his hometown debut. But his father felt uneasy as the fight drew close.
“I’m 14 years old and I’m 95 kilos,” Welch Junior explains. “There’s not too many kids that are 14 and 95 kilos so I had to fight a 15-year-old. My dad didn’t want me to take that fight but I was desperate to. My opponent was huge, way bigger than me. But I knew who he was.”
Scott remembers it well: “The other kid turned up, he’s got sideburns, a moustache and he’s six-foot-f**king-four and he looked like a 30-year-old. In the corner I’m thinking, ‘Holy s**t, my boy is big but this kid has just swamped him.”
Tommy could see the apprehension in his father’s face. “No it’s alright,” he told him. “I’ve played rugby against him, I think I can do him.”
It was Tommy that would be done. Moments after the opening bell, Tommy threw a jab, a left hook, stepped to the side only to be caught with a left hook himself. The blow didn’t land flush but Tommy’s feet were not set at the time of impact and he tumbled to the canvas. This was an unfamiliar position for the teenager. He had never been floored by a punch; not on the rugby pitch, not on the street, not in school and not in any of the many rounds he’d sparred in a boxing ring. Shocked, his first instinct was to look back at his own corner: “I looked for my old man.”
Scott, meanwhile, had not been paying attention. “I’m in the corner,” he explains. “I’ve patted him on the back and said good luck. The bell goes ‘ding-ding’ and they’re off. I’ve gone down the steps, I’ve sat down, looked up and the first thing I see is my son hitting the deck then sitting on his arse. He’s got this look of shock on his face, he’s staring right at me, I’d never seen him like that before. So this fatherly instinct takes over. I’ve got the towel in my hand. I think he’s been hit and f**king hurt. I chucked the towel in.”
Tommy wasn’t hurt. He got to the feet he’d just tripped over and ran to his father. “What have you done?” he bellowed.
“I was a bad tempered kid, I still am,” Tommy says today. “I’m screaming in the ring, I’m punching the ring post. I just jumped out. I was crying, my emotions were so intense, I ran away from the ring.”
Scott chased after his boy.
“From now on,” he said, “I’m your coach and not your dad in that corner.”
But at home, particularly after finding out that Tommy had been messing around at school, Scott had to be dad again.
★ ★ ★
THE bedroom door crashed to the floor. “A hundred-grand I’ve paid for you to go through school,” Scott roared. Tommy tried to hide his fear. “I didn’t think I was doing too bad,” he said with all the wit a terrified 15-year-old could muster.
★ ★ ★
Scott stopped Tommy from boxing until he had passed his GCSEs and got into college. Tommy fulfilled his end of the bargain and soon they were boxer and trainer again. But injuries threatened his progress and they were not being picked up in a boxing ring. Tommy broke his cheekbone, his shoulder and more than one finger while playing rugby.
“Choose what you want to do,” Scott said to Tommy. “You can’t do both.”
“I dropped out of college, I stopped playing rugby,” Tommy says. “That’s when I really knuckled down at the boxing and took it seriously. I had about five or six fights on the bounce, stopping people. I entered the Junior ABAs, my dad said I wasn’t ready for it, I went against him and we took every fight as it came. I won that, we were flying.”
Tommy was winning titles and getting recognition as one of the leading young British super-heavyweights in amateur boxing. But his hopes of fighting in the Junior Europeans in 2013 were dashed due to an administration change regarding the English team.
His interest in the sport started to drift. There would be the occasional success, the odd promise of dedication, but too often he was turning up for competitions in poor condition. As Tommy lost interest, Scott lost patience.
“I started going a little bit wild,” Tommy admits. “I was out, I was partying. Not drinking but not looking after myself. Again, I started fighting more outside the ring than in it. When you have a dad who’s been heavyweight champion, as the son you always get people who want to fight you. “Look at Chris Eubank Jnr, for instance. His dad was a world champion so Junior always had problems growing up, looking to fight and stuff like that. For me, I’m very polite and respectful but I will always look after myself when people are pushing me.
“I was getting into trouble. I knew I needed some help and had get my arse in gear. Dad said I’d never fight again. He was doing it to try and talk some sense into me and in a way it was working. Him saying that was burning me up inside. I knew that time was slipping away. I was 23 years old and I knew if I didn’t pull my finger out of my arse I was going to miss the boat.”
Ben Pringle had been friends with Tommy Welch for a long time and knew he was wasting his talent. Ben was training marines and when Tommy called him asking for help at the end of 2018, he was quick to answer.
Ben would work in Portsmouth in the day and then drive to Hove every evening to train Tommy. A little under 20 stone, Tommy found it hard going but Ben was patient and said the right things.
“Ben made me believe in myself again. I started to get that sharpness back. I dropped five kilos and then I was going down to the Navy base two days a week. I offered to stay in a hotel down there [Portsmouth] because I needed to get away from this area and start afresh.”
But the new regime was taking its toll.
“He’d do two days training then he’d be in bed for four days,” Scott remembers with a smile. “But Ben always knew that Tommy had something.”
Scott knew it too. When Tommy came to him just as lockdown began last year and said he wanted to turn professional, Welch was full of pride. Outwardly, he would continue to express doubt, only too aware that any complacency could be the end.
It’s different now. Scott is completely invested in his son. He dismisses any concerns that now the social restrictions caused by the pandemic are easing Tommy might be tempted back to his old habits.
“He’s all in now, he’s crossed that line,” Scott says. “I can’t stop him from training now. He’s training every day. Every morning he’s on the track, he wants this. I am shocked to be honest with you because, at the beginning, I thought he was playing at it again.”
In December 2020, Tommy became the latest son of a famous boxing father to turn professional. Welch halted Matt Gordon in the second round to move to 1-0 (1). It must be a strange feeling to send your boy into battle, particularly when you know as well as Scott exactly what’s at stake. “If we get wounded or we get hurt, and I always hope to God nobody gets hurt badly, it’s something we have to accept in this game,” Scott says. “When he’s training, when he’s in the ring, I have to look at him as a fighter and not as a son. I’ve been in this game for long enough to know the worst can happen. I’ve experienced it, I’ve seen what this sport can do – both good and bad – but we’re fighters, we do what we do.
“We prepare ourselves to be the best we can be with the tools that we’ve got.”
Scott watched closely as Eubank Jnr and Snr made their way in the boxing world as a father and son team born of the same Hove gym, initially to plenty of scepticism. Senior may or may not admit that mistakes were made on that journey.
“Eubank, the old man, was a great champion and his knowledge of the game is incredible. When he talks, I listen. He’s full of wisdom. Some of the words he uses I can’t even pronounce. But the difference is he hasn’t done what I’ve done. I’ve been in this gym for the last 20 years, every single day, honing my skills as a trainer. I know the game, I read a fight better than almost anyone.
“I will be with my son every step of the way. Whether I’m always in his corner, I can’t say. But I believe in him. I’m here for him and I always will be.”
Tommy looks at his father. The respect is clear. Beneath it all, the bravado at school, the fights in the street, the wish to be just like his daddy when he was a toddler, is a desire to get his father’s attention and make him proud. It works both ways, of course. The reason Scott burst through his door 13 years after showing him the wound on his face was because of love and a want for his son to be the very best he can be.
“I will not allow what we’ve got to go to waste,” Tommy says. “Whatever was meant for me will not pass me by. Do you know why? Because no other heavyweight in this country can say they’ve got someone as special as my old man in their corner.”