'˜Mike Tyson is sat in my passenger seat making sheep noises' - Kevin Maree
Kevin Maree could write a book about his adventures in boxing after deciding to hang up his pads and call time on his coaching career. . .
The company director at Stirk House, who has choreographed training sessions for many a fighter over the years, has plenty of stories and anecdotes to share having worked with the likes of Carl Frampton, Michael Gomez, Yassine El Maachi, Jeff Thomas, Kenny Anderson, Markw Heffron, Luke Blackledge and Chris O’Brien.
His journey has included everything from disputes with George Groves, a blockbuster experience with Amir Khan and a bet with former promoter Frank Maloney.
But nothing stands out more in his mind than the time he brought undisputed world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson to the Ribble Valley.
Sat behind the wheel of an ageing BMW, rendered emotionally and physically numb from the situation he’d been presented with, Maree tentatively cranked his neck to the left to witness ‘The Baddest Man on the Planet’ phonetically imitating a farmyard animal.
Recollecting Iron Mike’s incredibly outlandish use of onomatopoeia, Maree said: “I’ve had some really weird moments. I remember one with Mike Tyson. He was my favourite.
“He was the one that excited me because he had this aura about him. I never thought I’d meet Mike Tyson. We brought him over, I picked him up from the airport in an old BMW.
“I’m at the front of this convoy, with the three people carriers for his family behind. After getting them through security I’ve gone in to the seat of my car and Mike has just instinctively got in to the passenger seat.
“He just got in with me. He’s sat there and his daughter is in the back. I’m driving along and Mike Tyson is just there. We’re travelling along the country roads and there are sheep and his daughter shouted ‘that’s a sheep’.”
Maree continued: “Mike then said ‘what sound does a sheep make’. They’ve both gone ‘bahhhhh’. Mike Tyson is sat in my passenger seat making sheep noises.
“It’s little moments like that when you think this is just weird. That was the first time I really got star struck. I was a bit nervy. What do you talk to Mike Tyson about.
“How did I end up with that? Going from watching Mike Tyson fight Frank Bruno at 5 a.m. to sitting next to him in my clapped out BMW making sheep noises. I’ll look back at things like that and think that was pretty amazing.”
Maree’s passion for the tactical side of boxing spawned from his infancy; meticulously studying the work of Sandygate ABC stalwart Burt Myers, Burnley’s answer to fictional “Rocky” coach Mickey Goldmill.
Maree would spend hours memorising actions, instructions, drills, advice in hope of mirroring the man he looked up to. And it seemingly paid off as the father-of-two became encapsulated in the sport.
“Years ago, even when I was boxing, and I was with Burt (Myers), when we went to shows I was always the one saying ‘that’s not right’,” he recalled. “I was looking after other people, asking if they’d got their water. I always had this need to look after people. I always had that about me. Burt, who I was really close to, always told me that I’d end up in training. He almost wanted me as his little apprentice at the time. When we play football I always ended up running the football team. It’s something that I can’t help doing.
“I always knew. Then it just escalated. I didn’t want Chris (O’Brien) to do it without me because I wanted to make sure he was alright and looked after. At that stage I really enjoyed it and that’s when I thought boxing was really good.
“I fought at amateur level, I probably had 40 or 50 fights over the years. I fought for Sandygate ABC and then I fought for a guy called Arthur Walsh at Lancashire Constabulary.
“That was because I always wanted to train with Burt Myers and he wasn’t an amateur coach. He always used to use me for his gym for sparring. I’d class Burt as almost like a family member. He used to train me in his kitchen.
“They are some of the earliest memories of my boxing. I can’t remember a time now where I wasn’t involved with boxing. That’s one of the scariest things. I’ve done it from being so young. It’s going to be a big part of my life that’s gone. I was 12 when I started out.”
Maree continued: “The first time I met Burt at a boxing gym I, like most lads that age, was obsessed with the Rocky films and Burt was ‘Mickey’. We had the amateur gym and the pro gym was next door where Burt was.
“I was always hovering around the door because Burt was like this mystical figure. I’d go in and end up doing my sessions with them. I’d always be with Burt. We became very close and he’d take me off to different tournaments.
“At that time if Burt asked me to run through a brick wall, or stand on my head and sing Christmas carols, I was doing it with the relationship that we had. I always wanted that with my fighters.
“I remember one night, when I was boxing, my Dad was there and Burt asked ‘are you alright? Are you nervous?’ My Dad said ‘no, I’m not, because you’re looking after him’. My Dad trusted him. I always remember that and I always wanted that for my fighters.
“I knew that my health and safety came first and my family knew that. I idolised Burt and I looked up to him. He taught me the art of boxing, how to teach boxing. He’s really clever and switched on. Burt is a genius.”
Maree’s stable benefitted from that expertise in more ways than one. Some were involved in big money fights, others were taken off the chequered path of a journeyman while there were those who went on to win titles.
Whatever the reward or end result, Maree’s pupils certainly developed and evolved from their education at the Ribble Valley hub.
“You either can or you can’t see a fight,” said Maree. “You either can or can’t see a contest or break down an opponent. Even if I’d have followed Burt to the end degree, if I couldn’t see it myself then I wouldn’t be able to do it.
“Luckily I was able to do that and the lads love the fact that I can break something down and explain it to them. I wanted that relationship Burt had and I want to teach people to box like Burt did in his early stages.
“Burt was a genius in psychology without even realising he was. I was boxing this kid, and I’ll never forget this, I was watching him, he gets up with his trainer, gets the pads out and he was like ‘bang, bang, bang, bang’.
“I was watching and Burt obviously clocked that I could see this. Burt went in to his bag, gets his pads, walks up to this trainer, and he goes ‘bang, bang, bang, bang’ with his pads. Then he said ‘mine make that noise too’.
“He just came back, sat down and put his pads away. It killed this lad. He managed to make me feel a million dollars and the way he did it was incredible. I thought ‘that’s just brilliant’.
“It was that team, that bond, and I wanted that. I remember being with Kenny Anderson and before a fight he hugged me and said ‘I wouldn’t do this with anybody else’.”
The Dubliner has spent time in the company of Tommy Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Marco Antonio Barrera, Roy Jones Jr, Barry McGuigan, Steve Collins, Carl Froch, Joe Frazier, Joe Calzaghe, Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank, with each world champion forming part of the shrine in his gym, but it was his own fighters that he looked up to the most.
The one-time Fisher More RC High School and Nelson and Colne College student formed his first professional bond with cousin Chris O’Brien, nurturing the embryonic stages of the welterweight’s tenure. And it all snowballed from there as he developed an unquenchable thirst for the role.
“At the time Chris (O’Brien), my cousin, wanted to turn pro and we were doing bits together,” Maree said. “He wanted me to help him so I started training him and it all evolved from there.
“Over the years we started picking up big names - Gomez really put us on the map. He was coming to the end of his career but he still had big fights against Amir Khan and Ricky Burns.
“Getting the best out of Gomez at the end of his career was a mean feat really. He was finished at that point and we knew we had a job to do in terms of keeping him in the game a little bit longer and keeping him safe.
“We knew we had big fights out there to get him. Over the years we’ve had Kenny Anderson, Carl Frampton, Yassine El Maachi, Luke Blackledge, who all won titles with us.
“It’s a long time but it seems like it’s been two minutes. Now it’s time to move on and do something else.”